I’ll admit it- I’m biased toward using drop bars on all my bikes. But for good reasons!
Drop bars give you many options for riding, training, and spending long days in the saddle. Second, I find that drop bars provide me with stability, comfort, and safety while riding.
Drop bars enable you to hunker down on your bicycle and thus reduce air drag that becomes really significant above 15.5 mph. In racing disciplines, where reaching and maintaining high speeds is important, drop bars are popular.
But don’t just take my word for it – let’s talk about the benefits of using drop bars, what types of bikes use them, and the differences between the disciplines.
Types of Bikes that use Drop Bars
Several different types of bikes use drop bars.
- Road Race Bikes. Race bikes use drop bars to help you achieve the most aerodynamic position possible. Race bikes are designed to be fast and responsive when turning.
- Track Bikes. Track bikes are race bikes without brakes. They’re almost exclusively ridden in velodromes and are designed to be aerodynamic. Track bikes are fixed-gear bikes, meaning they don’t have shifters, either.
- Endurance Bikes. Endurance bikes are road bikes designed to be ridden for long distances. They have a more upright position than a race bike and may feel slightly slower and less responsive.
- Touring and Bikepacking Bikes. These bikes are designed for multi-day trips and hauling gear. They are created to be very comfortable, with upright positioning, relaxed geometry, and heavy wheels. However, they aren’t fast bikes, and the drop bars are placed to give you the most comfort possible.
- Gravel Bikes. Gravel bikes, or all road bikes, as some call them, can go on pavement but are made to be ridden on rough roads and gravel. They have thick cushy tires. Most gravel bikes have drop bars with flared drops for more control.
- Cyclocross Bikes. Cyclocross bikes are like a cross between gravel and race bikes. They are snappy and fast, with aggressive positioning. They may have wider bars for control.
The Differences in Drop Bars According to Cycling Style
- Classic Drop Bars. Classic drop bars have a typical curve and flare, and you’ll find them on most road bikes. They have that standard, curly shape we expect to see on race bikes and endurance bikes.
- Aero Bars. Many drop bars on race bikes will have a flat top. They look like standard bars, except instead of being round tubes, they’re flattened out to create less aerodynamic drag.
- Compact Drop Bars. Compact drop bars are typically found on smaller road and race bikes. These bars have a shallower drop and a shorter reach, which makes them more accessible for smaller riders like myself.
- Track Bars. Track bars don’t have a space on the top for the brakes because track bikes don’t have brakes! As a result, they are highly aerodynamic with a sharp curve and can be very skinny – as skinny as 32cm.
- Flared Gravel Bars. Gravel bars look like road bike bars, but the drops are often flared outward. This extra width gives you more control when the road gets rough, just like the wider bars you would find on a mountain bike.
Benefits of Using Drop Bars
- Hand positions. One of the reasons I love using drop bars is that they offer a lot of different hand positions. You have the hoods, the tops, the drops, and any other combination you find comfortable. You can also shift and brake in a variety of positions, too, so you can reduce hand fatigue.
- Aerodynamics. Getting into the drops allows you to get in a more aerodynamic position on the bike, saving energy and reducing wind drag.
- Stability. Descending in the drops of your bars lowers your center of gravity, which makes you more stable (and safe) on fast descents. It also keeps your hands from flying off the bars if you hit a bump.
- Power. When sprinting, holding onto the drops helps you use more power, while riding in a more efficient position.
- Comfort. Because you can hold onto the bike in different positions, you can also change your body position on the bike more easily. This distributes your weight differently and helps you sit in a more upright or crouched position to be more comfortable throughout your ride.
Are Drop Bars Easier to Use for Beginners?
If you’re a beginner, or you’ve recently switched to drop bars from a mountain bike or other flat bar bike, you might find it easy to ride ‘on the hoods’ – the spots where the brakes and shifters are mounted. This comfortable position offers plenty of control and easy access to braking and shifting.
Riding in the drops may take a little bit more practice if you aren’t used to it. You might feel uncomfortable or ‘twitchy’ in the drops, but it is actually a safer and more controlled position, especially while descending.
If you aren’t comfortable riding in the drops, don’t worry – it just takes practice. Start by practicing in a safe area away from traffic. Then, try to move your hands to the drops for a few seconds at a time. Once you can do this, gradually extend the time you can stay in the drops. If you have a bike trainer, that’s an even better place to practice!
If you feel like you can’t get comfortable in the drops or you can’t shift or brake well, you might need a different size bike or different types of drop bars.
Will a Drop Bar Make Me Faster?
You might be surprised to learn that drop bars will make you faster for several reasons!
1. Drop bars are more aerodynamic. Drop bars tend to be skinnier than most flat bars. However, they’re more aerodynamic since they aren’t as wide, so you’ll go faster.
2. Drop bars help you get into a more aerodynamic position. Your body is the least aerodynamic part of riding a bike. That means your body catches the wind drag and slows you down. When you get into the drops, your back is flatter, your frontal matter is smaller, and you can tuck your elbows in. this means you’re much more aerodynamic, which will help cut down on wind drag, especially at speeds over 15.5 mph.
Final Thoughts on Drop Bars
There’s nothing wrong with riding with flat bars or any type of handlebar that makes you feel comfortable and helps you to ride safely. But for me, I love the benefits of riding with drop bars, whether on gravel, road, bikepacking, cyclocross or even on the track. They help me go faster and feel more comfortable on the bike.