Handlebars, like bikes, come in many sizes, shapes, and designs.
Be it a riser bar, bullhorn handlebars, or a drop bar, each is created to suit the needs of a particular road bike. Of the many handlebar types that exist in the biking world, we’re going to focus on two that are used the most: flat bar vs drop bars.
Flat bars are the standard handlebars of most road bikes. Just as the name suggests, they’re straight from one end to another, with some having little curve at the middle to accommodate the bike stem.
Drop bars, on the other hand, are handlebars that allow you to hunch over as they’re curved going down. A drop handlebar is good for racing as they give you the chance to lift your body and apply more power to the pedals.
There are many reviews of handlebar types, but today we’re going to explore the difference between a drop bar and a flat bar, the strengths and weaknesses of each, and what sets them apart.
Flat Bar vs Drop Bar: 6 Key Differences
There are several differences between flat bars and drop bars in terms of functionalities, features, and general handling.
1. Hand Riding Position
This is perhaps the most noticeable difference between the two.
The hand positioning on flat bars is more of a standard nature. You simply stretch your hands and grab the extreme ends which are never that wide apart.
This riding position gives a good view of the road as you’ll be sitting straight.
On drop bars, there are three hand positions: riding on the hoods, drops, and tops. Each position is meant for a specific purpose.
In terms of hand positions, a drop bar has three while the flat bar has only one.
Flat bars give you an upright posture since the handlebar is parallel to your midrib. Most times the hands are stretched straight forward with very little leaning or hunching involved.
The drop bar, with its three multiple hand positions, allows you to hunch over, with the drop handlebar position being the lowest. Each posture serves a specific purpose.
When you use the hood’s bar position you’re most likely in a slow-paced cruise mode. Using the lowest position is for speeding up in races.
Flat bar bicycles aren’t built for races. They do go have an impressive speed but when pitted against drop bar bikes, they don’t hold a candle.
The drop bar is the ultimate speed handlebar. The bar allows the rider to go as low as they can which elevates the rear end, applying more power to pedaling which increases the speed.
The horizontal bar position that your body assumes once you have grabbed the lower drop bar also gives you the control to deal with corners without slowing down. Trying such a thing with a flat bar would result in an accident.
Another difference is that the flat bar doesn’t offer much flexibility and handling. What you can do with it is limited to the usual upright position riding around your area or a short trip to the hill on mountain bikes.
Drop bars, on the other hand, are more flexible with better handling when riding, thanks to the three-hand practicality. You can change drop positions anytime your hands get tired during a long ride without any need for stopping.
That’s one of the reasons why drop-bar bicycles are used for off-road trekking and long-distance touring bikes.
5. Maneuverability and Practicality
Maneuverability is the ability to deal with a sudden corner and tricky terrain on short notice when riding. In this regard, the drop bars have an edge over the flat bar and it can handle sharp corners at high speeds.
However, where lower speeds are involved, the flat bar has better control and easier handling.
If it’s a question of riding through traffic or rocky off-road terrain, then you’ll find the flat bar to be a better fit as it’s comfortable for low-speed rides.
6. Balance and Stability
Flat bars offer the best form of stability and balance when riding, giving riders more handle control when dealing with rough terrain full of bumps. This is why people involved in mountain biking rides usually use flat bars.
The only time drop bars have good stability and balance is when riding at full speed. The faster a drop-bar bike goes, the better the control, stability, and general balance.
Pros and Cons
To further highlight what sets a drop and a flat apart, the following are the pros and cons of each handlebar.
Flat Bar Pros
- Better control. A flat bar is wider which gives the rider better leverage. Riding the bike is also easier and more accurate, especially in situations where moderate speeds are involved, making them ideal for bike commuting.
- Cheaper. They constitute the most used handlebars in the bike industry. Whether it’s that bike you have been using for years or the normal cruiser bike in your garage, finding a replacement flat bar is easy.
- Widely available. Building on the fact that more cyclists use flat bars, there are more variety of parts manufactured every year to cater to this demographic. If you walk into any bar bike shop, you’ll find an impressive variety of flat bars.
- Brake levers are accessible. In most cases, flat bars have the brakes located on the underside of the handlebars, which comes in handy in emergency cycling situations that require quick actions without having to move your whole hand. This is what makes flat bars the best for navigating tricky terrain.
- Space for additions. There’s enough room on flat bars for accessorizing and adding new parts that make riding a more wholesome experience. You can mount a bike bell, a light, a handlebar harness, bar ends, a bar tape, or a cycling computer.
- Comfortable. The upright position accorded by flat bars is comfortable as you exert the least pressure when cycling, it’s like sitting on a chair in the house.
- Better visibility. When holding the flat bars, there’s no need to hunch over. You sit up straight and look ahead without worrying about what’s going on underneath.
- Better grip. Flat bars come with stable grips that never wear out, you may spend years with that bike and never have to replace them even once.
- Ideal for beginners: Because of the balance and stability they possess, flat bar bikes are recommended for beginner cyclists.
Flat Bar Cons
- Only one hand position. A single-hand position is okay for commuting or short cycling distances, but it can become brutal on your wrists if the distances involved become longer. There’s no way to rest your hands on a flat bar.
- Lack of aerodynamics. When sitting upright, the body provides a large surface area for wind resistance, this impacts the speed of the bike and no matter how fast you may wish to go, you won’t achieve top speeds.
- Can be too wide. As much as they’re good for navigating slow traffic, flat bars become a liability where cycling spaces are limited; the wide bar can’t squeeze through tiny spaces. For city riding and commuting, flat bars are the wrong fit.
- Slow: Bikes that use flat bars are painfully slow. Most of the energy that could be applied to double the speed is wasted in fighting air resistance.
Drop Bars Pros
- Three hand positions. With a drop bar, you can switch among three speeds without slowing down. The best part of this is that the drop bar is also designed with extra points that allow for an armrest while cruising down the road.
- Aerodynamics: The positioning of the body when crouched to hold the drop bar gives you a streamlined posture that breaks through the air, with minimal resistance. You exert less force this way.
- Best for climbs. When dealing with hills, you have to shift your body weight forward, this can be easily achieved by holding the lower end of the drop bar, giving you more pedaling leverage.
- Narrow. Drop bars are narrow enough to squeeze through tight spaces, which makes it easier to navigate through traffic or crowded spaces.
- Faster. With the ability to shift the body toward, drop bar bikes are among the fastest you’ll come across on the market. You expend less energy with a drop bar and this allows you to cover more ground on less.
Drop Bar Cons
- Expensive parts. Drop bars aren’t as widely used as flat bars, and for this reason, a drop-bar part isn’t just expensive, but finding the right fit is very difficult.
- Brake levers are hard to access. Brake levers on the drop bars aren’t movable, and they can only be accessed easily by one hand position. This means that switching the positions will force you to move your whole hand when you need to stop, which isn’t ideal for emergencies.
- Less control. Their narrowness and shortness of drop bars throw the bike’s center of gravity off a bit and this can affect the balance, especially when you’re moving too fast. Any slight weight shift can make you lose control.
- No room for modifications. The space for mounting doesn’t exist on a drop handlebar. This is a bit of a big blow for people who love keeping track of everything they do on the bike.
The Bottom Line
There’s a wide gap between drop bars and flat bars, but when it comes to choice, you should focus more on what you need your bike to do as opposed to what the bars are designed for. Other types like riser bars may have a thing or two over these two.
Each bar has its own good spots that are dependent on the environment they’re used in, something that tells them apart from each other.
This is why having a clear purpose before buying bikes is important. If you aim to race, then a drop bar is your best bet, but if you’re more of a leisure cycling type of person or you want to conquer hills with a mountain bike, then flat bars are what you should be looking at.