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Road bike handlebars -- dropped or flat?
April 25, 2006 6:03 AM   Subscribe

Dropped vs. flat handle bars on a road bike?

Since my last bike-related question I decided to sell my old bike, save up a bit, and get a low-end aluminum road bike.

My friend has a Fuji Newest 4.0. It is one of the cheapest aluminum bikes I have been able to find in my online research (2006 version going for $470). Most impressive to me is how fast she can scale hills on it. When we were both on steel frame bikes, I could easily keep up with her, but no more. The other thing I really like is that it has brakes on the top of the handle bars as well as in the usual position -- so if you are stopped at a traffic light, you can stay upright.

But I am a little concerned because I have never owned a bike with dropped bars before. The first time I ever rode a bike with them I was pretty shaky. (Although since trying out my friend's Newest 4.0 I think I have already improved, and the brakes up top definitely helped.) Because of this, I am also considering something like the Fuji Absolute 4.0, which seems like it is basically the equivalent of the Newest except with a flat bar.

I find the flat bar less intimidating...but at the same time, I feel like if I am going to spend all this money on a road bike, I should be getting dropped bars. I've read that the dropped bars give you more options in terms of hand positions, are more aerodynamic, and don't get in the way when riding in a large group. Are there any disadvantages to dropped bars? (Besides the fact that I don't have a lot of experience with them.) Are there any significant advantages to a flat bar?

I'd be using the bike both around the neighborhood on the road (hilly), and for longer rides on the trail (mostly flat).
posted by puffin to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Drop bars will offer you more hand positions on the long rides and make you more aero when you are down in them. My bet is that you will get used to them very quickly if you get them (because you can use the tops of the bars when you are uncomfortable). You might also look at bullhorns (aka time trial bars) which offer some different hand positions and allow you to reach without getting so low.
posted by jmgorman at 6:33 AM on April 25, 2006


Drop bars, no question. They offer more riding positions and you will get used to them almost immediately. Plus, they just look cooler.

I bought a Specialized Cirrus (hybrid with flat bars) a few years ago, and immediately regretted it, realizing that I really wanted a road bike. Luckily a wreck three months later allowed that to happen, but that's another story altogether. I've been on the road bike I bought after ever since (and a track bike with bullhorns as jmgorman has recommended).

Seriously, go with the drops. The riding position will be much better and they're way more fun to ride.

Also, and this is unsolicited advice, consider getting a used few-year-old road bike. For the price you'll pay for the new Fuji, you can get a really good used ride that was originally $900 or so. If you're feeling sketchy, take it down to the LBS and have them check it out; any reputable place will do it for you.

Good luck, happy riding!
posted by The Michael The at 6:58 AM on April 25, 2006


Drops. They do take some getting used to, but if you do long rides your wrists will thank you.
posted by flabdablet at 7:03 AM on April 25, 2006


I've ridden drops for a million years...I can count the number of times I've actually ridden on the lowers...mostly into crazy headwinds. The flats and the hoods...thats where most people spend their time.
posted by badkarmaboy at 7:20 AM on April 25, 2006


Drops. The advantage to flat bars is that they give you more leverage in low-speed maneuvering. This is important on mountain bikes, and unimportant on road bikes, which you mostly steer with your hips.

Also, just in general, I'd say that you need to give yourself 200-300 miles of "get-acquainted" time whenever you make a significant change in your bike's setup--pedal system, handlebars, whatever. You didn't say how much time you spent with drop bars before. And it's likely (depending on your past bike experience) that other aspects of your new bike will feel wrong but will grow on you: seat height, handlebar height, etc. Give all that stuff a chance.

Also, there's nothing magical about aluminum. You can make a stupid-light bike out of steel or any other material, and I would not fetishize weight too much.
posted by adamrice at 7:34 AM on April 25, 2006


Did your friend have drop bars on her steel framed bike? The reason I ask is that drop bars are going to help a lot in climbing, and the speed of her climbs on her new bike may have more to do with the bars than the frame.

At any rate, go with drops. You'll get used to them in no time.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:36 AM on April 25, 2006


I think that you getting dropped on hills by your friend could be from the fact that she's got a triple chainring in the front and thus more gears to work with. Or, she has better conditioning from riding more or some such.

The frame's material, I think, has little relevance to how fast you can climb a hill. You can be just as fast on a steel-framed road bike as you can on a carbon-fiber ultra-light frame.
posted by scalespace at 7:43 AM on April 25, 2006


Also, there's nothing magical about aluminum.

Well, ok, in a literal sense, yes. But as a big guy I can feel the difference between steel and aluminum frames when it comes to frame flex when pedaling. Maybe it's all psychological, but maybe not. It becomes especially noticeable when there's a lot of torque, like during climbs.

But to the OP's question, yeah, get drops.
posted by GuyZero at 7:48 AM on April 25, 2006


I second (third, fourth, fifth...) drops. You have almost infinite hand positions at your disposal that way. There are no disadvantages to drop bars that I can think of...

have fun!
posted by pdb at 8:01 AM on April 25, 2006


There are no disadvantages to drop bars that I can think of...

You have to move your hands to get into good braking position.

Sure, you can ride on the hoods all the time, but the force you can apply is much lower. You can account for that by adding more mechanical advantage, but..
posted by Chuckles at 8:56 AM on April 25, 2006


Drops. They're flat bars with extra bits, after all.

If you really want brakes on top, look for cross (named after Cyclocross, racing on both dirt and road) levers -- then you have levers on the drops and on top. I've never found a problem with having to move my hands to the brakes, if they aren't already there -- this is just part of road awareness. The right hand just moves to the lever before I need it.1

You'll spend most of your time on top or on the hoods -- but when you're on the hammer, being able to grab the hooks and get low really helps. Just being able to move your hands around really helps on long rides.

1] Yes, I said right hand -- I put my good hand on my important brake, so on my bikes, the right lever controls the front brake. YBMV, and they should, if you're a lefty, you want the front brake on the left hand.
posted by eriko at 9:07 AM on April 25, 2006


Moustache bars!
posted by fixedgear at 9:25 AM on April 25, 2006


I'll throw in another reccomendation for drop bars. I've hit 55+ mph going downhill and I would have shat myself, had I not been in the drops. They make decending thru turns super smooth...

I'd reccomend against 'Cross Levers' on the tops of your bars. They're not all that useful once you get using the levers from the hoods. Adding drop bars to a bike after-the fact can be EXPENSIVE (because of how much the 'brifter' levers cost). I suggest getting them on your new bike and switching to flat bars if you can't stand them... it's a much cheaper route!

But you'll like them, so that won't be an issue. Trust the hivemind!
posted by jsteffa at 9:48 AM on April 25, 2006


Did your friend have drop bars on her steel framed bike? The reason I ask is that drop bars are going to help a lot in climbing, and the speed of her climbs on her new bike may have more to do with the bars than the frame.

Yeah, she did actually. She was on an old road bike and I was on my old Schwinn Suburban. For whatever reason, now she can climb hills much faster, and she has noticed the difference herself between her old bike and the new one. (Another reason for favoring a light bike for me is that I will have to carry it up a few flights up stairs while I am at school, something that I find pretty difficult with the Schwinn right now because I'm a shrimp.)

Thanks AskMe! This has been very reassuring. I think drop bars are definitely something I can adapt too -- flat bars are only appealing right now because they are in my comfort zone.
posted by puffin at 11:47 AM on April 25, 2006


The other thing I really like is that it has brakes on the top of the handle bars as well as in the usual position -- so if you are stopped at a traffic light, you can stay upright.

I don’t get it. A normal stop involves coming off the saddle so you can put one or both feet on the ground, in which case it should be easy to reach the brakes wherever they are. If you’re upright while stopped, are you:

a) supporting yourself against something (like a lamppost)? Then the brakes are irrelevant.

b) putting your feet on the ground while your butt is still on the saddle? Then your saddle position is way too low.

c) doing a trackstand? The more weight you have over the front wheel, the more effective your trackstand will be, so your hands should definitely be on the hoods and not the tops.

(There are no disadvantages to drop bars that I can think of...)

You have to move your hands to get into good braking position. Sure, you can ride on the hoods all the time, but the force you can apply is much lower. You can account for that by adding more mechanical advantage, but..


Today's dual pivot brakes provide ample mechanical advantage, so braking from the hoods should be no problem except for the weakest of hands. From the drops, one has far more braking power than is ever necessary.

The guys I ride with grab the hoods 75% of the time, and the drops when sprinting or when the pace goes above 35 km/h. The only times when you might grab the tops are when you're on a steep climb or you're in an extreme aero tuck, and there is no conceivable need to use the brakes.

When you're on the hammer, being able to grab the hooks and get low really helps.

Absolutely. Getting into a "long and low" position allows you to pull on the bars, apply much more pedal force than your body weight and really thrash hard. Just look at Petacchi's setup.
posted by randomstriker at 12:36 PM on April 25, 2006


Another vote for drops, for all the reasons listed above.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:01 PM on April 25, 2006


...and since no one else has addressed it, those two bikes you mention aren't very similar. The key is to look at the geometry link for both bikes.

The Newest 4.0 has an up-right geometry with a small trail (or fork rake). This makes the bike feel nimble and responsive (or twitchy and unstable). It's a typical sport bike configuration.

The Absolute 4.0 has more relaxed angles and a longer rake. It's going to stretch you out more on the bike and be easier to keep in a straight line. This is a hybrid geometry and more comfortable for the casual cyclist.

(and drops of course. Anatomics. Though moustache bars are a lot of fun. If you want to be really unique, find some old Scott AT-4 bars...)
posted by bonehead at 2:02 PM on April 25, 2006


I know the question has already been totally answered, and this isn't even about drops (btw, yes: drops), but this is something to keep in mind, especially if you consider a used bike.

It seems that the reason you're interested in going aluminum is weight. The majority of modern inexpensive-but-not-awful bikes are aluminum, but if you look at used road bikes, you might find some good steel - don't be turned off by it. Steel is not another word for heavy.

My (steel) road bike weighs about 22lbs - pretty heavy, by modern good-bike standards, but that's 3 pounds less than those two Fujis you linked, and my wheels are really heavy (36 spokes on touring rims). If you're looking for light, just pick the bike up and check. :)

However, if you're interested in going aluminum because it's stiff, then yes, do that. Many people prefer the way aluminum rides, and many people prefer steel, but they both make fine bikes.

BTW, I like that the Newest has downtube shifters instead of really cheap integrated shifters. Really cheap integrated shifters don't seem to last very long, but downtube shifters will. I wouldn't hesitate to go for the Newest if you like it.
posted by pinespree at 7:59 PM on April 26, 2006


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