Most owners of drop handlebar equipped bikes spend around 80 to 90 percent of their time either on the tops or the hoods. And why? IMHO, most drop bar bikes are sold with the handlebars set way too low.
I came to this conclusion a few years ago when riding along on the hoods and thinking, “I might as well chop the bottom section of these bars off, for all the use they get.” The more I thought about it, the more strange it seemed that what should be the best braking position – from the drops – should be negated by the fact that it’s just too far away for most riders.
The solution is simple if unfashionable. Set your bars so that the tops are level or a little higher than your saddle. Purists may baulk at the idea and pride themselves on the vertiginous drop betwixt saddle and bar – but if they ask themselves how long they spend on the drops, I bet their raucous laughter will soon die down.
I run my drop bars, a set of non-“anatomic” 3ttt Podiums with the tops a few cms higher than the saddle and the result is a tucked, low position with no stretch in the arms – yet crucially a position I can maintain for hours, giving me great control, on or off road and powerful one-finger braking. Compare that to your low mounted drops, where your arms are ruler straight and tense when on the drops, making reaching the brakes uncomfortable due to the twist in the wrist.
So as a result you spend the majority of your time resting your weight on your thumbs on the hoods, suffering insipid braking, where you can’t take advantage of the full leverage of the lever.
How to achieve this drop bar nirvana
It’s easy on a bike with an old school threaded fork. Tall quill stems such as the beautiful Nitto Technomic are available, with a 190mm extension, making achieving optimum bar height easy. If you’ve got a bike with a modern Ahead stem, things can be a little tougher, because most fork steerers are cut right down to the bone, and don’t allow for much uplift. You can buy radically upward angled stems or clamp on ahead stem raisers, but both of these are inelegant engineering solutions compared with the Technomic.
Some frames, like Surly’s Long Haul Trucker, have a extended head tube to make it easier to get the bars high. If you’re building a bike from scratch, get a bike with the largest frame you can comfortably straddle, with no more than 1 inch of top tube clearance (if most of your riding is on-road). Look for ‘expanded frames’ with upsloping top tubes (not to be confused with ‘compact’ frames). If your new fork is threadless, leave a generous amount of steerer tube and use spacers to attain the correct bar height. If you’re replacing a fork with a threaded steerer tube (a sadly rare thing these days), you can also leave the steerer long and use a stack of 1 inch spacers between the adjustable cup and the locknut of the headset, to effectively extend the headtube. This in combination with a Nitto Technomic stem, and you’re laughing at your stiff necked, rigid armed fellow pedallers.
If you’re replacing your drop bars, look for a model with a shallow drop (measured vertically from the midline of the tops to the midline of the drop section). Some road bars have insane amount of drop, whereas others, like Nitto’s Randonneur or Salsa’s Short and Shallow are far more sensible.
Check out the setup of the bike in the blog header – this is set up as described above and is comfortable, efficient and easy to handle from the drops, on or off road.