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I've ridden with flat bars for more than 10 years, both freeride and commuting. Now I'm considering switching to a road bike with a drop bar for commuting.

I went to a shop and tried a couple of such bikes, and the feeling was awful: a very bent neck and lack of control, esp. in changing the grip to brake. My question is: (1) what are the typical problems (or striking novelties) in moving to a drop bar, and (2) what can be done to alleviate them?

Some problems are highlighted in these useful discussions: neck, and wrists 1, 2. Is may seem that one should better not consider switching from flat to drop without a professional fitting (with an exception of this answer).

  • How about having long stem spacers? you can play with it to get more comfortable. – azer89 Mar 22 '15 at 13:18
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    The lack of control is due to the steeper angles of the road bike, and the narrower handlebars. The steeper angles make the bike sensitive to steering movements, and so when you move the narrower handlebars by the same amount as you're used to doing, the thing feels out of control. You'll adjust quite quickly. To a lessor degree it happens every time I switch from my touring bike to a road bike. – andy256 Mar 23 '15 at 4:27
  • @andy256: yeah, I figured that much. I even wondered whether there were road bikes with a different geometry -- with sharper fork-to-ground angle. )) – Ivan Kapitonov Mar 23 '15 at 10:37
  • Yes, although I can't tell which current bikes have what angles. My two road bikes have different angles; I have to take a little extra care for a few minutes as I adjust. My newer bike (Scapin) has the steeper angles. – andy256 Mar 23 '15 at 11:08
  • Difficult??? When I ride a bike with flat bars it feels very unstable! I can't wait to get back to my tourer. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 30 '15 at 22:50
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I have never had professional fitting - just adjusted until it felt right. I am sure a professional fitting would be nice but I just did not want to spend my money on one.

A road bike might not be the best bike for you. In a drop bar consider cyclocoss or light touring. Some companies have a drop bar "commuter". They are going to have bigger tires and a bit more upright position. If no other bike feels comfortable then stay with you flat bars.

As far as get used to it just ride. Brakes and gears are different but clearly you have figured that out. More hand position. Most riding is up on the brakes/hoods. If you get on the bike and go straight down in the drops it will feel low - that is for high speed and into the wind.

  • I second the recommendation for a touring bike. Road bikes (and to some extent, cyclocross) are optimized for racing. Which means they leave out a lot of things that would be useful for commuting. Things like rack mounts and room for fenders and wide tires are must haves for a commuting bike. The real downside is that most touring bikes are expensive, as they are built for people who put a lot of miles on their bike. But if you think if it as an investment, a touring bike will get you many years of commuting. It's just difficult for beginners to justify spending so much. – Kibbee Mar 23 '15 at 12:48
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    @Kibbee They are starting to make some decent commuters under $1000 that are basically cyclocross with mounts. Check out the CrossRip. – paparazzo Mar 23 '15 at 14:23
  • The suggested retail price of the lowest end CrossRip is $989. You could probably find it for cheaper if you shopped around, but still not what I would consider a sub-$1000 bike. I guess the problem with drop bars is that they all have integrated shifters, which brings the price up a bit compared to flat bar bikes. – Kibbee Mar 23 '15 at 15:34
  • Indeed, for now I decided to stick with the flat bar. – Ivan Kapitonov Mar 28 '15 at 2:11
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I have a 28-mile round-trip commute that I do from 3-5 days per week. The trip is a combination of suburban streets, paved bike path and city streets. I used to do this on a hybrid with a flat bar. Last fall I swapped for a road-bike with drops and haven't looked back.

One of the biggest advantages drop-bars give you over flats (aerodynamic considerations aside) is lots of different hand/body positions available to you. The benefit here is avoiding fatigue and repetitive stress injuries. I typically go between "riding on the hoods" (most of the time) to riding in the upright position on the flat bar (when going slower, or feeling fatigued), to occasionally riding "in the drops" when really speeding or fighting a headwind.

I will agree that you may encounter some neck soreness at first. There are a number of factors here ... frame fit, height of the handlebars, etc... but also fitness. When I first switched, I had to play around with my handlebar positions quite a bit (never got a 'pro' fit), but eventually found a comfy position. But you also will build up stronger neck muscles, and also learn how to position your head. I typically am not taking "the long view" most of the time. I typically look at the ground maybe 20-30 feet in front of me, and lift my head to shift my gaze longer to keep abreast of what lies ahead every so often. This contributes to a better neck angle most of the time. It also helps to use that ability to change your hand positions around the drop bars give you! Changing your hand position will also alter your neck/back angles.

As far as finding the brakes awkward, lack of control, etc ... you'll adjust to these very quickly. That's just a matter of getting used to something different. I felt a little funny my first few rides out, but now I'm as confident in my control as I've ever been.

The bottom line is that the road bike has shaved several minutes off my commute and is overall much more efficient than my hybrid. Lower rolling resistance, lighter bike, more aerodynamic riding position. It's taken some adjustment of the equipment and my body, but it's well worth it in the end.

  • If you ride slowly or where there is lots of stuff you have to avoid then looking 6-10m ahead could be ok (not good, but ok). But if you're riding in traffic, or at 25kph (16mph) or above, then you need to look up more. At 25kph you're doing 7m per second. – andy256 Apr 30 '15 at 22:58
  • @andy256 - Of course you have to change your gaze and positioning depending upon the conditions. When I'm not in traffic, and "in the drops and jamming" my "resting" gaze is a few meters out, but every so often I lift my head to take in the larger picture. In traffic, I'm riding on the hoods, or even on the flat-bar section and much more upright. I can see much further ahead and can "keep my head on a swivel" to maintain much more situational awareness. The benefit of a set of drop bars is you've got so many ways to adjust your riding position to match the conditions and your comfort level. – jeffluckett Jun 11 '15 at 16:42
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Compare the relative position of the flat bar and the saddle on your current bike. (ie. is the flat bar higher/lower than the saddle ? How long is the stem? )

When you demo road bikes, check that the top of the drop bar is at least close to the same height wrt to the saddle as your current flat bars.

Drop bars aren't that big a change, but you have to be able to get the fit roughly close.

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It may be trial and error but you can get a fit that works. What I did for a starting point is to measure my flat bar bike that I found comfortable. With the bikes sitting on the wheels, I measured the saddle height and the handlebar height. I then measured the length from the saddle to the bar center. With those measurements I set up the drop bar bike as close as I could using headset spacers and an adjustable stem. After a test ride and a few more adjustments I ordered an non adjustable stem. I ordered one in the closest size to the dimensions the adjustable stem was set at. You could just use the adjustable stem however most are really heavy. Looking at the bike now it doesn't have a "standard fit" appearance. I have 75mm of spacers under the stem and a stem that is 120mm long and about a 34 degree angle.

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As others have said, I think you would adjust to a drop bar with a little practice. Most of the time you will ride with hands on the top bar anyway (make sure the brakes are positioned so you can still reach them from this position).

In my experience drop bars come into their own when you are going fast and/or into the wind, you will quickly realise that you can go faster - or use less effort for the same speed. That sensation of speed/efficiency is what makes for a great riding experience. It's not just the drop of the bars BTW it's also that they are shorter so that your hands and arms are not stuck out as far and you present less of an obstacle to the wind. If you are not bothered about efficiency or speed then by all means stick with flat bars.

I was told by a semi-pro cyclist that once you are going over 20mph an upright pencil in the wind has more slowing effect than 1kg of weight. That is how important aerodynamic drag is on a bike.

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