I am looking to buy a bicycle for a San Francisco city commute totalling 4.1 miles (about 6.6km) in each direction.

My question is, what handlebar position (and riding position) would be recommended for such a ride?

I notice drop bars are very popular here, but I am concerned that the bent over position would be stressful given that I will be commuting 5 days per week. At the same time, I do not want to overly stress my quads. Perhaps a compromise is recommended?

  • 1
    I think drop bars are popular in SF mostly because they were popular 20-30 years ago and there's a lot of using fixed up older bikes as commuters in SF.
    – freiheit
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 20:12
  • Is that 4.1 flat miles, or is it hilly?
    – freiheit
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 20:15
  • 7
    @freheit uphill both ways in snow
    – cutrightjm
    Commented Dec 29, 2012 at 2:05

3 Answers 3


I believe I'd opt for the drop bars. They give you several different positions; on the drops, on the brake hoods and on the top of the bars. The top of the bars position is fairly close to and upright position like you'd see with regular handlebars. I immediately thought of the hills and winds you can run into in San Francisco! There may be times when a more aerodynamic position would be your best choice for efficiency. Once you get your bicycle set up correctly...seat height and position forward or aft and tilt angle, and the handlebar height, any position you use with drops should be fairly comfortable for your short commute. If you haven't purchased a bike yet, perhaps the local bike shop will allow you a test ride using different handlebars available on bikes they have at the shop. I've even seen the drop bars used upside down for a totally different look and fit.

  • I second that recommendation - when I had a 3 mile commute in SF, I had drop bars on my bike, but installed cross levers so I could still use the brakes from the top bar. Now I have a 12 mile commute and really appreciate the drop bars for the additional hand positions, and the more aerodynamic tuck on the rare windy days.
    – Johnny
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 2:45

For a short commute in street clothes I opted for flat bars with bar end extentions. This allows some different hand positions and for me a more comfortable upright position. If you are riding for the first time is several years, bike fit is more critical than bar type. A bike that is the wrong size will never be comfortable no matter what type bar it has.

  • I discourage extensions as they are known to cause horrendous internal injuries in accidents. "Large series of patients with liver haematomata sustained during mountain-biking crashes have been reported.34 All of these patients had blunt focal blows to the right side of the abdomen due to the handlebars, and all were using ‘bar ends’ on their handle bars." .... Ref: bmb.oxfordjournals.org/content/85/1/101.full
    – mattnz
    Commented Dec 30, 2012 at 7:19
  • in that respect wouldn't the hoods of a racing bike cause the same problems? geometry must be similar.
    – robthewolf
    Commented Dec 30, 2012 at 8:27
  • 2
    Quite different. Hoods stick up less and have more area (brake handles), so do not cause the same degree of localised presure Bar ends do,
    – mattnz
    Commented Dec 30, 2012 at 22:26
  • Crashes while mountain biking are quite different than commuting crashes. I wouldn't worry about the potential of damage with bar ends in a commute - a car is a much bigger problem.
    – Batman
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 2:32

I love a good drop bar, but if you're only going 4 miles, an upright position might be more comfortable for you, especially if you're starting to commute for the first time.

Start with your basic commuter bike if you want, something that looks like this, with some flat handle bars. http://s7d4.scene7.com/is/image/TrekBicycleProducts/52049

Head to a bike shop where you can test drive some different models, maybe you even end up liking the drop bars more. Especially if you have some hills in your way on your commute.

  • 1
    And let's face it, most of the time you ride on a bike with drops, you're not actually using them. Certainly for me, my hands are mostly on the shifters.
    – PeteH
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 22:22
  • I'd go for a bike with drops. You can always spend most of the time on the hoods or tops, which isn't much different from a flat bar. The drops are there for when you need them. Plus a nice drop bar offers many different hand positions, which can help to relieve fatigue. Even if you're only travelling 4 miles, changing hand positions can help. If you have some small injury on your hands (even not bike related injuries) having different positions you can place your hands can help make riding more comfortable. If you want a more upright position, try a touring bike over a racing bike.
    – Kibbee
    Commented Dec 29, 2012 at 0:41
  • I would drop the suspension. Extra weight to carry up hills with very little utility on a city bike. Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 16:44

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