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Close-up of drop handlebars on a road bicycle

Bike Shorts: How to Position Your Hands on a Bike

Proper cycling hand positions are among the most important things for any cyclist to consider. But the main reason for this may be different than you think.

When riding, it’s common for cyclists to think about how they grip their handlebars in terms of comfort and aerodynamics. And these are important aspects of any ride. When you consider where or how to position your hands on a bike, though, the first thing you should think about is your safety.

“When they witness a serious downhill crash, the first question any experienced cyclist will ask is, ‘Where were his hands?’” says longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie. That’s because the faster you’re going, the more it matters where your hands are — and the more it could change the outcome of an accident.

To know where to grip, all you need to do is remember “Coach Darryl’s Rule of 8s,” which lays out the correct cycling hand positions at three different speed ranges.

On the Top

This position is safe at speeds up to about 8 miles per hour (there’s your first 8 to remember). Here, you have your hands on the top of the handlebars, close to the center. Your thumbs are about 3 to 7 inches apart, facing each other, and your knuckles are pointing ahead.

Cyclists like this position for its upright posture, and it’s handy for opening up the chest a bit for deep breathing on a hard climb. But it’s not a good position for controlling the bike, and you can’t quickly access the brakes, so once you get above 8-13 mph, it’s time to move your hands.

On the Hoods

This is by far the most comfortable position for most cyclists, and Coach Darryl estimates that riders spend about 75–80% of their time here. In this position, your hands are a bit farther apart, resting on the “hoods” of your brakes with your thumbs pointing straight ahead and your fingers curled down around the front of the drops. 

This is a great riding position because you have direct access to your brakes and shifters, and you’re leaning a bit farther forward for better aerodynamics while still sitting upright for comfort. You also have much better steering control.

The hoods are a safe spot for your hands at any speed up to about 18 mph (your second 8 to remember). Above that (usually on a downhill), you’re getting into situations where losing control or losing your grip could be catastrophic. 

“If you hit a bump and you weren’t prepared, one hand can slide off the handlebar involuntarily,” says Darryl. “This means the other hand is going to go quickly forward because your body wasn’t ready, causing your wheel to turn sharply in the opposite direction. And down you go.”

A friend of Darryl’s spent two months in the hospital after exactly this type of incident.

In the Hooks

To avoid the same fate at high speeds, you need to have your hands in the hooks. This means your thumbs are wrapped snuggly around the drops, with your knuckles facing forward. Here, you still have easy access to the brakes and superior steering control.

But the most important feature of this cycling hand position is the way it prevents your hands from slipping off the handlebars. If you hit a bump, it only jams your hands deeper into the hooks. This vastly decreases the likelihood that a minor jolt will turn into a debilitating crash. 

The hooks are safe at any speed, but they’re not the most comfortable or practical position. The forward-leaning posture is great for aerodynamic descents, but not particularly ideal for climbing a hill. So, this is perfect for speeds of about 28 mph and above (your third and final 8 to remember).

There you have it. The Rule of 8s couldn’t get much simpler — shift your hand position around 8, 18 and 28 miles per hour. Simple or not, you’re now equipped with one of the most important safety rules for cycling. Next time you’re riding, take note of your speed before you move your hands.


Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.