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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?

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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. –  Will Sep 23 '10 at 18:10
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3 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

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:

  1. New bars (of course)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. New brake levers, if not using brifters. But road bike brakes use a different amount of cable pull versus MTB brakes, which means...
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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I think you could've kept the old brakes by instead adding a Travel Agent to adjust the amount of pull. –  freiheit Sep 23 '10 at 17:24
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@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. –  darkcanuck Sep 24 '10 at 2:18
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I was trying to figure out if this would work on my bike a few weeks ago. I decided against it. I think this is a pretty good description of some of the problems you may encounter:

If you compare top tube lengths, mountain bikes are longer at every size than road bikes. The reason for that is that drop bars put the brake hoods, which are the principal hand position for most road riders, a lot further forward of the steer tube than the grips on a mountain bike. Obviously it can be done, and depending on how your built and how the bike is sized you may even prefer it.

If you like the fit of the bike now and you're not using a super-long stem, you'll probably be pretty unhappy with a drop bar conversion.

Source.

I think that the better solution is to add some bar ends to your bike to give your self some more hand positions. Here is the solution that I came up with while researching although I have not implemented it yet.

First I would add some bar ends regular bar ends on the end of your handle bars. Bar ends are very similar to to the hoods on a mountain bike. It is more comfortable for your wrists to be in an up and down position (although you will have less turning power).

BarEnds

Next I would buy these "drop bar ends". It took me weeks to find somewhere that sold them. I have not bought them yet but they look sweet. The key when installing them is to install them inside your your breaks and shifters. This will give you a narrow profile similar to what you would experience on a road bike. (If there is space you can also mount your bar ends inside too).

drop bar ends

One problem left. You usually use the drops when you are descending and trying to be as aerodynamic as possible therefore you will be going fast. You will need a break on the drops to stay safe. Probably you don't want to move your brakes to the drops since you will probably be using the flats for more technical riding.

So you need Auxiliary ("Cross", "Interrupter") Levers. To quote Sheldon Brow:

Initially marketed primarily for cyclocross, these are also an excellent choice for the touring or long distance cyclist, permitting you to brake from the top part of the handlebar.

Unlike the 1970s extension levers, these don't interfere with the main brake levers. They install in the middle of the cable run.

I think that the best course of action is to mount one of these onto each drop bar. That way you will still be able to control breaking while on the drops.

alt text

This is not how you would be using the brake however this is the only picture I could find of it.


This is what your handle bars look like right now:

grip breakLever shifter bar bar bar bar bar StemAttachment bar bar bar bar bar breakLever grip

This is what they will look like after you have added the bar ends and drop bar ends:

barEnds grip breakLever shifter drops bar bar bar bar bar StemAttachment bar bar bar bar bar drops breakLever grip barEnds
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That's quite a setup, would love to see a picture of this! –  darkcanuck Sep 24 '10 at 2:29
    
I'm riding a hybrid/commuter bike, not an outright mountain bike. Spot-checking the top-tube length of my bike (57.5 cm for a 55 cm bike, according to the geometry specs on Giant's website) with various other road and mountain bikes suggests to me the geometry is closer to a road bike than a mountain bike. I'll have to consider the fit and geometry. –  Commodore Jaeger Sep 24 '10 at 21:43
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Putting drops on a flat bar bike can require new shifters, brake levers, cables, fitting stem, and seems like an awful lot of trouble. Flat bars have advantages of their own, namely increased control of the bike, and have a completely different feel. If getting a second bike is an option, I'd seriously consider that.

Barends on your flat bar bike will help give you additional hand positions without trying to turn the bike into something it's not. And everyone needs another bike, yes? (This is how the n+1 problem gets kick-started.)

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Hmmm. I've always heard "never use barends" and they're banned equipment for some of the local clubs/group rides. I don't know why that is, but find it interesting that they're recommended by so many people here. –  Brian Knoblauch Sep 24 '10 at 13:11
    
@Brian - Why are you hearing not to use them? –  Neil Fein Sep 24 '10 at 14:41
    
I've never been given a reason, it's just "not allowed" by the local cycling clubs on their group rides. I was hoping someone here would know. –  Brian Knoblauch Sep 27 '10 at 12:14
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I am also curious why they would be banned. @Brian, I suggest opening a new question: "Pros/Cons of Bar-Ends" –  sixtyfootersdude Jan 12 '11 at 23:39
    
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