A Detailed Analysis of Drop Bar Integration Into a Hybrid Bicycle System

Hybrids share a lot of similarities with mountain bikes and often come with flat or riser bars.

Those handlebar styles have many benefits such as high precision and compatibility with affordable components but offer a limited number of hand placements.

This characteristic is sometimes seen as a weakness/inconvenience pushing hybrid users into searching for a set of handlebars that permits the rider to change hand positions more frequently.

One of the frequently discussed options is a conversion to drop bars.

This leads me to the main question/topic behind this article:

Is it feasible to install a set of drop bars on a hybrid?

Yes, it’s possible to install drop bars on a hybrid or even a mountain bike, but the conversion is expensive and requires many new components.

Also, the fit of the bicycle may change negatively. Therefore, it’s debatable whether it’s worth it to begin such a procedure.

The Problems With Drop Bar Conversions

The list below contains the obstacles that one will face when converting a bicycle from flat to drop bars:

1. Shifters incompatibility

The typical shifters and brake levers found on flat handlebars cannot be installed on a drop bar because the diameter of the attachment clamps is too small.

The average flat handlebars are 22.2 mm thick at the points where the shifters and brake levers slide whereas drop bars have a diameter of 23.8mm around the shifter area.

The thickness of a typical drop bar
The thickness of a typical MTB riser bar

Enlarging the diameter of the clamps forcefully could result in a broken shifter because the clamps are made of aluminum – a material that can easily crack during bending.

However, some people have successfully “dremeled”/filed MTB shifters until they could fit on a drop bar. The problem with that approach is that you will lose the shifters’ warranty without a guaranteed good result.

Ultimately, the incompatibility of a hybrid’s shifters with drop bars leaves us with the following options:

a. Road bike brake-shifters

The first solution is to buy brake-shifters designed for drop bars.

This choice seems logical and comfortable but comes with many problems.

First, road brake-shifters are expensive. Second, they are designed for caliper brakes and cannot be used with the brakes found on mountain and hybrid bikes. (MTB disc brakes and V-brakes).

Why? Because the brake levers of a road bike are “short-pull” whereas those of a mountain bike and a hybrid are “long pull”.

In other words, the road brake levers found on brake-shifters don’t pull enough cable to work effectively with mechanical disc brakes or V-brakes.

Therefore, if you want to use brake-shifters (e.g., STI), the brake options would be the following:

Use a “travel agent

“Travel agents” are small adapters made by Problem Solvers used to increase the amount of cable pulled by the lever.

The downside of this approach is that it introduces another part to the system. And as we know – more components equal more adjustments and more potential points of failure.

Use cantilever brakes

Cantilever brakes are compatible with brake-shifters. In fact, cyclocross bikes have been using brake-shifters together with cantilever brakes for years.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to install cantilever brakes on your hybrid if the fork and the frame don’t have V-brake mounts.

– Use mini V-brakes

Mini V-brakes operate like regular V-brakes but have a shorter arm. In consequence, the brake lever does not have to pull as much cable. This makes brake-shifters such as STI compatible with mini V-brakes a.k.a. mini V’s.

The shortcoming of this approach is that mini V-brakes have very poor rim clearance, and thus you won’t be able to use them with bigger tires. This can be a problem if you want to run full-size MTB tires.

b. Use separate brake levers and shifters

If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of finding a brake system compatible with brake-shifters, you can install brake levers and shifters working independently of each other.

This option will save you money by allowing you to use the brakes that are already on your hybrid.

Most hybrids come either with mechanical MTB disc brakes or V-brakes. In both cases, the brake lever is long pull.

You can combine those types of brakes with drop bar brake levers designed for V-brakes. One option would be Tektro’s RL520 brake levers.

As far as the shifters are concerned, the available options are:

Bar-end shifters – as the name suggests bar-end shifters attach to the ends of the drop bars. They work independently of the brake levers and can be combined with a multitude of components thanks to the friction shifting mode found on the right lever controlling the rear derailleur.

Bar-end shifters

Bar-end shifters are very popular in the touring cycling segment due to their reliability, simplicity, and compatibility with both MTB and road parts. (Learn more.)

Handlebar shifters with larger clamps – The clamps of regular MTB shifters are too narrow for drop bars, but there are also handlebar shifters with larger clamps that can be mounted to the flat part of drop bars.

Shimano SL-A050 rear shifter

One example of such shifters would be Shimano SL-A050. That model has a 25.6mm clamp. However, it’s designed only for 7-speeds.

Use regular MTB shifters by filing them – As already mentioned, it’s possible to get mountain bike shifters on drop bars by filling the insides of the clamps carefully until they fit.

Stem shifters. There are retro shifters that attach to the stem. Just like bar-end shifters, they are independent of the brake system.

However, the uni-clamp of those shifters may be too small for the threadless stem of a hybrid.

2. Rear Derailleur Incompatibility

If your hybrid has more than 9-speeds and uses a Shimano MTB rear derailleur, then the derailleur won’t be compatible with brake-shifters because 10+ speed MTB rear derailleurs have a different rear shift ratio.

Subsequently, you’d have to buy a new rear derailleur too.

FAQ: What is rear shift ratio?

The term rear shift ratio a.k.a actuation describes the lateral movement of the derailleur in relation to the cable length pulled or released by the shifter with each click. (learn more)

3. Front Derailleur Incompatibility

A Shimano MTB front derailleur designed for a triple crankset won’t work well with indexed brake-shifters. Therefore, a new front derailleur will also be needed.

All of the above illustrates that it would be rather expensive and difficult to rely on brake-shifters to do the conversion. It’s not impossible, but serious tinkering is required.

4. Uncomfortable Geometry (potentially)

Flat bar mountain bikes and hybrids have longer top tubes than bicycles built for drop bars.

The reason for that is as follows: flat bars have a shorter reach than drop bars because there is no “on-the-hoods” position.

In consequence, the extra reach needed for a proper fit has to come from a longer top tube.

The shorter stems found on mountain bikes increase the necessity for a longer top tube even further.

This characteristic of MTB’s and hybrid’s geometry creates a problem when doing drop bar conversions.

Most of the time, the long top tubes found on hybrids and mountain bikes stretch the rider too much when combined with drop bars.

The effect can be reduced by using a smaller frame, a super short stem and drop bars with a shorter reach, but there are still no guarantees that the set-up will be comfortable. You won’t know until you actually try it.

The bike may look just fine and yet feel unpleasant, especially when going for longer trips.

You can minimize the chances of discomfort by measuring the distance between the saddle and the flat bars and then recreating it during the drop bar conversion.

Ideally, the horizontal distance between the nose of the saddle and the flat bars will be equal to that between the nose of the saddle and the hoods of the drop bars.

As already mentioned, there are three main components to play with to accomplish this task – the frame, the stem, and the drop bars.

Changing frames is probably not an option. You can, however, slide the rails of the saddle forward to artificially decrease the frame size and the reach.

If you already need a short stem to feel comfortable on your hybrid, the chances that the conversion is going to work drop greatly because one of the variables is already maxed out.

If that’s the case, the only variable left to experiment with is the reach of the drop bars.

FAQ: What is drop bar reach? The reach of drop bars is the horizontal distance between the stem clamp and the most protruding part of the bars. Reach under 80mm is considered short.

Is a Drop Bar Conversion Worth It?

A drop bar conversion can be very expensive and time-consuming.

Here’s the number of components that one will have to buy to make it work:

Option 1: Brake-shifters

If you go with brake-shifters, you will have to purchase the following components:

  1. Brake-shifters (those could be very expensive)
  2. New brakes or travel agent adapters
  3. A new rear derailleur if you want to have more than 9-speeds
  4. A new cassette (potentially)
  5. A new front derailleur
  6. A new stem
  7. New bars
  8. Bar tape
  9. New housing and cables (if they don’t come with the brake-shifters)

Option 2: Independent braking and shifting system

If you decide to go with independent braking and shifting systems, you will need the following components:

1. Brake levers that can work with your current brakes

2. New shifters (e.g., bar-end shifters).

3. New cables and housing for the brakes and/or shifters

4. New bars

5. Bar tape

6. New stem

In both cases, you will have to spend extra money and time to make the conversion.

Is all of this effort worth it?

In most cases, the answer would be no, especially when you account for the fact that the new geometry of the bicycle may not suit you.

Truth be told, most of the cyclists who bother with such conversions do it for fun and already have many of the parts from previous projects.

Repurposing an Old Bicycle vs. Buying a New One

Transforming a bicycle from one type into another is often a poor and expensive decision.

It’s often cheaper to sell your existing bike and buy a model designed for your desired style of riding.

If you plan to build a road bike out of a hybrid or a mountain bike, it would be better to save money and purchase a proper road bike than to create a mutant.

Cheaper Alternative To Drop Bar Conversions

If your primary goal behind a drop bar conversion is to have extra hand positions, then it can be accomplished with much simpler and cheaper solutions.

Here they are:

1. Bar ends (cheapest option)

Bar ends are still a thing.

Bar ends aren’t exactly fashionable and are no longer seen on mountain bikes (learn why), but they’re still produced because the commuting segment likes them.

Most models can be installed quickly and instantly add 1-2 extra hand positions.

The main downside of bar ends is that you cannot use the brakes when holding them.

2. Switch to alternative handlebars that can accommodate MTB/hybrid shifters

Drop bars aren’t the only option when looking for more hand positions.

There is a great number of commuting handlebars that can work just fine with MTB/hybrid shifters.

Some notable options would be:

Swept-back handlebars. Swept-back handlebars are designed for comfortable city riding. They reduce the stress on the wrists and decrease the chances of experiencing numbness.

Some models like the Velo Orange crazy bar come with extensions offering extra hand positions.

Comfort handlebars. Comfort handlebars have a significant rise meant to reduce the stress on the wrists. Most models should accept hybrid shifters and brakes just fine.

H-Bars. H-bars are swept-back handlebars with an additional rail offering more hand positions.

Butterfly Bars

Butterfly bars. Butterfly bars a.k.a. trekking handlebars are commonly seen on European touring bikes. Their greatest strength is the high number of hand positions that they provide.

3. Drop bar ends

Drop bar ends add a “drop position” to flat handlebars without much effort as they attach just like regular bar ends.

This method has two severe downsides worth mentioning:

a. You cannot use the brakes from the drops.

b. Some people won’t find drop bar ends aesthetically pleasing.

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