It's not just for going uphill

Riding on the Tops

Riding on the Tops

by / / 59 posts

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.

 

// Look Pro

  1. @Ccos

    Agreed, certainly your steering is more stable from said position and it can be much more comfortable. However, I always keep a finger on the brake lever in a race. There are just too numbskulls in the world with sketchiness woven into their DNA.

    Yeah, in a group you don’t trust with your life, you need to be nearer the levers. That’s is the beauty of riding with the same friend(s), eventually you can know they won’t screw you by braking, no matter how many squirrels run out in front.

  2. @kixsand

    I’ve always envied the guys that can get down and stretch out to achieve an aero position with their wrists or forearms on the tops as they TT to the finish with the Peloton closing in on them.

    Like this…

    aero

    Nobody could do it better. What position!

  3. 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.

    I find the best solution is to ride a bike without brakes at all.

  4. @Gianni

    @kixsand

    I’ve always envied the guys that can get down and stretch out to achieve an aero position with their wrists or forearms on the tops as they TT to the finish with the Peloton closing in on them.

    Like this…

    aero

    Nobody could do it better. What position!

    First: That is perfect kit. Black shorts and the striped jersey = just right. The world was a better place before sublimated graphics on shorts. Most every jersey’s gonna look good with straight up good ol’ black shorts. And the one in the snapshots is perfect. Black shoes too. Right ? Right. My buddy blames the whole downward spiral with shorts having started w/Cipollini.

    Second: When mtn biking I do two things. 1) I ride the brakes constantly. I steer with the brakes, I set the bike up for turns with the brakes and I absolutely ride down hills with the brakes in control of the bike. I know what makes for good brakes on a mtn bike. 2) I spend a lot of time staring at my front tire going over stuff. So, needless to say, I’m not a very fast mtn biker. But I sure do love it.

    Cheers all

  5. @wilburrox try staring at where you want to go, an amazing thing happens, your bike will follow your eyes.

  6. @Gianni

    Nobody could do it better. What position!

    it takes a very special gift to have the lines of one’s torso and leg at the top of the stroke form a V that is even more crisp and razor sharp than the tan lines on the guns.

  7. 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.

  8. @Puffy

    Oh forgot to add;

    Sudden braking in a fast bunch is disastrous too. I have a buddy that refuses to ride track because “those bikes don’t have brakes”. I keep telling him its safer that way but he just doesn’t believe me.

    I’ve said it before, but the most dangerous session at my local velodrome (Herne Hill) is when they let road bikes on, guaranteed at least one pile up.

    PS. as it’s Thanksgiving in the US, and people might be thinking of spending money tomorrow, can I put a plug in for the people who fund-raise for Herne Hill? http://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/fhhv-shop

  9. @markb Where exactly are you that HH is local?

    My London home is Tooting, and I ride with Dulwich when I’m there.

    I’ve been to those track nights for road bikes. was OK the few times I did it.

    My daughter is doing track cycling now at HH with her school. I try to go down and watch them when I’m back.

    Bless her, I’d always planned on doing an epic ride with her elder brothers for my 50th birthday, but at this rate it looks more like I’ll be doing it with Lillian.

  10. And yes, good plug for Herne Hill.

    Olympic Velodrome in 1948 and for a long time the only track in the capital, where Brad Wiggins and others made their breakthroughs.

    The Good Friday races at Herne Hill are a great annual event. They had to be cancelled and moved to Manchester a few years back because the track was in such a poor state but Friends of Herne Hill raised funding to install a new all-weather surface and it is now a popular venue all year round.

  11. @Gianni Roger nails it but Tom Boonen (amongst others) can do a pretty good impression of what is known in my circles as “the Belgian time-trial position:.

  12. @chrisO

    I live in New Cross, so only a short ride away from HH. They now have full funding, I believe, for a new pavillion/changing rooms etc, so that will hopefully be starting soon, aim is to get it done by 2016 in time for it’s 25th birthday.

    I try and get down there when I can for a session, but the obvious one to go to (for the elderly!) is on at 10am mid-week, so difficult to get to. Will be there over xmas though. Have to admit (yeah, tell me about rule V) my times are hopeless, especially when compared to the u16 and u14s! (girls and boys).

  13. 125th bithday! (why no edit facility here?)

  14. @piwakawaka

    @wilburrox try staring at where you want to go, an amazing thing happens, your bike will follow your eyes.

    Yep. That’s mtn biking 101 isn’t it. I learned that lesson a while back when we put my buddy’s go pro on my helmet and watched the video later… and it was a lot of my front tire. Hah. I’ve since explained to my kids when we’re in the woods riding our bikes, let your peripheral vision take care of the things around ya. And stay focused on the trail up ahead. You can go a lot faster. And that’s really key for crossing bridges. I still catch myself all the time watching what it is I’m climbing over. It’s usually when I’m getting tentative and going slower and guess what happens next. The thing about mtn biking is it seems that the slower I go the more likely I am to lose it.

  15. @markb

    125th bithday! (why no edit facility here?)

    You’re gonna lose that V icon if you keep asking things like this.

  16. I like to work on my cornering and refusal to grab the levers during cross riding. No cars to run me over should I wash out my rear wheel and so many corners on the road always seem to have gravel right in the apex.

    With cross I’ll ride loops at local parks or trails and no matter how many times I do it, I’m sure I can take it faster. It keeps me eager to get back out and ride again, since I know I can improve. For me a huge help is to force my brain to just focus on my inside hand and how much I’m pushing on the bars.

    Also, I think anyone who rode bikes, especially mtn. or bmx or cross, as a kid has a huge advantage. You’re much less scared of falling when you. And, missing school with a broken arm or leg is much easier than missing work.

    Happy T-Day, Americanos!

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

    And that’s weird because until a month ago my main bike had flat bars, no drops or hoods.

    Don’t think I’m overly occupied with braking…

  18. @Ron

    I like to work on my cornering and refusal to grab the levers during cross riding. No cars to run me over should I wash out my rear wheel and so many corners on the road always seem to have gravel right in the apex.

    With cross I’ll ride loops at local parks or trails and no matter how many times I do it, I’m sure I can take it faster. It keeps me eager to get back out and ride again, since I know I can improve. For me a huge help is to force my brain to just focus on my inside hand and how much I’m pushing on the bars.

    Also, I think anyone who rode bikes, especially mtn. or bmx or cross, as a kid has a huge advantage. You’re much less scared of falling when you. And, missing school with a broken arm or leg is much easier than missing work.

    Happy T-Day, Americanos!

    Well said Ron – I am a bit leary of practicing harder cornering on the roads, especially when they are cold and their are fallen leaves about. I am usually either commuting / training or out on a club ride these days but don’t give time to practicing handling skills off road.

    Will keep in mind and make a few detours in the weeks ahead.

  19. @markb

    @Puffy

    Oh forgot to add;

    Sudden braking in a fast bunch is disastrous too. I have a buddy that refuses to ride track because “those bikes don’t have brakes”. I keep telling him its safer that way but he just doesn’t believe me.

    I’ve said it before, but the most dangerous session at my local velodrome (Herne Hill) is when they let road bikes on, guaranteed at least one pile up.

    PS. as it’s Thanksgiving in the US, and people might be thinking of spending money tomorrow, can I put a plug in for the people who fund-raise for Herne Hill? http://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/fhhv-shop

    Seriously. Any t-shirt ride around here is guaranteed a pileup or two because people start grabbing their brakes. Mental. If I have to tap my brakes while in a bunch, I feel I’ve failed, utterly.

  20. @antihero

    Seriously. Any t-shirt ride around here is guaranteed a pileup or two because people start grabbing their brakes. Mental. If I have to tap my brakes while in a bunch, I feel I’ve failed, utterly.

    I’m planning to go to my first track session next week, with the club I’m planning to join.

    The outdoor velodrome at Maindy is conveniently 5 minutes ride from my house.

    I don’t want to crash.

  21. @RobSandy

    You’ll be fine, once you tune in to the track. It’s hard to explain, but after a few loops you should start to get a feel for when you need to pace up, and when to start to hang back a bit. Don’t watch the wheel in front of you, watch the guy at the front, ‘cos (s)he is setting the pace for everyone. It all becomes a bit Zen after a while, you tune into the bike first, then the track and then the people around you, if all goes well you’ll meld into one blob of cycling lovelyness. Or not. But do it, it’s lovely.

    @Ron

    I struggle to spell, and with no help on-line I make mistakes. If that makes me a shit Velominati so be it. Add a new Rule #96.

  22. Braking in a bunch is like braking in your car on the motorway. You read the traffic and your accelerator reacts; on a bike, you chose your gear and cadence to match your fellow riders. I find if I’m getting antsy and stopping and starting, I take my turn on the front; a spell in the wind does the trick!

    As far as riding on the tops goes, I’m totally with Gianni; clearly it’s not as aerodynamic, but it looks Casually Deliberate, and I would also add it uses different muscle groups in your back, neck and arms, which can’t be a bad thing.

  23. @ChrisO

    And yes, good plug for Herne Hill.

    Olympic Velodrome in 1948 and for a long time the only track in the capital, where Brad Wiggins and others made their breakthroughs.

    The Good Friday races at Herne Hill are a great annual event. They had to be cancelled and moved to Manchester a few years back because the track was in such a poor state but Friends of Herne Hill raised funding to install a new all-weather surface and it is now a popular venue all year round.

    Did a session down at Calshot in the summer. Great fun. Apparently it’s the second steepest banking in the world, really tight track. First time up to the top of the banking at slow speed you doubt the tyres will hold. Great fun when you wind it up.

  24. @RobSandy Just do not try and freewheel after crossing the line!

  25. @Teocalli

    Did a session down at Calshot in the summer. Great fun. Apparently it’s the second steepest banking in the world, really tight track. First time up to the top of the banking at slow speed you doubt the tyres will hold. Great fun when you wind it up.

    Is that your neck of the woods then? My in-laws live in Hythe, and me and the VMW got married there. I’ve never ridden in Calshot velodrome but I’ve climbed there a few times.

    I’ve done a bit of riding at Newport velodrome, but I’ve not ridden in a velodrome in a group on bikes with brakes! My local, Maindy, is an outdoor tarmac velodrome, with quite shallow banking so I think it’s pretty normal to train there on normal road bikes.

    But I am built more like a track rider, so I wonder if it might be a route to doing a bit more of it.

  26. Even on my 32 yr old school bike I have not changed the brake pads yet. Partially a result of the fact that I have been living in the Dutch flatlands for quite some time but also because I prefer the riding on the tops position. Now living in Switzerland so braking is more necessary when going downhill. Incidentally: I also never changed the braking cables until recently when I saw that one has to change these every year…

  27. @Gianni I think you’re right about John Tomac. My ’92 Rocky Mountain ‘Hammer’ (Ritchey Logic frame, rims, seatpost and saddle) is in Tomac territory complete w/ 90’s purple bullhorns to match the forks.

    Look Mom, no brakes!!

    (Actually, for the odd time I use the brakes, the Deore canti’s work great–with Salmon SwissStops–once set up properly. Love the old school thumbies too).

  28. @KogaLover

    Even on my 32 yr old school bike I have not changed the brake pads yet. Partially a result of the fact that I have been living in the Dutch flatlands for quite some time but also because I prefer the riding on the tops position. Now living in Switzerland so braking is more necessary when going downhill. Incidentally: I also never changed the braking cables until recently when I saw that one has to change these every year…

    My daughter has a mid-sixties Gazelle. The brake cables haven’t been changed either–they’re solid rods with linkages!!

  29. Lot’s of track-talk in this thread. I’m going to try it for the first time in January in the new velodrome in Milton, Ontario–can’t wait!! Track bike rental is included in the hourly rate.

  30. Oops…I meant Salmon Kool-Stops

  31. @freddy

    @Gianni I think you’re right about John Tomac. My ’92 Rocky Mountain ‘Hammer’ (Ritchey Logic frame, rims, seatpost and saddle) is in Tomac territory complete w/ 90’s purple bullhorns to match the forks.

    Look Mom, no brakes!!

    (Actually, for the odd time I use the brakes, the Deore canti’s work great-with Salmon SwissStops-once set up properly. Love the old school thumbies too).

    Wow, matching bullhorns to fork. Brilliant.

  32. @KogaLover

    Even on my 32 yr old school bike I have not changed the brake pads yet. Partially a result of the fact that I have been living in the Dutch flatlands for quite some time but also because I prefer the riding on the tops position. Now living in Switzerland so braking is more necessary when going downhill. Incidentally: I also never changed the braking cables until recently when I saw that one has to change these every year…

    If you live in Switzerland you had better keep those brakes in top condition.

    Even yesterday, when braking for a corner with hands in the drops I noticed something. When one decides it’s time to release the brakes and commit to the turn just removing that last finger from the lever, gripping the bar and really diving into the turn is an improvement. Even if that one finger is there on the lever, it’s tempting to feather the brake instead of pushing down the inside bar. Cornering and braking do not mix.

  33. @antihero

    @markb

    @Puffy

    Oh forgot to add;

    Sudden braking in a fast bunch is disastrous too. I have a buddy that refuses to ride track because “those bikes don’t have brakes”. I keep telling him its safer that way but he just doesn’t believe me.

    I’ve said it before, but the most dangerous session at my local velodrome (Herne Hill) is when they let road bikes on, guaranteed at least one pile up.

    PS. as it’s Thanksgiving in the US, and people might be thinking of spending money tomorrow, can I put a plug in for the people who fund-raise for Herne Hill? http://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/fhhv-shop

    Seriously. Any t-shirt ride around here is guaranteed a pileup or two because people start grabbing their brakes. Mental. If I have to tap my brakes while in a bunch, I feel I’ve failed, utterly.

    Agreed. I’m out of practice riding in fast groups but yes, one reflexive jab does make one feel that. One shouldn’t be there if they do that. I can’t imagine what riding all day in a peloton of 100+ riders is like, besides very stressful.

  34. Lovin the 90s MTB flavor. I have a 96 Al Schwinn (before they utterly sucked) with a Girvin-Noleen fork and you’re god damn right it has bar ends and purple anodized Onza “chill pill” canti straddle cable hangers.

  35. @RobSandy I’m actually just south of Guildford but it’s not too far away.

  36. @freddy

    If I had studded tires, I’d have less fear about crappy canti brakes too. Props on the classic ride.

  37. 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.)

  38. @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.

  39. @sthilzy

    @RobSandy Just do not try and freewheel after crossing the line!

    did that once early on, after a flying 200m sprint. Seriously damaged my hamstring, never again.

  40. @Gianni

    @antihero

    @markb

    @Puffy

    Oh forgot to add;

    Sudden braking in a fast bunch is disastrous too. I have a buddy that refuses to ride track because “those bikes don’t have brakes”. I keep telling him its safer that way but he just doesn’t believe me.

    I’ve said it before, but the most dangerous session at my local velodrome (Herne Hill) is when they let road bikes on, guaranteed at least one pile up.

    PS. as it’s Thanksgiving in the US, and people might be thinking of spending money tomorrow, can I put a plug in for the people who fund-raise for Herne Hill? http://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/fhhv-shop

    Seriously. Any t-shirt ride around here is guaranteed a pileup or two because people start grabbing their brakes. Mental. If I have to tap my brakes while in a bunch, I feel I’ve failed, utterly.

    Agreed. I’m out of practice riding in fast groups but yes, one reflexive jab does make one feel that. One shouldn’t be there if they do that. I can’t imagine what riding all day in a peloton of 100+ riders is like, besides very stressful.

    If you find the right group, it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on. In a bunch that size, conversation pace is about 40+ kph, and the sensation of speed and power when everyone really gets down to business is beyond awesome.

    In the wrong group, it feels like being stuck inside of a pinball machine.

  41. @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.

  42. @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.

  43. @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.

  44. @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?

  45. @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

  46. Similar, but different

  47. @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.

  48. No matter where I put my hands I don’t think I will ever approach looking pro… Just not fast enough… And too big.

  49. 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.

  50. Bah! “Spending a significant amount of time on the >>tops<<…"

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar