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Drop Bars Vs Flat Bars: My Pros and Cons List

When it comes to bicycle handlebars, you have two main choices. This list outlines all of the pros and cons of drop bars vs flat bars to help you decide which style to go with for your next bike. I’ll cover comfort, efficiency, aerodynamics, hand positions, climbing ability, and more. I’ll also outline a few other popular handlebar options and accessories. 

Over the past 20 years, I’ve ridden both flat bar and drop bar bikes extensively both on-road and off-road while commuting, touring, and mountain biking. Personally, I prefer flat bars. Of course, drop bars still have their place. This list analyzes all of the pros and cons that I have experienced.

I’ve also made this YouTube video to outline the main points of the article.

Drop Bars Vs Flat Bars: Pros and Cons
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

Pros of Drop Bars

  • More hand positions- Drop bars offer 3 different hand positions: on the hoods, on the bars, and in the drops. When going for longer rides or riding day after day while touring, you will want multiple places to grip the bars for comfort and variety. Riding on the hoods and bars give you a very natural hand position. The drops give you an aerodynamic position. Having different positions for your hands is a major advantage for long rides.
  • Drops offer an aerodynamic advantage- Aerodynamics play a major role in your speed and energy use while cycling. In fact, according to this article on Aerodynamics from Bicycling.com, air resistance becomes the main force acting against you once you reach 9 mph (around 14.5 km/h). 15.5 mph (around 25 km/h) seems to be the sweet spot when aerodynamics really make a difference. The faster you cycle, the more aerodynamics comes into play. Drop bars allow you to crouch down and reduce drag. This position can greatly increase your speed and efficiency. This comes in handy when you’re riding at high speeds descending a hill, riding a long flat section, or riding into the wind. For more technical info, check out this guide on aerodynamics and cycling. 
  •  Better for climbing hills- When riding up a steep hill, you want to shift your body weight as far forward as possible. This makes climbing easier. The brake hoods offer a firm place to grip the bike. As an added benefit, while leaning forward you give yourself more leverage for pedaling. This allows you to apply more power to your pedals on every stroke. This all makes drop bars the better choice for long climbs.
  • Drops can fit through tight spaces in traffic- Standard drop bars measure around 40-46 cm in width. Typical flat bars measure 58-60 cm wide. On average, drop bars are around 20 cm narrower than flat bars. This difference comes in handy if you spend a lot of time weaving through tight traffic while commuting in a busy city. You can fit through narrow gaps that you couldn’t with wider bars. 
  • Drops are more efficient- While riding through a headwind, downhill, or at speed, you have the option to crouch down in the drops to put yourself in a more aerodynamic position. Riding in this position is energy efficient. You aren’t wasting as much energy fighting against wind resistance. This allows you to take longer rides with less effort. While sitting in an upright position, like you are on a flat bar bike, your chest acts like a sail and slows you down.
  • You can cover more ground faster- With drops, you can ride at higher speeds while spending the same amount of energy as you would on a flat bar bike. This is possible due to the aerodynamic benefit. Over long distances, the energy-savings adds up. For example, maybe you can ride an extra 1 mile per hour on average with drops. Over the course of a one month bicycle tour you may be able to travel 200 miles further than you would with flat bars. This is significant.
  • Drop handlebars look cool- Drop bars offer a really classic and iconic look. After all, curves are sexy. You will get more Instagram likes when you post pics with your drop bar bike.
a top view of drop bars

Cons of Drop Bars

  • Parts are more expensive- Drop bar bikes use different shifters and brakes than flat bar bikes. Generally, drop bar brake levers and shifters cost more than flat bar components. In some cases, gear will cost up to three times more. I don’t know exactly why this is. One reason may be that the shifters are a little bit more complex. This adds to the manufacturing cost. I also think drop bar bikes tend to be higher-end so companies may charge a premium for components because people are willing to pay.
  • The brake levers are not as easily accessible- If you need to stop quickly in an emergency, you may need to move your hands to a different handlebar position in order to use the brakes. For example, if you are riding with your hands on the top of the bars and a car pulls out in front of you, you will need to quickly slide your hands down the bars to grab your brakes. This is an extra motion that would not be necessary with flat bars. Every moment is valuable in an emergency situation. You also need to use more fingers to pull the brake levers. You can’t grasp the bars as firmly while braking. This can be an issue on bumpy terrain. Also, some riders simply find the brake position on drop bars to be uncomfortable. There are solutions to this problem. For example, you can mount brake levers on the flat part of the bars. You can also buy dual brake levers or brake lever extenders.
  • Drop bars don’t offer as much control as flat bars- Because drop bars are so narrow you just can’t get the leverage to quickly or accurately turn them like you can with flat bars. You have less leverage to steer because your hands sit closer to the steering axis. Another problem is that you put more of your weight on your hands when riding drop bars. This makes you less maneuverable. Particularly at slower speeds. Drop bars aren’t great for those who need to make slow and precise turns. They give you less control over the bike.
  • Drop bar components are generally more fragile- Especially if you are using integrated or STI levers. Modern gear is pretty reliable but I have had more problems with drop bar components. 
  • Drop bar parts are slightly harder to come by- If you tour in remote regions outside of the developed world, you will have a harder time finding replacement parts if something breaks. The reason is that most of the components you find at department stores and small bikes shops in the developing world are made for flat bar mountain bikes. Drop bar bikes use mostly road components. These are a bit harder to come by. Examples of some components that will not be compatible are brake levers, some front derailleurs, and shifters. Of course, with globalization these days it is becoming easier and easier to find any parts that you may need. You can usually have parts shipped in if they are not available locally.
  • Changing brake or shifter cables can be more difficult- When you need to replace a cable on a drop-bar bike, you may need to remove the bar tape to replace it. When this happens, you will need to apply new tape after replacing the cable. This is a hassle and an additional expense that you wouldn’t have with a flat bar bike. Having said this, usually, you can just slide a new cable through the old housing without removing the bar tape. 
  • There is less capacity to mount items to the handle bars- Many cyclists like to mount a light, GPS, bell, cycling computer, phone, bags, harnesses, and more to their handlebars. There just isn’t space for all of this stuff on narrow drop bars. One solution is to use a handlebar extender to mount additional accessories.
  • Visibility can be poor with drop bars- Drop bars tend to force your body into an aggressive position where you’re leaning on the bars. While this is great for aerodynamics, it isn’t great for visibility because your head is angled down. You can look up but that puts your neck in an unnatural position. The solution is to ride with your hands on the top of the bars. This gives you the most upright possible position. Even then, you’re still leaning further forward than you would be with flat bars. The solution to this is to raise your handlebars up. You can do this with some spacers or a riser stem. This will cost you some aerodynamic advantage though. 
  • Drop bars are not good for off road riding- Because you cannot as quickly or accurately turn narrow drop bars, it is more difficult to avoid a stump or hole in your path when riding off-road. Drop bars with flared drops are available to make them a bit better for off road riding but they will never be as good as flat bars for this purpose.
  • Not ideal for riding in some types of clothing- Drop bars force you to stretch your arms out a bit further than flat bars. Some clothing doesn’t allow for this. Particularly formal clothing. If you have to commute to work in a dress shirt, drop bars might not be the best choice. 
  • You have to tape the bars periodically- Bar tape can get torn. It can unravel. It can also simply wear out. It needs to be replaced once in a while. This is a maintenance task that takes a bit of time and money that you don’t have to deal with if using flat bars.
  • Toe overlap can be an issue- Toe overlap occurs when your foreward-facing foot rubs on the front wheel when you turn. This can be a problem on drop bar bikes because the front center length is shorter than on flat bar bikes. This problem is common on small and medium frame sizes.
  • Sweat corrosion can be an issue- Your sweat can cause a chemical reaction with aluminum handlebars causing them to corrode. Bar tape soaks up your sweat and worsens this corrosion. This corrosion can ruin handlebars. It could also cause the bars to fail if you don’t catch it. Peel back your bar tape periodically to inspect for corrosion if you use aluminum bars. Sweat corrosion usually isn’t an issue with flat bars. The grips block the sweat.
A full suspension mountain bike with flat bars.

Flat Bar Pros

  • Flat bars give you much better control- Because flat bars are wider, they give you better leverage. The wider grip allows you to steer more easily and accurately. This is particularly important while traveling at slow speeds or navigating rough terrain while riding off-road. You can precisely steer your bike where you want to go. You can ride more technical terrain with flat bars. This is also helpful when you’re carrying luggage on the front of the bike. It allows you to steer with less effort.
  • Cheaper- Many bikes come in both flat bar and drop bar versions. In most cases, the flat bar version is significantly cheaper. you could save $400-$500 by simply buying a flat bar bike instead of a drop bar bike. Flat bar replacement parts are also cheaper than drop bar components. If you’re on a tight budget, you can run whatever low-end mountain bike components are available if you want to save money.
  • Parts availability is better- No matter where you are in the world, you can find parts compatible with flat bars. Wherever you are, your local bike shop will carry compatible cables, brake levers, shifters, derailleurs, etc. While these parts may not be of the best quality, they will keep you on the road and save you from the expense of having new parts shipped in from abroad. In some places it is not even possible to have parts shipped in due to customs and importation laws.
  • Changing cables is easy- The cables and cable housings are all exposed. There is no bar tape to deal with. 
  • Better braking performance- The brake levers are easily accessible. In case of an emergency, the brake levers are right at your fingertips at all times. There is no need to move your hands. The brake lever position is also more convenient for stop-and-go city riding where you’ll need to brake often. You can also brake with one finger. This allows your thumb and three other fingers to firmly grip the handlebars. Flat bar bikes can also offer more stopping power. This is because you can use mountain bike brakes with more pistons, larger brake rotors and more brake pad surface area.
  • There is plenty of space to mount everything you want to your handlebars- On my last tour, I mounted a light, cycling mirror, cycling computer, and handlebar bag on my flat handlebars. The harness held my tent and a dry bag filled with all of my clothes. There was space to mount a GPS, bell, my phone, etc. This wouldn’t be possible with drop bars. 
  • Flat bars offer a more comfortable riding position- Flat bars allow you to ride in a more upright position which puts less stress on your back, arms, and neck. They are also more comfortable for the hands to grip. You can fit comfortable ergonomic grips which put your hands in a more natural position than thin drop bars wrapped in bar tape.
  • Better visibility- Because flat bars put you in a more upright riding position, you are looking ahead of you at all times rather than looking at the ground or bending your neck to look ahead. This allows you to keep your eyes on traffic and the road ahead of you at all times, improving safety. As an added bonus, you get to enjoy the scenery.
  • The frame geometry is more stable- Because the grips are closer to your body on flat bar bikes, manufacturers need to increase the length of the front center of the frame by around 50mm. This is necessary to maintain the hip, back, and arm angles of the rider. There are a few benefits of this. The wheelbase is longer. This improves stability. It’s also harder to go over the handlebars if you hit a bump or pothole. The center of mass is also centered between the wheels when you stand, improving grip. This all inspires confidence while riding rugged terrain.
  • Flat bars can be safer- Flat bars offer better handling and control. They offer better braking. They offer better stability. In addition, handlebar corrosion is less likely. All of this makes flat bar bikes safer.
  • Grips last forever- You very rarely have to replace flat bar grips. Drop bars require tape that needs replacing periodically. For more info, check out my guide to grips and tape and my guide to lock on vs slip on grips.
  • They are better for non-cyclists and new riders- Many people find flat bar bikes easier to ride due to the more relaxed riding position, easy handlebar control, and excellent visibility. They’re great for riding short distances in comfort.
  • Lower gear ratios are available- Flat bar bikes tend to have lower gearing than drop bar bikes. Flat bar shifters can also be paired with mountain bike components. These parts are designed for riding steep terrain off-road so they have lower gear ratios. It’s also possible to lower the gearing on drop bar bikes but there are fewer options available.
  • More handlebar design options- Flat bars come in a wide range of configurations. There are bar handlebars with a loop or butterfly bars for extra hand positions and space for mounting gear. There are riser bars for a more upright ride position. You could install bar ends for an extra hand position.
a touring bike with flat bars

Flat Bar Cons

  • Flat bars offer only one hand position- This is the biggest drawback to flat bars. If you commute further than10 or so miles or ride long distances or touring, you could experience numbness in your hands or pain in your wrists after keeping your hands in the same position for too long. The best way to solve this issue is to install bar ends. Pay close attention to your hands. If you feel them going numb, take a break and let them regain sensation. Upon returning home from my last tour, I had some numbness in one of my fingers that lasted for a few days. I have heard of people losing some of the feeling in their fingers for weeks or even permanently after ignoring 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 and creates a lot of drag. This can slow you down significantly when coasting down hills and riding fast. At slow speeds, the resistance isn’t really noticeable. Once you reach 15-20 mph, the drag slows you down significantly. You can crouch down on flat bars to get a bit more aerodynamic but this position is hard to maintain. 
  • Flat bars require a wider gap to pass through- The widest part of most bikes is the handlebars. The average flat bars measure around 200 mm wider than drop bars. If you are commuting in a city with heavy traffic, you won’t be able to squeeze through as tight of gaps as you can with a bike with drop bars. One solution is to hack off a few centimeters from each end of your bars. This will cost you some control and you will lose real estate for mounting accessories.
  • Flat bars are inefficient- Flat bars put you in a riding position which creates a lot of wind resistance. If you’re traveling at speed or into a headwind, much of your energy is going toward fighting wind resistance rather than pushing you forward. This is inefficient. Particularly for long rides. You can crouch down into an aero position but after a few minutes your arms, neck, and shoulders will tire out and you’ll have to go back to your upright position. 
  • You can’t cover as much ground as quickly- With flat bars, you travel at a slower average speed than you would with drop bars but you spend the same amount of energy. The reason is that you are facing an aerodynamic disadvantage. Over long distances, the inefficiency adds up. For example, maybe you travel, on average, 1 mile per hour slower with flat bars. Over the course of a full day of riding, you might cover 6-8 miles less than you could with drop bars. 
  • Not as good for climbing hills- You can’t shift your weight as far forward with flat bars. You also can’t quite get the same leverage on the pedals in an upright riding position. This makes climbing long steep hills a bit harder. 
  • Not as cool- This is a personal preference but I don’t think flat bars look as good as drop bars. They’re kind of plain.


More Cycling Pros and Cons Analyses from Where the Road Forks


a guy riding a drop bar road bike

What Kind of Cyclist Should Choose Drop Bars?

Drop bars are ideal for long-distance on-road riding where you don’t have to turn or brake often. Riders who maintain an average speed of over 15-20 miles per hour or those who often face headwinds will benefit most from the aerodynamic advantages that drop bars offer. They are also great for those who ride for more than an hour or so at a time and need multiple hand positions. Many bicycle tourists prefer drop bars.

One thing to keep in mind is that not all drop bars are the same. Not all drop bar bikes are aggressively designed road bikes. For example, touring bikes and gravel bikes often come with drop bars with relaxed geometries. In recent years, drop bar mountain bikes have started becoming more common.

Some drop bar handlebar designs put you in a more upright position. You have a lot of options to choose from.

Drop bars are defined by three measurements:

  1. Reach- This measures is how far forward the bar curves.
  2. Drop- This measures how far below the top bar the drop is.
  3. Width- This measures the distance between the drops. 

What Kind of Cyclist Should Choose Flat Bars

Flat bars are great for cyclists who want a more upright riding position. This is generally considered to be more comfortable. Many hybrid bikes and city bikes come with flat bars for this reason.

Flat bars are also ideal for those who ride off-road. They offer more control. This makes them great for mountain biking. Almost all mountain bikes come with flat bars.

They are also great for those who ride in urban areas with stop-and-go traffic and frequent tight turns. Flat bars offer great control and are very nimble. They are great for commuter bikes.

Just like drop bars, not all flat bars are the same. Some offer a more aggressive geometry which puts you in a forward leaning position. This is the case with flat bar road bikes. Some flat bars, like riser bars, put you in a very upright riding position. 

Bicycle Handlebar Accessories

Drop bars and flat bars are the two most popular handlebar options. In fact, pretty much every bike comes from the shop with one of those two installed.

There are a couple of handlebar accessories that can help you overcome some of the drawbacks of drop bars and flat bars.

Of course, there are also other types of handlebars available. A few popular types of handlebars to consider include trekking bars, bullhorn bars, riser bars, and cruiser bars. Check out my guide: 17 types of handlebars for more handlebar options to consider.

Clip-on Aero Bars

These attach to either drop bars or flat bars as an accessory. They allow you to lean over your handlebars and tuck into the most aerodynamic position possible. With aero bars, you grip them with your hands out in front of you and rest your elbows on the built-in rests.

The main benefit of aero bars is in aerodynamics. They also allow you to rest your hands and wrists. If you’re traveling straight, you don’t need to grip the bar. Just lean on your elbows.

Bar Ends

These attach to your flat handlebars add extra hand positions. Most riders attach them to the ends of the bars angled up and away from the bars but you can get creative with these to suit your preference. For example, you can install them toward the center of the bars to give yourself a more aero position. Angle them straight up to give yourself a cruiser like riding position. Wrap them with bar tape for added comfort. 

Can You Convert Between Flat Bars and Drop Bars

Yes. It is possible to convert a flat bar bike to drop bars or vice versa. This is a pretty easy conversion to do. This job involves buying new handlebars and brake levers. In most cases, you will also need new shifters. In some cases, you may need new derailleurs as well. Some derailleurs are designed for a particular type of shifter. It’s not always an easy conversion.

It’s important to note that the bike frame geometry is designed around a particular handlebar type. The handlebars are designed to seat you in the optimal position. Swapping to different handlebars can throw off the geometry. This can affect the bike’s ride quality and performance.

This isn’t the case with all bikes can fit both types of handlebars. Some types of bikes Before you change the handlebars on your bike, it’s a good idea to consider how the new handlebars will affect your body position while you ride.

My Handlebar Choice

I prefer flat bars. The pros outweigh the cons for me. I find it much easier to control a bike with flat bars. I feel more confident riding. Safety is also a consideration. It’s easier to brake with flat bars. I also enjoy the ease of maintenance. I never have to deal with bar tape. Flat bars are the best option for my style of riding.

My preference for flat bars is partially because I grew up riding them. I’m just not as comfortable on drops. When I was a kid, I always rode mountain bikes and BMX bikes. I wasn’t into road riding. I think this plays a big role in my preference.

There are some aspects of drop bars I prefer. Crouching down into the drops while riding into a headwind is really nice. I also prefer the look of drop bars. They’re cool. Flat bars are boring.

In the past, I have owned several drop bar bikes including a Fuji Touring bike. Before that, I had a Centurion Ironman Dave Scott from the 80s that I rode to school. Over the years, I have owned many flat bar bikes. I grew up riding mountain bikes and BMX bikes. Currently, I ride a Schwinn High Sierra from the 80s that I converted into a touring bike.

My Schwinn High Sierra Loaded for a Tour

Final Thoughts

Handlebars play a major role in the comfort and handling of your bike. The choice between flat bars and drop bars comes down to your riding style, where you ride, the type of bike you ride, and your personal preference.

You have an endless number of handlebar variations to choose from. Flat bars and drop bars both come in a wide range of variations. There is a handlebar out there for you.

The choice between flat bars and drop bars can also come down to which region you’re from. In some countries, one handlebar style is more common than the other. For example, in North America and the U.K., most touring bikes come with drop bars. In Europe, most touring bikes come with flat bars. There are regional differences.

This choice can also depend on your past experience. If you grew up riding flat bar bikes as I did, you’ll probably prefer flat bars. If you’ve been riding drop bars for the past 15 years, you’ll probably want to stick with them. There is no reason to change if you’re more comfortable with one style of handlebar.

Whatever option you go with, I hope this guide helps you choose the right type of handlebar for your next bike.

For more handlebar options, check out my guide: 17 Types of Bicycle Handlebars.

Where do you stand on the drop bar vs flat bar debate? Comment below to share your preference and experience!

More from Where the Road Forks

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dz

Sunday 21st of May 2023

Anothre benefit of drop bars is that your large butttock muscles are engaged better and you get more power.

Flicke

Friday 27th of January 2023

Ohh the not the goofy snide again, I am a fan of the butterfly bars for my lifetime, noone's gonna change just because they look goofy, i can assure you being with a frank ex. The article's concise and informative, just you can add some more illustrations to attract laymen public traffic! Thanks!

Tiago Silva

Saturday 12th of March 2022

I put 10mm bar ends on the middle of the bar angled to the inside and slightly angled up from the floor. Put bar tape on them and in between them to the stem. It’s the perfect setup for me. When I’m riding in city or technical terrain I grab the grips and when I want to be more aerodynamic I grab the bar ends. I can say I ride 90% of the time like that and it eliminates all the disadvantages of having a flat handlebar.

wheretheroadforks

Wednesday 16th of March 2022

That sounds like a good compromise. I've thought about doing something similar on my touring bike.

Michael

Monday 24th of January 2022

You forgot a very important point.... Neck pain and cervical arthritis.... Anything to keep your spine more upright is good for these kinds of riders so a flat bar or similar is a much better alternative.

wheretheroadforks

Thursday 27th of January 2022

Good point about neck pain.

Carles

Tuesday 31st of August 2021

Hi! Congratulations!! Your site is pretty amazing and interesting!! I'm quite confused since I come from mtb and I've toured always in flat bars no matter the terrain nor the distance. If you use bar ends like ergon 5 then you gain 3 positions for your hands plus the very uncomfortable and not lasting one leaning slightly with the elbows touching the handlebar as close to the stem as possible. That said, I've recently experienced something weird: I bought a Fuji Touring back in 2018, a nice blue one equipped with drop bars. After a while (about 2 years or something, with plenty of miles on it) I changed the setup with a new flat bar, mtb gear shifters and ergon 5 bar ends. I made a very comfy 2 weeks tour in South of France, going fully loaded (front and back panniers), and even crossing the Pyrenees wasn't a big deal as long as the upright position that flat bar offers made it easier for me. But... since the last week I've returned to the drop bar!!! I don't know the reason. Perhaps I want to give them another try, another chance; may be it's because I want to focus more on the road (I want to keep my touring bike for lots of years and I think that if I use it off road as I often do, it won't last so much),... Or -may be- it is because I love the look on it! The drop bar with leather tape and the bar end shifters! I'm absolutely confused but I notice a bit of pain when I put my hands on the hoods or the rest of the bar or the drops and after breaking a lot, it is even more painful and uncomfortable, but I'll insist. And after all if it doesn't work I still keep the flat handlebar in my garage ;)

wheretheroadforks

Monday 20th of September 2021

I agree about the looks. Drop bars on a road bike look classic. They're also a great choice for road riding.

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