Road Bike Handlebars: 3 Reasons For Drop Handlebars


What a difference a few cycling seasons make. Not only am I now more comfortable where I previously dared not tread (in the handlebar drops), but there are times when riding on the brake hoods of my road bike handlebars feels like an unnatural act. My bicycle handlebar world has been turned upside down, and I’m a better cyclist for it.

It wasn’t too long ago that riding in the drops on a technical decent felt weird. Weird enough that I wouldn’t do it.

I’d rather go slow and tentative down the decent, getting dropped like the descending sissy careful cyclist I was.

Now I feel completely out of control on a fast, twisty descent if I’m not in the drops. All it took was a fierce dislike for giving up my hard-earned climbing advantages to descending daredevils.

Work, work, work up the hill.

Watch a couple of cycling Evil Knievels scream past on the downhill.

Life was unfair for Mr. Cycling Sissypants.

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Three of them were at 50% OR MORE

Reason #1: Riding In Handlebar Drops More Stable, Riding On The Bicycle Brake Hoods Can Be Squirmy!


I suppose it was peer pressure (imagine that!!) that got me off the brake hoods. When I started racing there were two things that had to go.

Hairy legs and brake hood riding .

-Sidenote- Sasquatch roams within a few clicks of my town, so hairiness is celebrated here, not scraped off with a razor. But that’s another story; best left untold.

Back to riding on the brake hoods…

A bike racing clinic by a former racer who excelled in two of my weaknesses (sprinting and descending) introduced me to counter-steering. I’m not so sure I’ve mastered the nuances of counter-steering, but the concepts of weighting the outside pedal and getting very low over the top tube did stick. You don’t get low over your top tube if you aren’t in the drops.


And once I got used to it, there’s been no turning back.

So if you aren’t taking advantage of the increased stability of riding in the handlebar drops when circumstances dictate the ‘need for speed’, force yourself to stay with it until descending on the brake hoods feels most unusual.

Reason #2: Getting In The Drops Of Your Road Bike Handlebars Reduces Your Frontal Area

Once you’ve spent a little time in the drops, sitting up feels like you’re impersonating a sail…because you are.

Try this on for size. Force yourself to stay in the drops for about 15 minutes while you’re cycling along at a good clip. Sometime in that period you’ll ‘make the switch’ to drop bar orientation. When you come out of the drops and onto the top of the bar, you’ll feel like you’re sitting terribly tall. You’ll feel like you’re wasting a lot of energy to move too much air.

And you won’t like it.

Reason #3: Road Bike Handlebars Offer Some Variety

I’ve recently increased the time spent on my mountain bike… and I’ve come away from the experience with an increased appreciation for the variety of hand positions my road bike handlebars offer.

A little time on the top of the bars, a little time on the hoods, a little time in the drops, a little ‘look mom, no hands!’, and before you know it the ride’s all done.

But there’s a road bike handlebar position that I see seasoned racers use when in a solo break that I haven’t mastered. It’s the ‘forearms on the top bar’ maneuver. When I try it I have this idea that if I hit a bump, my forearms will slip off the bars and my old carcass will end up sliding on the asphalt.

But I’m going to to keep practicing until it feels comfortable, because it has its place in the cycling world.

Just like working on the ‘no hands’ style which must be perfected, so that you can ‘assume the victory position’ when you win that road race!

And don’t forget to look for road bike handlebar deals at Bike Nashbar.

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4 Responses to Road Bike Handlebars: 3 Reasons For Drop Handlebars

  1. Ron Fritzke says:

    Hi Bear,

    Sorry for the late reply. Ironically, watching the Tour de France like a toad planted on my sofa has kept me from attending to my site. But I’m back in the saddle…

    I do descend with my fingers on the brakes. But you alluded to a problem that I don’t have to deal with very often, and that is cars that are also going down the hill. I live in a remote area so the descents that I’m learning to master are done without having to deal with cars slowing down in front of me.

    A few weeks ago I did some ‘stretching’ of my cornering by entering a few corners at 30mph instead of my usual 23mph. I was reminded how effective it is to really press hard on the outside pedal and get even lower over the top tube when the corner feels too tight. I was in the middle of the turn, feeling a little out of control…but almost immediately when I leaned over the top tube more, the corner lost much of its punch.

    If you have the luxury of descending with someone who’s faster than you on the road, you can just enter the corners as fast as they do, having the confidence that if they can get around the turn at that speed, you can too.

    Invariably I’ll get into a turn and then exit it feeling like I didn’t really push the turn to my limits. The only solution to that one is to enter the turn at a speed that I’d judge to be too fast. Hopefully after a bunch of those experiences, my entry speed judgment will go up.

    I don’t usually feel like my hands will come off the bars with my fingers on the brakes because my hands are kind of pushing forward against the front of the drops.

    Actually, gripping the bar too forcefully violates one of the basic tenants of good descending…which is- Relax!

    At least that’s what my friend/coach who’s been descending for 35 years says. Easy for him to say!

    Hope that helps some,
    Ron

  2. The bear says:

    Ron,

    Your article was inspirational. I am currently suffering from all the same embarrassing problems you had: I’m always amongst the first riders up a hill and the last sissy down. The reason for me being last down is not my hairy legs (as per my nickname ‘the bear’) but the fact that I feel very awkward in the drops and edgy at best on the hoods.

    As opposed to on a mountain bike where I can keep a finger or two on the brakes when descending (I descend quite well on a mountain bike), when in the drops it feels wrong to keep a finger on the brakes. By stretching out fingers to touch the brakes it feels as if I have less grip on the handlebar to deal with bumps and cracks in the road or to deal with cars that can slow down in front of me.

    Do you descend with fingers on the brakes?

    Cross winds also contribute to make me feels unstable (they freak me out actually).

    Any more advice?

    Cheers,

    Bear

  3. Ron Fritzke says:

    Mu-Singh,

    Thanks for the head’s up. I had that video embedded onto this page, but after a while it didn’t seem to work so I removed it.

    But, I followed your link and it works!

    Thanks for the comment.

    Ron

  4. Mu-Singh says:

    About the ‘no hands’ style to assume the victory position, here is a short video worth watching:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HlEzrNbWHw