Drop Bar Diaries

So I have a confession to make... I have been riding Graham (my new Rivendell Sam Hillborne) almost exclusively since I got him - drop bars and all. I've now twined his bars, gave him the Carradice bag that had hitherto been on my Pashley (the Pashley will soon be getting panniers), and have ridden him for about 120 miles in total.

Every time I ride this bike, I feel that my comfort level with the diamond frame and the drop bars increases exponentially.

And the Brooks B17S Standard saddle was much easier to break in than the Flyer Special (that I'd put on my Motobecane mixte last year). I attribute this to the thicker leather on the "Special" models.

The only difficulty I've had so far, happened when I was unexpectedly caught in a downpour 13 miles from home. Minutes after the above picture was taken, it began to pour. The bicycle handled splendidly, but the problem was that my wet fingers would slip on the wet brake levers when trying to squeeze them, and I had serious trouble using the brakes. This problem might be unique to me, as I have nerve damage in my hands and a very weak grip.

Having survived the ride home, I promptly purchased a pair of full-fingered cycling gloves. The material on the fingertips is grippy and should do better on wet levers than my fingers. I will keep these in Graham's saddlebag from now on, in case I get stuck in the rain again.

Other than the rainy lever-slip issue, I have been surprised at the lack of "challenges". I am even able to use the bar-end shifters! I am keeping the giraffine stem extension for now, but in another week or so I think I will feel comfortable lowering it.

Here you can see that I really am quite leaned over as it is when reaching for the hoods. I know that the bike will look nicer if the saddle and handlebars are at the same level, but the lean will be too much. I think I will compromise and lower it half-way.

Front view showing the current reach when on the hoods.

Well, that is my progress update so far. I can't express how happy it makes me to be able to ride this bike after having anxious doubts about whether I'd really be up to it when the time came. I am in love with the drop bars and will write a separate post about them soon, discussing hand positions.


  1. Velouria, Just yesterday I put the original drop bars back on my Corsaro 10-speed. I was noticing hand numbness on long rides on the riser bars, and I think the variety of positions drop bars offer will allow me to switch things up a bit.

    Like you, I am adapting to a more crouched position. I'm convinced it has made the Corsaro 50 percent faster. I feel like I'm flying along now and the lean isn't as uncomfortable as I remembered.

    With a garage full of bikes featuring an upright position, it seemed silly to be creating an upright ride on a bike built for another posture.

    The Hillbourne looks great. And, if it's not too forward, your hair is a lovely color!

  2. Lovely pics of a lovely bicycle - love the first one especially. At first glance I thought it was a pic from a bike brochure!

    Glad you and Graham are making such good friends. Well done you on learning to love the drop bars :-))

  3. You keep this experimenting up and we'll be seeing toe clips on that bike next!

  4. Good for you! I love that you named him Graham. Makes me think he ought to always be seen with a pipe (like Graham Chapman).

    I remember loving the drop bars on my old Fuji Dynamic 10 that I had in my teens. But I was a much more daring person then. I'm going to be reunited with that bicycle soon. I wonder if I will fear the drop bars or love them again.

    Nice gloves too! I had a similar problem one day in the rain. It wasn't the brakes that my hands were slipping on, but the old plastic grips. I found an old pair if Isotoner gloves at a thrift shop. They've got the leather strips on the palm and down the fingers. I keep them in my bag too. Now I've got those grips wrapped in leather, so I don't really use the gloves anymore, unless it's a cold rain.

  5. Once you get use to a good diamond/frame drop bar bike, you realize how much more control you have than on an upright, sweeped bar bike. I always feel a lot more secure, knowing that I can easily control the bike if I hit a road bump or something. Too bad my bad neck won't let me ride these anymore :-(

    I think part of the braking problem you are having is that most brake levers are designed for larger male hands, making the span too great. I wonder if they make female/small-hand specific levers?

  6. I don't know what length (i.e., extension) stem you're running now, but you may want to consider one that's 10mm shorter or so. This would put more bend in your elbows, and improve the reach to the brake levers/hoods.

    Lovely bike, BTW.

  7. Mike - Thanks : ) And I agree that not all vintage 10-speeds are suitable for upright bar conversions. If a bicycle has road geometry, it can't be turned into a cruiser with some North Road bars and a basket - it will just be an awkward bike. Are you using the original drop bars with the original levers, or did you get a new set-up?

    Peter - the brakes are short reach, so they are already designed for smaller hands. I have no problems at all normally, but in the rain my fingers slip off despite being able to reach.

    Steve - I tried half-clips with the road pedals on my Motobecane mixte... and quickly learned that I am nowhere near ready. Not as in "it will take me a week or two to get comfortable with this," but as in "No way, absolutely not." So the time for retention system experimentation has not come after all. Oh well. I take comfort in re-reading Rivendell's "The Shoes Ruse" and in loving the excellent MKS touring pedals on my Hillborne.

  8. Mile High Mark - It's the shortest extension possible; you can see here that there is practically zero extension. I just have a very short torso.

  9. That's fantastic! It's got to feel good to see those photos and think "yeah, I did that!" (kind of like you mentioned about looking off into the distance and thinking "I rode that distance!")

  10. I can't believe no one has yet mentioned the use of the term "giraffine". What a mental picture.
    Does Graham only eat the most tender leaves, or is he a hearty muncher?

    I'm pleased to see how well you and Graham are getting on, and how also Eustacia is developing, too. As you're branching out in your abilities as a rider, your bikes are evolving and changing to fit your needs as well, which is as it should be. Congrats!

  11. Corey - I was actually disappointed to learn that there wasn't a more scientific word - you know, like "ursine" for bears and "vulpine" for foxes. For giraffes it really is "giraffine"; apparently they don't get a separate word.

    Graham seems to prefer low-hanging foliage, fragrant grasses, and young tree bark. Plenty of food for him on the trails.

  12. Don't place style over comfort. The seat and handlebars need to be positioned to relieve stress on your back and knees. You do not need a professional fitting, just have somebody at your local shop eyeball your position and give you an opinion.

  13. Hi, how's things. Just wondered if you had thought about duel brake levers. Modern duel levers are the same as flat bar levers that fit to the top of the drop bars either side of the stem, allowing you to brake from the top bar position where your grip might be stronger. You still keep the drop levers so you have the best of both worlds. Older duel levers have a L-bar on the side of the brake hood that you pull up from the top bar position, again giving you two braking options. You probably know all this anyway, but if you didn't, now you do!

  14. I'm interested by the Hillborne's slanted diamond shape. I know some of their other models (Atlantis for one) don't have the slanted top tube. I'm wondering why the design the frames in such a way - they're one of *very* few manufacturers who do that on their road bikes.

    But very nice bike, love the details. I think you'll find it's more comfortable when you lower your stem several inches, but I realize that it takes some time to feel comfortable in "the position."

    Nice work, though. What's next - Velouria rides a fixie?

  15. hmm... i'm going to take a different tack here and suggest different bars altogether. though they may not look as classic, i wonder if moustache bars would give you a similar riding position while giving you better control over the brake levers? and they can work with your bar-end shifters, as well. or perhaps porteur bars with guidonette (sp?) levers? just trying some ideas for the brake lever grip problem...

  16. Alot of cyclists in the UK use a cape when it start to rain see photo at this link http://www.southlakesgroup.org.uk/2009photogallery/wpimages/wp0b0014cd_05.jpg when its not in use it can be roll up and strap to the back of your Carradice Saddle bag see photo at this link http://www.southlakesgroup.org.uk/2009photogallery/wpimages/wp2f28acd8_05.jpg Capes do keep you alot drier than water proof jacket and also keep your hands dry

  17. somervillain - I've tried moustache bars and it's a definite "no". I can't keep my hands in front of me knuckles up like that. What I like about the drop bars specifically is that they give me multiple "hands to the side" positions. The levers are 100% fine when it's not pouring rain and when it is I think the problem is solvable with gloves. I don't think Porteur bars would work for this bike, but I will put them on my new mixte.

    Jefe - I know, I know. And the position has been approved. But I keep being asked why the bars are so high, so I've gotten self-conscious about it!

    Anon - No, they don't work for me. See my other posts about the Hillborne in the comments section.

    david m. - I would like to cycle in the velodrome eventually, so I do plan to learn to ride a track bike at some point. But... baby steps : )

    I am pretty sure that both the Hillborne and the Atlantis, as well as the Bombadil have sloping top tubes to varying degrees. The way I understand it, this is because they are not road bikes per se, but more in the touring category, and were designed for higher handlebar placement. The extended headtube allows for that.

  18. very very cool. I will admit that I actually came to really enjoy the road bike with diamond frame and drop handle bars that I borrowed last summer. It was fast and I felt like I was flying.

    I read dottie's comment about switching out the handlebars on her betty and I like that idea. sometimes you just want to lean in.

  19. You look so dignified and rational riding in your grown-up (lovely) outfits, maybe it will catch on.

    One of my old riding buddies has started to ride again and he really likes to suit up like when we were 30 and still racing occasionally...He appeared in his 15 year old skinsuit recently (yellow , green and red) and we had to tell him not to ever, under any circumstances show up for a ride in that again. We are too slow and too fat to draw that sort of attention to ourselves in our old age.

    I would rather ride in putees and a pith helmet than the lingerie we used to go careening around in.

  20. "I was actually disappointed to learn that there wasn't a more scientific word - you know, like "ursine" for bears and "vulpine" for foxes. For giraffes it really is "giraffine"; apparently they don't get a separate word. "

    Velouria, the reason for this is that the scientific (Latin) word for the family of animals including giraffes is Giraffidae. Bears are in the family Ursidae and foxes are in the genus Vulpes-- you get the idea... (I had to chime in as I am a biologist nerd extraordinaire).

    By the way, I am glad you are enjoying the drop bars-- I am contemplating changing my mixte to something more sporty and less uprigt-- and am thinking either going to drops or porteur. I can't decide.

  21. Wow, that IS a short extension. Just curious, what 'bars are you using? There are some drops available with very short reaches and flat "ramps."

  22. "I would rather ride in putees and a pith helmet than the lingerie we used to go careening around in."

    Spindizzy, you say that like it's a *bad* thing.

    I would have worn my white Wolseley to cycle to the Amgen race, but it has a brass spike on top and the cops would have confiscated it...

  23. Nice post. H'bar position in relation to the saddle changes over time and will always be specific to the rider, so do what feels best. For me, I rode with the h'bars level with the saddle for a long time, but have lowered them to about 4cm below, which is much more comfortable (for me) for harder efforts.

    Considering you're coming from uprights, it will take some tinkering. But Noodles are the best drops out there - uncommonly comfortable.

  24. Hello,
    I'm Kazz from flickr.
    I think your choice of the saddle and the handle bar are cool.
    My bikes are road bike so I lean more and ride with aggressive form.

  25. The hyper-extended stem looks completely goofy. If they need to be that high, I would suggest swapping out for conventional handlebars.

  26. Anonymous - Too late, the stem has been lowered. As I said, it was temporary until I got used to the drop bars.

  27. I really enjoy your site and must say you have really grown and evolved as a cyclist! You've gone from lovely dresses and lady bikes to drop bars and riding fast and hard. I'd love a rivendell!! I have a surly long haul trucker but i would trade it in a heart beat for a rivendell. I was in a car accident ten years ago and have trouble with drop bars-bad back, nerve damage in hands and arms so have to be careful with my back. I lose alot of momentum and speed with being upright. I want a road bike again. I found an old gitane mixte road bike with the french girl road bars that are not drop bars but not upright townie bars either. It seems it was considered uncouth for women to ride with drop bars. The bike is not road worthy so have not gotten a chance to ride it. But you should check out these bars on old french women's road bikes.

  28. Ha just found this post bout the drop bars. I currently have my very first bike with a set of them and at first I HATED them now I flat out love drops. I just been playing around with readjusting the height today and found that now I am used to using them the lowered height has made me a bit faster. I also have noticed that I feel a lot more comfortable after a hard ride compared to a flat bar I don't have to stretch as much. Granted farthest I have ridden on the bike this year is only 17 miles but time will tell. May need to buy a new bar at one point :)

  29. I'm sorry to 'revive' an old post, but I have been going through your archives since I read your two reviews on the KHS Green.
    I decided to comment because of your mention of nerve damage in your hands. I broke my knee in January of 2011, and I am very interested in the ways that bikers with old injuries handle or adapt their bikes to accommodate problems like weakness, numbness, or general comfort.


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