Exploring the Pros and Cons: Drop Bar vs Flat Bar for Cycling

Drop Bar vs Flat Bar

Whether you’re a biking newbie or a pro rider, one of the most important things you must consider while getting a new bike is its handlebars.

Considering that the handlebars can make or break a ride, you must select a type that best suits your preferred riding style and terrain.

This will greatly enhance your riding comfort and performance, especially on long rides around town or across technical terrain.

Why is a drop bar vs flat bar so heated debate?

Flat bars and drop bars are the two most popular handlebar types that you’ll often see on bikes.

So, here we will delve into their key differences, pros, cons, and which riding style and terrain they are best suited for. This will help you objectively decide which one is better for you.

We will also quickly cover a few other popular handlebar options – in case you’re in the market for more alternatives.

Let’s dive in!


What Are Drop Bars?

What Are Drop Bars?

Drop bars are the curly handlebars that give that quintessential “road bike” look. They have a flat portion in the center and a curved bend on both sides of the bars that circle forward and down.

Drop bars come in many variations to suit the convenience of riders. But they are typically narrower than flat bars and are 16 to 18 inches wide.

Also, unlike the latter, which has the brake lever position parallel to the bars, drop bar brakes are fixed to the front of the bars.


Drop Bars Pros

Here are the main advantages of drop bars:

Multiple Hand Positions

Drop bars offer three hand positions – on the bars, on the hoods, and in the drops. Placing your hands on the hoods and bars while riding gives you a natural and ergonomic hand position and prevents strain.

Aerodynamic Advantage

Aerodynamics is pivotal in powering your ride and helping you speed up while biking. Greater speed involves more aerodynamics. A drop bar frame helps you reduce aerodynamic drag by leaning forward in a more aero position.

This forward-leaning position dramatically increases your speed while requiring you to exert less effort while riding. This is especially useful on descents or flat sections where you can cover more distance with the same effort.

Suitable For Steep Hills

Climbing hills requires you to shift your body weight forward to make the ascent easier. The brake hoods of drop handlebars help you grip the bike firmly.

Leaning forward also gives you greater leverage while pedaling, which enables you to use more power to pedal. 

Fit Narrow Spaces

Standard drop bars are narrower than flat bars, which is useful for weaving through tight spaces in traffic. 

Look Cool

Most riders feel that the curved and sophisticated design of drop handlebars makes them look cool, sporty, and classic. But this is just a personal preference.


Drop Bars Cons

Here are the drawbacks of drop bars:

Less Control

The narrow width of drop handlebars reduces the leverage you can get to turn them quickly or accurately, as you can with flat bars.

Drop handlebars also require you to put more weight on your hands, which gives you less control, especially at slow speeds. For greater control, get flared bars with drops for greater control.

Poor Access to Brake Levers

A drop bar bike does not allow you to stop quickly, as you need to change your hand position on the bars to use the brakes.

For example, if you place your hands on the top of the drop bars while riding, you’ll need to quickly move your hands down the bars to grab the brakes. This can make it dangerous to use drop bars in case of emergencies.

Moreover, many riders find the drop bar brake position uncomfortable. If you wish to do away with this problem, you can fit brake levers on the top bar or buy dual brake levers or brake lever extenders.

Not Suitable for Off-Road Riding

As drop bar bikes offer less control, it becomes difficult to avoid holes or stumps on off-road trails.

Flared drop bars are slightly better for this purpose, but flat bars are the clear winner for off-road riding.

Poor Visibility

Drop bar bikes have a more aggressive geometry than flat bar bikes, making you lean forward on them.

This riding position reduces visibility as your head is looking down. You may angle your head up, but that pushes your neck into an unnatural position.

Fragile Parts

Drop bar components are quite fragile, particularly if you have integrated or Shimano Total Integration (STI) shifting levers.

Expensive Parts

The brake levers and bar end shifters of a drop bar bike differ from those of a flat bar bike.

Drop bar brake levers and shifters are costlier than flat bar bike parts, which makes a drop bar bike overall expensive.

Difficult to Find Replacement Parts

Drop bar parts like brake levers, shifters, and some front derailleurs are hard to come by. This is especially the case if you tour remote regions of the world.

Most bike shops and department stores in the developing world stock flat bar mountain bike components. Meanwhile, drop bar bikes mostly use road bike components, which are slightly difficult to find.

Cumbersome to Replace Drop Bar Parts

Replacing brake cables or shifter cables on drop bar bikes can be annoying as you first need to remove the handlebar tape. You’ll then have to put in new bar tape once you replace the cable.

This is time-consuming and costly. One way to circumvent this problem is to slide a new cable through the old housing without removing the bar tape. 

Less Space for Mounting Items to Drop Bars

Many riders usually mount biking gear like a flashlight, bike computer, GPS, phone, bell, harnesses, bags, and more to their handlebars.

As drop bars are narrow, they don’t offer enough room for all these items. Nonetheless, you can use a handlebar extender to mount your stuff without any hassle.

Does Not Work Well With Some Types of Clothing

If you’re riding a drop bar bike, you’ll need to stretch your arms out slightly farther than on a flat bar bike.

If you wear formal or tight clothing, this can be difficult and affect your riding performance.

Need to Frequently Tape Drop Bars

You need to tape drop bars every once in a while to ensure proper bike maintenance. It takes a little time and money, which you don’t have to spend if you use flat bars.

When to Use Them?

Drop bars are best for on-road riding across long distances where you don’t need to brake or turn often.

Also, cyclists who ride at an average speed of 15 to 20 miles per hour or who often deal with headwinds should go for drop bars for their aerodynamic advantage.

Drop bars are also fantastic for cyclists who ride for long hours and need to switch hand positions for greater comfort.

You can also get gravel bikes and touring bikes that have drop bars with relaxed geometries. These frames put you in a more upright position and add to your comfort and performance on longer rides.

What Are Flat Bars?

What Are Flat Bars?

Flat bars are the handlebars that give bikes their characteristic “mountain bike” aesthetic. They go straight across the front of the bike and do not bend in the direction of the cyclist like cruiser handlebars.

They also do not bend outward for diversified steering. You can choose from different flat bar options to suit your specific riding needs. But generally, flat handlebars are a little over two feet wide.

They are wider and straighter than drop bars and require you to place your hands on the flat bar grips at the sides of the bars.


Flat Bars Pro

Here are the key benefits of flat bars:

Greater Comfort

Flat handlebars equip you to ride in a more upright riding position, placing less strain on your arms, back, and neck. These bars also provide more comfort to the hands while gripping.

Their ergonomic grips put your hands in a more natural position than narrow drop bars covered in bar tape.

You can get flat bars that are straight like a rod and also those that are angled up toward the rider for a more comfortable riding position.

Some cyclists prefer flat bars with stem extenders to raise their handlebar height. There are other types of flat bars like riser bars that put you in an even more upright position while riding.

You can even find flat bars on the market that are crossovers between regular flat bars and slightly swept-back bars.

More Control

The wider design of flat bars gives you more leverage and allows you to maneuver more easily and accurately.

This is especially important when you’re riding at a slow speed or tackling technical terrain off-road. Flat bars allow you to steer your bike precisely where you wish. 

Easily Accessible Brake Levers

The brake levers of a flat bar bike are always at your fingertips. This obviates the need for moving your hands around the bars, which is handy in case of an emergency.

The position of the brake levers is also highly convenient for riding in traffic where you need to brake often.

Better Visibility

As you sit in an upright position when riding a flat bar bike, you can look ahead throughout your ride. You don’t need to only look at the ground below you or strain your neck and back to look ahead as with drop bar bikes.

This helps you focus on traffic and navigating the road ahead, which improves safety.

Plenty of Mounting Space

You can mount everything you need to flat handlebars as they offer more space for mounting gear than drop bars.

Cheaper And Easily Accessible Components

Flat bar bike parts are generally cheaper than drop bar bike components, as you can simply use parts of mountain bikes. These parts usually cost less than road bike components.

Also, you can find replacement parts for flat bars anywhere in the world. Most bike shops carry compatible brake levers, shifters, derailleurs, cables, and so on.

Easy to Replace Cables

A flat bar bike has exposed cables and cable housings. So, you can easily change cables without having to deal with bar tape. 

Durable Grips

Flat handlebar grips pretty much last forever and rarely need replacement, unlike drop bars that need regular tape replacement. 

Better for Beginners

Many new riders find flat bar bikes easier to ride. This is because of their more relaxed riding position, smooth control of handlebars, and excellent visibility.


Flat Bar Cons

Here are the disadvantages of flat bars:

Only One Hand Position

Flat bars offer riders only one hand position. This can cause numbness or pain in your hands if you ride long distances. Installing bar ends can help you solve this issue and reduce discomfort.

Less Aerodynamic Position

Flat bars help you stay in an upright riding position. However, this position creates a lot of aerodynamic drag and slows you down when riding fast and coasting downhill.

You may not notice the resistance at slow speeds. But at higher speeds, say, 15 to 20 mph, the drag is noticeable and requires you to put more effort while riding.

You can lean forward on flat bars to enjoy a greater aerodynamic advantage. But maintaining this position is challenging and can increase strain. 

Need More Space

As flat handlebars are wide, they need more space to navigate heavy traffic.

Not Great For Climbing Hills

A flat handlebar bike does not allow you to shift your weight too forward. It also does not give you the same leverage on the pedals, which makes climbing steep hills more difficult.

When To Use Them?

Flat bars are fantastic for riders who need a comfortable and upright position. They are also great for off-road biking and frequent braking and turning.

You can also choose flat bar road bikes that offer aggressive geometry and help you lean forward while riding.

Can I Convert From One to Another?

Can I Convert From One to Another?

You can convert your drop bars to flat bars and vice versa, but the process is quite difficult.

Drop handlebar bikes and flat handlebar bikes have different controls, which makes them tricky to swap with each other. A flat bar bike has separate units for gear shifters and brake levers, but they may share a mount to use less space.

Meanwhile, a drop bar bike has its brakes and gear shifters integrated into a single unit.

Drop bar brakes and shifters also have a different design from those on a flat bar bike and are built to be more or less vertically mounted. So, swapping them for each other will require not only a new set of bars but also compatible brakes and shifters.

Moreover, you’ll also have to replace your bike’s brake calipers, derailleurs, cables, and grips to be compatible with the new bars. You may also have to get handlebar tape if you’re going for drop bars.

All of this costs time, effort, and money, which you must be prepared for if you’re going for a new set of bars.

Other Popular Handlebar Options

Other Options

Here are other alternatives to flat bars and drop bars you can check out:

  • Cruiser handlebars
  • Bar ends
  • Clip-on aero bars
  • Bullhorn bars
  • Trekking or butterfly bars
  • H bars


Choosing the right handlebars for your bike is crucial for a comfortable and optimal riding experience. Drop bars offer aerodynamic advantages, and multiple hand positions, and are best for on-road riding and higher speeds.

However, they lack control, have limited brake lever access, and are expensive to replace. Flat bars provide comfort, better control, and accessible brake levers, and are suitable for off-road biking.

are not as aerodynamic and have limited hand positions. Converting between the two types is challenging due to differences in controls. Consider other options like cruiser handlebars, bar ends, or clip-on aero bars.



Last Updated on June 10, 2023 by Danijel Cakalic

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