How to use drop handlebars properly?

  • This might seem like a really basic question, but there's no harm in asking. I've never had a bicycle with drop handlebars. I've always had sort of standard horizontal bars with only one hand position, which is on the rubber grips. I'm outgrowing the bike I have now, and thinking of upgrading next year to something faster. Pretty much every faster bike has drop handlebars, but I'm not sure how to use them.

    I understand that there are multiple hand positions. I'm sure I can figure out for myself which ones are more comfortable than others just by feel. But I don't want to necessarily do what feels natural, I want to ride properly. What are all the different hand positions available on drop bars? Which positions do you use in which scenarios?

    I just don't want to put myself in a dangerous, uncomfortable, impractical, or stupid-looking situation by having my hands in the wrong place.

    When I switched from a flat bar to drop bars I found that in contrast to a flat bar, where you're always in the optimal position for gear changes and braking, drop bars don't seem to have a 'perfect' position. All three positions mentioned by zenbike are compromises in terms of reaching brakes, being comfortable and having a good stable hand grip.

    @Mac: Why do you say that? The hoods are comfortable, stable, and have full shifting and braking control. What do you consider the compromise to be?

    @zenbike: There are two issues I have when on the drops. 1. The leverage on the brakes isn't great. Instead of a whole brake leaver (10cm?) I can only reach a couple of centimeters below the pivot point so I don't feel like I have the same control or power over braking. 2. It's hard to get a really good grip on thick hoods. I can only get 1 or two fingers around the hood and when I'm standing up pulling on the bars it doesn't feel as stable. Note that this is in comparison to bullhorn or flat bars where you've always got a good, narrow pipe and a full length of brake lever.

    @Mac, if you're not getting enough leverage while on the hoods it means the brakes are not adjusted properly. Some of the (older-model?) Shimano hoods really are too big, Campy and Sram are more svelte.

    @Angelo I'm using Campy Veloce 2009. It's not terrible, I just notice a difference from flat bars or bullhorns that I thought was worth mentioning.

    I have never ridden a drop handlebars, merely tried to put my hands on all those positions at the store. Felt awkward each time except for when on drops. On hoods, it did not feel natural, felt like I was using a spot to put hands but that was not meant for (like using a sock as a glove... technically possible but weird...), the feel on the brake felt un-optimized... Is there an actual advantadge of these handlebars? (except that it really looks classier...)

  • zenbike

    zenbike Correct answer

    9 years ago

    There are 3 basic hand positions that most people use on a drop bar:

    1. On the Hoods - This position allows you to reach the brakes and shifters without moving your and allows a fairly upright, and comfortable body position. Most riders spend 75-90% of their miles in this position.
    2. On the Drops - This position is ideal for more aerodynamic body positions, or more athletic efforts. When you want to go hard, go here. You can reach brakes and shifters, but may have to move your hands, depending on your setup. This is generally used for descending long hills, or an aggressive position. It is less stable, and it is used for maybe 10% or less of most riders' mileage.
    3. On the tops - This position allows a comfortable alternative position for more relaxed riding. It is generally used when going at an easy pace, and in situations where you are certain of the road conditions, traffic and other hazards. You definitely can not reach the brakes or shifters from this position without moving your hands. It is less stable due to narrower hand position, though it may not feel like it. Most riders use it as a cool down position for 10% or so of their mileage.

      Hand positions

    Yep, that's pretty much it. I'd add that tilt of the handlebar is critical for comfort, and sometimes (actually, most of the time) you can't get the handlebar tilted right for both drops and hoods at the same time -- the U of the bar is generally not bent tight enough (at least for my tastes).

    Also note that the brake levers (and thus hoods) can be moved up/down the bar slightly, to change hood positions (though it also obviously affects brake "reach" from the drops).

    One comment about the drops position: While it is generally less stable than the hood position, it can be used in cases where it's difficult to hold the front wheel steady (eg, rough road, or downhill with front panniers that tend to shimmy) by putting hands on the drops and then bracing the lower arms against the top of the U. (This only works if the drops aren't widely splayed to the sides.)

    Also, I'd add that on some larger bars, you can use the very bottom of the drops to pull on when climbing. (Although you'd be better off switching to an easier gear and spinning - but it sure is fun!)

    Also, when on the hoods, I tend to alternate between holding between my thumb and index finger or just using the hollow between my index fingers' lowest knuckle and the next knuckle up.

    I also ride on the hoods more often for long hills. You can slide your butt back on the saddle and pull more easily with your arms than for other handlebar positions to get more power.

    Drops are less stable? Need different bars or a better fit.

    I added cyclocross levers to the top of the handlebars of my commute bike, so I can easily use the brakes even when I'm riding on the tops. I find this to be quite convenient and my hands are never far from the brakes no matter where my hands are on the bars. Riding on the tops gives me a few inches more visibility for seeing over cars, so having the brake levers there is nice.

    I would make two positions out of the drops. Being in them or on them. In the drops I am more hunched/aerodynamic and holding the more vertical part of the drop. On the drops I am less hunched and holding the horizontal of the drops. This may sound like the same position, but switching between them allows you to stay aerodynamic while changing the back muscles used without the aero compromise of riding on hoods. I'd usually spend ten minutes on drops for every thirty minutes in them if on a long 'fast' ride and the road permitted (less access to brakes/gears).

    @KenHiatt Drops are less stable than the hoods. That's not to say that they are unstable, just relatively less stable compared to the hoods or tops.

    +1 Great answer, wanted to add that some bars have a gradual hook/drop that allows one extra hand position, after what you call the drops (also referred to as the hook, followed by the drops as the last possible hand position). Your figure uses an "ergo" shaped road bar that combines the hook and drop into one hand position.

    Only time I'll ride the tops is when I'm doing some serious climbing. While it's not aerodynamic, the body position opens up my lungs and I can get more oxygen in when spinning faster in a lower gear.

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Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM