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Drop Bar Vs Flat Bar Bike: What Should You Be Riding?

Robbie Ferri
December 24, 2021

Drop bars are used on road racing bikes and flat bars are found on mountain bikes. I have ridden all over the world as a cyclist and found both drop bars and flat bars useful in my adventures. You would be surprised at how well they work in various terrain.

The purposes of drop bars and flat bars are very different. They have their special uses, and each can be great or terrible depending on the situation. It’s a challenging question to answer as it is so unique to the owner of the bike.

In this article, I'm going to talk about riding drop bar bikes and flat bar bikes in different environments and the benefits you will get from each. Let's also look at the pros and cons of each. On top of that, I want to run through some frequently asked questions.

What Are Drop Bars?

Drop bars are what you would typically see on road bikes. They are the handlebars that bend underneath. They have a unique look compared to many other handlebars and come in different styles. The beauty of these bars is that they have multiple positions, unlike a flat bar bike. You can benefit from these positions while riding. They also use specialist shifters which sit on the front. Let’s talk about the different positions.

The Drops

Riding in the drops means holding the bars in the lower position where they roll under themselves, at the ends of the bars. This is where you will see a Tour De France or road racing cyclist hold them. 

The advantages are that it pulls the rider into an aerodynamic position, streamlining them with the bike. The difference in the drag of the air is enormous. Being in this position can save you minutes on longer rides. It also brings you lower to the ground, which can help you control the bike during fast descents. It will also give you the best leverage on the brakes, so for an emergency stop, it’s the place to be.

The disadvantage of the drops is that you will feel uncomfortable if you spend extended amounts of time in this position. It can cause back pain if you don’t take a break every so often. You also are closing up your lungs by leaning over, making it harder for your body to take in as much air.

The Hoods

The hoods are where you hold the bars on the top above the drops at the shifters. This is what you will commonly see in day-to-day cyclists, especially long distance riding. 

The advantage of being in this position is that it is comfortable to ride in as your back stays reasonably straight. It’s easy to change gears, and you can quickly reach the brakes for light slowing down. It will be easy to brake, but won’t provide you with the same leverage as the drops. It’s an excellent position as it will not only be comfortable but give you control as well.

The disadvantage of being in the hoods is that you won't be very aerodynamic. Also, it can be harder to control the bike. Having your hands at the top keeps your weight higher and means it is harder to control and lean into the turns. Using the brakes for abrupt stops can be harder on the hoods than in the drops because the leverage isn’t as good.

The Tops

The tops is where you hold the bars closest to you alongside the stem. Many people hold the bars when on long climbs. It’s a comfortable place to be because it gives a more upright riding position.

The advantage of the tops is that you are holding the bars far back, making you more upright, and giving you a comfortable riding position.

The disadvantages of being in the tops are that you can't control the gears or the brakes unless you move your hands. You won’t have much control on corners and when descending either. I highly recommend it for long climbs as you are going slow. Make sure that you have plenty of time to react to any hazards if you are on the tops. I personally wouldn't advise being on the tops at high speeds.

monochrome racing bike

What Bikes Have Drop Bars?

  • Road racing bikes
  • Touring bikes
  • Track bikes
  • Gravel bikes
  • Commuting bikes

Drop Bar Pros

Multiple Hand Positions

More hand positions when riding drop bars helps add to the experience of riding the bikes. They can give you an aerodynamic benefit or make you feel more comfortable. You can move the pressure on your hands to different places and rest them.

Aerodynamics

Drop bars are typically more aerodynamic and can fit in much smaller spaces. Using the drop bar position is proven to be much faster than using flat bars. If you want find out more, check out bike positions and wind tunnel testing.

Climb Better

Climbing requires you to get your weight over the front of the bike and dig into the pedals. With drop bars, the hood provides a better grip than flat bars, and lets you throw the bike around easily.

Drop Bar Cons

Parts

Drop bar parts are not cheap, nor are they as expensive as flat bar parts. This is because they have the brakes and gear shifters together, and can also be harder to work on.

Less Control

Drop bars generally offer less control compared to flat bars. They are a bit too narrow, making it difficult to turn quickly on certain terrain.

Tape is Tough to Change

Changing bar tape on narrow bars can require some skill and is more complicated than changing grips on flat bar bikes. Tape can also become expensive if you change it on your drop handlebars a few times a year.

What Are Flat Bars?

You will typically see flat bars on mountain bikes and hybrid bikes. They attach to the stem and come straight out to the side. They don’t give the rider many options for positions and have only one hand position. However, they do provide a lot of comfort and control due to the design. Here’s why:

Control

With the bars being so long, it forces the user to widen their arms and hold them at the size. Flat bars come in various sizes, typically from 720mm through to 780mm. Having wider bars makes them easier to turn. Another great benefit of wider bars is that it’s easier to control over rough terrain as you make use of your chest and arms muscles better while holding the bars at each end.

Comfort

When you use flat bars, they naturally sit close to you. Having the bars closer to you means your back is straighter. This makes it easier to sit in an upright riding position.

What Bikes Have Flat Bars?

  • Full suspension mountain bikes
  • Hardtail mountain bikes
  • Hybrid bikes
  • Commuting bikes

Flat Bar Pros

Better Control

Flat bars give you better control. With the bars being wider, the rider is more stable, and in a better position to turn the bike.

Cheaper Parts

Parts are cheaper for a flat bar bike. Also, the majority of the time, the brakes and shifters are separate.

Flat Bar Grips

Unlike road bars which have tape, flat bars have grips that are easier to change. Grips are made of rubber and are also easier to clean.

Flat Bar Cons

Only One Position

The flat bars only have a single position, and it does make you less aerodynamic than other bike positions. 

Harder to Ride in Traffic

It is harder to ride in traffic with wide bars than drop bars. When riding through traffic in cities, you will find yourself struggling to get through gaps that drop bars would get through easily.

Bike Brake Levers

What Bars Are Best When Road Riding?

Road riding is not as technical as riding off-road. You can focus on your fitness more and generally find longer, smoother roads. The climbs usually are smooth, and the descents are long. There will be fewer accidents as well. As cyclists, we’re lucky that we get to enjoy rides where we can focus on pedaling and not technical riding.

Road Riding with Drop bars

Drop bars were designed for road riding. You don't need to be technical when riding on the road unless you’re in the Tour De France or a race. The beauty of drop bars while riding on the road is that they keep you more aerodynamic. They give you enough control over the hoods, and you have the tops to sit on for the long climbs. They’re made for this and are excellent.

Road Riding with Flat Bars

Riding on the road with flat bars isn’t an ideal situation because of the width. You are less aerodynamic. The fact that you only have one position means that although you might be comfortable, it will be harder to move around and get comfortable on longer rides. They give you more control, but this is not that important.

The Winner

Drop bars will always be better for a smooth road. They are more aerodynamic, with positions to help you be comfortable and the flats, the climbs, and the rolling hills.

What Bars Are Best When Mountain Biking?

Off-road riding isn’t easy and requires a lot of skill and technique. It also requires fitness, as you need to be able to make tighter corners, and steeper climbs and descents are more challenging than road cycling.

Mountain Biking with Drop Bars

Off road-riding is tough, and drop bars are not the best at control in this instance. To manage off road-riding on a bike with drop bars, you will find yourself constantly in the drops, which is the lower part of the bars. It would be best if you kept your weight nice and low and your hands firmly on the brakes. This will not be a comfortable position. The only exception is that if you are using heavily-flared, wide drop bars, this might make it a little easier. I also find that in mountain biking, the flat handlebar has a better brake lever position.

Mountain Biking with Flat Bars

Flat bars are made for control and stability. When it comes to mountain biking, this is precisely what you need. Having a closer and broader grip can help you move around on the bike and handle technical terrain. Mountain biking is easier when you have flat bars due to the upright position.

The Winner

The best bars for mountain biking are flat handlebars. They give you a lot of control and keep you in a more upright position. The mountain bike flat bar offers a comfortable riding position and helps you move your body weight. This can massively help your riding style off road.

Man standing near shore

What Bars Are Best For Gravel Riding?

Gravel riding is a fantastic discipline of cycling and, over the past few years, has become more popular than ever. The beauty of gravel riding is that you can get off-road for light technical riding and still be fast. I love the mix between riding on-road and off-road. 

Gravel Cycling with Drop Bars

Many gravel bikes have drop bars on them as standard. Gravel cycling is off-road riding, but it isn’t as technical and doesn’t require the rider to be super talented when it comes to control. They do make Gravel Drop Bars. These are commonly called flared bars and are drop bars with wide bottoms. Gravel riding is fast and fun and can be done on drop bars with ease. It gives you different positions to use on and off-road.

Gravel Cycling with Flat Bars

Gravel bikes also come with flat bars. It’s common to see people using flat bar gravel bikes out on trails and dusty roads as they have more off-road ability compared to drop bar gravel bikes. They control well and are a lot of fun. They don’t pull you into an aerodynamic position, but on a gravel road, do you need it? They only give you one position to ride in but are great when it comes to anything technical. 

The Winner

As a gravel rider and someone who loves a bit of every terrain, I personally would have to tie this one. The drop bars might make you faster, but the flat bars will help you on technical terrain. It would ultimately depend on the route you are on.

What Bars Are Best For Touring?

Touring has been around for many years. It’s a tremendous amount of fun traveling by bike, and you can see so much more of the world than taking a plane or a train. Touring bikes come in many different sizes. Some have drop bars, and others have Flat Bars. Which are the best?

Touring with Drop Bars

Touring bikes generally seem to be made more with drop bars than flat bars. What I have found in my experience touring is that having more hand positions helps me. Being in an aerodynamic position helps on a windy day as it makes riding easier. I have also found that it’s easier to get around with narrower bars when touring through cities. Drop bars make it harder to control on rough terrain.

Touring with Flat Bars

Flat bars are suitable for touring for many reasons. Firstly, it’s easier to control on rough terrain. Secondly, it makes it easy to use roll bags for the front of the bike. They are limited on hand positions though, and it makes the bike feel sluggish.

Winner

In my opinion, for touring, drop bars are more suitable. They are built for distance and provide the rider with so many different positions.

Are Drop Bars Or Flat Bars The Best?

When it comes to picking a drop bar bike or flat bar bike, it can be challenging. They both do different things and are made for different jobs. I recommend the bars that will suit the kind of riding you want to do.

If you are going to be cycling for many miles and don’t plan to go off-road, then drop bars are better, as they offer more positions. If you plan to be on trails all day and off-road then you will benefit from having flat bars. 

One is not better than the other. They are made to be used for different kinds of riding. It’s your personal preference. Make sure to take your time to think about it though, as bike frames are made to suit the bars.

Teal city bike

FAQ

What Bars Are Best For Commuters?

When riding in cities, I would be using drop bars as they are narrower and roads and traffic get very tight in cities. If your commute involves off road terrain I would maybe consider flat bars.

What Bars Are Best For Going Out With The Family?

A flat bar bike is better when going out on a family outing. Firstly, it will be more comfortable to have flat bars. They will give you more control on rough terrain. Also, if you have a baby carrier on the back it's easier to stabilize the bike with flat bars.

What Bars Are Best For Long-Distance Cyclists?

It does come down to what the terrain is but if you are on the road then drop bars are better. If you're off-road then you will need flat bars.

Check out more tips & tricks

Conclusion

When it comes to picking the right bars, make sure to select the best bars for the job you expect the bike to do. Always remember that getting it right will add to the experience of riding your bike and make it more pleasurable.

Robbie Ferri
About the Author
I’m Robbie Ferri I’m a Cyclist from Norfolk UK. I have been cycling for many years and found myself in Time Trials, Ultra Cycling World Records, and Bikepacking Races. I have worked in a Bike shop and with some of the industry’s leading brands. I’m also an experienced Spinning Instructor and avid Indoor Cyclist. If I’m not cycling, I’m writing about it.
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