One thing I noticed on last Sunday’s ride is that many new riders seemed glued to their handlebars. Uphill or down, their hands remained locked on the black rubber brake hoods. This is a versatile position that allows braking, shifting, and is aerodynamic. But if you are going to survive, and even thrive during all those hours on the bike, you gotta move! Ever wonder why the handlebars are so twisted? They allow you to shape your body for three different modes.
The first mode is climbing. When going up a hill you need to breath a lot, so your body should not be bunched up. Put your arms on the top of your handlebars almost close enough to touch your thumbs. This opens up your chest so you can bring in lots of air. Avoid the death grip by occasionally wriggling your fingers like you are playing a piano. This relaxes your hands, arms, and shoulders.
The next activity is riding on the flats. You are going faster so you want to be more aerodynamic. If you are going more than 15mph, put your hands on the brake hoods. This also allows you to shift and brake. If you are riding in a group with others around you speeding up and slowing down, this is where you want to be.
The final activity is descending. If you are going more than 20mph, it might be time to put your hands on the drops. Down here, your thumb is hooked around the bar and your next two fingers can reach the brake lever. This position has the most control for steering and stopping, plus the least wind resistance. You can fly down hills and quickly brake if needed. It is also the least comfortable, straining your back and neck.
Here is a quick video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28ADO9pC1BY It is oriented at professional riders, so ignore the fashion advice.
Lastly, your bike may have come with the handlebars pointed higher than in the video. Your shop did this knowing that leaning over, with your hands on the drops, can stress your lower back. The next time you visit your shop, ask them to check your position. Ask for help on this one to avoid big changes, and to make sure your handlebars are secure. If the bolts are too loose, the bars will move when you hit a pothole, and if the bolts are overtightened, you can break them.