What’s The Deal With Drop Bars?
When it comes to important equipment for your bike, the bike handlebars is up there and un, fortunately, you’re stuck with what you get unless you decide to build your own bike.
In case you stumbled upon this article and have no clue what drop bars are, they allow you to crouch down and reduce drag. This position can greatly increase your speed and efficiency. This comes in handy when you’re descending a hill, riding a long flat section, or riding into the wind.
Bars come in a whole host of shapes and sizes, and so picking the right bar can be an overwhelming task if you don’t know what to look out for. From reach and width to flare, the options are endless.
Before they rose in popularity, bars were narrow for about 70 years. Although, interestingly enough, before that, they were wide and much closer to what would be considered ideal today.
Today there are more drop-bar variations than ever before, but the vast majority are still designed and rated for racing on the road. This isn’t overly practical as only a tiny fraction of cyclists actually are on the racing scene. A few companies have started to design bars for general riding, and some have even delved into designing bars for riding off-road and on-road.
Dimensions For Your Bar
There are a few things you’re going to be looking at when looking for a drop bar.
The useable width of the bar, as measured from the center of the drops. You’ll find that this is normally listed in increments of 2cm. An important thing worth considering is shoulder width when choosing bar width- the wider your shoulders, the wider a bar you should look at.
Wider bars will allow for better bike control, especially on hard descents, as well as more torque over the bike in a sprint, but riding a bar that’s too wide can move stresses usually absorbed by your arms up to your shoulders, resulting in a sore neck or shoulders.
This is the distance from the center of the handlebar at the stem to the bend. The reach can affect your upper body position when riding on the hoods, without affecting your body position in the drops or the tops. Reach usually ranges from 80mm to 85mm.
The bar’s drop is measured from the center of the flat top section to the center of the bar at the deepest point of the drop. A shallow drop means your body position changes less drastically from hood to drop than it would with a deep drop of 130mm or more.
The shape of the drops on a road handlebar determines its ride qualities, as well as its aesthetics. Take into account the amount of time you’re likely to spend using this part of the bar as the more combative your riding style, the more time you’ll likely spend ‘in the drops’.
the most comfortable option for riders is ergonomic drops, though classic drops fit certain people better, and offer a wider range of hand positions due to the nature of the rounded curve.
Road handlebars give you three distinct hand positions to choose from. These different positions not only have the benefit of providing a different riding position as a break for tired hands, but each has its own benefits to maximize your power output and comfort. A general rule of thumb though is to have the end of the bars pointing toward you and face down slightly. But let’s jump into the methods so you can figure out which is best for you:
In the Drops
This refers to the position where you place your hands on the lower section of the bar. From here, your body is out of the way of the wind so your aerodynamics are more efficient. From this position, you’ll also get other perks to your cycling like a lower center of gravity, more leverage over the brake levers for more braking power, and generally more sprinting power from the extra leverage you can get over the bike. However, this position will require core strength to hold and it will put more pressure on your back, so it’s best to not stay in this position for too long.
On the Hoods
This position is the one you’ll spend the most time in while riding. From here you can reach both shifters and brakes easily, plus you have an aerodynamic advantage. In addition to this, you’ll be fitted to the bike in this position, so you’ll find that you’ll be much more balanced while in this position.
On the Tops
This one refers to your hands being placed in the flat position of the bar and closer to the stem. This is a resting position so it’s trickier to get some effective power output while in this position This means it has some aerodynamic disadvantages. On the other hand, it’s an effective way of relieving stress from your back and shoulders, and it will give you better control over the bike if you need to take a hand off the bars.
Flared Drop Bars
‘Flare’ is defined as the predominant feature that distinguishes dirt and gravel drop-bars from traditional road bike handlebars. Flare represents the angle at which the bottom of the drop is flared outward from the top of the bar at the bend that forms the drop.
For example, a 29° flare has an angle to the drop. Whereas, traditional road handlebars mostly have 0° of flare and the drops will fall in a vertical, perpendicular orientation to the horizontal bar at the top.
Choosing Gravel Drop Bar Width
The most pressing reason to upgrade to a more specialized off-road drop bar is control and stability. It’s generally accepted that having wider bars with drops that flare outward provides more control when compared to bars designed for standard road cycling, which were originally engineered for speed and efficiency.
Additional width creates a more natural position for most people and so adds stability and leverage while climbing and descending in the hoods. And considering that most people keep their hands in the drops while negotiating steep, loose, off-camber, or more technical surfaces, shallower, flared, and outswept drop extensions will offer you more control while in this position.
Frequently Asked Questions
How wide should my bar be?
Most bars, measured center-to-center at the hoods, are 40-46cm wide. Although some are narrower at the 36cm mark, and others are much wider, up to 66cm.
Are wider handlebars better?
Making the switch to a narrower handlebar will make your bike more twitchy and easier to maneuver; while a wider bar will increase the stability of your front end and provide a calmer feel than before.
Are drop bars more comfortable?
A bar gives you more hand positions, which results in superior palm comfort, and the option to ride in different positions which allows you to maximize or minimize your aerodynamics, while flat bars are easier to handle and maneuver with for beginners and give a more comfortable, upright riding position.
Where should my handlebars be?
Your handlebars should be at least as high as your seat, or even above it, so you can ride upright. If your handlebars are lower than your seat you’ll be pushed into your handlebars, and you’ll place more stress on your wrists, arms, neck, and back.
So, there you have it, you’re now a certified expert in drop bars. There’s still a lot of research you can do though. It’s a common mistake to assume that these can only be applied to racing but they are beginning to enter the amateur market too.
Whether you decide that they’re for you or not. Never underestimate the width and the importance of road bike handlebars as they play a big part in comfort and your bike position which in turn improves your speed.
So enjoy the ride and…