Upright Mammals

Upon returning to the city and getting on my Gazelle again, I was surprised by how different the cycling experience felt from being on my Rivendell.

Normally, I ride both bicycles regularly, so the switch back and forth does not feel remarkable. But after having cycled solely on a roadbike for three weeks, I almost felt as if I had to forcefully uncurl my spine as I transformed from a quadruped to a biped.

While we were away, the Co-Habitant teased that I would get accustomed to using a roadbike for transportation and would probably just keep doing it when we got home - after all, it's faster. But it soon became clear that when it comes to upright bicycles, absence made the heart grow fonder. (Now, if I can just stop trying to use the non-existent bar-end shifters on my poor Dutch bike!)

I think that as upright mammals, we are accustomed to seeing the world from the vantage point of bipedalism and we feel the most relaxed when adopting that posture. It is only natural that people prefer to remain upright when moving through their environment - whether on foot, or on bike, or on public transport. While upright bicycles may not be appropriate for sport or long distance travel, their importance in the realm of "normal cycling" cannot be overstated. Most people considering a bicycle for transportation do not see themselves as "cyclists". They want to be their usual selves, except on a bike. I think the ability to remain an upright mammal is crucial to retaining one's inherent sense of self while cycling for transportation. 


  1. After riding bikes in Amsterdam, I had a similar experience - my Raleigh Sports isn't quite as dramatically different as a racing bike, but it is definitely set up more like a racing bike than it is like your Gazelle - bars lower than the saddle, etc. Riding the bike in Amsterdam, I had that feeling of "Damn, this is a nice way to get around." It really revived my interest in intentionally seeking out a good Dutch bike for my daily stuff.

  2. I love the contrast of your photos in this post. Although very different positions, both look very natural on you.

    BTW...You look so fast on your Rivendell!

  3. How you see the world around you on a bike is how a long-time biking friend of mine made the switch to a recumbant for touring. He says he never wanted to be "one of those recumbant riding guys" but once he headed down an Iowa back-road one summer afternoon and saw the whole world around him as opposed to just the road in front of him, he could never go back.

  4. i dunno. . .i still move around on all fours and therefore prefer the more bent over position;-)

  5. What gorgeous photos....

    I think you are absolutely right. Aside from cycling conditions that require speed, or cycling over distances, the upright position is amazingly comfortable and natural in just the way you suggest. I think that's one reason why, globally, upright bicycles are dominant -- the Flying Pigeon in China; the roadster; the European and especially Dutch bicycles; etc. And the Flying Nellie in Ireland...

    For me, riding is about all the wonderful things people always point to -- the joy of it; getting somewhere as a result entirely of your own efforts; the exercise; being out-doors, etc. But there's also the fact that, on a bicycle, I feel that I interact with my physical environment in a way that I don't in any other means of transportation, including walking. It reminds me that I'm a physical self in a physical world. Riding upright allows a visual appreciation of that world in a way that is harder to do in a road or racing position, though there is a lot to be said for those positions, too. Each has its place, but I agree -- "upright" is a celebration of movement and travel and one's place in the world, in its own very special way.

  6. Here's to Bipedalism!
    Archaeologists have confirmed that homoerectus rode a Pashley; hence the name.
    Those knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, on the other hand, undoubtedly rode bikes with primitive drop bars.

  7. 20km daily is nice in an upright position, on my Pashley Roadster. Really it is!

    50km, 3x weekly, or 100km, now and again, is OK with the head down. (on the Legnano) In fact, I don't think it could be done otherwise.


    The comments here make me consider trying a recumbent!

    I have a feeling that a velomobile could be AWESOME fun in the same regard.... (!)

    But it's such a challenge finding a place to pilot something like that.

    For me, anyway.

    Good post!


  8. In my neck of the woods, the majority of riders are still on racing bikes, so I get some looks and comments of approval on my (upright) Pashley. But, there are a smattering of cruisers, older Mixte's and old Raleigh's around, more than in the past (particularly in Downtown DC). So, I think people are starting to appreciate the upright position, and seeing their surroundings a bit differently. Not to be misunderstood...racing bikes are fun. But, we don't always need to get from point A to point B rapidly. I still ride the Peugot (UO8)...mostly because it looks lonely. But, I gotta admit, the (upright) Pash is my new fave.

  9. I own three bikes at the moment, a Felt F75 road bike, an Opus Lugano city bike, and a Trek District (the original 2009 model). Unsurprisingly, the first is quite low and aggressive, and the second is upright and relaxed. Where it gets interesting is the third one...

    It's stem has a fair bit of angle to it, and while it is often shown (as it is on the Trek web site) with the stem pointing down, mine came with the stem pointing up, for some reason.

    On my District, I seem to have an intermediate position, where I'm not nearly upright, but yet remain with my neck relatively straight, and with good vision around me. And if I want to sprint for a short while, flexing my elbows a bit gets me lower, and I can just *whoosh* away in ease.

    It's not perfect, as it is single-speed, so it's not very good for longer rides, but of the three bikes, this is the one that I pick by default for doing my commute/errands, and that I enjoy riding the most, which certainly counts for something!

  10. Hadn't realised that so many male readers owned Pashleys - nice!

    Re skirts: Yes! I am still not 100% recovered and have been knitting cycling-friendly skirts to keep myself from going stir-crazy. Not saying they are any good, but looks like I will have a new wool skirt wardrobe for the season.

  11. Very interesting observation.

    Recently I've been moving back and forth between a road bike and a fully upright city bike. I feel much more efficient, of course, on the road bike because I can use all parts of my body, while on the upright I mostly just use my legs and my air resistance is much higher. But I kept noticing an attitude change between the two rides and I couldn't put my finger on it.

    You identified it for me. Thanks.

  12. MT Cyclist--Neanderthal bikes were brakeless fixed-gear bikes, which is why Neanderthals are extinct. Archaeologists find them piled up at the bottoms of ravines and cliffsides.

  13. I think the Flintstones were riding direct drive?

  14. Yeah, Pebbles trike was definitely direct drive. As was their car :)

  15. Re: skirts... which pattern are you using and which yarn? I've been looking for a good knitted skirt pattern...

  16. I don't use patterns, but I posted instructions for one of the skirts in the comments section of this post.

  17. Cats prefers the leaned over position with ears back.

  18. I had a vintage touring Raleigh. Sadly, while pregnant I have an abdominal wall separation. After having the baby, the Raleigh wasn't upright enough for me. I needed to have my weight over my tail bone, tipping forward at the hips, even a little was instantly painful. In order to get back to biking as soon as possible, I ended up buying a VERY upright Giant. I miss my lugs. I miss the vintage. The Giant carries me as comfortable as walking, even if I sit with my back so straight I look like I could be wearing a corset under my clothes.

  19. I have an old Austrian Puch racing bike, which has seen constant conversions into semiupright bike and reverse. Riding it in upright position is not as comfortable as one might assume, after all it is made as racing geometry bicycle.

  20. Yes, I saw some vintage racey road bikes outfit with north roads and wondered how comfortable they are in their "slower" form.

    Somervillain converted his full-on touring Shogun to albatross bars and a more upright position, equipped it for kid-carrying and loves it. So, it's probably most important to start with the correct bike before simply making it upright.

  21. Until seeing the photographs at the top of the post, I hadn’t considered how radically different riding postures can be. I suppose I’ve just adapted to whatever kind of machine I’ve been on. I’ve just come in from a ride on my latest bike put together from odds and ends. The frame is a Raleigh Team Banana replica, in 18-23 lugged steel tubing, and everything else (including the forks) is from a Hercules ladies’ roadster. Both bikes date from the 1980s, I think. The Sturmey-Archer AW hub had to be completely rebuilt. Apart from that, everything just fitted together nicely. The Banana would have been fitted with derailleurs and drop handlebars originally. It’s quite a tall frame (twenty-three and a half inches) with steepish geometry, but it rides fine with flat handlebars. It feels very light and agile. As I was nearly home, someone wound down his window (he’d been behind me in an SUV) and said it was a nice bike, which naturally reminded me of this site!


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