I’m still investigating what bike to buy. I know it’s been a while and I’ve still not bought anything but this is what I do. I do masses of homework into future big purchases before actually spending any money… well, when I say homework I mostly mean reading everything I can about the subject on the internet; reviews, forums posts, comparative equipment levels, statistics etc etc.
So I’ve been reading about lots of different bikes that I might like to short-list but there’s one big question I need to resolve before I can have a proper shortlist.
Do I buy a bike with flat or dropped handlebars?
To put it into perspective, my current bike is a flat-barred mountain bike and I’ve only ever ridden flat barred bikes (with an exception I’ll come to in a minute). Now I’m riding more and for longer distances, I’m noting that my hands get tired fairly quickly. I find myself sitting further upright and gently leaning with the top of my palms on the handlebars from time to time for a change (do you know what I mean?). I feel like I need some options for hand placement. Better grips and bar ends perhaps?
Of course my voracious reading leads me to dropped handlebars. The internet tells me that drops aren’t just for riding with head low and bum high, in what looks like a weird and uncomfortable position. Apparently the great things about them is the variety of positions one can put ones hands in. The tops, shoulders, hoods, hooks and drops are all positions on the bars one can swap between either when hands get tired, or to attain a certain postion, ie the tucked aero racer position in the hooks and drops vs the sit up position from the tops and shoulders, and the halfway postion on the hoods.
Well, this sounds appealing, and there’s lots of cool looking bikes with dropped handlebars but I’ve read enough to also know that for some people, it’s also quite a personal choice. I wouldn’t want to spend lots of money on a drop barred bike and then hate it.
Here of course, my ability to do homework on my laptop runs out and I have to have a go on one. I’m fortunate that a friend has kindly lent me a drop barred bike. I don’t recall what model but it’s a single-speed road bike with skinny tyres. I’ve taken it out once so far for a ride of a few miles and so far I’m more confused than before!
Admittedly the geometry of this bike feels very long, and I felt very stretched out on it. I believe this is because it’s a proper road bike and that’s not quite what I’m looking for however I’m hoping that despite this, I can come to some conclusion about drop bars.
That first ride was fairly short but interesting and I tried to experience the various positions available to me on the ride.
- Tops – This position felt fine, if pretty narrow. I’m more used to having my hands much wider. Of course I had no brakes available here.
- Shoulders – I probably ended up spending most time here. Wider than the tops and it was nice being able to put my hands in a forward oriented position rather than horizontal. Still no access to brakes.
- Hoods – These kinda felt okay but too far away. I suspect this might well because the geometry of the bike was stretching me out longer than I really wanted. I had access to the brakes though, and I’d hope that in a less stretched bike I’d be happier with this position.
- Hooks and Drops – I expected not to like this position too much as I thought I’d feel too bent into a strange shape, but actually I didn’t mind it too much for shortish periods. I got to pretend like I knew what I was doing best for access to the brakes too.
That makes it all look pretty successful, but what really got me was how out of control I felt! I felt wobbly and unsure most of the way round, especially at slower speeds. when standing on the pedals to climb a hill (single speed, no spinning) it felt like I might fall off. Maybe the bike was just quite twitchy or maybe I’m really not used to having a control bar that’s so narrow? Maybe it’s just something that one gets used to and after a couple of weeks practise, it all becomes second nature? My fear is that I assume it will and it doesn’t.
Last weekend by the way I was in the Deansgate Evans cycles (where they were actually very helpful, unlike the Chill Factor-e evans the previous week) and I sat on one of these (which my uneducated mind still thinks looks pretty neat and much better specced that the name brand alternatives) and it didn’t feel nearly so stretched out. I suspect I might be a lot more comfortable on something that’s more relaxed. I might have to have a ride on it I guess.
Anyway, I could just go and buy a bike with flat bars and then perhaps go out of my way to make sure that I have some really nice grips and bar-ends to use (my homework has pointed out the Ergon GP5‘s already). This would cater to what I know, I’d feel dead comfortable with it pretty immediately and my hands ought to be a lot more comfortable. But of course, most road bikes have drop bars so I can’t help thinking that there must be something to this choice? Surely it can’t all be Lance Armstrong wannabees (or can it)? I don’t want to waste money on something I don’t like, but conversely I dont want to spend money on something just because it’s familiar and then outgrow it quickly…
Obviously I need some more rides on this borrowed bike to get a better idea and when the rain lets up I intend to go out again but I was wondering if anyone wanted to share their experiences or offer any advice?
 Oh, at one point on the ride I came up to a spot where the bike path crossed a main road. I got to the island in the middle without stopping but then had to stop for the second half. the bike I’ve borrowed has top-clips on the pedals which I’ve never used before. I came to a stop for the traffic and then very slowly, toppled over sideways (not into traffic thankfully) as I completely failed to get my feet out of the toe clips in time to catch myself… *sigh* not exactly a james bond moment…