This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of bullhorns and drop bars in relation to one another.
Standard bullhorns offer 3 main and 2 secondary hand positions.
The main ones are:
The secondary ones are the curves between the tops and the sides as well the curvatures near the horns.
Meanwhile, road bike drop bars offer 3 main hand positions and 3 secondary ones.
The main ones are:
The secondary are:
- Sides (between the hoods and the tops)
- Under the hoods (the area below the hoods)
- The curves between the sides and the tops
The drops themselves offer a couple of different hand placements too.
Note: One can argue that the sides on drop bars are also a main position. It’s a matter of perspective.
Conclusion: Drop bars cover the hand placements offered by bullhorns while offering one extra main position (the drops) plus a couple of secondary ones between the hoods and the tops.
Thus, if you want to maximize the number of hand positions available to you, and minimize joint stress on a long, monotonous ride, drop bars win.
The drops on drop bars allow the rider to get low, flatten the back and become more aerodynamic.
In contrast, bullhorn handlebars do not provide such an option. One exception would be pursuit handlebars – a bullhorn variation that comes with built-in drops. However, even the drops of pursuit handlebars aren’t as low as the drops on road bars.
In general, riding in the drops of pursuit bars feels like being somewhere in the middle between the hoods and the drops on regular drop bars.
Having said that, bullhorns still allow the rider to assume a very efficient aerodynamic position by bending and tucking the elbows in (time trial stance).
However, it’s difficult to maintain this stance for a long time.
Conclusion: Drop bars provide a more aerodynamic position. Therefore, if your goal is to be as fast as possible, drop bars have an edge. The only exception are time trial bikes, but those use bullhorns in conjunction with aero bars.
Besides, people wondering whether they should go for drops or bullhorns are unlikely to be analyzing this subject in regards to a time trial bike.
Both types of handlebars have a default position for the brakes.
Bullhorns rely either on reverse-pull brakes installed on the horns and/or small brake levers on the tops. Meanwhile, standard drop bars have levers installed on the hoods.
Hooded brakes have an advantage – they’re accessible when riding in the hoods (medium pace) and when the rider is in the drops (aggressive riding and/or descending).
Meanwhile, the brakes on bullhorn bars are accessible only from a single position – the tops or the horns depending on brake levers’ location.
The brake access could be improved if one installs levers on both the tops and the horns. However, many people will consider this approach non-aesthetically pleasing.
Conclusion: The default brake set-up of drop bars is superior to that of bullhorn bars because the brakes are accessible from two different locations.
The brake accessibility of both types of bars can be increased even further if one installs inline brake levers on the tops.
Drop bars allow the installation of brake-shifters (e.g., STI…etc.) which combine a brake lever and a shifter in one. Consequently, the rider can brake and shift without moving their hands away from the hoods. The main problem with brake-shifters is that they’re expensive.
Bullhorn handlebars do not provide such comfort.
In general, bullhorns are coupled with the following shifting options:
- Bar-end shifters – this solution offers the most comfort because the rider can shift without major hand movement
- Downtube shifters – popular on retro road bikes
- Shifters on the tops – on some occasions, people mount shifters on tops. Shimano A050 are an example of such shifters.
Conclusion: Brake-shifters offer speed, precision and stability that cannot be matched by the shifting set-ups compatible with bullhorn bars. Therefore, drop bars shine superior once again from a performance standpoint.
Since bullhorns do not go as low as drop bars, the rider is more upright and thus more visible.
However, if the rider is in the aero position mimicking that on a trial bike, this peculiarity doesn’t apply.
Other than that both types of bars seem to offer the same visibility when the rider is in a position other than the drops.
Conclusion: When riding in the drops, the rider gets low and it becomes harder to see him/her in traffic.
Front Rack Compatibility
Neither drop bars nor bullhorns are the best handlebar type to pair with a front rack because the shape of the bars limits the cargo that you can carry. (Flat or townie bars are more “rack-friendly.”)
Nonetheless, bullhorns have a bit of an edge because they don’t have drops limiting the width of the transported cargo.
That said, the horns themselves extend a lot and could interfere with the transportation of tall and bulky items.
Conclusion: Bullhorns have a very slight edge when it comes to front rack compatibility thanks to the extra cargo clearance.
The horns of bullhorns provide a lot of leverage when climbing out of the saddle. The rider can insert a lot of pulling force and thus generate more power.
This characteristic is very important to fixed-gear and single-speed riders because the lack of low gears forces them to get out of the saddle when climbing.
If the bike has a sufficient range of low gears, the leverage provided by bullhorns doesn’t matter as much because the need for out of the saddle riding is lower.
Technically, the hoods on drop bars can also be used in a similar fashion, but their shape and thickness make them less comfortable for out of the saddle climbing.
Conclusion: Bullhorns win when it comes to climbing out of the saddle.
Drop bars are superior handlebars for descents because the drops allow the rider to get low and “hide from the wind”.
Also, when the bike is equipped with hooded brakes, the rider not only has access to the brakes from the drops but also a great mechanical advantage because he/she can use the strongest fingers (middle and index) to trigger the brakes.
Furthermore, the lever is activated from its low end which offers the greatest leverage.
This doesn’t mean that bullhorns are awful for descending. They just aren’t as good as drop bars.
Conclusion: Drop bars are superior during descents.
|Cinelli Bullhorn Handlebar
|Syncros Creston SL Compact
|Newmen Advanced 318.0 Wing Bar
|Profile Design Wing 20C UD
|Nitto B135AA Randonneur Drop Bar
|Nitto M186 STI Racing Drop Bar
|Salsa Cowbell Deluxe
|Thomson Dirt Drop 31.8
|Specialized Short Reach Bar
|Rodeo Pursuit Handlebar
|Easton EA70 AX Flare Aluminium
|Origin 8 Pursuit Bars
|Control Tech One
|Bontrager Pro IsoCore VR-SF
Conclusion: On average, the bullhorn bars in the table are 7.3grams lighter. At the end of the day, both types weigh about as much.
When it comes to speed, nothing beats sprinting in the drops. Hence why track cyclists use pista bars on their bikes.
That said, bullhorns are more comfortable for sprinting uphill.
Conclusion: If you want to maximize your sprint times, drop bars are superior to bullhorns.
In general, both bars work equally well for skidding, but some people seem to have a preference for bullhorns because the horns give you a lot of leverage and grip security.
Conclusion: Bullhorns seem to have a slide edge when it comes to skidding.
Drop bars allow you to install a rearview mirror at multiple locations – on the bar-ends, on the drops, near the hoods…etc.
Meanwhile, bullhorns bars are more limited. A logical place to put a mirror on bullhorn bars would be the horns since most mirrors are designed to stick out or else your body will block them, but this placement interferes with the use of the horns.
Conclusion: If you want to use a bar mirror, drop bars are a better option as they provide more mirror placements.
FAQ: Why do some fixed-gear cyclists install dummy brake-levers on their bikes?
If the rider is using only a front brake (a common practice in the fixed-gear world) and wants it to be accessible from two locations (the hoods and the drops), it’s logical to install a second hood for balance and to take advantage of an extra hand position.
But since there’s no real rear brake, cyclists mount only the hood because a brake lever would be of no use.
In short, the goal is to benefit from the leverage and the extra hand position provided by the hoods while keeping the bike fully or semi-brakeless.