Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Upside Down North Roads

sports4
During the VCC Northern Ireland Ride last weekend I had the opportunity to ride several bicycles that were fitted with upside down North Road handlebars - classic swept-back bars mounted upside down in order to achieve a lower hand position. Personally, I love upside-down North Roads. Unlike many other handlebar set-ups designed to achieve an aggressive posture, I've always found them comfortable and intuitive. So it surprised me to learn from others on the ride that this set-up tends to be a "love it or hate it" sort of thing, with many falling firmly into the latter category. 

Susan's Vintage Miss Mercian
Apparently, those who do not like the bars report that they make a bike's handling twitchy - almost providing too much leverage for comfort. That intrigues me, because that same feeling of leverage is what makes me feel in control of the bike - able to manipulate it and "place it" as it were exactly as I want.

ANT Truss Frame Bicycle
I also like the ergonomics: My wrists just seem to naturally plop down onto the gripping areas as they do on regularly mounted North Roads, but the low placement of my hands enables a much more aggressive position than on a typical upright bike. It's almost like riding with drop handlebars, except with access to standard brake levers in the drops.

Vintage Mystery Bike
Interestingly though, I noticed that all the upside-down North Roads on the VCC ride were set up with the gripping areas pointing down, whereas in the US I usually see them set up with the gripping areas more or less parallel to the ground. I cannot tell which I find more comfortable.

Setting a bicycle up with upside-down North Roads is the best method I know of achieving an aggressive yet ergonomic hand position without resorting to drop bars. I am curious what your thoughts on them are. 

57 comments:

  1. Well to be fair all of our bikes have gripping areas pointed down, whether the north roads are upside down or regular, my Pashley, your Bella Ciao. Or even if the bars are porteur, like on your mixte. I think the upside-downess of north roads looks cool, but it ultimately is only a factor of where the grips are. I have achieved something similar on my Pashley without flipping the north roads, and that helps me with my crazy water bottle placement. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I don't think you can separate the overall ergos of the bike from upside downs, but a couple of things: only one-ish hand position, which leads less range of motion of the joints of the upper body, which means more discomfort and fatigue over longer distances.

    I prefer the "normal" position of pull-back bars with a long flat section for gripping time trial style. Something I've written about before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Another thing - the wrist angle you have in the photo mimics the shake hands angle that riding on the brake hoods on a drop bar bike produces.

      Just speaking about this bike your seat is so low, your reach isn't extreme and you're on a sprung saddle, all of which add up to less weight on your hands than a stretched out roadie position. In that position, the rider would feel a lot more weight on the hands.

      Delete
  3. This is approximately where the development of drop bars began in the decade or two before 1900.

    I also see that Americans tend to position their upright handlebars with the grip section approximately parallel to the ground. It looks pretty but in my book it's usually not ideal.

    The ideal angle varies with the height of the handlebar in relation to the saddle but basically one should strive for a neutral wrist position and and angle where your hands don't tend to slide either forward or back along the grips. That's usually means an increasingly downward angle as the handlebars are raised.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To Henry: I've long found that my problematical left palm is happiest with the bar, of any sort (and I've used most of them) perfectly flat, or very close to perfectly flat, no matter how much gap between saddle and bar. Heck, I even like bar ends on mtb bars perfectly flat -- something that has annoyed bike mechanics who consider it, I guess, Fredly. (I just learned a cool new term from 1950s British club riders: "Tuggo." A Tuggo is rather like a Fred. I wish I'd learned that as a sprog.) The Grand Bois Maes Parallels are the most comfortable bars I've used, as much as anything because they set up so nicely with the ends of the hooks parallel to Mother Earth.

      Point? Not much, except that there are exceptions to every rule and twice as many for saddle, pedal and bar choices.

      Delete
    2. Bertin, I did write "usually" above but perhaps should have added "...unless, for any reason you prefer it otherwise".

      A problematical left palm sounds like a good reason. ;-)

      Delete
    3. I agree with henryinamsterdam about having gripping area tilted for comfort.

      I have upright Northroads on my Superbe, with gripping area tilted downward. That and the fact that the ends of the bar flare out make it fairly comfortable for the wrists. Most Raleighs I see with North Roads show some tilt.

      In contrast, my rod-braked Dawn Tourist bars seem very uncomfortable. They have to be straight across the front to accommodate the pivoting end of the brake levers but they have less tilt and flare on the ends than the North Roads and are not at all adjustable for tilt.

      Delete
  4. Flipping North Roads (and other similar shapes) is a classic and functional move.

    From an aesthetic and practical angle, though, it bothers me to see acres of stem showing...and flipped bars. That just tells me people want the "cool" looking flipped-bars, not a lower hand position. In my opinion, it looks accordingly confused. I say if you want a lower hand position, slam that stem and, if that's not low enough, flip the bars...but that's just me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree it looks a bit funny, but on vintage bikes the handle bar stems might not move as much as the owner would like.

      Delete
  5. Why not just use porteur bars set up the correct way, I wonder?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. porteurs do not flare outward, they come straight back at you, and they are long. I like mine with a long stem, like a fine chardonnay ;-)

      Delete
    2. Right, the angle of the griping areas is completely different.

      Delete
  6. I'm a big fan of this bar set-up, to the point where I opted for this rather than classic drop bars on my 1970s lightweight racer resto, even though this style of bar was completely 'period-incorrect'. Like you I like the lowered position that's not quite as low as drops. The width is good too. But most of all for me, it is the angled writ position that makes it most comfortable. I don't have them totally flat, but angled towards the ground slightly, although not as far as in some of your pics V. That position may be as much about a 'period' convention as for comfort: I've seen many early 20th C. bikes with this position. Cafe racer motorbikes also use this grips-angled-down thing.

    Here's a pic of my current set-up. They are Nitto Dove bars with about 30mm cut off each end. The levers are road levers mounted just inside the bend as one would with mustache bars. It raises a few eyebrows on paceline rides... http://tinyurl.com/7jhm2f4 b

    ReplyDelete
  7. That should have been "wrist" not "writ". :) b

    ReplyDelete
  8. For me, it was a 'hate.' The handles were too close to my legs and I could never achieve that stretched out position which allowed me to breath properly durning my commute. Twitchy is a good word to describe the handling. Same bike with flatter bars worked perfectly.

    ReplyDelete
  9. We used to do this on our single speed back in the 60's. Still not the same as drop bars.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hah! That was my first hot rod modification (after removing fenders and chain guard) age circa 13; bike was a metallic gold Sports. But I could and can never get comfortable on bars like this -- nor Moustache bars, much as I like the look and the idea. Drops for me every time. Even the metallic gold Sports quickly acquired a cheap, steel pair of drops.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hanseikan

    our bikes are well used and the bar position is set for comfort and not period convention as you suggest. My wife has rode her mixte up to 50 miles with no wrist problems.

    Chris531

    ReplyDelete
  12. Your post reminded me I was recently out riding one of my bikes with similar style bars (but not flipped over). I was noticing some wrist strain and found my wrists to be excessively adducted. I realized I just need to drop the ends down more. This just confirms that need. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  13. It's not necessarily just an aesthetic consideration. I have a specific reason for flipping an upright handlebar (albeit one with minimal rise) upside down on my family touring bike. The stem and center section of the handlebar needs to be fairly high for the child seat. Think clearance for plump baby thighs and knees. Getting the handlebar to the correct height (slightly below saddle) requires mounting it reversed.

    Also holding in the curved section is much more comfortable with the bar reversed since it puts the wrists in a neutral position. This area is otherwise almost unusable.

    Here's me on the bike with sleeping kids, on a mountain:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/henryinamsterdam/6055117789/in/set-72157627436933980

    ReplyDelete
  14. If you turn North Road bars over, does that make them South Roads?

    ReplyDelete
  15. One advantage I find with flipped NR bars is that you have another grip position on the curves. I use this when I have to hunker down a bit when riding into winds.

    Tony

    ReplyDelete
  16. I love this setup. I'm thinking about building a cross check up this summer just to have a bike with flipped north roads. I find them to have three good hand positions especially when angled, while non flipped have one, maybe two. I also like that in about five minutes or less they can be flipped again for more upright riding.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Like "path racer," what constitutes a North Road bar is widely misunderstood, especially by Americans. These pictures all show light roadster bars flipped over. The Golden Arrow is a little reminiscent, but still not it. A true pre-WarII North Road bar has more drop and is more curved. It's like a Lauterwasser with less drop and less reach, but still lots of curve. The gents bike here is on the mark:
    http://sheldonbrown.com/retroraleighs/catalogs/1939/pages/11.htm

    Post-war, after true North Road bars went out of production, Raleigh called the bars on their Sports light roadster a North Road. Sheldon Brown picked it up. Now any roadster-type bar is called a North Road. No wonder riding them flipped down is love-hate, they never were intended to be used this way, even if they do work for some people. In contrast, I never saw a photo of a pre-War bike with true North Road bars flipped upright. Though not as popular as other bends, they were a comfortable drop for many.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The bike in the first picture here is a pre-war bike with flipped North Roads, all original set-up.

      Delete
  18. I like 'em. My last set were Wald steel models, which have a little more of a forward grip angle than many of the older British designs. I found that (like GR Jim suggests) I needed a little more variety to the grip. The older Raleigh & Phillips designs with their more acute angles accomplish this. I intend to kit out the most desirable chrome Mongoose with these later this summer...

    ReplyDelete
  19. I flipped the North Roads on my Nishiki Mixte and I like it. It is a bit twitchy and I have to be careful my knees don't hit my elbows. I've learned to stick my elbows out when pedaling and then to stick my knees out a tiny bit when turning. It sounds more complex than it is.

    As for hand positions, instead of grips, I used bar tape, which lets me grip the bars in a range of spots. So far, so good.

    Here's a look at my setup, albeit before I switched from grips to tape:

    http://mikespokes.blogspot.com/2010/12/homemade-guvnor.html

    ReplyDelete
  20. Most enjoyable! Thanks for the photos. In the mid-90''s I did a solo of Ireland and enjoyed it immensely.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "Setting a bicycle up with upside-down North Roads is the best method I know of achieving an aggressive yet ergonomic hand position without resorting to drop bars."

    I would guess that the flipped bars started as a way to deal with A) Wanting to look more cool B) Bike that did not really fit (too big) and not "racy" enough. C) Not enough money to buy different bike or different bars. D) No internet or similar to tell you what you could buy if you had the money.

    I think such bikes are really cool to look at, Kind of playful and "all problems can be solved". Of course some bike/stem/bars combos happend to be greta for some and bad for others.

    Looking at the photo I see your back being in a "hunched" position, not sure about that.

    I find that discussing what is a "real" Northroad bar is not interesting. Who used the name first also. It is not a "trademark" as far as I know. When we describe gearing we use numbers: 11-34, 30-42-52. When we describe bikes we use lenght of tubes or angles (or both). I guess we should start doing the same to describe the bars and maybe just use the manufacturers name in case somebody want to know to buy the same bar.

    V: you must be in "old bike heaven". Enjoy!
    badmother

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There aren't many old bikes out and about on the roads. But Chris Sharp's collection is amazing, as are the bikes other VCC NI members brought to the ride. Never seen so many interesting bikes in one place before!

      Delete
  22. I agree with this post whole-heartedly.

    I have three bikes setup with inverted cruiser bars, but I prefer to call them "semi-drops." In my experience, the primary challenge with setting these up is finding the perfect stem length to make all the hand positions on the bars convenient and comfortable. If you haven't got the right stem this kind of setup just doesn't work, I imagine that's the source of the love/hate reputation.

    Also, semi-drops work great with brifters, particularly Shimano style, though I know one person who uses Campy ergo levers and claims to be able to reach his thumb buttoms just fine.

    http://tinyurl.com/87yzol7

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow. I wonder how those compare to the Salsa Woodchipper bars?

      Delete
    2. I've got woodchippers on two bikes and have flipped north roads on setups. The positioning is very similar especially if the woodchippers are set up in the dirt drop position (tops a bit above the saddle, drops slightly below.) Woodchippers have an additional hand position on the tops, while the north roads have a more stretched out forward position similar to mustache bars.

      The main difference is reach, with the north roads being a much closer reach. You'd probably want a larger sized bike for the flipped north roads not to be cramped. On my Rawland to get a good position I've had V/O Randonneur bars with a 70mm stem, woodchippers with a 100mm stem, for the flipped north roads on that bike I'd need at least a 120 or a larger size bike.

      Delete
  23. makes you look like riding a 1930s motorcycle, I love it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know! Probably the closest I'll ever get to riding a motorcycle though : )

      Delete
    2. If you want to get a little closer there is a major event, the North West 200 (in the classic TT style), happening just up the road from you starting yesterday and continuing on Thursday and Saturday. The riders are, in my opinion, crazy but would still love to watch what they do - my favorite being Guy Martin. My guess is that traffic will be heavy on the weekend but there is lots going on tomorrow too.

      Link 1: http://www.northwest200.org/

      Link 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn1YB7fk8eg

      Delete
  24. This is a valuable article.

    For many in the U.S. anyway, handlebars mean drops or traditional straight mountain bars. A good reminder there are many practical alternatives out there that may just work better for some cyclists.

    ReplyDelete
  25. why not just lower your stem to get the grips at the same elevation?

    ReplyDelete
  26. Crossing the border from Germany to the Netherlands one of the obvious, immediate changes was the angle of people's bars. The Germans like them horizontal, the Dutch angle them down. Odd that it seems to be a national trait.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've noticed the ppl in Flandria likes them flipped as in this article.

      Delete
  27. Personally, I like both the look and feel of upside down Northroads. Studying your images as I read through your blog, I was already anticipating one issue that I feel is key to the comfort of this arrangement: the positioning of the bars, relative to the bike geometry. I find that the bars angled downward is awkward for me; I also am unimpressed with the aesthetics. By the way, when I place such emphasis on design, it's not purely a visual response - I often find that what is visual pleasing is also ergonomically valid as well. Thanks for an excellent topic, and one that I've often pondered over.

    ReplyDelete
  28. In my youth what you call flipped would be known as a North Road but only if there was a distinct forward bout and some drop, as per the first pic. The second would not be called North Road and either, flipped the other way up would be tourist, or more disparagingly dutch or german tourist. I occasionally road with the Birkenhead North Road Club, but they were the road club from Birkenhead North not the North Road club from Birkenhead.

    ReplyDelete
  29. It's funny to me that the ilistration of the North Road bars in the new Raleigh book shows the bars up side down. maybe we all ready know them as up side down!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I want this new Raleigh book. Where can I get it?

      Delete
  30. Mine are upright, but I do admire them overturned. A vintage mixte rider here turned hers parallel to the top tubes for a racy look.

    ReplyDelete
  31. North Roads started out downward. They later flipped them upwards. This is documented in Hadley's history book on Raleigh. We are just used to seeing them upright but in the beginning they were down.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I had overturned North Road-style bars on a bike. Actually, in their normal position, they were a bit more upright (I think) than true North Roads. So I didn't like them quite so much when they were downturned: It was like riding drop bars without the variety of options in hand positions, and less grip area. Perhaps I should try something closer to the true North Roads.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I think up-side down Northroads are so vintage cool that I cant believe more people don't use them. I have them on a couple of bikes right now and prefer them tilted down as on the bike your'e pictured on. They look sorta like the bars on a Brough Superior or similar 20s-30s vintage Brit Motorbike and I think more things should be made to look like a vintage Brit Motorbike...

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Spindizzy:
      “I think up-side down Northroads are so vintage cool that I cant believe more people don't use them. I have them on a couple of bikes right now and prefer them tilted down as on the bike your'e pictured on.” - This is exactly the way I do it – flippin’ ‘em bars all the time:
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/48688786@N04/6066729911/in/set-72157627487230016
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/48688786@N04/6064722510/in/set-72157627481762444/
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/48688786@N04/6064724032/in/set-72157627357409783

      “They look sorta like the bars on a Brough Superior or similar 20s-30s vintage Brit Motorbike and I think more things should be made to look like a vintage Brit Motorbike...” – In fact it was an American Boardtrack racer that inspired me to do this:
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/48688786@N04/6067245868/in/set-72157627362804231/ ,
      namely this one (we have a fixed gear here, no brakes, white tires, and Ignatz Schwinn was involved, so this may pass on here I hope ;) ):
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNCMT5R-VUk&feature=related

      And speaking of interesting bar shapes on unrestored beauties in a quite unrestored state, you might find this interesting – of American make, too:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfEZyCccKTs&NR=1 – hot stuff indeed, as you see … ;)

      And yes – flipped North Roadish bars are a good means to curate wrong frame dimensions, especially the all-too-long top tubes of 1970s racing bikes. :)

      Matthias

      Delete
  34. Flipped Flopped upward or downward. Either which way a North Road Bar is still a single grip. That said, this type of handlebar on a town bike for a run to the grocery or pub is pretty and handy

    ReplyDelete
  35. why cant u grip them anywhere else? state law?

    ReplyDelete
  36. How a Bicycle is Made (1945)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaxRQh03BOw

    shows bar production at 8min mark.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Those look similar to the hand position of Salsa Woodchippers.

    ReplyDelete