Riding on the Tops

It's not just for going uphill
It’s not just for going uphill

Going fast and looking good while doing it is our Velominati creed. Riding on the tops is the domaine of going uphill, where braking and aerodynamics are unimportant. In most other situations that position is too slow. The pros are usually flattened down in the drops or flattened down on the brake hoods. When us non-pros are not climbing, riding on the tops is less about looking pro than looking like a confident cyclist. I’ve noticed it when I ride with such confident cyclists; I’m not one but aspire to be.

I was given the tip when mountain biking: when descending, steer from the bull horns (are these still even used?) because it keeps your hands away from the brake levers. One descends more efficiently. If your mitts are on the brake levers, you are going to use them, especially if you are Big Pussy (my mtb nickname, self given). Putting on the brakes diminishes bike handling, period. On a mountain bike, the suspension and properly inflated tires are going to get bike and rider where they need to go and getting on the brakes too much is just going to screw the whole process up. Did John Tomac use his brakes? I rest my case.

On a road bike, riding with hands on the tops does the same thing; it keeps your hands away from the brakes. I watch guys riding side by side, chatting away, hands relaxed on the tops. They fearlessly carve their bikes through tight fast corners while I’m behind, feathering the brakes on the way in and then jumping out of the saddle on the way out to recover the speed I just scrubbed off. It’s no way to live. I’m not sure how to cross that threshold where one’s Big Pussy trepidation says to slow down a bit and one’s rational mind says trust your tires. It is maddening. My inner Rule V must be consulted.

During our Manhattan rollout during The Rules book tour, ride leader Rob of NYC and Frank led a our large pack up the West side on a bike path along the Hudson. It was a two-way bike path, two meters wide and it crossed a myriad of streets and cross-walks. I watched Rob and Frank chatting away, hands on the tops, deftly avoiding every jogger, stroller, roller-blader, cyclist and pedestrian there. We whipped into the opposite bike lane to pass all of that and drifted a little right as all that came the other direction. Rob and Frank emanated cycling confidence that said, sure my bike has brakes but I’m really not interested in them right now. It looked very cool and somehow safer. I had my hands resting directly on the brake hoods ready to brake at the first sign of a baby stroller crossing my path.

We don’t drive cars with our other foot hovering over the brake pedal, ready to stomp. We don’t need our hands always a second away from our brakes either. Knowing that and doing that is where we become more confident cyclists.

 

Related Posts

59 Replies to “Riding on the Tops”

  1. @antihero

    @Kevin

    @Ron

    Glad that I’m not the only one getting many years out of pads. I sometimes wonder, Should I be swapping these? And then I check them and they have tons of life.

    I guess I’m a coaster…

    (it would be incredible for mother earth if cagers could learn to coast. I don’t think Americans know how to do anything but speed and brake. Dumb fucks.)

    My pads tend to last a good, long while until I have a proper Rule #9 ride and then they are in need of replacement.

    What is this “pad replacement” you speak of?

    This is me too – the only bike I have every replaced pads on is my winter commuter.

    Hills, bends, crap roads, sandy mud, loads of rain.  Pads don’t last long here.

  2. @RobSandy

    I barely ride on the tops. Even for climbing. Feel much more comfortable on the hoods.

    Ok, I’ve now changed my mind about this. Made a conscious decision to ride more on the tops yesterday, particularly when climbing. It made a hell of a difference on steep slopes; I felt like I could breathe easier and get more power through my legs.

    Felt like a proper roadie.

  3. @TBONE

    By this logic, we should all be descending in TT bars. Or at the very least, Spinachis.

    Using bar-ends on the MTB to descend is a sure fire way to get yourself killed in these parts, not that the brakes from that era did much good.

    This. I’m glad bar ends went the way of the XC racer, but when we used them, never, never did anyone think it was a good idea to descend on them. Is that what happened to your teeth G-man?

  4. @Mikael Liddy

    yup, do a whole lot of my climbing on the tops in (what my mind imagines) is a bit of a Big Mig style pose.

    Interesting though that some recent commutes on my track bar equipped single speed has me looking to keep my hands in further, which has led to me pulling a similar position to RdV above with my wrists kinda wedged in the corner of the tops & the last two fingers looped over the hoods.

    So the position isn’t quite as extreme as I described, weirdly comfortable tho

  5. @Mikael Liddy

    @Mikael Liddy

    yup, do a whole lot of my climbing on the tops in (what my mind imagines) is a bit of a Big Mig style pose.

    Interesting though that some recent commutes on my track bar equipped single speed has me looking to keep my hands in further, which has led to me pulling a similar position to RdV above with my wrists kinda wedged in the corner of the tops & the last two fingers looped over the hoods.

    So the position isn’t quite as extreme as I described, weirdly comfortable tho

    Indeed, I have also found my Belgian TT position in much the same wrist position as this. You can lay your forearms on the tops and ensure the forearms are parallel to the ground, ensuring flatback maximum aero to the power of awesomeness.

  6. Riding on the tops is for recovery rides, pavé and long climbs (and even on the climbs it’s seen less and less among the pros). Spending a significant amount of time on the drops in any other situation is a sign of fit problems. Riding through tight, fast corners without being in the drops is simply irresponsible, and the proximity of the brake levers is not the main reason for this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.