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
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    @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
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    @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
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    I have never ridden a drop handlebars, merely tried to put my hands on all those positions at the store. Felt awkward each time except for when on drops. On hoods, it did not feel natural, felt like I was using a spot to put hands but that was not meant for (like using a sock as a glove... technically possible but weird...), the feel on the brake felt un-optimized... Is there an actual advantadge of these handlebars? (except that it really looks classier...) – tisek Feb 20 '13 at 10:08

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

  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. 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. 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
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    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
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    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!) – Goodbye Stack Exchange Aug 4 '11 at 4:48
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    Drops are less stable? Need different bars or a better fit. – Ken Hiatt Aug 19 '12 at 5:52
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    I added cyclocross levers to the top of the handlebars of my commute bike, so I can easily use the brakes even when I'm riding on the tops. I find this to be quite convenient and my hands are never far from the brakes no matter where my hands are on the bars. Riding on the tops gives me a few inches more visibility for seeing over cars, so having the brake levers there is nice. – Johnny Nov 17 '12 at 4:36

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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Hoods - Hoods are pretty comfortable, they keep you more upright than the drops while keeping your hands comfortable. Hoods are ideal for flat riding when you're not sprinting. You can use the hoods for out of the saddle climbing more effectively than the drops. Use these most of the time.

Tops - The tops are the flat part of the handlebar. Unless you have inline brake levers (interrupter levers) they are incredibly dangerous to ride at high speeds flat or especially downhill. If you ride fixed gear the tops are slightly safer but still don't offer as much control over the bars so as to skid as the drops. Never ever get out of the saddle on the tops! That being said, the tops can be a very good place the climb. You'll see a lot of pros using the tops on flat cobbles or going up hills, try to do the same.

Drops - The drops are ideal for sprinting on flat ground or getting aero on descents. Since most both the hoods and the drops as positions offer the ability to brake, they are equally safe going downhill. Try to use these exclusively when sprinting or on flat ground, climbing in the drops can be awkward if they are too low.

Important to note that a lot of all of this advice with vary depending on how high your handlebars are in relation to your saddle height, and how far away they are. Also important to keep in mind are your handlebar width, drop style, and drop height. I did not mention the fact that hoods and drops give you the oppurtunity to shift gears because many electrical groupsets offer shifters for sprint positions and climbing top positions.

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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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    Those got the name suicide levers for their unreliability. – Ben Jan 5 '16 at 6:25

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