Sunday, October 30, 2011

Drop Bar Mountain Bike Tips: Updated

Back in 2007, (egads!  Has it been that long ago?), I wrote a post entitled "Drop Bar Mountain Bike Tips", which has become a very popular target for searches on the subject of drop bars for off road bikes. I have decide it is high time to update this popular post with new information. I am going to re-post the article here, and newer information will appear in blue text.

Singular Gryphon with Woodchipper Bars

Drop Bar Mountain Bike Tips

I've seen a lot of questions lately on the subject of drop bars for mountain bikes. I think that there are a lot of misconceptions out there on just what to do and how to do it, so here's a few tips. These concepts were gathered through reading material on the subject by Charlie Cunningham, an early adopter of drops for off roading, and from an excellent piece done on the subject by Don Person, better known as "Shiggy" on's forums.

1. Probably the biggest misconception out there has to do with the height and reach of drop bar set up. Here is something that will help clear it up for you. Always, always, always ride off road in the drops. Off road drop bars were not meant to be ridden "on the hoods" as so many roadies are doing. The reason for this is control. Off road the bumps and jarring will make riding on the hoods a dangerous proposition. Riding in the drops actually lets you relax your grip, since the bumps force the handle bar into your hands. Plus, the round cross section of the bar is far easier to hang on to than the hoods.  

Note: You can use all portions of an off road, mountain biking drop bar set up. However; your primary position for operating the controls will be from the drops, since this will be where you will be most of the time with your hands while actually riding mountain bike trails. Sure, there will be times you can grasp the tops, cruise in the hoods, or put your hands elsewhere on the bars, but these times will be fewer and father between than they would be on a road bike. For the "Why Would You Use Drop Bars Off Road" question, see my next post on the subject coming soon.

2. Taking #1 into consideration, it becomes clear that your off road drop bars are to be at a height where the drop section would be level with the height where your grips would be on a flat bar set up. This generally requires a high rise stem for your drop bar. You also could get a "drop bar specific" frame such as the Salsa Cycles Fargo, or Singular Cycles Gryphon, amongst other choices in custom built bikes.

3. Also taking #1 into consideration for reach, you may run into trouble if you are already running a very short stem, say less than a 90mm reach. Your stem choices will be limited and your reach may be compromised. It might be better to use a slightly shorter top tube on a different frame for a drop bar set up. (Or go custom, or see #2 additional info above)

4. Drop bars good for off road include the WTB Mountain Road Drop Bar, (Out Of Production as of late 2011) On One Midge bar, the Origin 8 Gary II BarSalsa Cycles Woodchipper Bar, and the Ragley Bikes Luxy Bar (Note: All hyper-links updated as of 10/29/11)

5. Stems that have high rise that work with threadless steer tubes are available from Salsa, Dimension, and a host of custom builders. (Clockwork Bikes and Groovy Cycleworks are a couple I am aware of for custom stems.)

6. Drop bars can be used with single speed drivetrains or multi geared. STI shifters work great off road even with flared bars like the Midge, WTB Mountain Road Drop Bar, Woodchipper, Luxy Bar, and Gary Bar. Bar end shifters can also be used, but because of the flared drop ends, they can sometimes be damaged in crashes.

7. Brake lever tips should be easily reached from the drops. This means you will run the levers lower down on the bars than a road set up. Much lower! Mechanical disc brakes can be set up for use with drop bars if you use Avids excellent BB-7 for road levers, and there is a cheaper Tektro road disc brake as well. Currently no hydraulic disc brake set ups are available for off road drop bars. 

Note: It won't be long before hydraulic "brifters" become a reality. Hydraulic converters for standard levers already exist. For the best feel in a mechanical disc brake set up, always use top quality housings and pay special attention to your caliper set up.

Okay, that should help, but if there are any questions, let me know. I'll be glad to answer in the comments section.


Idionycteris said...

Ted - don't forget the Voo Doo Nakisi high rise stem...

SS:Mtn Biker said...

Awesome subject to bring back up,GT,good read,informative,nice :)


Dan O said...

Cool post with lots of included info. I've been curious to run a drop bar on my 29er...

MrDaveyGie said...

G.T. Well said. I put Woodchippers on my FatBack and will never turn back. I used Shimano Tiagra for Brake/Shifter. I little bit more pull for braking but ok for the conditions that FatTire riding usually finds you in. The hand position(s) with being parallel to your bike has been well for my shoulders. Any idea on a poggie for hand warmth. The 'barmitts' won't keep my hands covered in the drops.

Guitar Ted said...

@MrDaveyGie: Bar Mitts supposedly makes a drop bar pogie, is that the one you've had issues with?

I'd be willing to bet you could make one of the cheaper ATV Mitts you can get at Farm & Fleet stores work okay.

MrDaveyGie said...

Yes they do G.T. But they don't have you covered on the drops. This will be my first winter on the drops, like you well mentioned the control of the bike is on the drops. So riding on the hoods to stay warm on the snow will leave me on my arse...:-)

MG said...

Good stuff buddy... I love riding off road on drop bars. In fact, fully half of my stable is comprised of drop bar off road bikes... I wouldn't have predicted that swing ten years ago!

RGB Nameless said...

Hi. You forgot to mention Tektro RL520 v-brake levers for dropbars. They will work with MTB version of Avid BB7.

Also i'd like to read tips like this about using ofrroad dropbars on cyclo- or monster- crosses.

I put a WTB Mountain Drop Bar on my Surly Crosscheck ( here it is : ) and found that drops are waaaay to low for proper offroad use. At least for me. So now I'm stuck between Luxy, Midge, Woodchipper and Cowbell II.

It seems Luxy is my choice for offroad, beacause it has lowest drop, so I don't need to use insanely high rise stem. BUT! Now I use crosscheck mostly for offroad, but when the summer/spring comes, it will also become a road commuter/tourer. So I also thinking about Cowbell 2, as universal offroad/road purpose dropbar, where both "on the drops" and "on the hood" position usable equally.

Really stuck between bars, so I'd really need some help from someone, who has FAR more expirience ...

Guitar Ted said...

@RGB Nameless: Sounds like you've got most of your mind made up. I'd say just go for your Cowbell idea, and also consider the Woodchipper as another one that allows pretty standard lever placement.

RGB Nameless said...

@Guitar Ted Just did a little "research" about "drop" parameter.

Results are

Cowbell 126mm drop

Woodchipper 110mm drop

Luxy 85mm drop

Midge Overall drop - 112mm

WTB Mnt-R-D Bar Drop: 127 mm

I missing something, or drops of cowbell will be at the same place, as current WTB? Way to low ?

I just don't get it. Drop parameter is the same.

Here is your orange crush with cowbell. Steerer is cut, stem is ordinary, not much spacers.

Here is mine crosscheck with WTB. Steerer is cut, but higher. Stem with high rise, and 4cm of spacers under.

And my drops are lower, if you count from flat part of the bar.
And the "drop" of cowbell is 126 and WTB is 127.

How it is possible ?

Guitar Ted said...

@RGB Nameless: Sorry this took so long to get to. The CrossCheck has a notoriously low head tube. My Black Mountain Cycles head tube is longer. (One of the reasons I went with it instead of a Crosscheck), so the stem/spacer issue is always a factor with CrossChecks.

You'll either have to get around the dislike of spacers and high rise stems or get another frame with a taller head tube dimension that will satisfy your aesthetic concerns.

RGB Nameless said...

It ended up with On-One Fleegle Pro and On-One Mary handlebars ( using both now, cant decide, which is better ), with only one 5mm spacer under stem. And 130mm, 15 degree Thomson stem. Maybe I add an extra 5mm spacer.

BTW, since that previous comment I tried Salsa Cowbell, Ragley Luxy, some flat bars, etc...

Kirstz said...

Nice post and very interesting information. Thanks for this information I've learned a lot on this about mountain biking.

Kirstz | mountain biking philippines

Ma Langsam said...

In case you want to run hydraulic disc brakes:
Seems to be working well despite the strange looks...

Ride on

NoCo Greg said...

Great post… One aspect I'd like to find more detail is the compatibility (incompatibility) of the various brifters and derailleurs and cranksets. More specific:
- Shimano front road shifter cable pull is not compatible with mtb front derailleur. Thus indexed front shifting doesn't work. Bar end and Campy ratchet type front shifters will be fine.
- SRAM cable pull is supposedly the same between road and MTB derailleurs. Good luck finding new (NOS) 9 spd and 10 spd SRAM brifters...
- Road chain line is 45mm while MTB chain line is 50mm. So most (all?) road front derailleurs will not reach far enough for a MTB triple chainring.
- Compatibility between shifters and rear derailleurs is hit or miss as well. Shimano 10 spd Brifters will work with Shimano 9 spd mountain rear derailleurs to give a 10 speed setup. In fact one can use Shimano 8 and 7 speed rear derailleurs with 9 and 10 speed Shimano index shifters.

As previously mentioned, SRAM mountain and road shifters should be compatible (ie. have the same cable pull)

Leonard Zinn has a CX setup using Campy Ergo 10 speed shifters with SRAM mountain derailleurs. However there are others who claim this won't work as SRAM shifting has linear cable pull (amount of cable pulled with each shift is the same) and Campy does not use linear cable pull.

At a minimum - someone looking to convert their 9 speed MTB to drop bar with brifters need to sort out compatibility. In theory, if one has some 10 speed ERGO levers and a 9 SPD SRAM MTB, it should be a simple change to get 10 speed shifting on drop bars. The SRAM derailleur with Campy shifter will be compatible with a SRAM/Shimano 10 spd cassette.