Upgrading straight handlebars to drop handlebars
I have a two-and-a-half year old Giant FCR 3 (with a road-bike-like frame and thin tires; it's somewhere in the loosely-defined "hybrid" range) that I use to commute to work, twenty-five miles round-trip, once or twice a week. The bike has straight handlebars, and having gotten used to the idea of commuting via bike, I'm interested in upgrading to drop handlebars. It looks like I'd need new break/shift levers to go with the handlebars; the whole upgrade looks like it'd run a couple hundred dollars. This is a sizable fraction of the original cost of the bike, which leads me to wonder if I'm better off saving my money for a new bike that's a little better adapted to my use.
Is upgrading my bike's handlebars a reasonable investment?
Are you upgrading for comfort, or performance? I switched from a straight barred MTB to a road bike with drop bars; it's a massive improvement, but the drop bars are not the main difference for me.
Barends are banned for safety reason. If your hands are on barends, you can't break. The split second you need to move your hands to flatbar to break may be too long to avoid a dangerous situation. If you ride in a group, you can endanger others, too.
Bar ends are banned by some clubs and groups and by cycling associations because they have been known to get snagged or entangled when riding in close quarters with other riders, and areas that have dense plant growth on trails.
I did this on my previous bike, and while it was a lot of fun (and I enjoyed riding the resulting bike) it was also quite expensive, almost half the cost of the bike. You should also be prepared to put in a fair amount of research to determine if all the parts will work together.
Here's what's involved:
- New bars (of course)
- New stem -- unless you can find drop bars you like that match your flat bars' diameter. Most road bikes now use "oversized" bars, which requires a stem with a larger clamp.
- New shifters. I went with "brifters" (integrated shifters + brake levers) but these can be quite pricy. Bar end shifters (on my current bike) can be considerably cheaper and should fit most bars. Down tube shifters also cost less but your bike probably doesn't have the mounting points. Of course, if you're very clever you may be able to keep your current shifters if you find a smaller diameter bar and mount the shifters on the flats. Road and MTB shifters are interchangeable (within the same manufacturer and # of speeds) so compatibility is not a problem.
- New brake levers, if not using brifters. But road bike brakes use a different amount of cable pull versus MTB brakes, which means...
- New brakes! This is where it can get fairly tricky (and where I almost gave up) as you'll need to find something that will fit your wheel & brake mount combination. I went with cantilever brakes but this had the added problem of needing cable hangers in the front and rear. Another option is to choose drop bar brake levers which are designed for MTB brakes (they do exist), but this rules out using brifters.
- New brake cables and housings. Your existing cables will likely be too short for drop bars so you'll need to replace all four cables plus the sections of cable housing that reach the bars.
So if you're trying to keep the costs and headaches down, look for bar end shifters and brake levers designed for MTB brakes.
Is it worth it? If you really want drop bars, enjoy working on your bike and it costs less than buying a new one, then yes. But make sure you plan & price it out.
I think you could've kept the old brakes by instead adding a Travel Agent to adjust the amount of pull.
@freiheit: I did see those, but didn't like the idea of adding another linkage to the braking system. It is a safety system, after all. The less moving parts, the fewer things that can go wrong. If I were to do it again, it would be bar end shifters and brake levers with MTB travel.