Drop-Bar Mountain Bike Stupidity

You ever want to do something so you read about what other people do and then when you do the thing your experience is way different than what you read about?

That’s me with my drop bar hardtail. If you look anywhere about setting up an MTB you will quickly see two things pop up EVERYWHERE as writ in stone, inflexible rules of the process.

  1. Drops should be the same height as the saddle or same height as your flat bar.
  2. Drops should be shallow and flared.

Both these are wrong and lead to poorly riding bikes that look like shit. I’m not saying my bike looks amazing but it looks a damn sight better than the bikes here, here, or here.

The problem is that all these peeps are trying to get their drop-bar bike to ride like their flat bar bike. This is wrong.

Your drop-bar MTB should ride like a different bike, it requires a different skillset and can make you a better rider when/if you do go back to a flat-bar set-up. To the first point, you hands are in a different spot and in a different orientation, everything you do requires different muscle inputs. Want to pop the front wheel over a rock? Well your hands are rotated 90 degrees from where they usually are and probably 15-20cm closer together. Want to rail a berm? Same thing.

The drop bar MTB riding style has to be learned. Everyone wants to switch bikes and go 100% from the first pedal stroke. This leads to blown lines, unnecessary dabs and an overall much less fun experience. I did this myself but managed to catch myself as I was rotating between a cross bike, dropbar 26er and regular old 29er hardtail so I could see where I was going wrong pretty quickly. After spending some serious time trying to figure out why my experience on the 26er was such shit I went back to fundamentals and realized the riding style was way different than I expected.

Riding my dropbar 26er requires a lot of body english, a commitment to riding smart and trusting the bike a lot more than when it was a flat bar or my 29er.

If I just jump from my 29er to my dropbar 26er I feel awkward and like I’m riding terrible. I have to mentally switch gears and remember the basics and then after a quick warm up getting comfortable with the bike I can shred like crazy. Seriously some of my fastest and best times have been on this dropbar 26er, and these are segements I’ve hit dozens of times.

In closing, I know WHY the two rules above exist. Because early mountain bikes through the late 1990s had such short headtubes that it’s almost impossible to fit them well with a flat bar or a drop bar. Combine this with the geometry they had and you end up with a bike that is cheap (attracts the weirdos) but really kinda sucks (you have to make stupid rules). Modern MTBs are immune to this thanks to their longer headtubes and overall higher riding position. A modern MTB, even with forward geometry, should be able to be fit more akin to a cross bike than a 1990s drop bar conversion.


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