I read once that a cyclist should have his or her road bike set up so that they can comfortably ride in the drops for at least an hour. There’s a lot to look in the setup alone – standard drops, compact drops, the height of the bar top, the angle of the drops and so on. Everything depends on flexibility and how comfortable one can become riding as close to parallel to the ground as possible.
I have become infinitely comfortable on the hoods. That’s where I ride 85% of the time. 10% would be on the bar tops and then 5% in the drops, usually only when I’m taking my pull in a club ride or when I’m heading directly into a stiff breeze. There are a few reasons for this. I’ve got my bar angle set a little low so that my hoods are a little lower which means that I’m more aerodynamic in that position to begin with. I could be more comfortable riding a little more upright, but I’ve always been more about the speed than the comfort and my body has grown quite accustomed to riding like that anyway. In fact, I slammed my stem several months ago once I became accustomed to riding the way I was set up after getting my bike fitted at the bike shop. I lowered the bars by about an inch and I’ve been infinitely happy with that as long as I was on the hoods. Riding in the drops was a different story though. It was just a little too low and I felt like I was a little bunched up at the hips which through my breathing off which messed with my power to the pedals because I always felt like I was overworking – I ended up feeling like I was working harder in the drops, even with the wind advantage.
Fast forward to yesterday. I went out for an easy ride 16 mile ride, with a target of something around recovery pace, to avoid killing myself after the club ride on Tuesday night. About 3 miles into the ride I could really feel a drag because of the wind so I got down into the drops and concentrated on keeping a steady cadence. One mile in I was still feeling fine, two miles, then three, and four… I ended up in the drops for almost all of the last 13 miles, quite comfortable and a mile an hour faster than I’d averaged on the hoods.
Pulling into the driveway I decided that I’d dedicate one day a week to only riding in the drops so I can become more comfortable and efficient. What a great ride – 18.6 mph average (17.0 was my target) and I felt great when I was done… While I was out riding I guessed that I’d end up around 17.5… That’s what I was looking for in the drops.