Converting your bicycle to a more comfortable sit-up position

It's a fairly common occurrence in our bike shop that someone asks us rather sheepishly if we can make their bike more comfortable to ride by achieving a more upright seating position. This is usually done by bringing the handlebars higher up and closer to you. Don't be shy - people ask all the time and you're not alone in wanting this. Why's that? Well, Australia has been in the doldrums of sport cycling for decades. It's not a doldrums if you're into sport cycling, but if you wanted a bicycle just to get around on, then you were probably shown hundreds of bicycles that optimised aerodynamics, speed and lightness over comfort, low maintenance and reliability. Some of that is starting to change with Dutch bicycles coming to town and the Cycle Chic movement. Most bike shops will have something more comfortable and practical for city riding available. However, the hangover is still real - thousands of people with bikes that maybe used to be rideable but now are just hurting their wrists, shoulders, back and neck. So can we make these bikes more comfortable for you? Yes we can, but it's not always cheap. I've listed some below from cheapest/easiest to most effective and expensive.

1 - Raising your stem ~$50. We have components that raise the stem of your bicycle (the stem is the thing holding your handlebar to your frame). We have them to suit quill stems and A-head stems.

2 - Changing your stem ~$50 we have a range of handlebar stems. Shorter stems bring the handlebar a little closer to you, avoiding bending too much. Adjustable stems do this and also raise the handlebar for you. This is a quick and easy way to gain a bit more comfort but does not radically change the seating position. Depending if you have a quill stem or A-head stem, the cost can be up to $50. Labour on this job is usually around $10, it's quite simple, provided no cables need to be lengthened.

3 - Changing the handlebars will make the biggest difference. We have a range of handlebars. Riser bars will raise the handlebar a bit. Sit-up bars (misnamed 'lady bars' in the industry) will raise the bars and bring them towards you. Handlebars themselves are not expensive. However, you might have to pay for new brakes levers, gear shifters, brake cables and installation, especially when converting a road bike with drop handlebars.

Here is a case study below. This lovely road bike was kept in perfect mechanical condition by a middle-aged couple.

road bike - beforeThe rider didn't ride it anymore because it was too uncomfortable but wanted to keep it, so we gave it some comfort. The stem and handlebars were taken off. A tall and short quill stem ($30)

was inserted and our sit-up handlebars ($18) were installed. The road brakes don't work on any handlebars other than drop bars, it's a contour thing... So we got rid of those and put on cantilever brake levers ($25). These take a different brake cable than a road bike, so 2 cables ($10) were installed. Also, the distances have changed, so

the cable housing ($10) also has to change. Of course you need grips on your handlebars and we went for cork grips ($25) for comfort and style.

Here is the almost finished product. It retains the classic look of the bike, but the handlebars are now higher than the seat and everything is going to be so much more comfortable. However, the fun doesn't stop here. See where are the gear shifters? They're still on the down tube, which is now a long way from your handlebars. Tragically we don't have the final photo because the customer wanted to see how it was like this before paying more money for the shifters. It wasn't great, so th

e money came out and the project continued! We put the shifters up on the handlebar next to the brakes. To do this you need to put a 'cable stop' where the old shifters are. This is then where the cable housing can start and lead to the shifters on the bar. Again, you nee

d more parts. The cable stops ($25), gear cables ($10), gear housing ($10), shifters ($30) all went in after this photo. There's a lot of labour ($100+) in what happened as well. New cabling installation takes time and usually involves tuning up the gears and brakes as well.

Want some further reading? The late great Sheldon Brown has anarticle on stems and raising them, a must ready for bicycle mechanics. Mike Rubbo has been expousing benefits of sit-up cycling on his blog and the legendary Rivendell Cycle Workshas lots of useful parts for jobs like these.

Disclaimer: Raising your handlebars isn't necessarily exactly what you need. Talk to a bike shop or have a look at Sheldon Brown's article on bicycles and pain.

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