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Home » Cycling » My Trick for Riding Comfortably in the Drops… and, for once, it ain’t the Setup.

My Trick for Riding Comfortably in the Drops… and, for once, it ain’t the Setup.

August 2016
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Now that Title, if you aren’t familiar with the intricacies of setting a bike up, can be a little misleading.  The setup is as important as owning the bike.

Comfortably riding in the drops, with the right drop bar, is a bit of an acquired taste though.  It’s like strong, black coffee.  A rookie can go for the gusto, but you’re sure to see a face-scrunched pucker and a shiver… you have to ease into it, Batman!  You can’t just go all straight dark roast, you have to work up to that level of pure coffee bliss.  It’s too much awesomeness all at once for a rook.

So, assuming you’ve had your bike setup done, and it’s right, you should be comfortable riding in the drops for an hour, straight.  If you can’t last ten minutes, but feel comfortable with your hands on the hoods, I’m your guy and this is your post.

It is my pleasure, sister or brother.  It’s what I do to stay such a happy guy.

Now, for you folks who were told you should have your saddle at the same height as the handlebar because it’s more comfortable, it’s not.  When you sit upright on a bike that’s designed to be rigid, like a road bike, your back is like the blade of a jackhammer over bumps.  How that is comfortable is beyond me.  When you’re able to have some bend at the hips, your back and arms work as shock absorbers, or maybe dampeners would be a better word.

An Affable Hammer, by definition is a nice, approachable person who rides real fast.  That is us.

Anyway, more important, notice no gut.  Riding real low, like I do, requires a minimum amount of baggage in the guttural area.  You can’t bend around a big gut.  Work that off and you too can go low (I had to, you can too, it just takes time).

Now, we should be all square.  Let’s teach our body to ride comfortably in the drops!

  • Mount your bike.
  • Clip your feet into the pedals as you normally would.  If you don’t have pedals that you clip into, go get some, and some shoes.  Then practice unclipping in the grass and come back to me…  😲😊😆😎
  • Spin for ten minutes to warm up.
  • Place your hands in the proper position in the drops*.
  • Ride for as long as you can.
  • Rinse and repeat until you get to an hour.
  • Lower your stem and handlebar.
  • Rinse and repeat points 1-6.
  • Once you’re comfortable at an hour, choose one day a week as “drop day” and ride for an hour in the drops.

*Proper position for the hands in the drops will vary from person to person.  I prefer to ride with my hands a little higher, closer to the hoods (see below).

Now I can’t vouch for all people, but I can for me: I used to have miserable lower back problems before cycling.  Pain five or six days a week, excruciating at least two of them.  Since I’ve been riding really low, I have one or two days a month with minor pain and no more excruciating days.  Running helped (I ran before finding my fitness joy on a bike), but I never had days where I never thought about my back like I do on a bike.  How low do I ride?

One final note:  Notice the bend in my arms.  That is critical to comfort.  In the first photo, because I was turning to see what my friend was doing riding next to me, I’d locked my arms out.  Locking the arms is bad, you don’t want any part of your body to be rigid when you hit a bump.  It’ll send the shock all the way through your body.  You want enough strength to keep your hands on the bars but enough flex that your arms and legs can absorb the bouncing.  With rigid arms, your hands, wrists, shoulders, neck and butt take a beating on anything but excellent road surfaces.

It took about a year of lowering the bars, maybe two, to get comfortable in that position.  A little bit at a time.  Here’s my first properly set up bike the day I brought it home four years ago:

Here’s that same bike, as it is today:

And here’s my other bike:

I did not get there overnight.  Those bulletpoint steps above are how I did it.  Slowly, over time.  A couple of final tips:

  • My neck did get sore for a time, whenever I lowered my handlebar.  That got better as I became accustomed to the position.  Craning one’s neck to see up the road like that is not natural.  It takes some getting used to.
  • Your saddle will likely need to be adjusted, nose down, to accommodate the increased drop as you lower the bar.  The saddle should cradle you, so it doesn’t push up in the front, which hurts, or slide you off the front of the saddle because the back is too high.  This takes a minute to get dialed in right.  When you do, it’s glorious.
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10 Comments

  1. Spencer says:

    No joke – I have been waiting for this post from you! Went from riding a bike with trial bars (a 1979 chro-mo steel frame) to one with drops (a 2000 Cannonade R600 Caad3) and definitely need to put some more time in before I am comfortable. Thanks for the tips!

  2. What does it say about me when I’m more comfortable in the drops than on the hoods? Hmm

    • bgddyjim says:

      That your handlebar on your bike is too high?

      Just a guess. How many spacers do you have below your stem?

      • Haha I just ADDED several based on my physio’s direction. Makes me even more comfortable. Fit is probably the most frustrating thing, and I’ve been professionally fit twice.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Yeah, the industry has, for some time now, gone with the ridiculous notion that riding upright is more comfortable. My experience says the idea is silly.

        I don’t go by what a physio says, or even my bike fitter for that matter. When I bought my Venge I said, “This is what I want, make it so.” He did, and I got a low-slung, almost pro setup and I’m quite happy with it. If I’d have listened to everyone else, I’d have ended up with a squishy bike with a 2-1/2″ drop from the saddle to the bar top (that’s actually where the Trek was when I brought it home). Instead I ended up with the bike I want and more than 4-1/2″ drop – and happiness.

        If you’re more comfortable in the drops, you’re riding higher (and slower) than you have to.

      • True. But change one thing, you have to change everything else. Ah well.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Not true at all. I made all changes myself. Let’s see, I started with the Trek – quill stem headset… I’d lower the bar, an inch at a time at first, and have to adjust the nose of the saddle so it didn’t push up in a very bad way… that was it. Saddle stays in the same spot, otherwise. I rode for a while, till that became comfortable, then I’d do it all over again. As I got to my comfort limit (5 mm below where the bar currently is), the adjustments got smaller. After the second 1″, I started going by 5 mm increments. Sometimes I would lower the nose of the saddle, sometimes I didn’t have to. Then I just rode till it was comfortable.

        To some extent, fitting a bike to a body is kinda concrete. Cockpit length, handlebar width… BUT, I am the boss of my body for much of the setup… it will do what I say it will do. Riding low and aerodynamically is a choice and a matter of will. I wanted to, so I did.

        It just so happened it was awesome for my back (that was a bonus I wasn’t expecting). I lowered the bar and all I changed was the level of the saddle. Honest to goodness.

      • Actually, I rode today and at 25 miles in, I popped up the saddle a touch and in 2mm. My left knee doesn’t play nice with the rest of my body (hence the PT) and I overcompensate with the right so my set up is weirdly off-center. I spent 35 of the 50 miles in the drops, completely comfortable with 3 spacers on the bars. I got boobs, man. They get in the way if I go lower. I’m just thankful it’s not my belly getting in the way!

  3. bgddyjim says:

    Gotcha. ‘Nough said.

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