Are you wondering whether using a road bike with a flat handlebar is a good idea? While experienced road cyclists might find the question absurd, this is a totally valid question first-time cyclists might want to ask.
After all, bikes with a drop bar look more aggressive than normal bikes and it puts the rider in such a hunched position that you might think that can’t be comfortable for the back!
In this article, we address some common misconceptions about drop bars and whether you really should avoid drop bars and opt for a flat-bar road bike instead.
Let’s dive into it.
Myths about drop bars
A drop bar is normally narrower than a flat bar, it is curved downwards and allows you to place your hands on the drops to get even lower on the bike. Drop bars are more common on road and gravel bikes and flat bars are more common on MTBs and motorcycles, while commuter and utility bikes use a variation of flat bars.
And in case you’re curious:
Yes, there are road bikes with flat handlebars, though they are not very common and people tend to call them hybrid bikes. You can change drop bars on a road bike with a flat bar. To do that you will need to buy flat-bar-compatible shifters and brake levers.
The question about flat bar on a road bike is often asked by people who have never tried a drop bar road bike or have only ridden an MTB and motorcycle because of these myths about drop bars:
Myth 1: Drop bars are uncomfortable for your hands
Drop bars are actually more comfortable on your hands because the width is more or less equal to the width of your shoulders and it puts your hands in a natural position.
Some commuter bikes also have their handlebars curved backward to simulate a more natural hand position, because flat bars aren’t actually that comfortable for long-distance riding.
Also, thanks to their multiple hand positions on a drop bar, you can switch your hand position when your shoulders start to get sore.
Once you’re used to it, you will quickly realize that a drop bar bike is actually more comfortable than a traditional flat handlebar.
Myth 2: Drop bar handling is worse than flat bar
This is kind of true. Bikes with drop bars are not necessarily harder to handle on the road, but they are harder to steer than bikes with flat bars, and there are several reasons for this.
First, drop bars are usually much narrower than flat bars. The narrower your handlebars, the harder it will be to steer your bike. This is also true when comparing flat bars with flat bars.
Second, road bikes usually have longer stems than MTBs. Longer stems make steering harder, but they are more stable at a high speed. Third, the geometry of road bikes itself made the steering feels locked in on a straight line than an MTB.
Because of the second and third reasons, many people think that road bikes with drop bars have worse handling than MTBs with flat bars. That’s true if you ride a road bike in the mountains, but you don’t. Both bikes are just made for different terrain and riding a bike on the road doesn’t require you to make maneuvers or quick turns.
You don’t make a turn on a road bike by steering the handlebar. Instead, you tilt your body in the direction where you want to go.
Myth 3: Drop bars make your back hurt
Bikes with drop bars usually put the rider in a more aggressive and hunched position, but the type of handlebars itself doesn’t determine the aggressiveness.
The aggressiveness of a bike is decided by the frame geometry, length, angle of the stem, and the number of spacers below your stem.
So yeah, road bikes with drop bars are more aggressive, but changing them to a flat bar won’t make them less aggressive.
Generally speaking, road bikes come into geometry categories: endurance and race. Endurance road bikes are more upright than race bikes. If you want a road bike that doesn’t hurt your back, an endurance road bike is what you might need.
Myth 4: Drop bars are not good for off-road
Depends on how off-the-road it is. Drop bars are still good for light gravel roads, which is why all gravel bikes use drop bars. That said, if you want to go mountain biking, you definitely shouldn’t use a drop bar bike.
Myth 5: The brakes on drop bars are harder to reach
People with small hands might find it hard to reach brake levers on their road bikes with drop bars when it’s on the standard setup. The thing is, you can easily reduce the reach of the brake lever with a few turns of screws.
Myth 6: Drop bars are bad for beginners
Because bicycles for kids use flat bars, many people think that drop bars are too advanced for them and not beginner-friendly. While it’s true that you should learn to ride a bike with a flat bar because you will need the extra steering capability, it doesn’t take long to get used to using drop bars, ride them for a few minutes and you’ll get used.
What beginner bike riders actually need is less aggressive frame geometry that provides stable handling and a relaxed position, regardless of the type of handlebar.
Why you probably shouldn’t get a flat bar bike for cycling on a paved road
There are serious drawbacks to using flat bars for road biking. Here are some of them:
1. As said earlier, a flat bar by itself doesn’t make the bike more comfortable. It’s the opposite. If you want a more comfortable and less aggressive ride, use a shorter stem and flip the stem to increase stack height. Also, get an endurance road bike rather than a race bike.
2. If you already have a bike with a drop bar and want to change to a flat bar, you will need to replace not just the bar but also the shifters and brake lever to flat bar-compatible ones. This will cost you more. It’s so much cheaper to get a different stem if you don’t think your existing bike is comfortable.
3. Flat bars are slower than drop bars because of the wider grip and lack of drop position. On the road, whether you are riding for the sake of enjoyment or commuting, you will want to go faster and spend less energy. Drop bars are a better choice for this reason.
4. The wider grip on a flat bar is more tiring for your shoulders and arms on long-distance riding. Plus, you can’t change your hand position on a flat bar. Some people use bar ends on their flat bars because of this, but that just makes them a wider drop bar.
How to change your drop bar bike to a flat bar
The good news is if you already have a drop bar bike and still for some reason want to change to a flat bar, you can. But to make it work, you will need flat-bar-compatible shifters and brakes.
Have a look at one of these, depending on your current groupset:
Unfortunately, if your bike has a 2×12 or others, you will need to replace the whole set. Either get a 2×11 with flat-bar-compatible shifters and brakes or get a mountain bike groupset that is specifically made for flat bars.
After that, it’s a matter of removing the current components and installing the new components. This can be complicated for beginners, so you might want to bring your bike to a local bike shop.
What about hybrid and fitness bikes?
Hybrid and fitness bikes are two more options to consider if you don’t already have a bike and want to ride on the road with flat bars.
They are great for people who need a bike for commuting and leisure, but not for people who are road cycling with the intent to race.
The geometry of hybrid and fitness bikes is typically more upright than gravel bikes and endurance bikes. So, if you have a bad back and absolutely can’t handle the slightest hunched position, they can be the right option for you.
For the rest of us, keep in mind that hybrid and fitness bikes aren’t made for speed. They are slower than a true road bike because of their weight and lower-level components. Also, nowadays road bikes are much more comfortable and forgiving which makes them good for recreational riding too.