A well-placed hood on a drop bar gives you at least three useable hand positions; hoods, perches and drops. The hoods are designed to be the place where the majority of your riding happens. From the hood you should be able to easily access the brakes and the shifters. It’s recommended that your bar set up be such that you ride on the hoods, not behind them, but actually on the hoods for about 60-80% of the time. The rest of your time will be divided between the perches and the drops.
The perches, the top part of the bar, should be used when you are slowing down or casually spinning and want to stretch out. Seeing that you don’t have quick access to the brakes, you want to make sure that you won’t be needing to suddenly stop. If you spend the majority of your riding time in the perches, chances are your stem is too long putting your hoods out of comfortable reach.
The drops, or bottom part of the bar, should be used anytime you feel like you want to bring your center of gravity down or to become more aero. This can be in the flats or cranking uphill. One of the advantages of riding in the drops is the added braking power. From the drops you should be able to comfortably reach and use the brake and shift levers. Grabbing the brake lever from the drop increases the leverage you are able to apply to the brakes. By being able to lower your center of gravity and increasing your braking power, the drops are the ideal place for downhills. If you feel uncomfortable, or even worse, unstable in the drops, you might want to bring the bars up to facilitate their use.
Getting these three hand positions and the angle of the brake lever perfect is an art form and can be one of the more challenging parts of fitting a bicycle. There is no mathematical formula or measurement that can put them where they need to be. A rider’s flexibility, core strength and reach all must be considered in addition to aerodynamics and center of gravity.
With that said, there are a few norms that can help make sure you get the most out of your bars.
Generally speaking, the bottom of the drop should sit parallel to the ground. With today’s compact bars, the flat section of the drop may be very short. Notice the photo above. The drops are almost all curve. The last inch is the only part that is parallel to the ground. This angle can be played with depending on the rider’s hands and the angle of entry. You want to shoot for your wrist maintaining a straight line. Any angle at the wrist can cause fatigue and numbness.
Second, you want the hoods to more or less be flat as well. This gives you a nice shelf to rest your hands on. Grabbing the hoods should feel like a good handshake.
These hoods are a bit too high.
Riders often try to compensate for a bar that is too low by rotating their bars up. This rarely solves any of their problems. By rotating the hoods up, their is no place that the hand can rest. Instead the rider ends up pushing into the hoods causing more pressure. This position also moves the brake levers farther out eliminating the ease of braking from the drops.
These hoods are too low.
It’s definitely less common to see the second scenario. The bars rotated down is usually due to the stem being too high and the rider spending almost all their time in the drops or an attempt to bring the brake levers in to accomodate braking from the drops. The same issue occurs as when they are rotated up. The flat spot for that hand shake is no longer available. The position may have made using the brakes easier in the drops but now the rider must reach farther to actuate the lever from the perches. The end of the drop, in extreme cases, can get in the way of the rider’s arms as they reach for the hoods.
My favorite method for setting up bars and hoods, is to leave the bar unwrapped. With the bike in a trainer, I start with the drop bar position disregarding the lever reach. As mentioned, the rider should grasp the bar without causing any angling of the wrist. Once this is set, the hood position on the bar should be set leaving a nice shelf for the rider to handshake the lever. Often these two positions seem to be opposing and small adjustments to both are needed to find the ideal angle and location. After the perfect hood spot is found, the lever reach should be adjusted to make sure the rider doesn’t have to strain to brake from the drops. The rider should not need to rotate their wrist forward to reach the lever.
Do you notice something that isn’t perfect on your bike? Contact one of our fit experts and let us help tailor your bar position to you.