4 Things To Expect When You Go From Flat Bar to Drops
Chicks Who Ride Bikes·October 24, 2022
Going from a flat bar bike to a drop bar roadie can be one of the most exciting (yet challenginer and major!) changes you can make.
Not only is your centre of gravity and balance affected (you will probably notice this first!), but the gears are different and braking (especially if you’re also going from a rim brake to a disc brake!) are also super different. Whether you’re completely new to cycling, or whether you’ve been riding a while and have – for whatever reason – decided to buy yourself a dropbar roadie, here are 4 things to expect!
1. SUPERMAN ARMS
You can expect, at first, to feel like you’re in Superman position with your arms out in front of you! Of course, you shouldn’t feel as if your arms are so far out in front of you that you can’t control the bike or balance while pedalling, but you will feel a noticeable difference in the way your upper body is positioned.
I remember the first time I rode on my drop bar road bike, I felt so weirded out! Like, where are my brakes and how do I change gears?!
A top tip is to always ensure you are fitted to your bike correctly as you are meant to be leaning forward from the hips, but if your bike is too large for you, your hands will too outstretched and it will make it difficult to indicate or even drink out of your drink bottle without feeling like you are going to fall off!
2. FEEL FASTER!
If you are on a flat bar bike and wonder why road bikes speed past you all the time, it isn’t necessarily that you aren’t as fit or strong as them. In fact, many times – especially if you have been riding a flat bar or mountain bike for a while – newbies on a drop bar road bike are surprised by how fast they can move along.
Flat bar bikes simply have a different geometry (think more drag and wind resistance) and often are made of different material and have different gear ratios which make them slower than road bikes. Trust us, you will “get it” as soon as you try a drop bar road bike!
3. BIKE CLAUSTROPHOBIA
When getting used to all of these new things, the last thing you want is to be crowded and feel as if you are trapped. It’s just like trying anything new. Remember when you learned to drive a manual car? Hill starts and using the hand brake? There’s always a period of time when you are a bit freaked out by it all.
When you transition from a flat bar bike to a drop bar bike, its completely natural to feel a bit more anxious of riders around you… especially because with your arms tucked more closely at your side, instead of elbows flaring out to the sides, you’ll actually find you’re capable of riding much more closely side by side with other riders than before.
A lot of road bike group rides will say that ‘flat bar bikes not allowed’. This isn’t a judgement on your fitness or ability, it’s for safety reasons. If all bikes are the same, each rider can ride behind the other in a tighter formation making it easier to navigate traffic. We recommend getting used to your road bike on bike paths and/or velodromes prior to joining group or bunch rides… especially if you are learning to clip in at the same time.
4. YOU CAN EXPECT CLIMBING TO BE EASIER!
Again, due to the different geometry of flat bar vs road bikes, climbing is going to feel a whole bunch easier. If, however, climbing feels like a real struggle and you can’t even get your legs spinning around, you may be in need of a different gear ratio which is right for your fitness.
WHAT THE HELL IS A GEAR RATIO?
Put simply, it’s the gear range you achieve through the combination of your cassette (the ones at the back) and the chainrings (the ones at the front). As you know, when you are riding along on the flat, you can click up and down the gears to make things easier or more difficult to pedal depending on the terrain.
When you are climbing, you are mostly restricted to the ‘easy’ gears – larger cogs at the back and the smaller at the front. But what happens when you run out of gears and you simply can’t push any harder?
OPTION 1: SWAP OUT YOUR CRANKS FOR SEMI-COMPACT OR COMPACT CRANKS.
Have you ever heard of people saying “I have a 50-34” or other similar seemingly random pairing of numbers? They are referring to the number of teeth on their chainring. (These configurations can also be used to describe the number of teeth on the rear cassette. For example, a 12-25 would be referring to a cassette on which the smallest cog has 12 teeth and the largest has 25.)
Bikes, like anything else, come with a ‘standard’ configuration of components. With the exception of some new women’s road bikes), a standard crankset is, well, standard. What the hell does this mean? Let’s investigate.
A Standard Crankset is traditionally 53-39. 53 teeth in the larger cog and 39 teeth in the smallest.
A Semi-Compact Crankset is: 52-36. 52 teeth in the larger and 36 in the smaller.
A Fully Compact Crankset is: 50-34. 50 teeth in the larger and 34 in the smaller.
Remember that the size of the SMALLER chainring at the front gives you ‘easier’ hill gears. You can see that the smallest gear is much smaller in the compact and semi-compact as compared with the standard.
In this example, take a look at the size difference of the smaller cog. Having 5 fewer ‘teeth’ is where it’s at!
NB: Mountain bikers consider gear ratio differently to roadies because they change gear more often with the changing terrain.
OPTION 2: SWAP OUT YOUR REAR CASSETTE FOR ONE WITH A LARGER RANGE
This is a great option if you prefer to keep a standard crankset on the front OR you could use it as an additional measure if you have switched to a compact crankset but still don’t have the oomph to climb (or perhaps you’re recovering from injury, getting back into riding after pregnancy or a long absence etc).
Your rear cassette is traditionally a 12-25 (12 teeth in the smallest and 25 in the biggest). Remember at the back, your larger gears represent the ‘easier’ ones for climbing. If you want more ‘spinny’ gears, you can actually go up to a 12-32 which gives you an extra 7 ‘teeth’ which you will definitely feel make a difference.