When it comes to handlebars, there are benefits to both flat and drop bars.
Flat bars allow you to ride in a more ergonomic, upright position, which is good for casual cyclists or commuters.
Drop bars are designed to enable the rider to cycle in a more aerodynamic position, which helps generate more speed and power.
However, you might be wondering if you can change your flat bar to a drop bar.
It might be possible to do so, however, it is likely to involve a lot of research, and could be quite costly, as it’ll require changing the shifters and brake levers too.
Here’s what you should consider before making the upgrade:
- The cost of the new bars
- You’ll probably require a new stem - unless you can find drop bars that match your flat bars' diameter, as most road bikes now use "oversized" bars, which require a stem with a larger clamp.
- New shifters. Bar-end shifters are probably your cheapest and most versatile option, as they should fit most bars. Down-tube shifters may also be an affordable option, but will only be viable if your bike has the mounting points.
- New brake levers, if not using brifters (integrated brakes and shifters). However, road bike brakes use a different amount of cable pull versus mountain bike brakes, which brings us to the next point:
- You’ll likely need new brakes! This is the most off-putting part for those trying to convert their bike to a drop bar, as you'll need to find something that fits your wheel and brake mount combination.
- You’ll also need new brake cables and housings, as your existing cables will probably be too short for drop bars. This means you'll likely need to replace all four cables plus the sections of cable housing that reach the bars.
Can I change drop handlebars to flat?
Road bike drop bars are a love-hate thing, and some cyclists just don’t get on with them.
If you want to cycle in a more upright position, you can try raising the handlebars or installing a higher stem, however, if you want to ride in a truly upright position, you may need to replace the drop handlebars with flat bars instead.
This is possible, but it will require the replacement of several parts, just like if you want to change from a flat bar to drop bars.
As well as the new bar, you’ll need new brakes, brake levers, and shifters, though you’ll probably be able to get these parts cheaper than if you were converting a flat bar to a drop bar.
Is it worth converting your bike handlebars?
Obviously, different bikes have different handlebars for a particular reason.
Road bikes use drops as these are more aerodynamic, whereas mountain bikes or hybrids use upright ones for comfort and stability.
If you’re looking to change your handlebars, you could be better off selling your bike and replacing it with a new one that suits the type of riding you want to do.
Check the Fit
If you’re finding your road bike uncomfortable, it could be to do with the fit rather than the handlebars style.
Drop bars take some getting used to as they require you to engage your core more than flat bars, but you shouldn’t be straining to use them, there should be a slight bend in your arms.
If you haven’t done so already, get a proper bike fit. Ensure your handlebars and saddle are at the right height, and that the bike size is right for you.
Consider the Cost
Converting your handlebars can be pretty costly, especially because you’re not just replacing the handlebars, but the brakes, brake levers, and shifters too.
You need to ensure these are all compatible with your bike, which may be a struggle as you could be trying to install mountain bike components on a road bike, and vice versa.
It is possible, but consider the cost before you start the conversion, as well as how easy it will be to make the changes. Otherwise, you might find it more cost-effective to just purchase a new bike and sell your current one.
Consider Why You Want to Change Your Bars
Some of us are better suited to drop bars than flat bars, or vice versa. However, you need to ask yourself why you’re changing your handlebars, as there are other aspects of the bike to consider.
If you currently own a bike with a flat bar and you want to install drops to increase efficiency, remember that road bikes also have thin tires and a lightweight frame, and without these, your bike will still be lacking in speed.
Equally, if you’re converting drop bars to a flat bar because you want to increase your comfort level, you should also consider the other ergonomic features of your bike, such as the saddle.
You might discover that you would benefit from purchasing a road or mountain bike in its entirety, rather than selecting the handlebars alone.
Or, if you like the speed of a road bike but the stability and upright riding position of a mountain bike, you’ll probably find a hybrid bike your best choice, as this merges the best elements of both.
Replacing your handlebars can be a tricky process, but if you can find the right parts for your bike, it can really make a difference to your comfort and confidence.
That said, it’s also worth considering the overall cost of the conversion, as you may find it more cost-effective to opt for a new bike instead, and to sell your old one.
If you like combining the elements of a mountain bike and a road bike, a hybrid might be the best option for you.
Or if you’re looking to add speed to your current mountain or hybrid, you might find that the drop bar positioning of a road bike, and the aerodynamic shape, might accommodate you better.