Getting a bike with drop bars or flat bars is all about riding style and preference.
When asking this question, you should also be asking yourself where you’re riding and what your goals are when you go out cycling. It’s a debate, so you won’t find one answer when asking which bars to get.
To help you make your decision, the best we can do is lay out the pros and cons of each bar type.
Drop Bars Pros and Cons
Starting with drop bars, we can think of five benefits they get you and your bike.
First, the curved shape of drop bars offers more place to hold the handlebars by. This is great for comfort and variety when cycling long trips.
Second, they’re much more aerodynamic than flat bars that jut away from the bike and catch the wind as you ride. With drop bars, you can also crouch down and form a more aerodynamic shape as you pick up speed.
They’re also better for shifting body weight, so you can easily ride the bike up hills and other inclines.
The fact drop bars have a less obvious profile than flat bars too, so with drop handlebars, you can thread through narrow gaps between traffic and other potential obstacles to your cycling.
Lastly, all of these benefits combine into the main advantage that drop handlebars afford you – you cover ground even faster. Because they’re more aerodynamic, you even save more energy while gaining speed and covering more distance as a result.
So, what are the disadvantages?
Drop bars make use of different parts to flat bars, mainly the brakes and shifters, so you’ll end up spending more. They consistently cost more than flat bar-compatible parts.
The brake lever is also harder to reach on a drop-bar bike. That’s usually not a problem but, in an emergency, this can be very dangerous.
One extra motion, costing you valuable milliseconds of reaction time, can make a difference.
You also have less mounting room on drop bars and they don’t hold up well to much punishment.
That’s also why they’re not great for off-roading because decreased reaction times and a lack of durability means they’re easily damaged or outright broken in the wild.
Drop bars give you less control over the bike when riding it because you need to lean on them, which also means keeping your head lower and not seeing what’s ahead.
Looking up is unnatural and painful to the neck, too, so the visibility issue cannot be ignored. Raising your handlebar can help.
Flat Bars Pros and Cons
With flat bars, you have much more control because you have more leverage over the handlebars, allowing you to steer more effectively.
The parts for them are widely available and, as a consequence, they tend to be cheaper than parts used for drop bars.
This also means that changing the cables and making handlebar modifications is easier because they’re exposed and not obscured by bar tape.
The brake levers are more accessible so, in an emergency, you can quickly brake milliseconds faster than you’d be able to with drop bars.
Along the flat surface of these handlebars, you can also mount even more accessories onto them, like a bell, lights, mirrors, or a small GPS or phone mount.
The flatness of the bars also encourages an upright sitting position that’s good for posture and takes the stress away from the upper body, particularly the arms and neck.
That upright position also ensures you’re always facing the way ahead, so visibility is never a concern.
Drop bars require taping periodically while flat bars don’t, making them the better long-term purchase on a budget.
While enforcing a healthier posture, flat bars lack the aerodynamic benefits of drop bars.
By being sat upright, you have a higher wind resistance that slows you down and means your legs do more work when covering distance. You can crouch down to become more aerodynamic but this comes with concerns, like neck strain.
The flat bars have a wider profile that makes riding through narrow spaces more difficult. Similarly, the seating position of a flat-bar bike also makes climbing hills harder.
You only have one hand position when riding with a flat handlebar bike, often regarded as the most noticeable drawback because your hands will get numb if kept in the same position for a trip.
This is why it’s common to put bar ends onto the ends of the handlebars for somewhere to move your hands.
Since most of the negatives combine to make your bike more inefficient when tackling bike trails, drop bars are more often thought to be efficient over longer distances.
Ultimately, what bars you want will be determined by the other things you ask of your bike. Fortunately, we’ve answered some common questions about drop bars and flat bars below.
Are Drop Bars Good For Commuting?
Everybody’s commute is different, so the best way to decide if drop bars are better for your commute than flat bars is by understanding the qualities of each.
Since we’re talking about drop bars, let’s go over where drop bars are best used on your bike.
First, you’ll need to figure out if your commute is urban or rural. Urban commutes have to wrestle with more traffic, stops, and turns than the average rural commute. Urban commutes simply have more obstacles.
So, are drop bars good for those circumstances?
Drop bars are all about efficiency. They encourage an aerodynamic profile when riding that stops drag and help you to go faster.
They’re great for going uphill, which may factor into your urban commute.
Similarly, they help you break through headwinds that can hit you when cycling in rural areas. Drop bars are narrow, so you can thread through traffic and obstacles too.
That said, they can be harder to control if you’re not wearing stretching clothing. This can slow down emergency brake times too.
They’re also more expensive and require some training to use if you’re a beginner.
Are Drop Bar Bikes Comfortable?
Comfort can be a sticking point when buying drop bar bikes.
While efficient and speedy, drop bars encourage you to lean over the handlebars when pedaling, so your head is pointed downwards.
While this is great for aerodynamic riding, this isn’t great for visibility. So, just look up, right? You can strain your neck while doing that, and that’s certainly not comfortable for riders.
You can get away with glances upwards when riding and cycling on land that’s mainly straight and free of obstacles if safety is a concern.
Are Drop Bars More Dangerous?
The breaks on drop bars are ever so slightly harder to reach than flat bars.
While it’s barely noticeable when you’re sitting on the bike, in emergencies where you need to brake as soon as possible, you’ll lose valuable milliseconds that could mitigate an accident.
You could hurt yourself if your cycle doesn’t brake in time but with responsible riding, you should hopefully never get into that situation.
While drop bars are narrower, riding them in urban environments can be dangerous if you need to stop very fast while a flat-bar cycle may help in those situations.
Are Flat Bars Better?
Better will depend on the circumstances in which you’re riding your cycle. That said, here’s a brief rundown of the things flat bars do better than drop bars.
First, their parts are more abundant, more modifiable, and less expensive and they’re easier for beginners to get to grips with.
The brake levers are easy to grasp, ensuring you can brake as soon as possible when you need to.
You get more space to mount things onto the handlebars and you can see ahead clearly when riding, which is also great for your posture and comfort.
They’re also wider, so you get more leverage and can control steering more effectively.
If any or all of those sound ideal for your cycle, flat bars are better for you!
Are Flat Bars More Comfortable?
Since drop bars can cause neck strain if you look ahead too much, how comfortable are flat bars on a cycle? They’re widely regarded as the most comfortable of the two.
When riding a flat-bar bike, you’re in a typical cycling position where you’re upright and looking straight ahead. There’s no stress on the back or neck, enforcing a good posture and keeping aches at bay.
Flat bars are also able to have ergonomic grips installed on them to increase hand and wrist comfort.
All of these features make flat bars the best option if you want comfort. Drop bars are all about efficiency and performance but, if comfortability is your main buying factor, you’ll prefer cycling with flat bars.
Do Drop Bars Make You Faster?
Drop bars are lauded for enabling speed when cycling, but does this marketing hold up?
Mostly yes. Drop bars give you the potential to cycle faster when compared to flat-bar bikes.
When you grip drop bars, you distribute your weight towards the front of the cycle by leaning onto the handlebars.
This also makes your head bow down and your back arched, both of which enhance the aerodynamic profile of the rider.
This reduces drag and allows you to apply your weight in a forward motion when pedaling, enabling the rider to push the bike faster.
There’s a reason why professional racing bikes tend to have drop bars, after all.
But there’s also a reason why flat-bar bikes don’t try to get this speed because it’s not needed and in most circumstances, any speed increase is inconsequential to somebody’s bike journey.
That said, if you need to have speed, whether it’s for performance or leisure reasons, drop-bar handlebars will serve you well and make you faster than a flat-bar cycle.
If you don’t need the extra speed, you should consider if you can spare the cash and skill that’s needed to cycle on drop bars.
Will I Like Drop Bars?
Without knowing you or your setup, we can’t say which one you’d prefer. That’s a question only you can answer.
Whether you personally like drop bars or not will depend on your riding style, the nature of your journey, and how much you identify with the pros and cons of each handlebar type.
Since you have that information, you need to keep those in mind when deciding which bars to get.
That said, many people simply prefer drop bars because they’re more aesthetically pleasing to those people.
Maybe you’re one of those people, who prefers more compact and curved handles on their bikes, in which case you are going to like what drop bars offer in terms of both performance and style.
Maybe you don’t like how they look; in which case you may choose a flat-bar bike over a drop bar simply for that reason.