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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.

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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 Aug 4 '11 at 3:23
@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 Aug 4 '11 at 18:12
@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 Aug 5 '11 at 0:07
Related question: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/8852/… –  amcnabb Aug 20 '12 at 17:47
@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 Dec 5 '12 at 14:17

3 Answers 3

up vote 41 down vote accepted

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

  1. Hand position 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. Hand 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. Hand position 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

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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). –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 4 '11 at 3:16
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). –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 4 '11 at 3:17
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.) –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 4 '11 at 3:22
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!) –  Neil Fein Aug 4 '11 at 4:48
Drops are less stable? Need different bars or a better fit. –  Ken Hiatt Aug 19 '12 at 5:52

My old raleigh 10 speed had brake levers which passed inside then across under the tops. So you could always reach brakes.

Mind you it had gear change on the lower shaft of the main frame so they were never easy to reach.

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Two more positions (or variations): There is also an area in between position (1) and (3), on the corner of the bars and (depending on the bar) in between the corner and the hoods. I probably spend most of my time in these positions. Also, if I want to get in a more aerodynamic position, but not go into the drops, holding the tops of the hoods works well for me too. This is a great position going into the wind, and we get plenty of that in West Texas.

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