As someone who has spent their life around bikes, seeing one set up in the manner shown above offends me greatly in the same way socks and sandals would offend a fashion expert.
Dropped handlebars on a road bike should never be higher than the saddle, unless the rider is either homeless or handicapped in some way. I would rather see this bike set up as a hybrid with flat handlebars than looking like this.
I can understand a person who rides a bike solely for exercise and recreation, does not need an extreme, horizontal back, racing position. However, there has to be a compromise between an all out racing position and the one pictured above.
It seems that most newcomers to cycling can only see one way to sit with their back at the desired angle, and that is to raise the handlebars higher and higher until the back angle is achieved. This can cause all kinds of other issues, in addition to offending exframebuilders like me.
With the handlebars this high the rider is sitting down hard on the saddle; a newcomer to the sport is going to have a sore butt until they become accustomed, this will only add to the problem. What follows is the owner going out to buy a saddle upholstered like a Lazy-Boy armchair.
Setting up a road bike is really about performance with an acceptible degree of comfort. If absolute comfort is your goal, forget the road bike and buy a Beach Cruiser.
With a road bike it is akin to buying a Formula 1 race car then trying to convert it to a family minivan. In the end you achieve niether comfort or performance.
The modern racing saddle is not designed to support your full weight; think of it more as a lectern to rest your butt against while riding. A rider’s weight needs to be distributed between the saddle, the pedals, and the handlebars.
To explain further what we are trying to achieve here, imagine sitting in a chair, (Not hard to do, you are probably sitting in one as you read this.)
Now imagine you are rowing a boat with your arms horizontal, and your hands level with your shoulders. Not an efficient rowing position; your arms and back are doing all the work, and your legs are doing nothing.
Backache is almost sure to happen. To row a boat you need your feet to be out in front of your seat thrusting horizontally in direct opposition to your arms. Even if the seat and foot rest are fixed the legs still act as a firm anchor for your arms and back to pull against.
Think of riding a bicycle as rowing a boat in reverse; it is your legs doing all the work. But what are your arms doing? Are they just resting idly on the handlebars, much in the way your legs were resting idly on the floor in my first scenario of rowing a boat in a chair position?
When you are making an effort on a bicycle you are thrusting down on the pedals with more than your body weight; the only thing holding you down are you hands grasping the handlebars. Your hands and arms need to be positioned to act as a firm anchor, just as your legs did while rowing a fixed seat boat.
Look at the picture above, this would be a good position for a leisure rider. He looks comfortable, even though he appears to be making a fair amount of effort. His back is at about 45 degrees; his arms are slightly bent at the elbow.
I would ask this rider, “How does your position feel?” If it felt good I would advise he leave it alone; based on the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
However, if he had problems like back ache, either lower back, or at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades; I would suggest buying a shorter handlebar stem and flipping it over so the bars are lower, but closer.
Also he might rotate the handlebars so the bottom part of the drops is tipped forward just a few degrees from horizontal. This would have the effect of lowering the brake lever hoods, and would bring the arms more into direct opposition the legs without changing the upper body position. (See above.)
You don’t need to keep raising the bars to achieve a comfortable back angle. You can achieve the same by leaving the handlebars low, but shortening the reach. Signs that your position is wrong are back ache as I have described, and constantly sliding forward on the saddle.
Sometimes a saddle is set too far back to achieve Knee Over Pedal (KOP) resulting to too much reach; then the handlebars are raised to compensate. KOP is less important than a good overall positition; no need to go to extremes measuring with plumb lines, etc; the important thing is, “Are your arms working in opposition to your legs?”
It is an easy matter to sit on your bike, lean against a wall for support, and have someone take your picture. Make sure your cranks are horizontal; then draw lines as I did from the hip joint to the pedal, and the shoulder joint to the hands. The lines will not be exactly parallel but if they fall within those shown in the above picture you will not be far away.
With your arms lower you place some of your upper body weight on them, relieving that which was previously all on the saddle. With your hands closer you are more likely to ride with your elbows bent, arms are relaxed and there is less strain on the shoulder muscles.
Remember, listen to your body, it will tell you if your position is right.
By the comments that followed this post, many cannot see that on the bike pictured at the top with a shorter stem (Pointing slightly down instead of up.) the rider would have the exact same back angle, but with better weight distribution. Plus the bike would look 100% better. The arms and hands have simply rotated to a lower, but closer position. The shoulders and the rest of the upper body have remained in the same place.