Saturday, October 1, 2011

Must Haves: Dropbars with Flat Ramps

Randonneur, Charles River
While dropbars tend to all look the same to those who are new to them, there are in fact lots of variations - most of which I find uncomfortable. This is particularly true of vintage bars, and it does not surprise me when others write to tell me they have trouble riding old roadbikes for this reason. What's uncomfortable about these dropbar designs, is their lack of flat "ramp" areas leading up to the brake hoods. When the brake lever is positioned on a dramatic slope, some report that their hands feel awkward and start to hurt on long rides. By contrast, famously comfortable handlebars - such as the Nitto Noodle and Randonneur models - have spacious, flat ramp areas that support the hands - both when on the hoods and behind the hoods. Rivendell explains about this feature here. And this comprehensive post about the difference in dropbar shape is definitely worth reading. My favourite flat-ramp dropbars so far have been the Grand Bois Maes (pictured above). They are similar to the Nitto Noodles, except that the ramps feel a bit longer and flatter, and the drops are parallel to the ramps. My hands absolutely love the feel of every part of these handlebars.

Chorus Ergo 11 Sp Shifters
One thing that has me curious when it comes to the flat ramp design, is its origin. Until recently, my understanding was that it was a modern invention: a byproduct of the compact/ anatomic handlebars ushered in by the brifter era. It is often said that the Nitto Noodles basically combine this modern design with a vintage look, which is what makes them so popular. However, that does not jive with the description of the Grand Bois Maes bars as a remake of a 1950s Phillips Professionel model. Turns out that what many think of as a modern design is actually a mid-century design, which is rather fascinating. I would love to know the original inspiration behind this shape and why it was not more popular. After all, it is very difficult to find a set of vintage dropbars with flat ramps.

What has been your experience with drop handlebars? Can you tell the difference between the various shapes and do you have a favourite?

32 comments:

  1. Interesting. I think the ramps are flat on my 1970s Univega. I will check when I get it back from the shop.

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  2. Hi,
    Completely agree. I have recently swapped modern ergo Salsa Bell Lap to VO Grand Course. This bar is modelled after Phillips Professionel, I think. Flat ramps, shallow 120mm parallel drops. It's very comfy, very happy I made the change.
    Marcin

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  3. Regardless, I love the red Fizik tape, which combines new and old in a particularly nice way. Unless, of course, you have discovered something that looks like Fizik tape.

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  4. Leaving aside folks' painful hands resulting from an inactive or weak core, or poor fit or...

    My take for a sporting perspective: frames used to be "larger" for the same person vs. now, with a lot of quill showing. So in order for the racer/sport rider to get in an aero position the hoods were much lower on the curve of the bar.

    The modern, flat ramped shape evolved with a shorter head tube and lower stack threadless headset, imo, but when you look at a lot of racers these days they're sitting a lot more upright than even 10 years ago. Basically a 45 degree neutral position a la touring.

    I used to have this: http://www.winwoodbike.com/pdf/RoadScholarInstructions.pdf
    Nothing has a flatter ramp but ultimately went back to round bars with a mildly-sloping ramp for better brake access from the hooks/bends.

    I see a lot of people on bikes with too long a reach hanging on to the ramps so when they have to brake they have to move their torso forward. Ideally one would be able to park their hands on the hoods covering the brakes all the time, while comfy on the tops, ramps and drops. Of course, YMMV.

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  5. Must haves -- comfortable bars fitted to ones riding style! I dumped my Nitto Noodles in favor of ergo bars. The difference was like night and day. While ugly to my eyes they are heaven to my wrists, shoulders and neck. Just a reminder that 'fit' is extremely important and makes the difference between whether a bike is ridden and enjoyed or stays in the basement. I did not discover this until meeting with a fit specialist with decades of experience with bicycles and anatomy. Also, as you've mentioned, brake levers are equally important with regard to comfort and enjoyment. Most folks who use drop bars are pedaling in all kinds of circumstances over many miles. Having options which allow for differing positions while still allowing easy access to brakes and shifters while maintaining power seems the key.

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  6. Some people obviously don't care at all:
    http://vimeo.com/29106106

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  7. Good point GRJ on the factors of core strength and bike fit, to which I would add posture. Combine this with factors of bar shape and location of the brake/hood. Discomfort in the hands, wrists, shoulders and/or back can arise from any one or combination of factors. The bar itself may not be as much of a problem as the problem of riding heavy on the hands, and/or death grip.

    However these Phillips Professionel knock offs are intriguing. I must try them! Getting older and blasé now (i.e. core strength and discipline aren’t what they used to be) I find myself bringing my brake/hood setup in just a little closer to me for a slightly more upright riding position. I just hope flatter ramp doesn't make me too cozy or I might doze off.

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  8. "VO Grand Course. This bar is modelled after Phillips Professionel, I think. Flat ramps, shallow 120mm parallel drops"

    Oooh interesting, I did not notice those. Will have to check them out, because the GB are a bit too pricey for me.

    Steve - Fizik makes that tape in honey and dark brown for the UK market and I just put some on my fixed gear bike. Mmmm mmm mmm!

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  9. I broke my wrist in high school due to a poor decision while riding. Now that I've gotten back riding, regular drop bars aggravate the injury.

    These days bars with a bit of flare and flat ramps feel better than those without. I really like drop bars made for mtb riding for that reason. I've been riding with a Salsa Woodchipper for a while and work much better for me than regular drops.

    I'm a very lucky boy and found a Rawland dSogn frame in my size that I'm working on building up as a porteur/all rounder. Wanting to experiment, I have randonneur bars that VO sells for it. I hope that my wrist won't start to hurt after mile 10 with them. They feel pretty good just to handle and I have high hopes for them. Just waiting on racks, tires and a cable to finish them up.

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  10. When I raced, different bar shapes didn't really matter. Going all-out for 60-80 miles, hardly any weight rests on the hands. Today, I ride randonneur brevets, and it's a different story. Now I have very strong preferences with regards to handlebar shape. Like you, I very much prefer flat ramps now - hence we brought back the Grand Bois copies of the old Philippe Professionels.

    The uncomfortable "vintage" bars you mention are shapes that are much newer than the Professionel and other flat-ramp shapes. Most of these bars were developed in the 1960s, when racers started to sprint out of the saddle, so they needed more wrist clearance to throw the bike from side to side. (Until then, racers sprinted in the saddle, just spinning at incredible rpm. Of course, as racing speeds went up, handlebar comfort was less of an issue - see above.)

    We did a blog post series on handlebar shapes, their history, and which shape works best for which riders..

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  11. Jan - You would be surprised (or maybe not) how many people believe that the flat ramp is a new, "modern" design. Both bike shop employees and experienced cyclists had told me this before I discovered the Professionel history via your website. And I have seen posts on bikeforums where people wrote that Noodles look wrong on 1950s racing builds because of this feature.

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  12. Oh and if the curved ramps developed out of the sprinting out of the saddle style of riding, how did they make their way onto 1970s touring bikes? Well, perhaps it explains why people who rode those bikes tended to keep their hands on the tops, MTB-style.

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  13. "What has been your experience with drop handlebars? "

    I'd guess that there are a fair number of folks that read this blog don't ,or can't for health reasons, get what the attraction is with drop handle bars other than to contort the ride into an unnatural posture to ride a bicycle in the quest to be "aerodynamic" . Bah! Humbug!!

    Transportation cycling posture is good. Drop bar posture is bad.

    Just ask your back and neck as you age........

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  14. Ideally one would be able to park their hands on the hoods covering the brakes all the time, while comfy on the tops, ramps and drops. Of course, YMMV.

    This is what I usually strive for in my builds, and I find myself riding the hoods predominantly. I actually don't have one "must have" bar, but my favorite thus far has been the Nitto Randonneur. I haven't tried the Nitto Noodle, despite all the hype. The primary reason is because there is little to no flare-out at the hooks. When riding the hoods most of the time, I find that having the brake levers flare out provides a more comfortable wrist position.

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  15. I prefer the Soma Major Taylor for aggressive riding and Soma Walker Racer for a more relaxed position. They both have very steep ramps. Their massive wrist clearance is not just for sprinting out of the saddle but for climbing out of the saddle as well.
    The long, flat ramps on other bars not only compromises wrist clearance in the drops but make the bar a longer reach which when used with the required shorter stem makes the tops too close for anything except sitting totally upright.
    When I put drop bars on a bike it is to use the drops as the primary hand position. Both these short reach bars allow the tops near the stem to be a useful hand position as well. This gives me two (plus variations) uncompromised, completely different hand locations.
    I don't use brifters and not all my bikes have brake levers so I don't ride on the hoods.
    These bars are made from Tange steel by Nitto. both good things.

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  16. I recently installed the Grand Bois Maes. I agree with you totally regarding comfort but disagree somewhat that they are like the Nitto Noodle. IMO the Noodles are goofy looking. I guess I've really come to dislike the Noodles strongly. I like the longer, flatter ramps and especially the parallel drops on the Grand Bois Maes. A bonus is that they are the most beautiful handlebar I've ever come across. I've had them for a couple of months and they still have no rap. One caveat, the longer ramp will probably require a shorter stem.

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  17. If only there were a place I could go and try out the six different bars I think might be more comfortable to me than the Noodle bars I'm using now, so I could buy only the one that felt the best after ten or twenty minutes...

    Oddly, when you began this entry with the title mentioning flat ramps, my first thought was, "but that's my problem!". The Noodle bar I have on my SimpleOne (my only bike with drop bars) has ramps that are "flat" in more ways than one; they are reasonably parallel to the ground, and are straight between the two bends. I keep feeling that they would be significantly more comfortable if the ramps themselves were convex on the top, like some of the "Randonneur" bars seem to be.

    Incidentally, much of the discussion of different styles of drop bars seems to assume that they will be used in some type of sport cycling, or perhaps long-distance touring, and that drops make no sense for "transportation cycling". I don't go either fast or far by any means, and I don't do it for the exercise, but drop bars still make some sense for me, because out here on the prairie we don't have hills, but we sure have wind. If I'm going 10km against a headwind, it takes much less energy to get there in the drops than sitting upright. I'm pretty sure what would be comfortable for randonneuring would also work well for me, even though I'll probably never ride 600km through the night.

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  18. "When riding the hoods most of the time, I find that having the brake levers flare out provides a more comfortable wrist position."

    Agreed. The first time I tried drop bars, I found my arms/hands to naturally go at an inward angle (almost 45° towards the center) so I installed the hoods that way (that was on Nitto Noodles btw). I reverted them to the usual vertical position because I found the angled position looked weird, but I may eventually try the angled position again at some point, since it felt so natural initially.

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  19. Track bends with rounded tops simply use less metal than flat ramp bars. Easier and cheaper to manufacture. Many riders who didn't know they wanted a track or track-derived bend get it as OEM for no reason but that at some point in the process it saved $0.001
    Some designs evolve because dedicated thoughtful cyclist/designers work for perfection. Other designs happen 'cause a mfr. tells an engineer to design something we can make fast and put on a million bikes that looks enough like a drop bar so that customers will buy them.
    Both count as vintage if they were made back when.

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  20. I've noticed that the shape of drop bars on my bikes over the years varied slightly but not noticed any comfort difference.

    All drops are fine with me.

    They also have the advantage of being narrow, which is important in areas with lots of stationary or slow moving lanes of car traffic.

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  21. I have always had the old school bend drop bars. A couple years ago I bought some high zoot modern shape bars that all the new bikes have and ended up hating them. After reading your blog, I found out about noodle bars, got some and love mine, I feel I have a lot of room to move my hands about.

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  22. "my favorite thus far has been the Nitto Randonneur. I haven't tried the Nitto Noodle, despite all the hype."

    I like them both and both have the flat ramps. But I preferred the Grand Bois Maes to both, and would love to try the Grand Bois Randonneur.

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  23. Nitto B-155 bars are what I'm currently using on my commuter. They look very similar to the Grand Bois Maes bars you mentioned, with straight tops and flat ramps. The drops have ten degrees of outward flare which provide a little extra comfort and keep my wrists from bumping the tops.

    As Ground Round Jim pointed out, I think stem length plays an important roll as well. I'm 6'1", with a 63cm frame, and the 11cm stem I'm using makes riding on the hoods (which is most of the time) a bit of a stretch. I think a 9cm stem would solve the last of my comfort issues.

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  24. I've never used straight bars, but I've used several types of drop bars (including Criterium bars), as well as the Mustache bars that Bridgestone introduced on their XO-1 bike (which obviously became a "cult bike").

    I'm presently using the Nitto Model 185 bars
    here: http://www.cyclofiend.com/Images/rbw/cat/rivcat05_p04_nitto185scr.jpg (sold now by Rivendell as "Mark's Bar") in a 44cm width. I also have the classic Cinelli Giro D'Italia bars on my Paramount.

    The Nitto 185 bars are very comfortable for me, and I find that the width makes a big difference. The Cinelli Giro D'Italia bars are only 38cm wide, which wasn't particularly uncommon at the time these bars were commonly used.

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  25. Pimadude
    In the classic era Cinelli bars were available in 38, 40, and 42 width. Many other bars were even narrower.
    Much of this was just cheapness - narrower bars used less metal. Some of it was a response to the soft and not so strong alloys in use. The bars were not strong enough to hold together with the leverage that's put on a 46. The measure of how soft and ductile those bars were is that they were commonly ridden until they very visibly sagged.
    Some of it was a different view of ergonomics. After 15 years of using 44s and resisting those who encouraged me to go 46, I'm back to Giro d'Italia 64-42. The narrow bars feel great. The round cross-section feels great. It feels so good and right I have to wonder if all the blather about wide bars opening up your lungs was anything but hype, or perhaps a bit of pride that we can now make wide bars strong enough.
    I'm using 80s NOS which I think is slightly better metal'than 60s-70s. When I can't find those the Grand Bois look pretty good. Different bend than the 64, same spirit.

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  26. I read advice given to an up and coming racer (on embrocation I think) that when riding in the drops you should be punching a bear, not holding a wheelbarrow. As a result I now hold the bars below the shifters and have so far enjoyed riding with this fresh aggression.

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  27. "when riding in the drops you should be punching a bear, not holding a wheelbarrow"

    Thank you for the imagery : )

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  28. This past summer I switched from my long-term Nitto 185s that I'd used for years because I liked their short reach (90 mm) and relatively modest drop (140 mm) to the Grand Bois Maes "parallel" copies and found drop bar Shangri La. I used to think the 185s were comfortable, but gradually found myself wanting longer and flatter ramps which the new GB bars have in spades, as well as higher hooks. I raised the stem by 2 cm or so (moving the bars from 5 cm below saddle to 3 cm below) so that the 15 mm longer reach puts the brake hoods at exactly the same distance from the saddle but now the flats, ramps and hooks are higher so that I have at once the same aero/power positions and more comfort when I want to sit upright or use the hooks -- and I use the hooks extensively, riding fixed in a windy -- ABQ, NM -- area. Most recently the nicely restored Ken Rogers tricycle I just bought has SR bars that mimic the Maes design well enough to be keepers: long and shallow and flat; very nice not to have to swap them out.

    I also have started using narrower bars again: I'm certainly big enough for 46s and have 46 Noodles on my Fargo, but for my road bikes/trike prefer narrower ones, and the Grand Bois bars are 38 at the hoods, widening to 41 or so at the ends of the hooks. I expect that the SRs on the trike are also no more than 40. The 46s are too wide for optimum comfort, but as those are a good 3 cm *above* the saddle and because the bike is used off road, I'll probably stick with higher, wider bars there.

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  29. One more remark: angled brake hoods. I've been angling my brake hoods (I use aero, non-shifter Shimanos or, more recently, Cane Creek and Tektro) inward,starting with those on my 46 cm off road bars and then doing the same even for the hoods on sub-40 mm bars on my road vehicles. As someone else said, I find my hands fit more comfortably with the inward angled hoods.

    Oh, and of course, God and nature demand that the bottoms of the hooks always be perfectly flat.

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  30. Bertin - I also prefer the narrower GB bars. However, one thing to note is that if one plans to fit the bike with a handlebar bag, wider bars will allow more room for the hands without interfering with the bag.

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  31. Funny, I had some major surgery done on my lovely old Peugeot a while ago, and when I got the bike back I noticed the shop had twisted the handlebars up so that the part of the bar leading to the brake hood is pretty much horizontal. At first I thought "What the heck?" but it really is SO much more comfortable than having the bars slope down to the brake hoods!

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  32. I've got 46cm Noodles on the Bob Jackson World Tour, with friction barcons and love em to bits.

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