This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of butterfly bars a.k.a. trekking bars and drop bars.
Butterfly bars (trekking bars) – bicycle handlebars that have been given the name “butterfly” because their shape resembles the wings of a butterfly.
Butterfly bars are popular among long-distance European cyclists but enjoy smaller popularity in the U.S. where drop bars are commonly used for touring.
The strongest feature of butterfly bars is the number of hand positions that they provide.
Drop bars – curved handlebars normally found on road bikes. The name of drop bars comes from the “drop position” that they provide.
When the cyclist grabs the lower portion of the handlebars a.k.a. the drops and leans, he/she achieves a more aerodynamic position reducing wind resistance.
The hand positions offered by the two types of bars are the first point of comparison.
Butterfly bars provide 4 main and 3 secondary hand positions shown in the image below:
The Main Positions
In the case of butterfly bars, the main positions are the areas between two adjacent curves.
Position 1 (cutouts) is considered the default one as it’s usually the place where the brakes and shifters go to.
Position 2 (horns) offers a lot of leverage and is good for climbing out of the saddle.
This position also makes it easier to control a heavy front end (e.g., front rack with panniers).
Position 3 (tops) has a dual-function. It can be used to rest if you keep your torso upright or as an aero position if you hold on to the bars while leaning forward.
If you use this position a lot, you will probably want to mount your brakes and shifters there rather than in position 1.
Positions 4 (middle top) is good for resting and relieving tension accumulated from riding in the other positions for too long.
The curvatures themselves can be used as additional grabbing points and thus qualify as secondary hand positions.
However, those parts of the bars aren’t as comfortable as the main positions and do not allow the rider to comfortably stay there for a long time.
Drop bars offer three main hand positions:
This position is good for casual riding. It has two main downsides – the brakes are far away, and the leverage isn’t the greatest.
Drop bars require road brake levers that mount to the front of the bars and provide a gripping surface known as the “hoods”.
The hoods are the default position on a drop bar because it’s comfortable and gives quick access to the brakes and shifters (if you use brake-shifters such as STI).
The drops offer an aero (“tuck in position”) which allows the rider to get low and cut through the atmosphere with less effort.
The brakes are accessible from the drops. This makes drop bars very convenient for fast riding.
Butterfly bars have 7 (4 main+3 secondary) hand positions whereas drop bars come with 3.
If you’re looking for bars that offer a high number of hand placements, butterflies are the way to go.
Drop bars give you access to the brakes from both – the neutral position (hoods) and the aggressive/racing position (the drops).
Butterflies do not provide that option. You can reach the brakes and shifters only from one position at a time.
If you want speed, it makes more sense to use drop bars because they give you the opportunity to assume a very aerodynamic stance while having the ability to break.
Mechanical advantage a.k.a. leverage is a way of amplifying output force via a tool.
When it comes to handlebars, extra leverage makes it possible to manipulate/move/steer the bars with less effort
In general, longer bars that are easier to squeeze very hard offer the greatest leverage due to the longer moment arm and strong grip which helps with power transfer.
Average butterfly bars have the following dimensions:
Width: 540mm – 580mm
Stem Clamp: 25.4 mm, 31.8mm
Grip Diameter: 22mm
Average drop bars have the following dimensions:
Stem clamp: 25.4-31.8mm
Grip Diameter: 23.8mm
Butterfly handlebars offer more leverage because they are 80-180mm longer.
Butterfly bars are also easier to squeeze with great force because they have a smaller diameter allowing you to wrap more of your fingers around them.
Butterfly bars tend to be heavier than drop bars for two main reasons:
1. Butterfly bars are longer and require more material.
2. Butterfly bars are designed for touring rather than racing. Thus, they are not made of super-light materials such as carbon.
The table below compares the weight of drop and butterfly bars:
|Butterfly Bars||Weight||Drop Bars||Weight|
|XLC HB-C05 Trekking Multi Bar||505g|
|DEDA Piega 26||280g (420mm)|
|BBB MultiBar BHB-30||465g|
|FSA Omega Compact 31.8 Handlebars||300g (420mm)|
|UPANBIKE Butterfly Handlebar||600g|
|Ritchey Comp Curve||301g (420mm)|
|FSA Adventure Compact||320g (420mm)|
|Procraft City Multi 25.4 Handlebars||470g|
|Cinelli VAI 31.8||330g (420mm)|
|LitePro Butterfly Bars||377g|
|Fizik Cyrano R5 Bull OS||310g (420mm)|
|SILVEROCK Mini P Type Handlebar||377g|
|Procraft Road Pro Compact||280g (420mm)|
|Huntfgold Ultralight Butterfly Handlebar||395g|
|LEVELNINE Pro Team Carbon Stealth||228g (420mm)|
|Genetic Zygote Handlebars||440g|
|Easton EC70 AX||220g|
|Humpert Contest Comfort||460g|
|FSA K-Force Compact||185g |
|Average weight:||456.8g/16.11oz||Average weight:|
Conclusion: Butterfly bars are significantly heavier than drop bars. On average, the drop bars in the table are 39.71% lighter
The next table compares the materials of which the bars are made:
|Butterfly Bars||Material||Drop Bars||Material|
|XLC HB-C05 Trekking Multi Bar||Aluminium 6061||DEDA Piega 26||Aluminium 6061|
|BBB MultiBar BHB-30||Aluminium 6061||FSA Omega Compact 31.8 Handlebars||Aluminium 6061|
|UPANBIKE Butterfly Handlebar||Aluminium 6061||Ritchey Comp Curve||Aluminium 6061|
|DimensionTrekking Handlebar||Aluminium 6061||FSA Adventure Compact||Aluminium 6061|
|Procraft City Multi 25.4 Handlebars||Aluminium 6061||Cinelli VAI 31.8||Aluminium 6061|
|LitePro Butterfly Bars||Aluminium 6061||Fizik Cyrano R5 Bull OS||Aluminium 6061|
|SILVEROCK Mini P Type Handlebar||Aluminium 6061||Procraft Road Pro Compact||Aluminium 7075|
|Huntfgold Ultralight Butterfly Handlebar||Aluminum Alloy 6061||LEVELNINE Pro Team Carbon Stealth||Carbon|
|Genetic Zygote Handlebars||Aluminum Alloy 6061||Easton EC70 AX||Carbon (EC70)|
|Humpert Contest Comfort||AL 5000er||FSA K-Force Compact||Carbon (UD)|
Conclusion: If you’re willing to pay, you can get very light carbon drop bars.
However, there isn’t any incentive to produce butterfly bars out of carbon because:
1. Aluminum is less likely to break and has greater resistance to clamping force. This makes aluminum a better choice for bicycles that won’t be caressed excessively.
2. Carbon is expensive.
Even cheap drop bars are significantly lighter than butterfly models. If you want your bike to be as light as possible, drop bars are the way to go.
Shifters & Brake Levers
Butterfly bars work with mountain bike shifters and brake levers.
This characteristic has the following benefits:
1. You can use a large variety of affordable shifters and levers. A decent set of MTB shifters (e.g., Shimano Altus) can be obtained for 10 bucks.
2. MTB shifters are widely available at most bike stores.
3. The shifters and brakes are easily accessible. You don’t have to move your hands away from the bars.
4. MTB brake levers are long pull and are compatible with V-brakes and mechanical disc brakes. In consequence, you can run wider tires (V-brakes have more clearance than caliper (road) brakes.)
5. MTB brake levers allow you to install cheap but reliable mechanical disc brakes. To have this set-up with drop bars you will have to pay more.
Drop bars are different. If you want to brake and shift without moving your hands away from the bars, you will have to purchase brake-shifters such as STI which can be quite expensive depending on the model.
You could also run a set-up that keeps the brake levers and shifters separated.
For example, you can combine standard brake levers with bar-end or downtube shifters – a common combo among touring cyclists (learn why).
Additionally, road levers are short pull. As such, they work with road disc brakes, caliper brakes, cantilever brakes, and mini V-brakes. This could be problematic for the following reasons:
1. Decent cantilever brakes could be hard to find because the tech is outdated.
At the same time, disc brakes for road bikes aren’t the most affordable units, especially if you go for hydraulics.
2. If you plan to go from a flat or another MTB bar to drops, you will have to invest a decent amount of money and time to get your brake levers and shifters working the way you want them.
Note: You can’t put MTB shifters on drop bars because drop bars have a larger diameter than MTB bars.
Positions of the Brake Levers and Shifters
Butterfly bars allow you to place the brake levers and shifters at two distinctive locations.
Conversely, drop bars come with a single non-changeable place for the levers.
Removal Of Brake Levers and Shifters
To uninstall brake levers from a drop bar, you will have to remove all the bar tape.
Butterfly bars function differently. If you install the brake levers and shifters on the open ends of the bars, you can slide them out without undoing the tape. That’s a nice benefit.
When it comes to brake levers and shifters, butterfly bars open a door to a variety of affordable models.
In addition, butterfly bars provide two positions for the levers and shifters whereas drop bars come with one.
Drop bars are more aerodynamic for the following reasons:
1. Narrower profile
2. The drops allow the rider to assume a forward position reducing drag.
Note: Some people put aero bars on butterflies to enhance aerodynamics. But in this case, the comparison is between the basic variations of the handlebars.
Drop bars are more aerodynamic.
The extra hand positions of butterfly bars make the handlebars a good choice for people experiencing chronic joint pain amplified by riding.
Having said that, drop bars aren’t super hard on the joints. Riding in the drops is the most likely source of pain.
Butterfly bars seem to be more joint-friendly than drop bars.
Compatibility With Handlebar Bags
The narrow profile of drop bars, as well as the busy cable area, make it difficult to fit wide handlebar bags.
For that reason, many touring cyclists (e.g., UltraRomance) run non-standard ultra-wide drop bars. However, those bars are not available at most “ordinary” bike shops.
Butterfly bars are not the best option for a big front bag either. The bars are wide, but they have an odd shape complicating the attachment of a bag.
Having said that, the extra width provides more opportunities for improvising and fitting a larger variety of handlebar bags.
Neither of the models allows a simple installation of a large handlebar bag, but butterfly bars still win due to the larger space, the extra attachment options, and the less busy cable area.
Installation of Lights and Other Accessories
Butterfly handlebars are wider and have a standard MTB diameter.
As a result, the rider has the option to install all kinds of accessories (lights, mirrors, computer, bells…etc.) on the bars while preserving a lot of real estate.
In different, drop bars are more limiting for the following reasons:
1. Less space
Drop bars are narrower and offer fewer locations for installing accessories. The most common place is the middle of the tops and the stem which technically isn’t a part of the bars.
2. The Drops
The drops aren’t the best place to attach accessories. You can mount a bar end mirror, but big lights and bells seem excessive and harmful to the regular exploitation of the bars.
Butterfly bars provide more real estate for accessories.
Every experienced winter cyclist knows that pogies beat gloves when the temperatures are terrifyingly low.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to install pogies on every type of handlebars as most models are designed for flat bars and their variations.
To my knowledge, there aren’t pogies specifically made for butterfly bars.
Thus, if you want to use pogies with trekking bars, you will have to make a pair yourself or modify your existing one.
Conversely, there are easy-to-install pogies for drop bars.
If you cycle in cold conditions and want to use pogies, drop bars offer a go-to solution whereas butterfly bars require modifications.
Most people consider drop bars aesthetically pleasing whereas butterfly bars look a little strange and overly complex.
Obviously, this point is subjective. Some individuals may prefer the look of butterfly bars. Nonetheless, you’re highly unlikely to see trekking bars on a bike built solely to attract admiration.
Drop bars have a classic look whereas trekking bars are a bit odd.
Butterfly handlebars are alternative. They are not hard to find, but not every bike store/shop has them.
In different, drop bars can be obtained very easily thanks to the high supply.
Drop bars are easier to find.
|Comparison Points||Butterfly bars||Drop bars|
|Number of Hand Positions||7||3|
|Shifters & Brake Levers||Affordable (MTB)||Expensive (road)|
|Compatibility with Bar Bags||Limited||Limited|
|Accessories||Lots of Space||Limited Space|
|Winter Pogies||Require a custom solution||Available on |
|Aesthetics||Less attractive||More attractive|
Who Are Butterfly Handlebars For?
Butterfly bars are great for long-distance cycling for two main reasons:
1. They provide multiple hand positions.
2. The shifters and brake levers are cheap and widely available. (A strong point if you’re touring in the middle of nowhere.)
Butterfly bars would be a good choice for commuters and bicycle tourists.
Who Are Drop Bars For?
Drop bars have been a part of bike touring for a long time, but they shine the most when used for racing.
The most likely candidates for drop bars are people who want a fast and light bike.