Bullhorns vs. Pista Drop Bars?

This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of bullhorn handlebars and pista drop bars in relation to one another.

Definitions

Bullhorn handlebars

The name of bullhorn bars comes from their shape resembling the horns of a charging bull. Bullhorn bars consist of three sections – flat, semi-drops/sides, and horns.

Bullhorn Bars

Pista Drop Bars

Pista drop bars are handlebars designed for track bicycles used on a velodrome. They are narrower than regular road bike drop bars (e.g., 37.5cm) and curved out and down.

Unlike standard drop bars, pista drop bars do not have a long flat section. The drops are the main riding position.

Pista Drop Bars

Number of Hand Positions

Bullhorn bars offer 3 main hand positions:

  • Tops
  • Sides
  • Horns

Meanwhile, Pista Drop Bars offer 2 positions:

  • Drops (main)
  • Tops (secondary)

However, riding on the tops of pista bars could be uncomfortable because the upper curvature of some models is very aggressive.

Ultimately, pista drop bars are designed for riding in the drops.


Conclusion 1: Bullhorn handlebars offer 2 extra main hand positions (horns and sides). Therefore, they’re better for people who experience numbness caused by riding in the same position for hours.

Aerodynamics

The drops on pista bars allow cyclists to “get lower” and assume a more aerodynamic position. This is hardly a surprise since track bars are designed for riding as fast as possible on a velodrome.

Therefore, if you’re searching for a more aerodynamic position, pista drop bars work simply because they’re lower.

That said, bullhorn handlebars can be surprisingly aerodynamic too because the rider can grab the horns and bend their elbows to flatten the back and reduce drag.

Additionally, one can also use a version of bullhorn bars known as pursuit bars which comes with dropping sides a.k.a. bullhorn drops which allow the rider to get even lower.

The position offered by pursuit bullhorn bars often feels like you’re somewhere between the hoods and the drops on regular drop bars.

Pursuit Bars have built-in drops

Since pista bars allow a lower position, one may conclude that they’re more aerodynamic.

However, it doesn’t matter how aerodynamic a set-up is if the rider cannot maintain it for the required length.

Or in other words, some people may find themselves more aerodynamic in the long term on bullhorns rather than track bars.

Conclusion 2: Pista bars are more aerodynamic, but bullhorn bars can be surprisingly aero too, especially the pursuit version.

Also, some people will find the drop position on pista bars too aggressive to maintain over a prolonged period.

Weight Comparison

The table below compares the weight of popular bullhorn and pista bars:

BullhornsWeightPista BarsWeight
Nitto RB-021AA Pursuit276gCinelli Pista Track Handlebar330g
Nitto RB-010 Pursuit295gNitto B125AA 330g
Cinelli Lola285gCinelli Criterium280g
DEDA CronoNero279gDeda Pista Bars290g
DEDA Dabar Carbon210gWorx Handlebars Track265g
Average:269g Average: 299g

Conclusion: On average, the bullhorn bars in the list are 30 grams lighter. However, 30 grams are not a perceivable difference and matter only if one is trying to build a record light bicycle.

Also, some track models are lighter than some bullhorns. Or in other words, the weight is pretty similar and is decided by the model rather than the type of the handlebars.

Climbing

When it comes to climbing out of the saddle, bullhorns have an advantage because they give the rider a lot of leverage over the bike.

The horns of the bars act as bar ends making it easier for the rider to pull the bike when riding out of the saddle.

This property of bullhorns is beneficial primarily for single-speed and fixed-gear bikes because one-speed bikes often require the rider to climb out of the saddle due to the lack of a low gear facilitating in-saddle pedaling.

If your bike has a good range of climbing gears, then this property of bullhorns is not as important. However, since bullhorns and pista bars are found primarily on fixed-gear bikes, the climbing edge offered by bullhorns is worth mentioning.

Conclusion: Bullhorns are better for climbing out of the saddle.

Riding Visibility

Pista bars put the rider in a very aggressive forward position which makes it harder to see and be seen.

When you are constantly in the drops, there’s a lot of stress on the neck. As a result, it’s common for riders to allow their necks to flex and consequently look down due to fatigue and/or numbness in the neck muscles. When that happens the rider’s forward vision is limited to a smaller distance.

At the same time, when the rider is so low, it becomes harder for other vehicles to see him.

Bullhorns, on the other hand, give the rider an option to be more erect and thus be more visible and under less stress.

Conclusion: Bullhorns win when it comes to visibility because the rider can assume a more upright stance.

Braking

Pista bars are technically drop bars, but their curves make it more difficult to install hooded brakes. The more aggressive the model is, the harder it is to mount a hooded brake. Having said that, the task isn’t impossible.

In some cases, people put standard levers near the drops of pista bars. In that case, the brakes are accessible only from the drops.

It’s also possible to install brake levers on the top part of track bars. The downside of this approach is that the rider won’t have access to the brakes when riding in the drops. That said, some brakes are better than nothing even when their position isn’t optimal.


In different, bullhorn handlebars have a default place for installing brake levers – the horns. This position makes the levers easily accessible and comfortable.

That said, some people install the brake levers on the tops. The shortcoming of this placement is that the rider doesn’t have access to the brakes when riding aggressively.

You may also come across a bullhorn set-up with brakes on the horns and on the tops. In that case, the rider has access to the brakes at all times.

Conclusion: Bullhorn handlebars make the installation and use of brake levers a lot simpler because there’s a dedicated place for them. If you’re after simple and comfortable handbraking, then bullhorns are superior to track bars.

Shifters

If you plan on installing gears and shifters on your bike, bullhorn bars seem better for the task because they allow you to put bar-end shifters on the horns. As a consequence, one can access the shifters and the brakes without moving their hands away from the handlebars.

Technically, one can install bar-end shifters on pista bars too, but to access them, you will have to move your hand more.

Ultimately, if you want to use shifters and drop bars, it’s best to stick with road drop bars as they offer the option to easily install hoods with brakes and shifters.

Summary: What You Need To Know

1. Bullhorn handlebars offer more hand positions.

2. Pista bars are technically more aerodynamic, but only if the rider is constantly on the drops.

3. The upper curvature of pista bars makes it difficult to ride on the tops.

4. Bullhorns handlebars could be surprisingly aero if the rider bends their elbows.

5. Bullhorn handlebars allow the rider to be more erect when needed. This increases visibility.

6. Bullhorn bars make it easier to install brake levers.

7. Bullhorn handlebars offer more leverage when climbing out of the saddle.

8. Bullhorn handlebars offer a more comfortable position for gear shifters.


At the end of the day, bullhorn handlebars seem to be more efficient and comfortable for daily city riding. Pista bars have an aero advantage, but the low amount of comfort that they offer makes them inferior for many people.

Ultimately, pista bars work best when riding track. If you want drop bars for city riding, the regular road bike version is a better option.

Having said that, pista bars could be very aesthetic when installed on a fixed-gear bike. However, one has to ask themselves whether looks are more important than function.

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