When it comes to road racing drop handlebars there are three basic hand positions: on the tops, on the hoods or in the drops. Within those three positions there are an infinite number of slight variations determined by the size and shape your hand, the size and shape of the bar and hood and what is comfortable for the rider. Over the years the drop bar has seen many faces, from traditional rounded deep drops to modern compact drops with flat wing shaped tops.

When assessing your handlebars first make sure you love your particular bar size and shape. It should feel comfortable in all the different positions you wish to ride in and it should feel perfect in the position you love to ride in. If this is not the case start looking for something new. Your local shop is a good place to start as they should have a good selection of new and used bars in many shapes and sizes.

Width is the first dimension to consider. If you have wide shoulders, wide bars will be great and the same goes for narrow shoulders. However this is not always the case and personal preference should be paramount. Narrow handlebars will assist with aerodynamics but will not provide as much leverage as wide ones. Also the width can affect your breath, you do not want to constrict breathing. Widths range from but are not limited to 360 mm to 460 mm; be careful when comparing; some manufactures measure center to center and some measure edge to edge. A 420 mm center to center will be almost identical to a 440 mm edge to edge.

Reach is the next dimension and is measured from the bar center at the stem to the furthest point of the downward bend where the hood will clamp. The further the reach the further the hood will extend from the stem. Hand size is something to consider here, small hands will need a shorter reach and large hands may find more comfort with a longer reach and will have more bar to move around on.

Drop also varies and is usually between 120 mm to 160 mm. The shape of the drop is something that varies from bar to bar and can have a round constant radius – traditional, a two part drop with two distinct flat or flattish sections – ergo, or a smooth tight shallow drop – compact. There are many variations of these three categories but most drops can be defined in this way.

If you are looking to change your bars, assuming they are in an ideal position try and decide what about your current bar you dislike and find something that is more suited to your hand shape and size and shoulder width. This is a personal choice and it may take a few trials to find the perfect bar, but in the end it will be well worth the effort.

To find the ideal position for your current bar, I think starting with the hands on the hoods is best because this is where the controls are and where many of us spend much of our riding time. Handlebars are a compromise between several hand positions and each needs to be addressed with its’ importance identified. When on your hoods you should have a relaxed (not tight) lumbar spine, a comfortable neck and head position, relaxed shoulders and a gentle relaxed bend in your arms. Your hands should be bearing less weight than your saddle and not feel like they are holding you up. If your hands feel like they are bearing more weight than they should, you should go back and look at your saddle fore / aft position. You should not feel like you are reaching, this would retard your ability to steer the bike. If you feel like you are reaching try a shorter stem 10 mm at a time, or try a bar with a shorter reach.

If you feel your hoods are in a great place, drop down into your drops and see how this changes your body position. You should still have a relaxed lumbar spine, a comfortable neck and head position, relaxed shoulders and a gentle relaxed bend in your arms. Your hands should be bearing less weight than your saddle and not feel like they are holding you up. If any of these aspects of your position become less comfortable, try moving your stem up by a spacer or two. If you feel like you are reaching, try a shorter stem or a bar with a shallower drop. Try as many stems and spacers as it takes to get your torso into a relaxed position. If you are holding yourself up, you are using valuable energy that could be going into your legs and driving the bike forward faster.

If your torso feels cramped and you have deep bends in your elbows try a longer stem. If you are able to ride in the drops very comfortably and your chin is getting close to the stem you should try dropping the stem down.
Do not forget when it comes to the height of your bars you are not limited by the number of spacers on your steer tube, often by flipping your stem you can raise or lower your bar by 10 or 20 mm.

Once the general bar dimension is set, it’s time to iron out the kinks. Standing over the bike is the safest way to do this but a trainer can be more precise. Loosen your stem face clamp bolts and rotate your bars with your hands in the drops, you are looking for a straight wrist here. There is no ability to transfer torque in a bent wrist. Use feel and find that sweet spot where your hand is at ease. Tighten the bolts to their recommended torque and remove the bar tape. Now find your hood clamp bolts and loosen them, just enough so you can wiggle the hoods around. Each hood make and model is different and if you need help finding the bolts go on-line and do some homework. Try and get the hoods to a place where your wrist is straight and strong and your hand is flowing out from your arm with comfort. Do not forget you will need to stand while pedaling so if the hood is too high this wrist angle will be too great when standing and it will not be comfortable. Once you feel you have a good balance of drop and hood position (if your levers allow) dial in the lever reach so that your fingers lay gently over the brakes, you will be able to descend a lot faster if you know your brakes are at the ready.

When choosing new tape, obviously color may be a factor but also remember this is an interface you will be using every time you ride so choose something that suits your riding style and personal hand needs. For example if you get numb, tingly sensations in the hands try a tape with some cushioning and gel padding perhaps. If you are a crazy sprinter and can’t sit in your saddle for more than two minutes, try a tape with some grip to it, so you can lock your hands in place.

Bar position is about facilitating balance and control on your bike, allowing you to draw upon as much power and oxygen as you need, when you need it, not about being aerodynamic. If you want to get more aero – go to yoga…

Originally posted on ManlyCC