Drop Bars Vs Flat Bars: My Pros and Cons List
Drop Bars Vs Flat Bars: My Pros and Cons List
When it comes to bicycle handlebars, you have two main options. This list outlines all the pros and cons of drop bars vs flat bars to help you decide on the style of your next bike. I’ll also outline some other popular handlebar options and accessories.
Advantages of booms
MORE HAND POSITIONS – The boom offers 3 different hand positions: on the hood, on the pole and on the boom. You’ll need multiple places to hold the bar for comfort and variety when traveling long distances or riding day after day. Riding on the hood and bars gives you a very natural hand position.
Water droplets provide an aerodynamic advantage – aerodynamics plays a major role in your speed and energy expenditure while riding a bike. In fact, according to this article on aerodynamics from Bicycling.com, once you hit 9 mph (about 14.5 km/h), air resistance becomes the main force against you. When the aerodynamics really kick in, 15.5 mph (about 25 km/h) seems to be the sweet spot. The faster you ride, the more aerodynamics comes into play. Drop bars allow you to squat and reduce drag. This position can greatly increase your speed and efficiency. This comes in handy when you’re going downhill, riding long flat sections or riding into the wind. For more technical information, check out this Aerodynamics and Riding Guide.
Better for Hill Climbing – When riding a steep hill, you want to move your weight as far forward as possible. This makes climbing easier. The brake hood provides a firm place to grip the bike. As an added bonus, you give yourself more pedaling leverage while leaning forward. This allows you to apply more force to the pedals per stroke.
Droplets can pass through tighter spots in traffic – standard drop bars are about 40-46cm wide. Typical flat bar dimensions are 58-60 cm wide. On average, a boom is about 20 cm narrower than a flat rod. This difference comes in handy if you spend a lot of time navigating through heavy traffic during your busy city commute. You can pass through gaps that the flat bars cannot pass through.
Droplets are more efficient – You can choose to crouch in the droplets to become more aerodynamic when riding against wind, downhill or at high speed. Riding in this position is energy efficient. You don’t waste too much energy fighting wind resistance. When you’re sitting in an upright position, like you’re on a flat-bar bike, your chest acts like a sail, slowing you down.
You can cover more ground faster – with descents, you can ride faster while consuming the same amount of energy as a flat-bar bike. This is possible because you gain an aerodynamic advantage. Over long distances, the energy savings add up. For example, maybe you could average an extra 1 mile per hour. On a month-long bike tour, you might cover 200 more miles than you would with a flatbed. This is important.
The boom looks cool – it’s just a personal preference, but I think the boom has a very classic and iconic look. After all, curves are sexy.
Disadvantages of booms
More Expensive Parts – Drop bar bikes use different shifters and brakes than flat bar bikes. Generally, drop lever brake levers and shift levers cost more than flat lever assemblies. In some cases, the cost of equipment can be three times higher. I don’t know why this is. My best guess is that since drop bar bikes tend to be high-end, companies may charge a premium for components.
The brake levers are less accessible – if you need to stop quickly in an emergency, you may need to move your hands to a different handlebar position to apply the brakes. For example, if you ride with your hands on top of the handlebars and a car pulls up in front of you, you will need to quickly slide your hands off the handlebars to catch the brakes. This is an extra movement that isn’t necessary for flat bars. In an emergency, every moment is precious. Also, some riders just found the brake position on the drop bar uncomfortable. There is a solution to this problem. For example, you can mount the brake lever on the flat part of the lever. You can also buy dual brake levers or brake lever extenders.
Booms don’t have as much control as flat rods – because they’re so narrow, you can’t turn them as quickly or accurately as you can with flat rods. Another problem is that you put more weight on your hands when riding the boom. This makes you less mobile. Especially at low speed. The boom is not great for those who need to make slow and precise turns.
Drop bar assemblies are generally more fragile – especially if you use integrated or STI levers. Modern gear is very reliable, but I had more problems with the boom assembly.
Boom parts are slightly harder to come by – if you’re traveling in remote areas outside of the developed world, you’ll have a hard time finding replacement parts in the event of a breakdown. The reason is that most of the components you’ll find in department stores and small bike stores in developing countries are made for flat-bar mountain bikes. Boom bikes primarily use road components. These are a little hard to come by. Examples of some incompatible components are brake levers, some front derailleurs and shifters. Of course, with today’s globalization, it’s getting easier to find any part you might need. If the part is not available locally, you can usually ship it in.
Replacing brake or shifting cables can be more difficult – when you need to change the cable on a drop bar bike, you may need to remove the handlebar tape to make a replacement. When this happens, you’ll need to apply new tape after replacing the cable. It’s a hassle and extra cost, and you won’t have a flat handle bike. That being said, usually, you can just slide the new cable through the old housing without removing the strips of tape.
Less volume to mount items to handlebars – Many cyclists like to have lights, GPS, bells, bike computers, phones, bags, seat belts, etc. mounted on the handlebars. There’s no room for all these things on a narrow boom. One solution is to use handlebar extenders to mount additional accessories. For example, this Yizhet Handlebar Extender works just fine.
Visibility with booms can be poor – booms tend to force your body into aggressive positions where you are leaning against the pole. While that’s great for aerodynamics, it’s not great for visibility because your head is tilted down. You can look up, but that puts your neck in an unnatural position. The solution is to ride on top of the bar with your hands. This gives you the most upright position. Even so, you’re still leaning forward more than you would with a flat bar. The solution to this problem is to raise the handlebars. You can do this with some spacers or risers. This will cost you some of the aerodynamic advantage, though.
Booms aren’t great for trail riding – because you can’t turn a narrow boom quickly or accurately, it’s harder to avoid stumps or holes in the trail when riding trails. Drop bars with flared sag can be used to make them more suitable for trail riding, but they will never be as good as flat bars for this purpose.
Not suitable for riding with certain types of clothing – the boom forces you to extend your arms farther than a flat bar. Some clothes do not allow this. Especially formal attire. If you have to commute to work in formal clothes, a boom might not be the best option.
You have to tape the rebar on a regular basis – it’s a maintenance job that takes some time and money, things you don’t have to deal with if you use flat bar.
Full suspension mountain bike with flat bars.
Advantages of flat steel
Flat bars give you better control – because flat bars are wider, they give you better leverage. They also allow you to steer easier and more accurately. This is especially important when driving at low speeds or when navigating technical terrain off-road. You can steer the bike exactly where you want to go.
Flat bar components are cheaper – you can run any low end mountain bike component available. These are usually less expensive than road components.
Parts availability is good – no matter where you are, you can find parts compatible with flat bar. Every bike shop will have compatible cables, brake levers, shifters, derailleurs and more. While the quality of these parts may not be the best, they will keep you on the road and save you the cost of shipping new parts from abroad. In some places, it is not even possible to ship parts in due to customs and import laws.
Replacing cables is easy – both the cable and the cable housing are exposed. No strips of tape to deal with.
Brake levers within reach – In an emergency, the brake levers are always within reach. No need to move your hands. The brake lever position is also more convenient for stop-and-go city rides where you need to brake a lot.
There’s plenty of room to fit everything you want onto the handlebars – on my last trip I installed a light, mirror, bike computer and handlebar harness. Seat belts secure my tent and a drying bag full of all my clothes. There is room for GPS, bells, my phone, etc. This is not possible with booms.
Flat bars are more comfortable – Flat bars allow you to ride in a more upright position, reducing stress on your back, arms and neck. They are also more comfortable to hold in the hand. You can install a comfortable ergonomic handle that puts your hands in a more natural position than a thin boom wrapped in strips. I love the Ergon GP1 grips.
Better Visibility – Because the flat bar puts you in a more upright riding position, you always look forward instead of looking at the ground or bending your neck to look forward. This increases safety by allowing you to keep an eye on traffic and the road ahead.
Grips last forever – you rarely need to replace flat bar grips. Booms require periodic replacement of tape. For more information, check out my guide to grips and tape and my guide to locking and sliding grips.
They’re better for non-cyclists and new riders – many find flat-bar bikes easier to ride due to the riding position, easy handlebar control, and excellent visibility.
touring bike with flat bars
Disadvantages of flat steel
The flat bar only offers a one-handed position – this is the flat bar’s biggest drawback. If you commute more than 10 miles or ride long distances or travel, you may experience numbness or wrist pain after keeping your hands in the same position for too long. The best way to fix this is to install rod ends. I love these Profile Designs Boxer Bar Ends. They are easy to install and weigh only 170 grams. Pay close attention to your hands. If you feel like they’re numb, take a break and let them feel back. One of my fingers was numb for days after coming home from my last tour. I’ve heard of people who have even lost some sensations in their fingers for weeks after ignoring the numbness. Be careful with this.
Flat bars are less aerodynamic – flat bars put you in an upright riding position. In this position, your chest acts like a parachute, creating a lot of drag. This can slow you down significantly when going downhill and riding fast. At low speeds, drag isn’t noticeable. Once you hit 15-20 mph, the drag slows you down significantly. You can squat on a flat bar for more aerodynamics, but this position is difficult to maintain.
Flat bars need wider clearance to get through – the widest part of most bikes is the handlebars. The average flat bar is about 200mm wider than the drop bar. If you’re commuting in a city with heavy traffic, you won’t be able to squeeze through tight gaps like you can with a bike with a boom. One solution is to chop off a few centimeters from each end of the bar. This will make you lose some control and you will lose room to install accessories.
Flat bars are inefficient – Flat bars put you in a riding position, which creates a lot of wind resistance. If you’re driving at high speed or against the wind, most of your energy is spent fighting the wind resistance, not pushing you forward. This is inefficient. You can squat down into an aerodynamic position, but after a few minutes your arms, neck and shoulders will tire and you must return to an upright position.
You can’t cover that much ground fast – with a flat pole you average slower than with a boom, but you use the same amount of energy. The reason is that you face an aerodynamic disadvantage. Over long distances, inefficiencies increase. For example, maybe you average 1 mile per hour slower with flat bars. Over the course of a full day of riding, you’ll likely run 6-8 miles less than you would with a drop bar.
Not for mountain climbing – you can’t transfer your weight very far with flat bars. You also don’t get the same leverage on the pedals in an upright riding position. This makes climbing steep long mountains more difficult.
Not so cool – it’s a personal preference, but I don’t think the flat bars look as good as the straight ones.
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