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I live in a mountainous area, and so there are lots of opportunities for descending at high speed. I currently have a bike with drop bars, and when in the drops, I feel very stable doing this.

I am now in the market for a new bike, and I'm thinking I might like to switch to flat bars. However, on my current bike, I feel quite unstable on the tops at speed. Can the new bike (it is a custom frame) be designed to feel and be stable at high speed (say, over 40 MPH) with flat bars?

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The handlebars are very stable at high speed if installed correctly. The bike may not be. –  Ken Hiatt Mar 2 '13 at 22:21
    
Theres much more to stability than handle bars - the new bike will be very different to you old one anyway - the frame buiuld should be able to put together a stable bike....This guy looked pretty stable till the frame fell apart (youtube.com/watch?v=fcR8F1g1raM).... Or this guy youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=LJb351pB6Ow&feature=endscreen 128 MPH...... –  mattnz Mar 4 '13 at 5:15
    
So much for wearing a helmet. –  Kibbee Mar 4 '13 at 14:33
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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

First off, understand that the geometry of the bike affects stability, especially the "marriage" between head angle and fork rake. Adjusting these parameters (which can really only be "adjusted" by the frame builder) has a very dramatic effect on stability.

Beyond that, the hand position has an effect in a couple of ways. First, if the hand position is more forward, it tends to "pull" the steering tube straight, reducing "responsiveness" and making it easier to hold the front wheel straight, while a more rearward position will make the steering more responsive and maybe "twitchy". Similarly, an outboard hand position will allow the arms to brace the bar more, while an inboard position allows less torque to be applied to the steering tube. Finally, when riding on the drops one can (with a bar of a certain geometry) brace the lower arm against the corner of the top of the bar, adding more rigidity than would be present with just the hands on the drops.

(Note that weight distribution (eg, how forward/aft and high/low the rider's center of gravity is) also has an effect. Riding on the drops or not affects this to a degree.)

But remember that rigidity does not equal control. A "stable" bike will take a bump and re-balance itself more or less automatically, due to steering tube geometry, et al, somewhat independent of hand position. It's good to have a bar that allows you to apply the "desired" amount of torque to the steering tube (based on your preference for responsiveness vs stability), but if all that's doing is letting you fight poor inherent bike stability that's not a good trade-off.

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OK, sounds like the answer is "yes, since it depends more on frame geometry than handlebars". –  Reid Mar 5 '13 at 0:14
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I suspect one of the reasons you feel unstable riding on the tops on your current bike is because your hands are to the inside of the drops, positioned so close to the stem it makes it hard to control the bike.

With a 'flat' bar your hands will be positioned much further apart (maybe even more so then when in the drops on your current bike), providing more stability and control of the front end of your bike.

With that said, my suggestion would be to visit your LBS and take a test ride of a bike with flat bars down one of your local mountains to see if you feel stable or not.

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Even being in the hoods feels iffy at speed, so I don't think it's just how far apart my hands are. –  Reid Mar 3 '13 at 18:57
    
@Reid - I generally find that my bike feels the most stable at speed when my hands are on the hoods vs the drops. It all depends on the overall bike geometry. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 4 '13 at 19:33
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