Bars and Hand Position

When it comes to road racing drop handlebars, there are three basic hand positions: on the tops, on the hoods or in the drops. Within those three positions there are an infinite number of slight variations determined by the size and shape of your hand, the size and shape of the bar and hood and what is comfortable for the rider.

What are the right bars?

Over the years the drop bar has seen many faces, from traditional round deep drops to modern compact drops with flat wing tops.

When assessing your handlebars first make sure you love your particular bar size and shape. It should feel comfortable in all the different positions you wish to ride in and it should feel perfect in the position you love to ride in. If this is not the case start looking for something new. Your local shop is a good place to start as they should have a good selection of new and used bars in many shapes and sizes.

Which width is right?

Width is the first dimension to consider. If you have wide shoulders, wide bars will be great and the same goes for narrow shoulders. However this is not always the case and personal preference should be paramount. Narrow handlebars will assist with aerodynamics but will not provide as much leverage as wide ones. Also the width can affect your breath, you do not want to constrict breathing. Widths range from but are not limited to 360 mm to 460 mm; be careful when comparing; some manufactures measure center to center and some measure edge to edge. A 420 mm center to center will be almost identical to a 440 mm edge to edge.

Choosing the reach.

Reach is the next dimension and is measured from the bar center at the stem to the furthest point of the downward bend where the hood will clamp. The further the reach the further the hood will extend from the stem. The reach should reflect your hands, small hands will need a shorter reach and large hands will find more comfort with a longer reach. Note too the subtlety of the reach can be dialed by moving the hood up or down and rotating the bar in the stem. If the reach feels too far or short it could be a case of the bar position too, this is changed by swapping stem lengths.

How far down?

Drop also varies and is usually between 120 mm to 160 mm. The shape of the drop is something that varies from bar to bar and can have a round constant radius – traditional, a two part drop with two distinct flat or flattish sections – ergo, or a smooth tight shallow drop – compact. There are many variations of these three categories but most drops can be defined in this way. Find something that suits your needs, if you never use your drops because they are too low tray a shallow compact bar that helps keep you chin up. And if you are racing a lot and ride for hours in your drops to stay out of the wind, a nice deep drop can help get you low and stable.

If you are looking to change your bars, assuming they are in an ideal position try and decide what about your current bar you dislike and find something that is more suited to your hand shape and size and shoulder width. This is a personal choice and it may take a few trials to find the perfect bar, but in the end it will be well worth the effort.

Handlebar size

Positioning the bars with the stem.

To find the ideal position for your current bar, I think starting with the hands on the hoods is best because this is where the controls are and where many of us spend much of our riding time. Handlebars are a compromise between several hand positions and each needs to be addressed with its’ importance identified. When on your hoods you should have a relaxed lower back, a comfortable neck and head position, strong shoulders and a gentle relaxed bend in your arms. Your hands should be bearing less weight than your saddle and not feel like they are holding you up. If your hands feel like they are bearing more weight than they should, you should go back and look at your saddle fore / aft position. You should not feel like you are reaching, this would retard your ability to steer and handle the bike comfortably and effectively. If you feel like you are reaching try a shorter stem 10 mm at a time, or try a bar with a shorter reach.

If you feel your hoods are in a great place, drop down into your drops and see how this changes your body position. You should still have a relaxed lumbar spine, a comfortable neck and head position, relaxed shoulders and a gentle relaxed bend in your arms. Your hands should be bearing less weight than your saddle and not feel like they are holding you up. If any of these aspects of your position become less comfortable, try moving your stem up by a spacer or two. If you feel like you are reaching, try a shorter stem or a bar with a shallower drop. Try as many stems and spacers as it takes to get your torso into a relaxed position. If you are holding yourself up, you are using valuable energy that could be going into your legs and driving the bike forward faster.

If your torso feels cramped and you have deep bends in your elbows try a longer stem. If you are able to ride in the drops very comfortably and your chin is getting close to the stem you should try dropping the stem down.

Do not forget when it comes to the height of your bars you are not limited by the number of spacers on your steer tube, often by flipping your stem you can raise or lower your bar by 10 or 20 mm.

The bar set up.

Once the general bar dimension is set, it’s time to iron out the kinks. A wind trainer is an awesome way to go through this procedure.

Remove old bar tape then slightly loosen your stem face clamp bolts. Slowly rotate your bars with your hands in the drops, you are looking for a straight wrist here. There is no ability to transfer torque in a bent wrist. Use feel and find that sweet spot where your hand is at ease and there is even pressure under your palm. Try sliding your hand back and forth to feel how each section of the drop feels. Once happy, tighten the bolts to their recommended torque.

Now find your hood clamp bolts and loosen them, just enough so you can wiggle the hoods around. Each hood make and model is different and if you need help finding the bolts go on-line and do some homework. Try and get the hoods to a place where your wrist is straight and strong and your hand is flowing out from your fore arm. You will need to stand  out of the saddle while pedaling  too, so if the hood is too high this wrist angle will be too tight when standing and it will not be comfortable. Once you feel you have a good balance of drop and hood position dial in the lever reach (if your levers allow) so that your fingers lay gently over the brakes, you will be able to descend a lot faster if you know your brakes are at the ready. Also note you may need to change the brake cable tension after adjusting the levers.

Bar tape.

When choosing new tape, obviously color may be a factor but also remember this is an interface you will be using every time you ride so choose something that suits your riding style and personal hand needs. For example if you get numb, tingly sensations in the hands try a tape with some cushioning and gel padding. If you are a sprinter, try a tape with some grip to it so you can lock your hands in place. And when you wrap the tape make sure to pull it tight and keep it even.

Originally posted on: Manly Warringah CC.


05 Jun 2014

By Aaron Dunford


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