The debate between flat bars vs drop bars is a common topic in the bike shop. The truth is, there is nothing to debate. The two handlebar types serve two completely different cyclin disciplines. Beginner cyclists coming into the bike shop often claim they aren’t comfortable with flat bars, but they want a road bike. Unfortunately, it has to be one or the other.
There are hybrid bikes that are very similar to road bikes, and they come with flat bars. There are no hybrid bikes that come with traditional drop bars like a road or gravel bike has. There are all kinds of accessories to turn your flat bars into a drop bar style bike. Without replacing shifters and several other components you can have a bike that looks like it has drop bars, but still operates like a flat bar does.
Before going crazy with modifications, lets dive deeper into the differences between the two handlebar types.
Flat Handlebar Pros
One of the biggest pros to flat bars over drop bars is the comfort for beginner cyclists. Having a nice wide grip with an upright posture makes you feel like you can ride all day. Slap a set of ergonomic grips on and like is good on two wheels.
Another advantage to those flat handlebars is added control. The wide grip makes turning easy. You can ride with great precision on flat handlebars. Cycling is no different than any kind of balancing. The first time someone walks a beam they put their hands out wide for stability. Flat and wide handlebars mimic that feeling of added balance.
Flat Handlebar Cons
First, this is not really a con for all cyclists. If you prefer short fitness rides around the neighborhood you’ve probably never noticed the fact that you’re missing out on multiple hand positions. When you ride a flat handlebar bike your hands have one place they can go. On a long ride that means wrist and hand pain.
The biggest con to flat handlebars is the fact that they are not very aero. Having your arms out wide is the opposite of aero, and it means you will be slower. Air resistance accounts for nearly 90% of your power consumption at speeds over 30 mph.
Drop Bar Pros
The biggest pro to drop bars is their aerodynamic advantage. The ability to tuck down into those drops is a massive advantage at high speeds. Aerodynamics makes a bigger impact on your speed than weight does.
The second big advantage is comfort on long rides. You have multiple hand positions with drop bars. You can rest them on the flats, grab the drops, or keep them near the hoods. All three of those positions are comfortable when your on a long endurance ride.
Another thing I love about drop bars is the way you can change the style with new bar tape. Of course you can regrip a flat bar bike, but it isn’t the same as bar tape. One of my favorite visits to my local bike shop is when I am picking out my next bar tape color.
Drop Bar Cons
The biggest con to drop bars is their lack of width. For a beginner cyclists that can feel very uncomfortable at higher speeds. It is also why sizing on a road bike is so important. Having the correct drop bar width can make or break a new cyclists impression of road biking.
Other than the slightly more complicated sizing, there isn’t much bad to say about drop bars. They are more comfortable, more aero, thus faster and all around better. However, I wouldn’t want to put drop bars on my mountain bike.
Are Flat Bars More Comfortable Than Drop Bars?
On a short ride flat bars are more comfortable than drop bars. The advantage jumps back over to drop bars on longer rides. I’ve done some incredibly long mountain bike rides without issue, but getting on and off the bike helps flat bars stay comfortable. If you want to grind it out in the saddle without many breaks you will appreciate the multiple hand positions drop bars offer.
My first good bike from an actual bike shop has flat bars. I still own my FX 2 today. (Read: Trek FX 2 Review) I’ve upgraded the grips multiple times over the years trying to find that perfect combination of performance and comfort. I use my flat bar bike to ride gravel trails, and on my trainer.
When I was a beginner I was for more comfortable on my flat bar bike. Now that I have several thousand miles on bikes I get more enjoyment out of my bikes with drop handlebars. If you want a road bike with flat bars, get yourself a cheap hybrid bike and upgrade to a real road bike when your more comfortable on two wheels.
Are Flat Bar Bikes Good?
Yes, there are loads of awesome bikes that come with flat handlebars. Mountain bikes all come with flat bars and they are so much fun to ride.
Flat bar hybrid bikes are going to be a little less fun, less off road capable and nowhere near as fast as a true road bike. They serve a purpose, but that purpose is not going fast. Flat bar hybrid bikes, or fitness bikes, are made for cyclists taking an hour ride just to be fit. They will be much more comfortable than a bike with drop bars, and you won’t feel an obligation to clip in.
Flat bar hybrid bikes are also great for commuters. Most commuters don’t need to get aero to beat their neighbor to the office. Commuters usually take shorter rides, making flat bars perfect to maintain control of the bike and stay comfortable.
If you find your hands getting uncomfortable on your flat bar bike there is an easy upgrade. The Ergon GP5 Grips (Check Price on Amazon) have an awesome bar end that gives you excellent control and multiple grip options. The grips are comfortable and durable.
Are Drop Bars Better Than Flat Bars?
The debate of flat bars vs drop bars was settled long ago. If you want a mountain bike, or a hybrid bike, you get flat bars. If you want a road bike, or a real gravel bike, you get drop bars. Pairing your handlebars to the type of cycling you do makes sense.
Even with all the advantages flat bars have on mountain bikes, I don’t think I will change to flat bars on my road bike. The same can be said for putting drops on a mountain bike. Both handlebars are great and serve their purpose depending on the type of bike riding you are doing.
The flat bars vs drop bars conversation really comes down to Mountain Biking vs Road Biking, and we all know which is better between those two.