I recently purchased a used bike from my local co-op. I've ridden previously on fixed bikes with straight bars, but this bike is the first one I've owned where I have to shift and use drop handlebars. I've been practising for the last two weeks or so, but am still uncomfortable with this. I have two big questions

1) I am having a lot of trouble simply keeping my bike steady with one hand while trying to shift. I am quite confident riding one handed and even shifting with one hand on the part where the handle bars curve out on the top, but have no control over my bike if I try riding one handed from the hoods. Its almost impossible for me to shift (with down tube shifters) and have a hand on the brakes just in case. It seems impossible for me to ride on the hoods and not have the handlebars carry a lot of my weight. I'm considering brifters just because then I'd never have to take my hands off the handlebars, but that'd be almost as much as I paid for the bike.

2) I have read that you are not supposed to shift while under load, but what about no load? I guess this partially stems from the fact that I'm not really comfortable shifting from the hoods, but I really have a hard time shifting and keeping control while still pedalling. Also, when I do shift while still pedalling, my foot sometimes comes off the pedal. Is there any way to prevent this without clipless pedals?

  • 2
    I suspect the bike might be too long for you - are you stretching to reach the hoods?
    – Móż
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 7:48
  • 2
    A) Give yourself some time to get used to things. B) You apparently do not have indexed shifters, meaning that when you shift you must ease off significantly on the pedals but keep pedaling. For this reason as much as any you need to plan your shifts some time in advance, vs waiting to the last second. To keep your feet on the pedals you can use old-fashioned toe clips. Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 20:15
  • 1
    You get used to shifting one handed after you ride for a while. Every winter, I always feel a bit wonky at first when I switch from my mountain bike to my road bike due to the faster steering and the reaching down to shift. But after a day or two, it is fine.
    – Batman
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 20:50
  • 1
    I have to say that brifter are awesome once you get used to them. Also check out bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/2607/…
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 0:37

3 Answers 3


Sounds like an issue with bike-fit. Try the following:

  • While on the bike and stationary, lean on the wall with elbow (of one arm). The other arm/hand reaches the hood, your body should be as close as possible to the normal riding position (on hood).

  • two feet on the pedal

  • Use your back muscle and gradually reduce the load on the hood. Is this possible?

If the answer is no, which is what I suspect, try:

  • invert the stem, if you have threadless headset. Keyword: 'stem threadless adjustment' for further details on the internet.

  • increase the (quill) stem height, if you have threaded headset. You often seen this type on older bicycle (1980s and older), which is likely to be your case. Keyword: 'quill stem adjustment' for further details on the internet.

  • change the seat angle: change the angle so that the seat prevent you from sliding forward

  • change the seat position: slide the seat forward and have a more up right riding position. However, your centre of mass also shifts forward and your body is more likely to slide forward. Thus there should be a balance between seat angle and seat position (and stem length/angle).

  • You cover a lot of good stuff but a I doubt the OP is going to know threaded from threadless or what invert the stem means.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 17:38
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    The OP has downtube shifters. This pretty much dates the bike to 1980 or so, well before threadless headsets. Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 20:17
  • Thanks for the comment. I agree that most bikes have downtube shifters, also have a quill stem.
    – Nhân Lê
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 23:38
  • Standing next to the bike put your right elbow against the tip of the saddle. If the fingers of the extended right hand cannot touch the handlebar your bike is too long.
    – Carel
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 11:32

I agree this is probably an issue with bike fit, or just not being used to handling a road bike. If the bike is roughly correct size, I'd suggest a different approach:

  • If there is too much weight on your hands, move the saddle backwards. This will shift your center of gravity backwards, even though you have reach longer.

  • Lower the stem. When you are leaning more forward, your hands can reach further. Also, when you are already in low position you need to reach down less.

  • Some force on pedals helps keeping weight off your hands. If you don't want to go clipless, toe clips also work.

  • Practice and core muscle exercises help with keeping the bike stable and allow supporting some of your weight with your back muscles instead of hands.

  • 1
    Down votes on a post like this are one reason why I haven't posted in a while. Ojs has taken the time and effort to contribute an alternative idea, and gets down voted with no explanation. Does someone (probably one of the two most prolific down voters) think what this post suggests is dangerous? Often the solution to a cycling problem is counterintuitive until you've tried it. Keep at it ojs!
    – andy256
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 2:52
  • Its a fine and relevant answer. +3/-1 at the moment.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 2:51

Things to watch when changing gear with downtube shifters:

  1. Keep looking forward - don't watch your hand. Find the gear lever by touch only.

  2. Lessen the weight on your hand that is not shifting gear. Make it more like riding hands-free but don't let go of the off-side.

  3. Learn to lean forwards to change gear, don't lean out to the side.

  4. Downtube shifters are slower to do the actual change. Start pulling/pushing the lever as your power stroke is ending, and as the front foot passes the forward-most position. Lighten up on the pressure a little early too. Ideally the gear change will have occurred before the next foot hits TDC.

  5. After a while you will know how far to push/pull the lever to achieve a good enough gear change with minimal trimming required.

Another thought - if your derailerureur spring is a bit tired or if the mechanism is full of pog and dirt, then changing to a smaller-toothed gear is slower on single wire gears. That is, changing up on the rear or down on the front. The fix here is to clean your dirty mech and lube all the pivots on the parallelogram, and consider replacing the gear wire if its rusting.

In short - practice !

The other answers and comments are spot on. I've recently bought a tandem with drop bars and downtube shifters, and while I really miss my brifters, that's impossibly expensive due to hydraulic brakes. So I've been through all of this in the last couple of months too.

  • 1
    As Criggie points out: Practise shifting without looking at the shifters. With downtube shifters it's all in the feeling. Also learn to use both levers with either hand, it can be useful. The FD being not so sensitive and precise, it can be shifted with the right thumb over the tube.
    – Carel
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 11:37

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