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This question may be addressed completely by this canonical answer, and I'm happy to remove the question if so. However it's only one answer, and I don't think it could hurt to have more here; I have two specific questions, and I'd welcome your advice and tips.

I have a Giant Revolt 3 2020 Gravel bike. I do a lot of hill riding, and my hands get tired when riding on "on the hoods" (I'm using this post for handle positions). I use the "one the hoods" position almost all of the time: flats, ascents and descents. My local bike shop said I should be riding "on the drops" on long and/or steep descents, for two reasons: 1) it was more stable and less dangerous in case I hit a pothole, and 2) because it was easier to work the brakes.

As to point 1, I tried descending "on the drops" and it felt weird, but that's probably because I've been riding almost only on the hoods and I need time to get used to it. I also feel kind of "compressed", between the clipless shoes and the drops. But the thing that really makes me feel a bit weird is that I end up with so much weight on the front wheel on the descents, and in a way it makes me feel if I were to hit a pothole it would be problematic.

As to point 2, indeed, it's much easier to work the brakes. They're hydraulic disc brakes, and as I descend on the drops I keep two fingers wrapped around each brake lever, which involves pulling the brake lever back slightly (I can't keep the brake lever in its rest position and simultaneously hook my fingers around it, which I assume is normal: you have to hook your fingers a little around it to get a grip). Does engaging the brake lever this little bit engage the brakes slightly, thus leading to wear on the brake pads?

I'm looking for the safest way to descend. What's your experience? Thanks for any tips!

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    Get your ass back and out of the saddle when descending (assuming it’s so fast you are not pedaling). This will lessen the weight on your hands. It’s also advantageous for braking: You can almost lock your arms and brace against the deceleration and it makes it almost impossible to “go over the handlebars”.
    – Michael
    Jul 25 at 15:00
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    Note that handlebar style is a factor. Some styles have deep drops, other ones quite shallow. Jul 25 at 15:03
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    Use your brake levers’ “reach adjustment” to bring them in closer to your hands so you don’t have to pre-squeeze them.
    – MaplePanda
    Jul 25 at 18:39
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    Conversely, do try the tops when on a steep climb. It opens your airway and lets you progress up the slope steadily.
    – Criggie
    Jul 25 at 19:17
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I think that for most people whose physical function is in the normal range for active adults (not necessarily serious athletes, just generally active people), we should be able to set up a bike such that the drops position is usable and comfortable, and that you can easily access it if you desire - that does not mean anyone can stay in their drops position for most of a ride, just that you can comfortably access it in intermittent stretches. You allude to feeling a bit uncomfortable in the drops. Without a more detailed description or seeing you in person, it's possible you just aren't used to the drops. It's possible that working on your flexibility might help you accommodate to the position. It's also true that most of us can benefit from some strength work.

I would rework the LBS's answer slightly. It's true that most cyclists are on the hoods most of the time. When you're descending, especially in steeper descents, I'd advise you to consider the drops. When we get in the drops, that lowers our center of gravity without changing our fore-aft weight balance. This makes the bike more stable in descents. It does not mean that you are more likely to lose control if you hit a bump.

I'm not sure what to make of your statement that you feel like the front wheel is weighted too much in the drops. I'm not sure what descents you are on, either. If you are riding on singletrack (you said you have a gravel bike) it's possible that the steepest parts of the descent are likely to make you feel this way regardless of body position - this is part of the rationale for dropper posts on MTBs and on some more off-road oriented gravel bikes, by the way. If your riding position is reasonably good, most on-road descents shouldn't lead to feeling this way, and many off-road descents that I face don't either (but off-road terrain varies a lot place to place). If you felt like you need to move your body forward on the saddle in the drops, it could be a sign that your saddle position is wrong and/or that your stem length is too long for you. If you are regularly tackling MTB terrain, then I believe you are not on the optimal bicycle for that - you should have considered an MTB or a more MTB-oriented gravel bike.

As to operating the brakes, the brake levers travel some distance before the pads hit the rotor. As long as the pads don't touch the rotor, you aren't wearing them prematurely. (NB: you can alter the bite point somewhat - that's the amount of lever travel before the pads hit the rotor. You can check your STI lever instructions, there's a small allen bolt that you turn.) However, you should generally be able to touch the brake levers comfortably without pulling them. You may benefit from using the reach adjustment - this is a separate function from bite point. This is the resting position of the levers, and you can bring it closer to the bars.

(NB: on Shimano levers, if you use the minimum reach adjustment, this means that the bite point adjustment will do very little. I am not sure about SRAM or Campagnolo, but the OP's bike has Shimano Tiagra.)

On the flats, you can and should consider using the drops occasionally, especially when you want to go faster. Using the drops lowers your coefficient of aerodynamic drag. You don't have to always use them. As I said, I don't think most people have the physical ability to stay in the drops comfortably for the whole ride. If I'm riding with a group, when I'm drafting someone I am usually on the hoods, unless they are going very fast. If I am at the front, I am more likely to be in the drops if we are at speed.

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    Pre-squeezing the levers may close off the reservoir transfer port, which could cause problems under heavy downhill braking as fluid level requirements change eg. thermal expansion, pad wear. It’s more than just “as long as pads don’t touch, you’re good”.
    – MaplePanda
    Jul 25 at 18:44
  • @Weiwen Ng -- The 'uncomfortable' feeling is from lack of practice in the drops; that, perhaps, is also why I feel that a lot of weight is going forward. As someone noted, I should try to lean back in the saddle. It's an on-road descent I'm talking of. Whether the saddle, etc are adjusted right I'm not sure, it was as adjusted in the shop to my measurements -- I think this all points to the fact that I need to get a good fitting! One question re stability: it's a question of center of gravity? Not that one has a better grip on the drops than on the hoods?
    – Cerulean
    Jul 26 at 0:01
  • I doubt lowering the rider’s center of gravity helps with balancing/stability. When you look at a bike from behind it’s pretty much an inverted pendulum. Raising the COG makes a pendulum swing slower, which can actually make control easier. Compare balancing a pen on its tip on your hands to balancing a broom. I think riding on the drops is just better because you have better grip, can push against the handlebars when decelerating and because you have more strength and control on the brake levers.
    – Michael
    Jul 26 at 5:45
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As a counterpoint to your bike shop, I ride quite lot of hills, and hardly ever descend in the drops.

My levers are positioned so they're just right from the hoods, meaning that covering the brakes for long periods in the drops is uncomfortable. Yes, I can get more braking force in the drops, but I have more than enough from the hoods when descending.

There are some advantages to being on the hoods:

  • Air-braking - you have more drag. That's a disadvantage if you're racing down hills, but helps if you're just riding.
  • Vision - you have better sight of hazards in a slightly more upright position. The hills round here can be pretty twisty and have potholes and every bit of advance warning helps.
  • It's easier to move your weight around on the bike on the hoods (at least for me). This means it's easier, and therefore quicker, to get off the saddle with my weight back in case of unavoidable or unexpected bumps, as well as to steer quickly.

It does depend on the shape of your hands and hoods though. My hands are very secure on the hoods, so I can brace against them. Note that you can always adjust the lever mounting position (as I said, mine is optimised for the hoods) but you can also optimise the rest position to be closer to the bars. That reduces the range of lever movement, which with my cable discs means more frequent adjustment, but with hydraulics shouldn't be an issue.

This, by the way, is based on a tourer that I use for a bit of off-roading too, so most of the descents are on road, just not always very good ones. It's also possible your bars are set quite low. I actually lowered mine because the drops were almost too comfortable and the hoods felt very upright, but many bikes are sold with the bars set really low. That may not helps with hand and neck angles.

The time I do descend in the drops is fairly gentle straight descents, where being tucked means I can have a rest and maintain a decent speed. Then I tend to stand on the pedals for a stretch and to relieve the weight on my sit-bones. This is quite nice on rides of many hours

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I use "on the drops" positions in two cases.

Firstly, when sprinting quickly to speed from stoplights. In this case, you use "on the drops" position standing. The purpose is to put all of your weight on top of the forwardmost pedal to allow pedaling at very great forces. Your hands are now in a position that allows you to support your pedaling with extra force from pulling up from the handlebars. The pedaling power can be as great as a horsepower in this case. You won't be able to sustain such power levels for long, though, so that's why you use this position only for accelerating. I find that if I ride on an e-bike, I almost never sprint, because the motor support provides so much extra power that sprinting is unnecessary.

Secondly, every time you need low air resistance. This can happen for example if riding against the wind (in which case you would ride at terribly low speeds if you didn't minimize your air resistance), or if descending on a steep long hill (in which case the air resistance is large because of the high speeds).

It is true that on a properly configured bike, braking at great deceleration is easier from the drops than from the hoods. You have more leverage from the drops. This helps for example on curvy descends with hairpin turns where you must reduce the speed of the bike from 60 km/h to 10 km/h in an instant. However, some cyclists like to "angle up" their brake levers, presumably to make it more comfortable to ride on the hoods. Such "angling up" destroys the easiness of braking from the drops, making it practically impossible to reach the brake levers with your fingers from the drops. My opinion is that "angling up" the brake levers is a sign of a handlebar put too low. Raise the handlebar few centimeters and you no longer find any benefit from "angling up" the brake levers, thus allowing you to have flat hoods and brake levers accessible from the drops.

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