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  1. #1
    2 soon old, 2 late smart Bluetail's Avatar
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    Should switch to drops feel like a train wreck?

    Long time listener, first time caller.

    Should switching from years of riding flat-bar bikes to one with drop bars leave you feeling like you've been in a train wreck after the 1st 45 miles, with aching neck muscles and a sore back?

    I've been riding a Bianchi Strada w/ flat bar for thousands of enjoyable miles, and a Cannondale hybrid before that, but with a significant birthday coming up, my husband wanted to indulge my fantasy for a custom-made bike and this past Friday, I picked up a new Waterford at a shop a good 2 hours away. The LBS guy who took all the measurements did what seemed like an exacting final fitting, but I had a 'stretched out' feeling that he said I "would get used to" and insisted that "your position on the bike looks good...you have to lean onto the hoods differently than you handled your flat bar bike."

    Okay, I thought, I'll try it.

    There was a lot to like about the bike on Sunday's 45-mile ride, but afterward, the pain started at the base of my neck and in the lumbar region of my back that only today (Weds.) is beginning to resolve. I called the bike shop guy, who said, again, that I need to go on shorter rides to "get used to" a more stretched position, but this contradicts what others have said about bike fit: 'the bike should fit YOU, don't try to fit the bike.'

    So I'm asking for your input: does switching to drop bars, indeed, 'take getting used to,' or should I insist on adjustments that are more comfortable NOW?

    Bluetail

  2. #2
    Around now and then DnvrFox's Avatar
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    Well, any change in position takes "getting used to."

    Are you spending a lot of time "in the drops?" If so, don't. Reserve the drop position for special times, such as against the wind to fast downhills, if you like.

    Also, learn to "tuck" your chin into your chest, rather than stretching your neck out.

    I would give it a few more tries, easing into it. If the issue doesn't resolve, look at having your bars raised a bit. Most of us have had to do that (I am almost 68 yo) to accommodate our "changing" body. But, I still like drop bars.

    Also, if you are using a visor, it will cause neck stretch.
    DnvrFox - still bicycling, swimming, walking and weight lifting at 74yo is participating a bit in BFN 50+.

  3. #3
    Ride Daddy Ride Jet Travis's Avatar
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    Good advice from Fox. BTW, you may be able to get handlebars with shallow drops. I have some on one bike and like 'em.
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  4. #4
    Bike Curious.... bobby c's Avatar
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    I ride with drop handlebars but am only in the drops maybe 10% of the time. I can't ride there always, but I like having them there to tuck down when going downhill and it helps my comfort to change positions on occasion.

  5. #5
    tsl
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    It took me two to three weeks for my neck and upper back muscles to become fully acclimated to drop bars. BTW, I ride the hoods or the ramps 98% of the time, the drops the remaining 2% and never on the tops.

    It's not an issue of fit as much as it is a matter of those muscles never having been used in the way before.
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  6. #6
    Boffo Bikin' Danddd's Avatar
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    As I got older (52 now), I noticed the drops were bothering me in the way you described. Even though I ride on the hoods most the time I did three things. First I increased my flexibility with a regular stretching regime. Second, I raised my handle bars so they were even or slightly above the seat. Then I purchased Nitto Noodle drop handlebarsbars from Rivendell. They 'Noodles' are shaped very ergonomicly.

    Hope this helps.
    You know, I think I'll quit my job and ride my bike full time...you gotta have goals

  7. #7
    Senior Member Kurt Erlenbach's Avatar
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    Bluetail-

    Here's what I know about bike shops and "fit"; too many of them think that what fits a 20 year old also fits a 50-year old. You don't, possibly in a modest display of discretion, mention your age. Most of us in this forum seem to be going from drop bars to straight bar, not the other way around. The folks chiming in so far know what they're talking about regarding fixing the fit and you are wise to try their suggestions. But there is no shame in riding a good straight bar bike. The only real benefit is speed; if you're happy going 12-15, a straight bar is fine. If you want to average over 17, you need the drops.

    Also, glasses are important. I've got one pair of glasses that make me crane my neck more than others.

  8. #8
    Perineal Pressurized dobber's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluetail View Post
    Long time listener, first time caller.

    Mr Obvious, you're a life saver.
    This is Africa, 1943. War spits out its violence overhead and the sandy graveyard swallows it up. Her name is King Nine, B-25, medium bomber, Twelfth Air Force. On a hot, still morning she took off from Tunisia to bomb the southern tip of Italy. An errant piece of flak tore a hole in a wing tank and, like a wounded bird, this is where she landed, not to return on this day, or any other day.

  9. #9
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    Farther the drop, the more sensitive the position. I rode shallow drops for quite a while. Nice.

    I've got my position just about dialed in - virtually the same as it was in 1974, but I've been working on it lots. 9 cm drop. And that may be just a bit aggressive for short rides, takes me a while to work into it. On the other hand, it's great downhill and into a strong wind! But I'll flip my stem sometime and see if 2 cm higher is a good thing for me.

  10. #10
    Around now and then DnvrFox's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kerlenbach@cfl. View Post
    Most of us in this forum seem to be going from drop bars to straight bar, not the other way around.
    Please explain the advantage of a straight bar over a drop bar at the same height. Somehow, I just don't get it??

    A straight bar removes hand positions, and if the drop bar is the same height - well, I just can't figure it out. Also, I don't think lots of folks are switching to straight bars, but maybe we need a poll?


    [EDIT:]
    Please see the drop bar/flat bar poll at:

    Drop Bars/flat Bars/other?
    Last edited by DnvrFox; 08-30-07 at 05:21 AM.
    DnvrFox - still bicycling, swimming, walking and weight lifting at 74yo is participating a bit in BFN 50+.

  11. #11
    just keep riding BluesDawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluetail View Post
    Should switching from years of riding flat-bar bikes to one with drop bars leave you feeling like you've been in a train wreck after the 1st 45 miles, with aching neck muscles and a sore back?
    Bluetail
    Absolutely. That's the only reason they exist - because the bicycling world is populated by masochists. Next we'll have you on a Brooks saddle.

    Of course, this is a load of poo. I agree with most of everything that has been posted (except the guy who thinks speed is the only advantage of drop bars.)

    You may have jumped in a little too fast, or you may need to do some tweaking to your position. But it is not unusual for there to be some discomfort when you first switch to a new riding position. Another thing to consider is that it is very possible that being a little unsure of the new arrangement is causing you to tighten your muscles, adding to the strain. Try to relax on the bike and it will feel better.
    The more you ride your bike, the less your ass will hurt.

  12. #12
    King of the molehills bcoppola's Avatar
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    It does take some getting used to as others have said. A little stiff after a ride, sure. But it shouldn't feel like a "train wreck". Yes indeed, "the bike should fit you, not you fit the bike".

    As others have suggested, try raising the stem/bars. Also, try a shorter stem so you're not so "stretched out". Sounds like they fit you with too much reach.

    As you get used to drop bars you can lower the stem/bar later for a more "aggressive" riding position. I started out with my bars level with the saddle on my road bike (it has an adjustable stem) but I've lowered them since to about an inch below. But I still might go with a shorter stem. I like the feel of the shorter reach on my old Schwinn f/g conversion.

    I think kerlenbach nailed it too about how some bike shops will try to fit a 50 year old as they would a 20 year old.

    Go back to the bike shop with your concerns and these suggestions. You dropped some serious coin on them for that bike. They owe you better than that nonsense about "getting used to it".

    Bike fit cannot be entirely reduced to measurements and formulae. They can only yield a first approximation.

    dnvr's right about the visor too. I found the same thing.
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  13. #13
    Ontheroad Rolling15's Avatar
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    I am sure that besides the discomfort you must be having a large dose of buyer’s remorse about your new bike. I had a similar situation when I purchased a new bike a few years ago. I always had drop bars but after 30 or so miles on my new bike I was in great pain. I went back to my LBS and they compared my old bike to the new one. In two minutes they discovered that the stem angle was the same but the length of the new stem was a few millimeters longer. They swapped out the stem for a shorter one and the pain disappeared. With a little experimenting on your stem angle and length I am sure that you will find that your new bike will be a joy to ride. I know that with a little adjusting you will find the perfect fit and will begin to enjoy your new ride. All the best.

  14. #14
    Senior Member CrossChain's Avatar
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    Adding to the above..........learn to stretch periodically on the bike to keep yourself loose and not static. Roll your shoulders, hunch your back, roll your head, sit up straight and stand on the pedals, arch your back, etc. If one is not comfortable in the drops and just grips them, one ends up tightening his/her body and-- getting static. Switch positions frequently. Chances are, bike fit being OK, you will adapt to and appreciate the varied hand positions drop bars offer. Nothing wrong with, in the beginning or forever after, having your bar tops level or even a bit above your saddle. Hopefully you have a sensible threaded headset and can use a Nitto Technomic stem.) Hang in there.

  15. #15
    Senior Member George's Avatar
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    I started out with a flat bar like most people do and then I switched to trekking bars. I had to use a 3" riser and I had the adjustible stem as high as it would go. Now the riser is gone and I'm as low as I want to go. It will give you more power, but Like everybody said here, it takes time. It took a year and now I have no problem getting into drops or laying behind/or on the trekking bars. Anyhow it took a year and almost 4000 miles to get there, but if you work at it, it will come, good luck.
    George

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    drop vs. flat bars

    Lots of good advice here! Wait until you're 62 and dealing with creaky wrists and elbows! That said, the drop bars should be more comfortable overall than flats because you have more hand positions. All things being equal, you should have been able to do your 45 miles (perhaps a bit much first time out on a new machine) with your hands atop the bars and feel the same comfort level as with flat bars -- don't you think? You might want to consider 1) raising the bar and 2) whether you should be using a shorter stem and even a riser stem. Have you measured the length of the top tube and stem to see if you now have a longer dimension in this regard than your Bianchi? Some stretching and strengthening of neck and back muscles will help, as will shorter rides for the first few weeks with the new bars, but do look closely at the above possibilities. Probably, one is extremely lucky if fit is spot on at the first attempt.

  17. #17
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    I have two bikes that get most of my saddle time these days..a flat bar Fuji road bike (with shortened bars and longish barends) and a Trek 520 w/ a long quill, short stem, and Nitto Randonneur bars. Each of these bikes will get about 1500+ miles this year. I like them both. I feel that I have just as many hand postions on the flat bar as on the road bars, though some would argue that point.

    If the quill (or steerer tube) is equal height on each bike, and the stem is equal length and angle, you will still be stretched out further on the hoods than on the flat bar, because the road bars curve forward to the hoods. On your old bike measure the distance from the rear or front of your saddle to your flat bars, then compare it also to "the hoods" on your road bars. Measure the distance from floor to saddle and floor to bar on each bike. That may give you an answer to the relative position.

    Remember also that tube angle and crank position play into the equation.
    Last edited by Monoborracho; 08-29-07 at 11:21 PM.

  18. #18
    as I used to be NotAsFat's Avatar
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    I'm afraid I have to disagree with some of the respondents, who seem to think a road bike should have a riding position like a hybrid. You don't have to be a yoga instructor to use drop bars, and the notion that you do is, as they say in France, merde de cheval.

    If you don't have a beer gut the size of a basketball, and you don't have spinal deformities, ruptured disks, etc., you ought to be able to learn to manage drop bars set even with your saddle on a stem long enough that when your hands are on the hoods, the bar is directly between your eyes and the front axle. It won't be comfortable immediately. You'll mostly use the tops, at first. But stick with it. Work into riding the hoods until you can ride your regular course on the hoods without discomfort. Once you've been doing this for a couple of months, start using the drops some of the time when you have a headwind.

    I've had my road bike for a little over a year, now. And I am so glad that I listened to the LBS guy who fitted my bike. I'm more comfortable riding the drops on my roadie than I am on my hybrid. Took some work to reach that point, but hell yes it was worth it.

    That "20-year old fit" that some of the respondents in this thread sneer at isn't just about aerodynamics, it's about ergonomics, too. Try the following test. Sit down in a chair. Try to get up from the chair without bending forward at the waist. Now try it the way normal people do, i.e. bend forward as you get up. It's much easier when you bend forward. Bending forward at the waist enables your glutes to do some of the work, instead of just your legs. Equally important is that bending forward centers your weight over your feet, vastly improving your balance.

    I know of no sport where the preferred "ready" position is standing (or sitting) straight up. Wrestlers, boxers, baseball and basketball players crouch with their weight centered over their feet. Why would anyone think cycling should be different? If you have to make an emergency evasive maneuver, would you rather be sitting bolt upright, or leaning forward, with your CG lowered and your weight more evenly balanced between front and rear wheels? Calling Captain Obvious!

    How can such a "bent-over" position possibly be more comfortable? Because, as you develop the flexibility and fitness to assume a proper cycling position, more of your weight is carried by your feet, and less by your hands and arse. A nice fast cruise (75-80% of max heart rate) is easier on your butt than an easy recovery ride, because even on a poorly fit bike, the legs will bear more of your weight on the harder ride.

    I'm 5'7" and a little over 200 lbs. I haven't had the sort of physique people associate with bicycle racers since I was in college. If I can manage reasonably fitted drop bars, any reasonably healthy person should be able to work their way into using them. Might take a while. It took me a few months. But it is well worth the effort.

    If you take the bike back to your LBS and whine at them long enough, they'll screw up the fit for you. It won't ever feel right, because road bike saddles aren't meant to carry your entire weight comfortably. And you will never realize the performance you paid for. But hey, it's your bike.
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by DnvrFox View Post
    Please explain the advantage of a straight bar over a drop bar at the same height. Somehow, I just don't get it??

    A straight bar removes hand positions, and if the drop bar is the same height - well, I just can't figure it out. Also, I don't think lots of folks are switching to straight bars, but maybe we need a poll?

    I agree. I've never understood this!

    Not only can you put the top of the bars in the same place as the straight bars, but you can stretch down and arch your back, you can snuggle up against the brake hoods, you can put them lots of places. The nitto noodle is plenty wide, too, so you can really get your chest open and breathing.

    If it's just a handlebar issue, though, why can't the OP put a straight bar on the Waterford?

    BTW, the best thing I learned from this group about neck pain was to tilt your head in a different angle every time you look up.

  20. #20
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    I tested a road bike the other day to see what it feels like now that I am older. I had tension in the back of my neck for an hour or so afterward. It's a strange tension that feels like heat. With compressed vertebra and bone spurs in my neck, I just don't know if I can ride in the drops AT ALL without discomfort, so it seems like they'd be a waste for me. This is why I'm seriously thinking that my next bike will come with flat bars which I will swap for trekking bars.

    But, maybe, just maybe, there is a road bike out there with a geometry perfectly suited for me that would allow me to ride in the drops for that 10% when they come in handy. But how many miles will I need to test ride it until I'll know for sure?
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  21. #21
    Senior Member big john's Avatar
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    I would take some measurements from the bike you're comfortable on, and try and match that on the new bike, within reason, and see how different they are. Measure to the top of the bars on the new bike. Measure everything you can, seat to pedals, seat to bar tops, (reach and drop), etc. If you are reaching inches more on the new bike, that might hurt.
    I even do this between the roadie and the mtb.

  22. #22
    His Brain is Gone! Tom Bombadil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DnvrFox View Post
    Please explain the advantage of a straight bar over a drop bar at the same height. Somehow, I just don't get it??

    A straight bar removes hand positions, and if the drop bar is the same height - well, I just can't figure it out.
    No advice from me to the OP, as I have no idea how one adjusts to using drop bars.

    But to the Fox I would say that there is no way you can get any portion of a drop bar to my favorite hand position. Wide hand position, wrist bent at about 15-20 degrees, thick ergo grips, hands roughly even with the stem front to back, about 3" above the headset.

    For example, consider a North Road bar, hard to get a drop bar into a similar configuration.

    I use long, L-shaped bar ends to provide two alternate hand positions. Can ride for hours.

    I not only find the drops highly uncomfortable, I find the hoods uncomfortable too, those things kill my thumbs.

    Not that I'm arguing for "flat" or "riser" or whatever bars over drops. I know drops work great for many people and I understand the reasoning behind the design. But they are not the solution for all people. In fact, only about 10% of all bikes have drop bars. When I ride rail trails, I rarely see people riding bikes with drop bars.
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  23. #23
    just keep riding BluesDawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Bombadil View Post
    In fact, only about 10% of all bikes have drop bars. When I ride rail trails, I rarely see people riding bikes with drop bars.
    Funny, I watched the Tour de France and I don't think I saw a single flat bar bike. And I don't see a lot of people water skiing on the interstate.
    I wonder what that percentage would be if you only counted bikes from bike shops. No Wally World and the like.
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  24. #24
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    Bluetail, welcome aboard.

    Waterford's a cool bike, I have their cheaper line Gunnar. Why don't you post a picture of your new ride, maybe we can see something about the position (as well as seeing your new ride)

    I found that the "old school" rule of thumb is to set the tops of the bars even with the seat so the drops are maybe 4-5 inches lower. A lot of new bikes come with the tops 4-5 inches below the seat so that they're where the drops were on older bikes.

    Also I found that small variances in stem length and angle make a big difference. You might want to try out other stems.

    Personally I'm in the drops primarily when I'm cornering, descending, or sprinting, on the hoods the rest of the time. When I was younger I could ride for miles in the drops.

  25. #25
    Senior Member Deanster04's Avatar
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    You can try the Ritchey adjustable stem for height on the bars. Going from flat bars with the standard brakes to the new braking arrangement using the brakes for drops is a significant change. Also, try and see if you are gripping the new bars/brakes with a tense hand position. Tension while riding can cause problems. Experiment with position. And remember your body can "feel" when things aren't good. If you liked the position on your old bike and still have it then look at all the measurements that can help determine the critical differences...and remember if you can't find your comfort zone you can go back to flat bars. There is nothing sacred about drops vs flat bars. Your new bike will still be a great ride.

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