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Why Are Road Bike Handlebars Curved?


If you’ve ever watched the Tour de France, you’ve probably noticed that most of the bikes have curved handlebars. These bikes are road bikes, and you may be wondering why road bike handlebars are curved.

Why are road bike handlebars curved? Road bike handlebars are curved primarily because they give riders a variety of positions for their hands. This is helpful on long bike rides, so riders can shift their hands and relieve the weight and pressure. Curved handlebars also allow riders to become more aerodynamic.

To better understand the benefit of the curved handlebars, it’s important to understand more about road bikes. Once you understand that, you can figure out how to ride a bike with curved handlebars. We’re going to cover both.

The Benefits of Curved Handlebars on a Road Bike

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are a couple of reasons why road bike handlebars are curved. By the way, you’ll frequently hear these curved handlebars called “drop bars” in the biking world. Here are the benefits:

  1. Reduce hand fatigue
  2. More aerodynamic abilities

Let’s take a look at each of these benefits.

Reduce Hand Fatigue

When someone is riding a bike, especially in the forward-leaning position that riders use on road bikes, this puts a lot of weight on their hands. The curved handlebars on road bikes allow riders to shift their hand positions. Different hand positions allow riders to shift the weight from one area to another.

There are generally three areas where riders will place their hands on the curved handlebars:

  • On the brake hoods (the top of the brake levers)
  • On the drops (the bottom part of the bar)
  • On the tops (on the left and right of the stem)

While some riders may, at times, place their hands in other areas between the above-mentioned ones, these are the three most recognized spots.

More Aerodynamic Abilities

The biggest force you have to overcome when riding your bike is air resistance. The faster you go, the harder the wind blows. Becoming more aerodynamic allows riders to reduce air resistance and ride faster.

Basically, the smaller and narrower you are, the more aerodynamic you are. Of course, since you can’t shrink yourself, you have to accomplish this some other way. A road bike does this by seating a rider up high and having the rider almost crouch down to reach the handlebars. The drop bars allow the rider to hold that aerodynamic position.

The position of the curved handlebars also allows riders to tuck their elbows into their bodies and make themselves narrower.

How to Ride a Bike With Curved Handlebars

The telltale sign of a road bike is curved handlebars. Although designs are changing, and handlebar designs are becoming more varied, most serious bicyclists choose a design with curved handlebars.

So, the big question now is how to ride a bike with curved handlebars. I talked about the three most common positions for riders to place their hands on curved handlebars. You ride a bike with curved handlebars by understanding how each of these positions benefits you and using it in that situation. Let’s look at them.

On the Brake Hoods

In this position, a rider can easily reach the brakes and gear shifts without moving much. A rider sits fairly upright in this position. Since it’s a more comfortable position, riders probably spend 75 to 90% of their riding with their hands on the brake hoods.

On the Drops

With your hands on the drops or the bottom part of the bar, riders are more aerodynamic. This is the position riders use when they want to ride hard and fast. You can still reach the brakes and gear shifts, but you may have to move your hands. Riders generally use this position for 10% or less of their riding.

On the Tops

This position is another comfortable one for riders and is used in more relaxed riding. Riders use this position when they’re riding at an easy pace. It should be used when you’re familiar and aware of the road condition and traffic because you cannot reach the brakes without moving your hands.

As you can see, there are very specific reasons for curved handlebars and pretty specific ways to use those drop bars. Let’s talk a little about how these bikes are put together.

The Construction of Road Bikes

Let’s start with the construction of road bikes. These bikes are generally made of one of four materials:

  • Steel
  • Aluminum
  • Titanium
  • Carbon Fiber

Here’s a quick look at some of the specifics of each of those materials.

Steel Construction

Steel is the most traditional frame material for road bikes. The material is a common choice because it’s easy to bend and shape. Steel is also durable, easy to repair, and affordable.

Aluminum Construction

Aluminum was actually used in bikes as early as 1895 but wasn’t more widely used until the 1980s. It’s probably the most popular material for road bike frames. Aluminum is a common choice because it’s very light, and riders consider that a major benefit when it comes to racing.

Titanium Construction

Titanium is very durable and probably longer-lasting and stronger than any of the other materials. It’s also the most expensive. Riders say titanium is similar to aluminum in weight but comfortable like steel.

Carbon Fiber Construction

Carbon fiber is the newest material used in frames for road bikes. It actually isn’t metal but instead is a fabric permeated with a glue called resin that allows manufacturers to shape and join pieces together. It looks very nice, but because it’s newer, it’s also expensive.

Road bikes definitely have some similar characteristics as far as design is concerned. They’re pretty easy to recognize on the road with their sleek, narrow design, the curved handlebars, narrow wheels, and skinny tires. Most have small seats, lots of gears on the back wheel, and are very lightweight.

Different Types of Road Bikes

Even though they are similar in design, though, there are a number of different types of road bikes within the category. Take a look at some of those designs:

  • Aero road bike
  • Commuter road bike
  • Hybrid Road Bike
  • Endurance road bike
  • Racing bike

Let’s take a look at the specifics of each of these types of road bikes.

Aero Road Bike

Aero road bikes are designed to cut down on the wind resistance. They’re generally made of carbon fiber with special shaped tubing, wheels, and handlebars to cut through the wind.

Aero road bikes actually undergo wind tunnel testing to ensure drag from the wind is reduced. They’re usually faster than normal racing bikes.

Commuter Road Bike

A commuter road bike is used most often for riders who commute to work or school. They probably want the same efficiency as a higher-end road bike but are willing to pay less because of the wear and tear the bike will experience on daily commutes.

Commuter bikes sometimes have a more upright set up and wider tires than a standard road bike.

Hybrid Road Bike

A hybrid road bike combines characteristics of a road bike and a mountain bike. The frame resembles a road bike, but the bike has higher, flat handlebars rather than the standard curves. It also usually has a comfier seat and simpler gears.

Endurance Road Bike

Endurance road bikes are also known as sportive road bikes. They are designed for more comfort on longer rides. They have a more upright setup that improves comfort.

Racing Bike

A racing bike is probably what most people think of when they’re thinking of the standard road bike. It’s designed for speed and many, many miles riding on pavement. The skinny tires lessen rolling resistance, and the lightweight frames and wheels are designed for speed.

As you can see from all of these different types of road bikes, although different, they share many similarities as far as the frame and construction.

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