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...

Small Adventures 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...

Dimple Santiago 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

Mr. Paternity 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.


Sam said...

My problem with this analysis is that in order to achieve maximum stability in critical situations one should be riding close to the outer ends of the drops.

If you rode close to the outer ends of the drops brakes would have to be somewhere on the drop bar in order to reach them (Even for modulation reach). But no one seems to position their brake levers like this.

It seems to me that off-road drop bars are utilized best when you have the comfort of being in the hoods (why would you sacrifice this?), and for the safety of greater brake control and a lower center of gravity.

The outer portion of the drops do not satisfy these uses unless you put your brake levers on the drop portion of the bar, or concede that you must significantly reposition your grip in order to brake, which is both potentially dangerous and less stable than being on the outer portion of the drops.

I realize that this is all preference, but it seems to me that there are three ideal intentions for designers of off-road drops (comfort of being in the hoods, lower center of gravity and better brake control, and mountain bike handling stability) and the aforementioned description I've laid out satisfies two of those three uses.

This Luxy bar seems to have come the closest to satisfying all three uses. Right now I've got my Woodchipper drop angle at 10 degrees. It puts more tension on the hood assembly than I would prefer, but allows the bar to come close to satisfying those three uses. I still move my grip up for critical braking, but at least I can use those hoods as hoods should be used.

The only other thing I'd like to try perhaps, is having an extra set of brake levers on the drops.

Guitar Ted said...

@Sam: Hmm.... I think that I have great stability in the hooks where I can easily reach my brake levers, (on well designed drops), and in fact, the Midge Bar has minimalistic extensions for this very reason. Oh - and braking from the hood- when appropriate- is no problem on any of my off road drop bar set ups. However; if you've made your mind up otherwise, none of that matters to you then.

Obviously- there are not many "off-road" drop bars in existence, but for most, the analysis I have made is true- from my point of view, that is.

Sam said...

Your points #1 & #2 don't try to make any distinction between hooks and extensions, yet you suggest that the drops "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."

I'm a bit ambivalent about the extensions as well. We're probably close to being on the same page.

I'm having a tricky time adjusting the hoods to feel both rested comfortably in them while still being able to perform modulated braking when I'm in the hooks.

It's mostly a reach issue that I'm toying with. Often when I find the sweet spot for my hoods the hooks feel out of place. With the woodchipper I do seem to prefer an angle somewhere between 10-20 degrees.

Guitar Ted said...

@Sam- Doesn't it make sense that where you need to have your grip be at most of the time also be a place where you can brake from?

Answer that and I think everything becomes much clearer, no?

Perhaps I assumed too much.....

Sam said...

I'm simply trying to make sense of the extensions. They can be angled high enough to be used quite often. But if you aren't using the outer portion of the extensions a lot, the drop angle becomes slightly more negligible, and hood placement becomes more critical, I believe.

If I set the extensions at 40 degrees I use the outer portion of the extensions for steep hill climbing up roads, gravel, and clean hard pack trail. It provides a huge amount of anchoring to get really strong and stable strides. I also find this angle good as a resting position on long straight rides. Jay P uses this angle.

The thing is when you set the extensions to 40'ish degrees you force the hoods out a fair bit further than if the bars were at a more modest 20-25 degrees. If you try to compensate for that extra reach (when at 40 degrees) with a shorter stem, some situations you can feel as though you are too far over the bars, even though nothing has changed in relation to the axle.

I more I think about it from a design point of view, I think the top crest of the hook should be a straight angle or a more gentle curve, before becoming more curved at the bottom. That way the top crest in the hook doesn't accentuate the hood angle so greatly.

No one is in the hooks completely are they? It's not ergonomic to be in that position. I would assume that most people have their palm (three or four fingers worth) on the extension, with the middle of their thumb and index finger butted somewhere in to the bottom of the hook.

Guitar Ted said...

@Sam: You have hit the nail on the head for why it is that Woodchipper Bars don't have the best design for an off road drop bar. Of all available, they are my least favorite by a long shot and why the out of production Luxy Bar is my current favorite off road drop bar ever. The Luxy Bar corrects all the issues you are seeing with the Woodchipper.

Sam said...

Hmmm, maybe it's time for a different bar :)

Sam said...

Enter the Cowchipper bar. Wow. Interesting timing