This is why drop bars sometimes suck

How putting massive risers on my fixie taught me an important lesson

I wrote about my rusty (yet characterful) On One Pompino way back in the spring of 2016, an innocent time before we all turned on one another in the wake of press-fit’s surprise bottom bracket referendum win.

I lamented the fact that this lovely old thing wasn’t getting much lovin’ and, somewhat prophetically, mused that its MTB-esque geometry might actually be better suited to flat bars, rather than drops.

For years I was a drop bar die-hard. I had thoroughly internalised the idea that drops had more hand positions and were therefore better for pretty much everything barring (hur hur) actual mountain biking

The Pompino, pictured before my Damascene conversion
The Pompino, pictured before my Damascene conversion

I had drops on my road bikes, so I had to have drops on my everyday fixie, because I was a drops kinda guy.

Until now.

[Pedants' note: I’m using flat bars as a catch-all here that includes risers. Deal with it.]

Dropping the drops

Look at all that lovely space!
Look at all that lovely space!

As of a few weeks ago, my trusty hack has sported 700mm Deda Mud Border risers, along with a delightfully shiny Tiagra brake lever and some Superstar grips.

700mm isn’t wide by modern MTB standards, but it’s huge in the road world, where bars usually max out in the 40-something-cm range.

The change was brought about by a combination of factors, but principally that I realised I don’t actually need to ride everywhere with a flat back, pegged heart rate, and feet clipped it.

I don’t need to be aerodynamic on a bike I ride a mile or so at a time and in any case, I had invariably been riding on the hoods prior to the cockpit swap, so the drops themselves were largely decorative.

I appreciate simple, well designed things. This Tiagra lever has a nice smooth action and provides comfy one-finger braking
I appreciate simple, well designed things. This Tiagra lever has a nice smooth action and provides comfy one-finger braking

I also ride mountain bikes now and I’ve learned to appreciate the amazing control flat bars offer, as well as the ergonomic advantages of one-finger braking.

Don’t get me wrong, drop bars are the best thing for road bikes; they’re perfect for covering big distances at speed on tarmac.

But for a town bike that’s ridden in traffic over short distances and which is fitted with flat pedals, I’m here to tell you that a big old flat bar is better.

Apparently you don't have to be attached to your pedals all the time. Who knew?
Apparently you don't have to be attached to your pedals all the time. Who knew?

The big surprise for me was how much the new bar helped with climbing. Although the hand position places more strain on the wrists (I wouldn’t want to climb an alp this way), the extra width offers so much more leverage that it more than makes up for it for quick blasts up short inclines.

I had been intending to drop the gearing slightly as I ride up a steep hill every day, but I no longer feel the need.

Are there downsides? I can’t squeeze through those hypothetical 50cm gaps in traffic, but then I never do that anyway because I’m not a bike messenger in a 2008 fixie edit.

I do keep running into the doorframes in my house when I’m carrying the Pompino in and out, but that seems a small price to pay for the all-round practicality and improved comfort.

Singlespeed mountain bikers worked this out years ago of course, but I wasn’t listening. And here we have The Moral of the Story…

In which Matthew is reminded of the importance of keeping an open mind

It's just so beautiful
It's just so beautiful

It’s very easy to become inflexible in your thinking when it comes to something you’re passionate about, like bicycles, for instance. As a bike reviewer, I have to fight against this constantly.

When I feel the urge to dismiss something because it seems silly or outlandish, it’s important that I consider why I’m having an instinctively negative reaction.

Is it because it’s actually a stupid idea? Or does it just not conform to my current world-view?

I thought dropper posts were entirely frivolous when I first heard about them many years ago, now I wouldn’t ride a mountain bike without one.

Droppers are the best, eh?
Droppers are the best, eh?

I’m sure many of you scoffed at electronic gears when they appeared on the scene, but they’ve proved themselves to be at least very effective, if not in any way necessary.

What bike things have you changed your mind about?

Matthew Allen

Senior Technical Writer, UK
Former bike mechanic, builder of wheels, hub fetishist and lover of shiny things. Likes climbing a lot, but not as good at it as he looks.
  • Discipline: Road, with occasional MTB dalliances
  • Preferred Terrain: Long mountain climbs followed by high-speed descents (that he doesn't get to do nearly often enough), plus scaring himself off-road when he outruns his skill set.
  • Current Bikes: Scott Addict R3 2014, Focus Cayo Disc 2015, Niner RLT 9
  • Dream Bike: Something hideously expensive and custom with external cables and a threaded bottom bracket because screw you bike industry.
  • Beer of Choice: Cider, please. Thistly Cross from Scotland
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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