Heads Up!

“Look where you want to go.”  Ever heard that pithy little saying before?  Well, it’s true, y’know.

Whether you are on the road or on the trail, your bike will go where your eyes lead it.  So, it is important to focus on the line you want your bike to follow. But, focus is only one part of the bike guidance equation. The other part is head position. The ideal head position is: up.

It is essential keep your head up while riding. By holding your head up while riding you:

1. Maintain an open airway for unrestricted breathing;

2. Extend your line of sight so that your eyes can effectively scan the road or trail ahead;

3. Enable easy side-to-side head movement enhancing your peripheral vision.

The Line of Sight

According to extensive ergonomic design specifications issued by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the line of sight range for the average human with a fixed head position is 65 degrees to the superior (above the 0 degree line of sight) and 35 degrees to the inferior (below the 0 degree line of sight). Apparently, NASA wants to make sure that astronauts piloting large orbital vehicles and performing emergency repairs on satellites during spacewalks can easily see what they’re doing.  Imagine that.

Fortunately, for us Earth-bound cyclists, we can learn something from our space-faring brothers and sisters.  Below is a diagram that illustrates the range of sight achievable without moving the head:


Note that this diagram identifies 15 degrees to the superior as the ideal forward line of sight, whereas the natural, fixed eye position line of sight is 15 degrees to the inferior, shown as the zero degrees line of sight.

As cyclists, it is important to keep this in mind.  Improper bike fit, latent biomechanical issues, and chronic injuries can create shoulder and neck pain.  Often, the result is a cyclist riding with straight arms, locked elbows, raised shoulders, and a dropped head.  This is bad. Improper bike fit, latent biomechanical issues, and chronic injuries are complicating factors that cannot be effectively addressed in this short article.  However, the necessity of keeping the head up while riding and the importance of developing the ability to do so for long periods of time cannot be overstated.

Beyond the stability and comfort that comes with a heads-up position on the bike, safety is seriously compromised if a cyclist cannot see the road or trail ahead of them.  The diagram below shows how the range of sight can be severely inhibited by the simple down-rotation of the head by less than 20 degrees:


Peripheral Vision

Peripheral vision is also affected by a cyclist’s head position. Consider that peripheral vision is the eye’s ability to sense light, interpret color, and track motion when it is in its most outermost rotation.  Our good friends at NASA have identified the fixed-head position maximum peripheral vision line of sight as 65 degrees from center.  This means that in order for a cyclist to glimpse what is behind them, the head must be turned approximately 40-45 degrees to the side.  Given the limited rotational axis of the cervical vertebrae, a cyclist riding with a head-down position will not be able to turn their head enough to allow their peripheral vision to discern what is behind them.

A head up position while riding is ideal for performance and essential for safety.  Factors that limit a cyclist’s ability to lift their head — and keep it up for extended periods of time – like improper bike fit, latent biomechanical issues, and chronic injuries should be addressed by qualified, clinically-trained professionals.  Only by being able to maintain a heads-up position while riding will a cyclist realize their full on-the-bike potential.


About The Author

AaronMTBExtraSmallAaron Hanson (a.k.a The Cap’n) is manager of the Southern California Colavita Regional Amateur Team.  A 25-year veteran of the sport and lifestyle of cycling, Aaron has raced both road and mountain bikes, advocated for bicycle transportation funding and facilities at the city, county, state, and federal levels, planned and facilitated numerous bicycle events, and helped several municipalities and counties create viable bikeway master plans.

Aaron has been honored by IMBA, CORBA, Clif Bar, the City of Los Angeles, the County of Ventura, the City of Simi Valley, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate for his bicycle advocacy work.  He has even won a bike race or two.

Aaron can be contacted via e-mail at: bikinguy@sbcglobal.net



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