There will come a time when you’ll need ultimate control of your bike. When that time arrives you should be in the proper position to take control and ride in beast mode. One of the best positions to be in is riding in the drops.
The advantages of riding in the drops are that you’ll get less wind resistance, lower center of gravity and increased braking leverage.
Many riders are not as comfortable riding in the drops for various reasons. But if you want to improve your bike handling skills it’s important to be open to riding in different positions for better riding control. Consider this guide on how to ride in the drops like a boss.
First: How To Do It
Is it as simple as holding on to the bars below the hoods? You can say that, but quite frankly this specific riding position is one of the most untapped skill riders don’t take advantage of often.
There are two distinct riding positions below the handlebars on a road bike: the hooks and the drops. For a safer and more aerodynamic ride, you will likely want to be in either of these two positions. Keep in mind, depending on which type of drop bars your bike is equipped with, this may or may not apply to your specific bike.
Tips For Riding In the Hooks/Drops:
The Hooks – Your hand should be placed directly on the part where the bars curves but right behind the brake levers. Most riders extend the pointer and index fingers across the brake levers to be able to brake when needed quickly.
In this position, you’ll have better wind resistance and better grip while riding on bumpy roads. Also, this will be the best position to be in while riding down hills.
The Drops -This part of the handlebar is defined as the lower section below the hooks position. It is an aggressive position because the brakes are not reachable here. For a beginner just starting out, this may be very daunting.
You should be positioned quite low with bent elbows parallel to the road to stay in the drops. Over time, build up confidence riding this way on flat roads before trying it in descent.
Ride In The Drops Descending
Most cyclists would agree that it is a must to ride in the drops when descending down a hill. I often do this riding down hills because it gives me more control of my bike and lowers my center of gravity.
The drop position on the bike gives cyclists a better grip of the bike handlebars riding downhill too. When traveling at high speeds downhill it’s best to have a tight grip and control of the bike at all times.
Your aerodynamic drag is reduced riding in the drops downhill, which will also increase your speed. I’ve reached speeds of 45 mph (+) before this way and felt totally in control than if I rode in other positions on the bike.
Tips For Descending:
Get Low – You will be more stable on the bike while riding in a low position. The more center and level you are on the bike the easier it will be to control your speed.
Relax Your Arms, Shoulders, Knees– It can be intense at first riding in the drops downhill because your weight is shifted more to the front putting you on edge. Avoid being tense and relax so your bike handling will not suffer
Look Ahead – It will take some practice looking ahead in the direction you are going. You almost want to anticipate areas downhill where you may need to slow down or turn to prepare yourself. Avoid staring at the ground right in front of you or that pothole on the side of you. Focus ahead.
Using Drops When Accelerating
When you want to travel at higher speeds or really push through a ride with power, riding in the drops can help you reach that speed.
This technique is most often used in racing when cyclists need to close a gap in a pace line or sprint towards the finish line at the end of a race. But this doesn’t mean someone who does not race should try this.
If I cycle too far and become fatigued riding back, I often ride in the drops to keep my momentum moving forward and ride through aches and pains. It’s almost like I catch a second wind or little engine that motivates me to finish the ride.
Tips On Accelerating In The Drops:
Shift Gears Before Standing – Before standing you want to shift into a harder gear while seated to increase your power output. You will be pedaling fast standing up and want to match your gear with the force riding on the pedals.
Out Of The Saddle – Accelerating is easier when riding out of the saddle. Your body weight is shifted forward when standing allowing you to put more power into your pedal strokes.
Elbows Bent, Flat Back – It’s important to keep your elbows bent at about a 90-degree angle and your back flat to be more aero. You want to cut through the wind and accelerate as fast as you can.
Look Up – Once again you want to ensure you know what’s in front of you. Looking up will help you focus on a target or pick your way around obstacles. This can be advantageous to gage where you will align yourself with other riders in a group or race ride.
Increase Braking, Riding In Drops
For most cyclists, they would place their hands on the part of the handlebar that seems comfortable for them. When the hands become uncomfortable then move to a more comfortable position in the drops.
Braking from the drop position will give you more control and power over your bike, especially in the event you need to brake hard in an emergency.
Some cyclists feel more secure braking from the drops on descents and less likely to slide forward when applying force to the brakes. This will depend on your brake setup on the handlebars.
When you are gripping the drops you should be able to reach the brake levelers easily. If this is not easily within reach or uncomfortable for you then it may be best to have this adjusted.
You Are Riding In A Paceline
For a complete beginner, riding in a paceline may seem intimidating having to maintain a certain speed and distance from other riders in a group.
Riding in a paceline is an essential skill to learn and will allow a cyclist to travel faster with less effort. Riding in the drops in a paceline can also have its benefits.
When riding in a paceline, being aero will help you to draft behind other riders. Most cyclists in a group ride may position themselves in the drops or hoods of the handlebars. Efficient paceline riding is accomplished best while in the drops.
Paceline Tip, Riding In Drops:
Most group rides will ride in a single paceline, but this tip will benefit any paceline riding.
Riding in the drops, you’ll want to protect the handlebar ends with your arms. This will protect your bars from being hooked by another cyclist bars when moving back down the line.
Sometimes you may get but bumped from the side while riding in a double paceline. It then becomes crucial to keep your bars from locking up with another rider’s.
- Be comfortable riding 6-12 inches behind another cyclist wheel
- Coast smoothly while in back of the paceline
- Easy on the brakes
- Avoid abrupt stops or sudden accelerations
- Maintain the same speed throughout the ride
Ride In The Drops Cornering
During the course of riding, a cyclist must be able to have control when going in any direction. Some directional turns will be harder and some will come easy. But all of them will involve a specific position to handle that direction.
Riding in the drops while cornering will be one of the positions a cyclist may be into staying level and in control of their bike.
Cornering will help you make turns smoothly and steer in the direction a road may be changing. This skill not only will allow you to turn quickly but safely get around a corner or a downhill turn.
How To Do It:
Get In The Drops – Being in the drop position here will place more weight toward the front of the bike. It will accelerate the bike quickly, especially if riding downhill. The drops will be your most stable position when cornering.
Apply Brakes – Gently apply both front and rear brakes before entering a corner or turn. This will help slow down the bike and allow control of the bike before steering. When descending downhill it may be necessary to brake sparingly to slow down even more by slightly applying the rear brake.
Lean Slightly – You will be in a position lower other than 90 degrees. Lean only as reasonably necessary to make it around the corner. Leaning too far over can cause your back tire to slip from underneath you. A worse case scenario is that you lean too far and fall over.
Position Inside Foot High In Stroke – During cornering you inside foot will be closer to the ground and will be unsafe to pedal, at least until to you’re in an upright position. Keep the inside foot at the 12 o’clock position and smoothly enter the turn while keeping the outside foot down to allow better traction.
Give Your Back A Break Riding In The Drops
When cycling on longer rides sitting up on the handlebars, a cyclist lower back will ache and start to stiffen up. It’s usually best to move around on the bike utilizing different positions.
You can ride in the drops to stretch your lower back and give it a break during longer rides. In this position, one should not feel tense in the neck, shoulders, or back unless you’re not experienced riding in this position.
Whether the ride is long or short, the bike will not be the only thing that absorbs the bumps and uneven terrain of the road. The body parts affected by shock absorption will include the feet all the way up through the hands.
It may surprise some that you can relieve your lower back by riding in the drops since it looks like an uncomfortable position. If riding in the drops becomes uncomfortable then it will benefit you to get a bike fit.
One way to become more comfortable riding in the drops is to gradually increase the time you spend in the drops. I usually do this on recreational rides before I become fatigued because I tend to keep proper form.
Overtime getting experience riding in the drops, your body will adapt to this position. You’ll be able to ride longer rides and have an additional position to recover to.
Become More Flexible
To be efficient at riding in the drops, a cyclist will need to be flexible. Your comfort level in the drop position will depend on the flexibility in the hamstrings, lower back, and hip flexors.
One may gradually become more flexible as a result of riding in the drops. It’s important to note that this widely varies among cyclist who may have other physical limitations that’ll prevent them from using this position.
In my opinion being someone who has suffered back problems even to the point of having episodial back spasms, riding in the drops has been very good for me. As a side note, I do not recommend or endorse that others with back problems should consider this position. This will be entirely up to you and your medical provider to discuss.
Getting comfortable riding in the drops has its pros and cons. It may help you become more flexible but do not depend entirely on this position to help you in that area.
Working on your overall body flexibility will be the best option to aid you in riding in the drops. In addition to this, you will want to position yourself right and have a proper reach of the bars.
With time, practice, and attention to flexibility in multiple areas of your body, you can be sure that riding in the drops will be easier. You will be able to ride faster, have better control of your bike, and build your comfort level riding in this position.