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Finding a Good Candidate MTB For a Drop Bar Conversion?

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Finding a Good Candidate MTB For a Drop Bar Conversion?

Old 09-07-19, 09:19 PM
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estasnyc
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Finding a Good Candidate MTB For a Drop Bar Conversion?

I'll be looking, most likely on Craig's List, to find a commuter bike for my niece and can use advice. I'm looking for something in the 46-to-48cm seat tube range or, more precisely, what would be in that range for an older bike with a horizontal top tube. (Truth be told, I'm hopelessly out of date on what may make for a proper fit with sloping and/or longer top tubes on modern bikes.)

I'm guessing 46-to-48cm would be at the lower limit of what can be had for any bike having 700c wheels and am also guessing that a drop bar conversion on a MTB having 26" wheels may turn out to be the best way to go. On an older used bike anyway.

But which one? Which brands and models should I keep an eye out for? And how might I spot it out on Craig's List going primarily by photographs while other information is possibly inadequate?

I've seen the thread on MTB drop bar conversions but it appears to be driven by people who've ALREADY have a particular MTB and have given it new life by installing a drop bar. My concern is that I don't want to get something that, while providing adequate standover clearance, may leave her too stretched out.
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Old 09-07-19, 09:24 PM
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Why do a drop bar conversion? An old MTB makes a fine commuter as is. If your niece prefers drop bars, why not get a road bike that takes reasonably fat tires? You'll save yourself a lot of headaches not going down that road. Plus it's a bit of a fool's errand to look for a particular make or a 20 to 30 year old bike in the size that you need. It's a lot easier to just figure out the kind of bike you want (vintage MTB or road bike suitable for commuting) and start looking.
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Old 09-07-19, 10:04 PM
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Your concern about her being stretched out on a MTB drop bar conversion is well founded. Even on the smallest of sizes of sloping top tube mtbs (15" or so) the top tubes are generally in the 56cm to 60cm range. How tall is she?
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Old 09-07-19, 10:14 PM
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Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
Why do a drop bar conversion? An old MTB makes a fine commuter as is. If your niece prefers drop bars, why not get a road bike that takes reasonably fat tires? You'll save yourself a lot of headaches not going down that road. Plus it's a bit of a fool's errand to look for a particular make or a 20 to 30 year old bike in the size that you need. It's a lot easier to just figure out the kind of bike you want (vintage MTB or road bike suitable for commuting) and start looking.
One motivation is that when she saw an 80's Soma Prestige road bike I built up for a friend, drop bars and all, she wanted it. I found the 52cm frame in the trash, a real "Saved from the Dump" situation.

I would have given it to her were she able to stand over it but she had to stand on her toes. All I could was shake my head no because it was just too big for her.

She really wanted it though. All I could do was to promise her that I would try to find something her size.

Last edited by estasnyc; 09-07-19 at 10:21 PM.
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Old 09-07-19, 10:22 PM
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Are you in the USA?

Cheers
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Old 09-07-19, 10:49 PM
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How about an old hybrid? Do they also typically have long effective top tubes? Something like a Schwinn Crosscut it Specialized Crossroads.
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Old 09-07-19, 11:22 PM
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Originally Posted by due ruote View Post
How about an old hybrid? Do they also typically have long effective top tubes? Something like a Schwinn Crosscut it Specialized Crossroads.
Just following with what you said. Vintage hybrids make good drop bar candidates. But their frame design is made more for comfort, so some mustache bars or something would work great.

A great candidate for that would be a Miyata Triple Cross.

But if you insist on drop bar MTB, Rock Hoppers are great.
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Old 09-07-19, 11:40 PM
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She wants the drop bars, but does she understand why? Is she after a specific aesthetic?

Everyone's made good points so far. Mountain bikes starting in the early 90's had sloping top tubes, and were violating the parity between top tube and seat tube to allow lower seat positions. I need a 54-ish seat tube and top tube for a road bike fit, but I look for smaller mtb frames because the top tube is usually a size up from the seat tube/ frame size.

Consider touring frames like a trek 520. Old Rockhoppers would be a good choice too, though the stem angle is likely to be high and length short for reach consideration.

Last edited by Unca_Sam; 09-07-19 at 11:55 PM.
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Old 09-07-19, 11:45 PM
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650b, women's road frame?

Manufacturers use smaller wheels to 'size down' their smallest frames. They aren't frequent on craigslist, but you could probably find a small enough frame and lose an inch of standover that way.

Is she dead set against a women's-specific sport frame? The lower top tube is supposed to eliminate the standover problem.

Last edited by Unca_Sam; 09-07-19 at 11:51 PM.
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Old 09-08-19, 05:42 AM
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Some bikes you might want to consider - mainly from 1987 - 1992 era; all non-suspension types

Trek 930/950/970
Bridgestone MB-2; MB-3; MB-4; MB-5
Specialized Rockhopper; Stumpjumper
Bianchi Grizzly; Super Grizzly; Ocelot; Lynx; Osprey
Diamond Back Apex LE
Nishiki Colorado
Cannondale M & SM series
Schwinn High Sierra, Cimarron

Add 44cm to the list, as you will have to compensate for the extra-long top tube. A zero-offset seat-post and an extra-short reach / high-rise stem may be required for the conversion.

As others have stated, keeping the original bars and shifters is an option for urban applications.
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Old 09-08-19, 06:06 AM
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Here is something you should take into consideration while making any kind of flatbar to dropbar conversion. Flatbar bikes and dropbar bikes have different stack/reach lengths, even within the same frame size. This is done to compensate for the longer reach of the dropbars. On flatbars, you put your hands to exactly where the stem connects to the bars, or if you are using an angled bar, your hands may even be behind the stem itself, which gives you a more upright position. On dropbars, your hands connect with the bars where the brifters are installed which is "further ahead" of the stem itself like 90% of the time. That is because you have to install the brifters over the bend of the dropbar, you can't just put them where the flat portion of the dropbar is.

So when you purchase a flatbar bike that fits to your body geometry in terms of size, and try to turn it into a dropbar bike, your reach extends to uncomfortable levels. For such a conversion, i suggest you to buy a bike that is "one size smaller".
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Old 09-08-19, 11:36 AM
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Going from flat bars to drop bars is neither easy nor inexpensive - BTDT.

BTW, I ended up switching them back.

1980's mountain bike with 26" wheels and no suspension is the way to go. They are inexpensive and make great commuter bikes with great brakes!

Get rid of the knobbies and use a large profile smooth tread road tire.

Consider a sprung Brooks saddle. They are comfortable and suit the upright riding position for a commuter bike.
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Old 09-08-19, 11:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Newspaper_Nick View Post
Here is something you should take into consideration while making any kind of flatbar to dropbar conversion. Flatbar bikes and dropbar bikes have different stack/reach lengths, even within the same frame size. This is done to compensate for the longer reach of the dropbars. On flatbars, you put your hands to exactly where the stem connects to the bars, or if you are using an angled bar, your hands may even be behind the stem itself, which gives you a more upright position. On dropbars, your hands connect with the bars where the brifters are installed which is "further ahead" of the stem itself like 90% of the time. That is because you have to install the brifters over the bend of the dropbar, you can't just put them where the flat portion of the dropbar is.

So when you purchase a flatbar bike that fits to your body geometry in terms of size, and try to turn it into a dropbar bike, your reach extends to uncomfortable levels. For such a conversion, i suggest you to buy a bike that is "one size smaller".
What he said.

You will find you need a new stem, new bars, new levers, all new cables,...

Really, I really recommend you keep the flat bars for a commuter bike.
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Old 09-08-19, 11:44 AM
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Speaking as a vertically challenged person, a 46-48cm frame with 700c wheels presents a different problem: toe overlap.

I have a 43cm Indy Fab Crown Jewel w/700c wheels. I don't ever go fast around turns and pedal at the same time, it's that severe.

650c wheels are much better suited for shorter riders, but you're not going to find a 650c MTB frame. I suggest finding her a nice 650c road frame as an alternative.
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Old 09-08-19, 03:08 PM
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Some ways to manage cost:

1. Consider stem shifters. Used ones are easy to find, see your local co op.

2. Consider North Road bars.

I've done conversions at very little cost. It all depends how resourceful you are. My wife prefers North Roads.

Depending on the height of the rider, you may need to go smaller. My 5-3 wife rides a 15 inch rigid frame MTB. Watch out for some crazy long top tubes.

Last edited by wrk101; 09-08-19 at 03:12 PM.
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Old 09-08-19, 06:59 PM
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Thanks for the advice, I now have a list off bike models I can keep an eye out for.

Meanwhile, my niece and I have been texting back and forth. I've been getting a better idea of what she wants.

What she wants most is a lighter bike than the one she is now using, her mom's 21-speed Schwinn Sierra GS. It's definitely about weught. She doesn't like carrying it up stairs or bringing it on mass transit. She wasn't more specific but I'm guessing she's referring to NJ Transit commuter rail. I don't believe that they allow bikes on any of their buses.

Turns out that drop bars are not something she's making a big deal of.

She IS operating under the misconception that the narrower Champion #5 Cro-Moly steel tubing on the Soma Prestige I showed her will automatically be lighter than the presumably wider aluminum tubing on the Schwinn Sierra GS.

I couldn't remember much about her mom's bike but, when I looked it up online, I could see where the extra weight might be: it has a suspension fork.

I suggested possibly replacing the suspension fork with a rigid fork. She wasn't comfortable with making any changes on her mom's bike but I pointed out that her mom may benefit from the changes as well.

I suggested the possibility of getting a folding bike which would be much easier for bringing on mass transit. She said that it doesn't have to be that. I don't know if that's a rejection or simply indifference.

I've also been thinking that if I were to get something new then I should definitely consider something with 650B or 650C wheels. (Can't say I know which is becoming the more popular of the two.)

Last edited by estasnyc; 09-08-19 at 07:07 PM.
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Old 09-08-19, 08:03 PM
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Originally Posted by estasnyc View Post
Thanks for the advice, I now have a list off bike models I can keep an eye out for.

Meanwhile, my niece and I have been texting back and forth. I've been getting a better idea of what she wants.

What she wants most is a lighter bike than the one she is now using, her mom's 21-speed Schwinn Sierra GS. It's definitely about weught. She doesn't like carrying it up stairs or bringing it on mass transit. She wasn't more specific but I'm guessing she's referring to NJ Transit commuter rail. I don't believe that they allow bikes on any of their buses.

Turns out that drop bars are not something she's making a big deal of.

She IS operating under the misconception that the narrower Champion #5 Cro-Moly steel tubing on the Soma Prestige I showed her will automatically be lighter than the presumably wider aluminum tubing on the Schwinn Sierra GS.

I couldn't remember much about her mom's bike but, when I looked it up online, I could see where the extra weight might be: it has a suspension fork.

I suggested possibly replacing the suspension fork with a rigid fork. She wasn't comfortable with making any changes on her mom's bike but I pointed out that her mom may benefit from the changes as well.

I suggested the possibility of getting a folding bike which would be much easier for bringing on mass transit. She said that it doesn't have to be that. I don't know if that's a rejection or simply indifference.

I've also been thinking that if I were to get something new then I should definitely consider something with 650B or 650C wheels. (Can't say I know which is becoming the more popular of the two.)
Great! 650c is likely the more popular, other 650's have fallen out of favor. 650c's still might not be stocked at your LBS unless they have a lot of triathlete customers. 559/26 tires are going the way of the old 630/27s too; everyone wants a 29er.

Older steel rigid mtbs, even with double butted tubing, can still weigh a bit. I'm sure you already know that a new wheelset and lighter rubber is the simplest way to cut weight. Going to semi-slick tires will already help. Old mtb wheels have a tendency to be almost round anyway.
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Old 09-09-19, 12:11 AM
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My early '90s Univega Via Carisma MTB-lite is technically within my size range, but the top tube is longer than usual and I'd be too stretched out with drop bars. A shorter stem and/or drops designed to reduce reach *could* work, but possibly at the risk of impaired handling.

My solution was to swap from the original flat bars to riser bars and eventually to albatross bars. Swept bars are both comfortable and versatile. North Roads bars are just a little narrower, albatross a bit more flared. There are variations in design to accommodate the desired reach, along with stem length. Grip ends of the bars can be trimmed to avoid hitting the knees.

I can sit up in traffic for good peripheral visibility, and lean forward into the forward arced part of the bar to get a little more aero. Almost as efficient as drops, and it uses the same components. No need to replace brake levers, worry about cable pull issues with the original canti brakes, etc.

The only problem with this particular Univega is that it weighs right at 30 lbs with a rear rack for panniers, trunk bag, etc. It rides light but is a bit hefty to lift. Fortunately I'm on a ground floor apartment, and rarely take a bike on city buses. If I did I'd want a lighter weight bike.

Another issues with city buses is the front racks are often designed for short wheelbase bikes, typically the 26" wheel type mountain bikes and city cruisers. My Univega is a 700c and a little longer wheelbase than my road bikes. And my Globe Carmel hybrid has a very long wheelbase so it's a chore to squeeze into a city bus rack.

For a city multi-modal commuter I'd go for a 26" mountain bike, something like the Kona Lava Dome Race Light models that weigh only 25 lbs. No problems fitting a bus rack, lighter to lift and carry.

I'm also considering hybridizing an old school steel road bike, converting it to swept bars with bar-end shifters like my Univega, but about 5 lbs lighter and a shorter wheelbase.
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Old 09-09-19, 10:55 AM
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I already found mine and it is a lovely bike to ride at my summer cottage...
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Old 09-09-19, 11:16 AM
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Here's a '29er' before the term was coined.

The not often heard of Bianchi Project 7. (Frameset from 1990. Disclosure: I'm not affiliated with the listing)

Mountain (not hybrid) top line using 700c X wide rubber.

This one made with Tange / Ritchey Logic tubing. All sorts of possibilities for versatility and absolutely unique.

Also suggest Midge On-one bars, dual control STI road brake levers but add interupter brake levers. The extra brake levers on the top bar are outstanding for off-road and city upright.

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Old 09-09-19, 11:39 AM
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Pick whichever 80's mtb you can find cheap with the most obnoxious period colors and a short frame.

I drop bar'd a some old crosscut crisscross something or others for friends. If you're into lugs, you can find those cheap.
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Old 09-09-19, 12:53 PM
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Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
Why do a drop bar conversion?
Because all the cool kids are posting their conversion in the drop bar MTB thread.
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Old 09-09-19, 01:38 PM
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You might be able to trim a bit of weight by going with a 1 x drivetrain. 6 or 7 gears is plenty for most commuters unless itís really hilly, and simplicity is good for maintenance and for keeping the rider focused on traffic.
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Old 09-09-19, 06:23 PM
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Too bad the OP didn't live closer to me. I have a few MTB cro-moly frames from the 1980s that I'd love to give to someone to finish building up. Some of them still have the components on them and only need the wheels. I used the wheels to fix neighbours' bikes whose wheel was either damaged beyond repair or stolen. I did that thinking that this spring I could replace my wheels from a fellow who fixed bikes just outside of town. However when I went there this spring I discovered that he had died a number of months prior. I might go to the bicycle co-op in the next city but it's now a real pain to get to because there is major road construction on all the routes leading to that city from where I am.

Cheers
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Old 09-09-19, 08:06 PM
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Originally Posted by due ruote View Post
You might be able to trim a bit of weight by going with a 1 x drivetrain. 6 or 7 gears is plenty for most commuters unless itís really hilly, and simplicity is good for maintenance and for keeping the rider focused on traffic.
Just keep the center chainring and lose the other two, derailleur, and shifter? Or add a new crank? If it's a value build, it's not likely to be the latter.
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