There’s no reason to buy a bike that you can’t get the bars level with or higher than the saddle, and there’s no reason to ever ride with the bars lower than that, either. It’s common wisdom that the lower the bars are, the more power you can generate. But the more power you kick out is just that, energy that’s out. Touring, casual riding, mountain biking: all of these are about not only having energy at the end of the day to deal with one last hill or an unexpected boulder field, but also being alert enough to set up camp, and then to get up the next day and do it all over again. Riding in a position that helps conserve power is whatcha want. And that means going a bit slower, but riding longer, with less or no pain. Bikes shouldn’t feel like couches, but they shouldn’t feel like inquisition torture devices either.
We’ve converted lots of bikes to higher bars. Of them, one customer went back to lower bars, not because she wanted to, but because her riding partner thought she should. Another went back because they didn’t like the LD look. Neither went back because it didn’t work or wasn’t comfortable. Looks are a concern, but looks are also something we adapt to. Take, for instance, fashion. No one in their right mind would say that zoot suits , or parachute pants, or Jncos should make a comeback. But at one point they were totally hip. Normal is a relative concept, and whatever you see the most of becomes the new norm. When you ride high bars for a few months, you’ll start looking at low bars and think, man that looks weird AND uncomfortable.