The frame was a little too small for me so the cockpit was snug. To boot, I was suffering from muscle soreness in my lower back and was moving about rather gingerly. Thus, as I stood over the bike I worried about getting on and off. Just the thought of mounting, riding and dismounting the steel beast was making my back ache.
However, much to my surprise, I discovered that climbing into the saddle was uneventful and painless. The North Road bars coupled with the short top tube allowed me to support my weight with my arms and took the strain off my back. If I wanted, I could get my elbows under by shoulders, which felt comfortable and stable. Later that day, when describing the riding experience to the owner of the Raleigh, I jokingly likened it to using a walker.
Joke or not, shortly thereafter I went to my neighborhood bike shop and purchased a set of Nitto Priest bars. The Priest bars are very similar to Nitto’s current North Road style offering, the Albatross. I’ve used the same Priest bars on all my daily commuter/townie incarnations ever since. Although, I'm still a committed drop-bar guy for road and touring.
One important part of the swept back style handlebar, and the main point of this post, is the hand position. It’s very natural and comfortable. Try this: Stand up and let your arms hang at your sides and completely relax. Look at the position of your hands. If you're like most, your hands are in a position that matches well with the grip area of some swept back bars - around 70-75 degrees. Good examples include the previously mentioned Nitto Albatross, Soma Oxford, Civia Aldrich, and VO’s Porteurs.
These bars and others like them, provide the best angle, in my estimation. Of course there are other variables to consider; such as the width of the bars. But I find that to be less of a consideration for me. I am comfortable on both wide and narrow bars, so long as the hand position is right. I also prefer the ends of the bars to be tipped down at around a 10-15 degree angle and to be roughly the same as the saddle height - maybe a little lower, actually. And I like bars that have minimal rise or drop.
Of course, mixing long reach swept back bars with a short reach stem can obliterate the hand position benefits. For instance, if you take a set of Nitto Promenade handlebars and attach them to a short reach stem, say 70mm, you get what is called the “tiller effect.” When the handlebars sweep back (reach) too far from the steering axis, they become a long lever that requires your hands to move left and right a greater distance as you turn the bicycle. This makes steering awkward. Take a ride on a beach cruiser with hyper swept back bars and you’ll have an immediate understanding of the tiller effect.
The picture below features a variety of handlebars from my collection. I have yet to try the Civia Aldrich bars, but I've heard nice things about them. The Nitto Promenade bars at the very bottom of the photo are beautiful but are definitely the most promising to give you the "tiller" experience. On top are a some vintage GB All-Rounders that I used for on my commuter bike for years before switching them out for a more swept back style.