What are the Drops?
In non-technical terms, the drops are the curly bit of your handlebars. They make up the area from the very end of your handlebars, through the curve and up to your shifters. Traditionally riding in the drops was the established racing position, with riders in theory able to go quickest in that position. We now know a little different but that doesn’t mean you should avoid the drops!
Why You Should Use Your Drops
Unless you’re riding with your elbows bent and flat whilst holding on the hoods, the drops are still a decently aero position to ride in. Particularly when riding fast. One study suggests that as long as you bend your elbows whilst in the drops, it’s actually just as aero as the aforementioned position in the hoods.
Coaches tell riders to ride in the drops to corner fast, have full control over their bike and to sprint. In the drops you change the location of your centre of gravity, pushing it lower. This helps secure your position on the bike and aid your cornering. This comes in handy not just on the circuit but also when descending hills at speed. Sprinting in the hoods is just not done. There are aero considerations but also it’s harder to reach to click up the gears as you gain speed. At the business end of a race, being in the drops allows you to take bumps from other riders more securely as well. Another way the lower centre of gravity helps.
Braking often feels better whilst using the drops. You can exert much great leverage on the lever compared to when your hands are on the hoods. Conversely that’s also something to just be aware of when travelling at speed on a descent. The difference in braking modulation may catch out a rider who isn’t used to it.
Other benefits include improved comfort and reduced fatigue from having another position to ride in. Instead of being permanently on the hoods, it’s good to move your hands around, particularly on long rides. Feeling more comfortable and reducing chances of getting the cyclist’s palsy (numb hands) are always good things.
Starting to Ride on the Drops
The drops can feel quite unusual to ride in for those who haven’t used them regularly. Even getting down into them takes a little bit of adjustment and timing. It’s best to do it on a quiet, straight stretch of road and get used to the change in balance as you do so.
Starting with your hands on the hoods, move each hand down to the drops individually. Making sure your hands end up in the curve and your fingertips can reach the brake lever. When this feels comfortable, move your hands back up to the hoods, one by one, and familiarise yourself to that motion. It’s important to move the hands one at a time so that you’ve always good a firm grip on the bars in case of a pot hole or sudden gust of crosswind.
The more often you repeat this process, the more confident you’ll become in moving your hands between positions. You’ll also find the longer you ride on the drops, the more comfortable becomes. Your body adapts to the more aggressive position and makes it easier for you.