For those who follow my bike trips around the world, you’ll know that over the last couple of years I’ve made the switch away from drop bars. This all started because I wanted to test some of the new handlebar shapes on the market and let you know whether they’re awesome or not. It turns out they really are…
9 Reasons To Drop The Drop Bars
1. Better Bike Handling
The handlebar grips are two-out-of-five attachment points between your body and the bike, and arguably, they’re also the two most important. It’s these points which largely determine how well you can balance and manoeuvre your bike. Working against your bike manoeuvrability and balance is any style of front luggage (panniers, bikepacking bags, handlebar bag, cargo cages) which increases the amount of ‘steering effort’ required to change your bike’s direction.
The best possible way to combat heavier steering is by fitting a wider handlebar to your bike. Wide bars increase the steering leverage up front, which allows you to maintain a light steering feel, even with a front load. As a result, you can expect better bike control at high speeds (thanks to the quicker steering inputs) and low speeds (thanks to the micro adjustments you can make to help with your balance). This is most noticeable when you’re climbing slowly up a hill, or when you need to quickly avoid something on the road while travelling at speed. By dropping the narrow drop bars, not only will you have more control over your bike, but you’ll also find you can ride even more confidently on any road or trail.
2. The Brake Levers Are Just Better
Firstly, it’s easier to replace and maintain your cables because you can do so without having to remove any bar tape. This is a godsend if you’re maintaining cable-operated brakes, as you can pop out your stainless steel inner cables in seconds and give them a good lube. Secondly, the ergonomics of a flat bar allow you to wrap your thumb and three fingers around your grip for a better hold (it’s often a thumb and two fingers on a drop bar). Try braking into a rough corner with a flat bar and drop bar and you’ll immediately notice which brake levers you have the most control over…
3. It’s Often Cheaper
By and large, MTB-style shifters are way cheaper to manufacturer than a set of road shifters. A set of Shimano Ultegra road shifters work out at 3x the cost of the equivalent quality MTB shifters (I know, you get brake levers too – but still). All handlebar styles can be both cheap and expensive, but consider that two of the most popular alt bars are just $60 (Crazy Bars) and $79 (Jones Loop).
4. There Are Dozens of Alternative Handlebar Shapes For Touring
Don’t like a typical flat/riser handlebar because of the lack of hand positions? Not to worry. There are literally dozens of new bar styles that offer a unique geometry to change it up. You can view most of your options at WhatBars.com.
5. More Bikepacking Handlebar Pack Options
Handlebar packs are often interrupted by drop bar levers unless you succumb to quite a low volume bag. The Ortlieb Handlebar Pack S fits nicely between a set of drop bar levers, but its volume works out at 9L compared to the 15L you can accommodate on a flatbar. In addition, you have the option to run unique handlebar packs like the Revelate Sweetroll which mount to a Jones Loop bar at four locations, rather than the standard two, for a more secure fit.
6. Bar Tape Kinda Sucks
Granted a good-quality wrap can last years provided it has the right amount of stretch and grip, bar tape is still quite susceptible to tearing, moving or unwrapping itself. On a long bike trip, this just means more bike maintenance. You don’t want more bike maintenance.
7. Ergonomic Grips Rock
Never used Ergon grips? What about ESI chunky silicone grips? No? Well, you’re missing out. The unique shape of these grips offers a more comfortable hand fit than any bar tape I’ve ever come across.
8. MTB Shifters And Derailleurs Work Flawlessly Together (Obvs 🙄)
I’ve written countless resources about how to mate road shifters with MTB derailleurs (they’re mostly incompatible). The aim of this pursuit is to get low climbing gears on a bike with road shifters. But you know what? If you skip on the drop bars, this becomes a non-issue as component manufacturers have designed MTB shifters to work flawlessly with… err, MTB derailleurs and wide range cassettes.
9. Rohloff/Pinion Shifter Compatibility
There are heaps of workarounds for getting a Rohloff/Pinion twist shifter onto a drop bar. But what if you could just use the stock twist shifter on a flat handlebar like it was intended? 👌🏻
DW… There Are Reasons To Keep Ya Drop Bars Too
1. To Reduce Your Frontal Area
There’s an aero advantage to fitting drop bars to your bike. In the hoods or drops you can tuck your elbows in and reduce your body’s frontal area. Given you don’t move that fast on a touring bike, this feature is most useful for whenever you’re riding into headwinds. That said, an alt bar like the Crazy Bar actually provides the best of both worlds – a narrow bullhorn section and a wide, sweptback grip location.
2. They Look Rad
I’ll admit it. Drop bars are cooler. There’s something about those classic lines…
3. Dude, Ultra-Wide Drops Exist!
Is the ultimate solution for you a set of wide drop bars? You’re in luck. The Crust Towel Rack bars are ~700mm wide at the ends which is the equivalent of most flat bars. The Salsa Woodchipper and Soma Gator are also pretty wide; but note that when your fingers are on the brake levers, the equivalent width works out closer to 600mm.
4. When You Don’t Have Any Weight Up Front
If you don’t have more than 2-3 kilos up front, you’ll find a standard drop bar offers more than enough leverage to steer confidently.
My experience with alt handlebars has, errr… altered my perception of touring handlebars entirely.
I used to prefer drops on touring bikes because:
– I wasn’t a huge fan of butterfly bars (they lacked the width I desired)
– I wasn’t a huge fan of flat bars (they offered fewer hand positions than my drop bars)
The latest generation of handlebar designs has given me lots of width, lots of hand positions and a nice aero location so I can tuck in my elbows for headwinds. I’ve found my Crazy Bars work better at both high and low speed, better on dirt roads and better on the steep climbs. I honestly can’t find any downsides for the majority of the bike travel I do.
I’m not planning on going back to drops unless my bike is set up to be light, fast and intended for smoother surfaces. Think ultralight carbon touring bike with bikepacking bag ensemble. Otherwise, wide alt bars all the way! Yewww! 🤘🏼