Taking pride of place – almost – on one of my bookshelves is a well-preserved copy of The Guinness Book of Cycling. Dating from the mid-70’s, it is coffee-table sized, full of the kind of advice on choice of machinery craved by riders of lightweight cycles in the 1970’s and, perhaps inevitably, home to a section on cycle racing dominated by the personage of Eddy Merckx.
The section is devoted to what is described as the “realm” of dropped handlebars, which at the time ruled all aspects of competitive cycling. That changed , of course, in the late 80’s as elbow-rest triathlon bars took over for time trials and track competition against the clock, but even today, in the era of cyclosportives, there’s something of the racer about drops.
You don’t need to be racing to find them useful. This very morning, in the course of an hour’s ride into the Smoke, I spent more time on them than I have done for several months. Faced with a relentless headwind, what else is one to do?
This is not, however, another anti-headwind rant. More to the point, how many road cyclists do spend much time on the drops? And why? The practice has fallen somewhat out of favour with racing types, many of whom seem to prefer the brake lever hoods or an imagined grip on the long-banned Spinaci-style mini-bars. Few time triallists complete on drops when tribars offer “free” speed and the same – or more so – goes for pursuiting.
But drops are, nevertheless, an important signifier, indicating that the cycle so equipped is to be understood as offering performance above and beyond that available with flat bars. They are more comfortable, too, which is surely why so many flat bar-equipped bikes have bar end extensions designed to offer an alternative riding position to the basic grips.
Ultimately, of course, the “dropped” part of dropped handlebars is only really useful in conditions where the wind needs to be cheated: going fast downhill, riding a road bike time trial – and working into a headwind. Wind; it’s the real realm of the dropped handlebar.