Choosing the right handlebar is crucial because it can influence the comfort of your ride. Drop bars have long been known as the preferred choice when it comes to road bikes, but flat handlebars have been the most popular among casual bike commuters.
How do you choose which is right for you? Choosing between drop bar vs flat bar can make or break your biking efficiency.
Most professional riders have their preference between flats and drops. But if you’re still uncertain which of the two you should opt for, let us walk you through the pros and cons.
Flat Bars: What Are They?
A flat bar is the most common form of handlebar: it is a straight-level steering bike handle that does not bend upward or downward towards the rider.
Some flat bars have design variations. Some have a slight back sweep angle or rod-like flat bars that bend toward the rider like a cruiser handlebar. There are also flat bars that have crossover features of swept-back handlebars.
Another design variation is a flat bar with bar ends, primarily for touring bikes and long rides. This design allows the rider to make more frequent and comfortable changes in hand position.
Flat bar width usually measures between 750 mm to 800 mm wide or roughly 2.5 feet wide on average.
Drop Bars: What Are They?
Drop bars are traditionally the standard handlebars for road bikes. This handlebar type allows you to increase your speed and efficiency because you are allowed to be more aero, reducing the drag and getting more aerodynamic motion.
Drop handles allow you a more secure grip on the levers, especially on a steep descent. Also, it is best used in long and flat section rides or riding against the wind.
A standard drop bar measures around 400 – 460 mm, narrower than flats.
Drop Bars Vs. Flat Handlebars – Which Is Better?
Both types can significantly impact your riding control, comfort, and biking performance. Deciding on using the right handlebars will help you achieve what you want to get from your ride.
Meanwhile, using an inappropriate bar tends to cause you discomfort and body strain, affecting your speed and efficiency. There are so many times when I need to find different positions, and I found road bikes the most optimum way compared to flat handlebars.
To avoid discomfort and see which handlebar works best for your biking style, here’s where we compare two types of handlebars in terms of speed, aerodynamics, efficiency, control, and other essential attributes.
Drop Bars Vs. Flat Bars: The Pros and Cons
It makes more sense to decide which handlebar you should get and which is best for you if you know the pros and cons of each type.
|Aerodynamic advantage: your forward body position is a significant factor in achieving speed. This position allows you to increase wind resistance causing a more aerodynamic effect that enables you to reach top speed.|
This is because aerodynamics reduces your drag and helps you resist the main force that acts against you – the air. This is more notable when reaching around nine mph to 15.5 mph.
|Drop bars are narrow, the mounting of accessories is slightly constrained: This may not be an issue if you only have fewer mounting like a bell, brakes, and rear mirror.|
But when you mount more accessories like GPS, handlebar bag, phone, cycling computer, and harnesses, it could jam up in the bars that would derail the responsiveness of the steering.
|Faster and more efficient: The aerodynamic advantage makes you ride faster. And the energy you spend in riding with a drop bar is the same amount as when you ride on a flat bar. |
But what matters is you cover more distance because you have better speed on drops, making your ride more efficient.
|More fragile mechanical components and parts: A drop bar is a speciality component that uses different shifters and levers. They are more fragile and easily breakable.|
And when you want to upgrade or replace the brake and shifter, you need to unwrap and replace the bar tape. Also, this bar tape wears out faster when used on drops and needs to be replaced regularly. So you would need to account for extra expenses.
|Has multiple hand positions: Drop bars will allow you a versatile hand positioning. You can switch holds on tops, drops, and hoods, giving you a more relaxed, comfortable feel with less tension on your hands.||Less steer control: The narrow drop bars make it less efficient to control the steer. Especially when travelling at a slower speed, you need to make tiny motions and steer as precisely as possible to make quick and precise turns.|
With drop bars, you can not do quick and flawless control because you need to stretch to reach them, putting more weight on your arms making it difficult to approach.
Likewise, your body’s forward and stoop position decreases the road visibility, needing you to look up, putting your neck in a compromised posture.
|Better hill climbing position: You always want to shift position, especially when coming up against a steep hill. So your crouching body position in drop bars gives you the full advantage to execute the most comfortable posture. And this approach makes your climb easier without losing much speed.|
Also, your forward body position gives you more force to pedal forward.
|Constrained brake level accessibility: The brake levers for drop bars are positioned parallel to the drops, requiring extra hand adjustment to hit the brake lever.|
For example, if you are running at speed with your hands on the top of the bar and need to have a quick stop, you need extra seconds to slide your hands to grab the lever and carry out to stop.
So, if it is an emergency stop, it is likely that you would succumb to it and get in an accident. Remember that every second counts when in an emergency.
Also, this brake lever positioning makes it not recommended for use in off-road riding because you can not quickly make accurate turns to avoid bumps, humps, or holes along your path.
|Narrow size becomes an advantage: Bike handlebars take up a wider space. And with a drop bar, its smaller size takes up smaller space to weave through cars on busy streets, especially in tight traffic. You can easily fit in smaller gaps without a mess.||Expensive Components and not readily available: A drop bar’s brake levers and shifter are more costly than flat bar components. And besides, you will find it harder to get replacements of its parts, especially in small shops.|
Also, some components, like the sifter, derailleurs, and brake levers, are not readily compatible with most bikes. So, you must find the perfect match before you can mount them.
Remember, every millimetre counts when using any parts to prevent malfunction and avoid accidents.
|It gives you better control and easy access on brake levers: since flat bars are wider, it gives you leverage in control. |
Maneuvering a flat handlebar lets you steer more efficiently and accurately, especially on slower speed or off-road and technical terrain.
It also gives you precise turns in corners, heavy traffic, or weaving on busy roads. And with the perfect brake lever placement, no more hand sliding to hit the grip.
So, it gives you a quick and immediate grip, especially on sudden stops avoiding accidents.
|Less aerodynamic and less efficient: with flat bars, the width becomes a disadvantage because of poor aerodynamics.|
Your upright position when using a flat bar creates more wind resistance, resulting in lesser aerodynamics. And this is experienced when travelling at speed or against a headwind.
This needs more energy to fight resistance rather than push forward, making your ride less efficient. However, you can shift into a crouch position; however, it is challenging to sustain longer because it will strain your arms, neck, and back.
|More mounting space for accessories: The wide measurement of a flat bar puts an edge to mount many accessories like bells, GPS devices, baskets, handlebar bags, and many others.|
This is in addition to the light mounting, mirror, and brake levers.
|Limited pedal power, especially on a hill climb: You can not shift your weight forward when using flat bars since your body is upright. This makes a hill climb more challenging, causing your pedal motion to be slower on a flat-bar bike.|
|Parts are readily available, cheaper, and easy to maintain: Flat bars are the most common style, so accessories are easy to find in bike stores and small shops. So any components that you want to fix or replace are readily available and are commonly compatible with any brand.|
So, you need not worry if you encounter breakdowns during tours in remote areas because you can get compatible parts like cables, brake levers, and even speciality components.
Similarly, you can have a quick and simple fix, maintenance, and changeovers on flat bars. You can change your cable brake without unwrapping the tape because cables and cable housings are all exposed. Just slide the new cable through the housing without removing the tape.
Also, flat bar grips rarely need replacement, so there is no need for a periodic repair or replacement. Additionally, flat bar components are cheaper than drop bars.
|Hands are prone to strain: flat bars allow you only a single hand position, making your hands prone to stress or numbness.|
Not changing hand position will make it difficult to go on long rides.
And this becomes the biggest drawback of a flat bar.
So if you ride farther than 10 miles, you should take frequent hand breaks to avoid pain, numbness, or strain, which may last for weeks if not correctly addressed.
So never ignore this sensation as it may become a permanent issue that will not be reversed.
|Comfortable and allows better visibility: Your upright position allows you better visibility looking ahead on the road. There is no need to angle up your head since you are already in a perfect position. |
And this position puts less stress on your shoulder, neck, and arms, which makes you comfortable during the entire ride.
So, this handlebar is best recommended for new riders and non-cyclists.
|Needs wider gap to pass through: The more comprehensive measurement of a flat bar becomes a disadvantage in some ways. It is because you need to have wider gaps and plenty of space to pass through.|
So, this can be a challenge when biking through a heavy traffic route because you won’t quickly get through narrow spaces when using your flat handlebar.
Drop Bars Vs. Flat Bars: FAQs
There are a lot of frequently asked questions by riders based on the above pros and cons list of whether you should settle down for drop bars or flat bars.
- What is most preferred, drop bar or flat bar?
Most bikers prefer to use flat bars for many reasons; among these is the better leverage on the grip. It is better for bike handling because the wider the steering axis, the more space you have to maneuver your bike and it has additional control even at high speed. Giving you more confidence and more control when riding your bike.
But, in the long run and on long rides, a drop bar is way better! You will get less cycling and wrist discomfort and many positions to keep shifting.
- Is a flat bar better than a drop bar?
A flat handlebar is better than drop bars, especially for beginners, because it is easier to handle and gives the biker a more comfortable upright position when riding.
However, drop bars allow you to position your hands in different positions, which has more advantages, especially aerodynamics. And this makes the drop handlebar better for professional bikers.
- Is a drop-bar convertible to a flat bar?
Yes, you can convert a drop bar to a flat bar if you need ease and control over your bike. The conversion process is simple; be sure of parts compatibility between bikes and bars.
To avoid breakdowns and maintain perfect functionality, every part should fit snugly to the last millimeter measurement. Follow these steps:
- Take perfect and exact measurements of stem
- Select the handlebars. Choose your preferred shape, design, and materials
- Get new flat bar brake levers since the drop handlebar lever will no longer fit or work.
- Change the flat bar shifters
- Choose the grips
- Install the components
- How long do you need to train on using drop handlebars?
Start using a drop bar at a moderate intensity, and increase your level of training after two or three weeks. Increase your threshold to seven or eight on a ten scale, especially if you prepare for a race. Practice some more until you are 100% confident of using a drop handlebar.
- How to get used to riding the drops?
First, set-up your bike in perfect condition. Then, practice your body position, keep your back flatter, avoid much arching, and breathe normally. Third, when you are already comfortable with your riding position, go practice on the road with turns or wind. Then practice further to perfect the ride.
A choice between flat vs. drop handlebars depends on what’s your preferred riding style, especially regarding usability, comfort, and safety.
The above information will help you decide which handlebar works best for you; finding the best choice will make your riding experience way smoother, enjoyable and reduce aches, and arm pain.