I’ve got experience on three different styles of drop bars – your old-timer standard drop bars, ergonomic and shallow drops. They are not all created equal.
Before we get into the styles, and differences between them, I want to take a moment to impress upon everyone just how important proper sizing of the bar itself is. The idea is to choose a bar roughly as wide as your shoulders. I have the full range. The bar on my 5200 is too wide, the bar on my Venge is just right and my the bar on my SR400 is too narrow.
I can live with the 5200 being a little wide though it feels slightly “off”. Obviously the Venge’s bar being just right is perfect but the bar on the Cannondale being too narrow presents difficulties because I’m just too jammed up with my arms so close together. If you’re buying a new bike, be careful to get the right bar width. If you’re buying a used bike, chances are you’ll simply try to live with what you get. Just don’t be shy if the bar doesn’t feel right, new bars aren’t all that expensive ($20-$50 if you can install them yourself and wrap the bars).
With sizing out of the way, I want to get into the shape of the bars. Desired shape will vary from rider to rider based on any number of factors ranging from feel to what you are used to. Don’t take my final assessment as Gospel, it’s simply what I like. There is no right or wrong as to your final choice. As you can see on the Cannondale and Trek, the old style drop bar and the ergonomic version have the drops sloping toward the ground where the compact drop on the Venge levels out to the ground. The Venge’s drop is, as the name suggests, compact – there’s a lot more drop to the Trek and Cannondale’s bars. The extra drop is actually an advantage. Having more drop to the bar means one can have the bar top a little higher, thereby allowing the rider to sit a little more upright while on the hoods or with hands on the bar top. Then, when it’s time to get into the drops, you can get your head lower and out of the wind. On the other hand, I like having my bar top and hoods lower so I’m in good shape when I’m riding on the hoods as well. Also, the final curve of the compact drop, that levels the drop out with the ground, is much more comfortable for me.
For the ergonomic bar, the flat section just below the shifter handle is meant to provide one a flat portion of the bar so one can naturally rest their hands. While I understand the intent, the flat section has never been that much of a help to me. I’ve spent hundreds of hours more on the Trek with the ergo bar compared with only 75 hours on the Venge and I still vastly prefer the shallow drops.
Shallow drops, while I’m not suggesting they’re right for everyone, are not only comfortable for an experienced cyclist, they are excellent for the flexibility challenged cyclist as well for obvious reasons. In the end, the most important aspect of the drops is having your bike set up so you can ride comfortably in them for about an hour holding the proper bend in the elbows. If your elbows “lock” when you ride, you need to make some changes if you want to get into distance riding as locking anything on your body over a long period of exertion will lead to a lot of unnecessary soreness.
As with everything on a bicycle, if your plans are simply to cruise around the neighborhood for a half-hour at a time, or take a nice little four mile ride to the local market, while fit will be important, being nitpicky about every little detail isn’t as necessary. If, on the other hand, you plan to ride a bike for your daily fitness and exercise and especially if you plan on riding for extended periods of time (i.e. more than ten or fifteen miles at a pop), the importance of making sure everything fits properly cannot be overstated. The better your bike is made to fit you, the happier you will be with it.