Four years of riding road bikes made me uncomfortable with the Bullmoose bars on Gary Fisher mountain bike. It was fun to ride but I couldn't get used to my elbows flapping in the breeze. Then at the Wendell Fat Tire Weekend I saw Jacquie Phelan and the drop handlebars on her Cunningham.
To the uninitiated, component swapping is dangerous; to the experienced, pitfalls still abound, especially when switching flat bars for drops. Drop require a cable hanger and the correct bore to fit the bars. Pro mountain bike shops are scarce as hen's teeth here in the east so i called Point Reyes Bikes (415-663-1768) in California for more information on making the switch. They assured me that a Specialized MTB-3 stem would work.
For bake levers, I used Suntour Surperbe Pros. Bar end shifters could be used but since I already had SunTour XC thumb shifters, i decided to used them. I tried them above and and below the brake levers. Below seemed more comfortable, so I tightened all the bits, attached the cables and wrapped the bars with tape. I went for a test ride, returned, unwrapped the bars, move the levers and shifters, then re-wrapped the bars. Nobody said it would be easy.
Several weeks later, it was clear that the stem was not right for drop bars. Mountain bikes in the classic Fisher mold have longer top tubes than road bikes and require shorter stems. Since mountain bike frames are generally sized two to four inches smaller than road bike frames, their seatpost extension is much greater. In order to position the handlebars at about the level recommended by Bill Farrell's Fit it, a tall stem with minimal forward extension is required.
Riding own steep hills with drops and a short rise/long reach stem like the MTB-3 was almost impossible. My weight was entirely too far forward and my hands too low. I ordered a new, custom stem. Nothing else was available at the time with the correct bore, height and reach. Except my custom stem didn't have an expander at the bottom; instead it needed and extender silver soldered onto the steerer tube. I now had the right stem but couldn't put it on. Point Reyes once again helped out by suggesting use of a Nitto single expander. I also needed a cable hanger so I ordered on of those as well.
Finally, I had all of the pieces together and mounted on my bike with grabons for cushioning. Were the results worth all of the effort? Absolutely! With my hands on the drops, I'm in a more powerful position for hill climbing. On the road, aerodynamics are vastly better, especially in a headwind, while precise control while picking my way over single track is assured.
Since starting my experiments with drop bars, more products have become available. DirtDrop bars and stems are available from Bridgestone bicycle dealers. The bars are head treated 2017 T-4 cold forged aluminum in the standard 26mm diameter. They look like regular drop bars at first but in fact are flared out 12 degrees. The drops are also a little shorter so the bar end shifters are closer to the hands for easier shifting. The stem is about 5 inches tall with a reach of about 2 inches with an expander at the bottom. A cable stop is drilled in.
Ibis Cycles also has custom stems and a stand drop bar. Made of heat treated aluminum, the bars have a 7 degree flare and are modeled on Cinelli track bars. Ibis is also working on an index system bar end shifter. The stem is made of 4130 steel and requires a single expander or extension brazed on the steerer. Call them before you make up your mind about the size. A complete Ibis drop bar package retails for $175 and includes bars, stem, bar end shifters, and SunTour Superbe Pro levers. Bars alone are $45 and the stem is $85.
Wilderness Trail Bikes has the wildest looking bars. The have less drop and reach than normal drops and are flared out 25 degrees. They are the same heat treated aluminum with thicker walls as others. Their diameter is 26mm so all the bars fit any of the stems. their two piece stem is cromoly and made in custom dimensions. mark Slate says they have single expanders so you can get everything at once. They also have a very slick adapter system for SunTour XC shifters so you can brake and downshift at the same time. Bars cost $45, the stem is $120, and the shifter adapters are $20.