Condensed Answer: Drop bars can be installed on a time trial (TT) bike, but only if the model’s geometry is already close to that of a road bike. Otherwise, the drop bars will put the rider in an uncomfortable and inefficient position.
The Problems With Installing Drop Bars On a TT Bike
- Potentially Unusable Drops
TT bikes have a shorter head tube than road bikes. Consequently, if the TT frame is maximally aggressive, the drops of the handlebars will end up incredibly low and close to the front tire.
When riding in the drops, the back of the rider will get close to horizontal and the knees will hit the chest during pedaling.
It’s possible to compensate for this issue to a certain extent by getting a stem with a greater degree of elevation.
- Steeper Seat Tube Angle
TT bikes have a steeper seat tube angle. Or in other words, the seat is closer to the handlebars than it is on regular road bikes. The idea behind this engineering is to position more of the rider’s weight forward.
TT bikes use aero bars making it easier to support extra weight on the front. However, supporting the same weight while holding a set of drop bars is less comfortable and can lead to excessive joint stress.
It’s also worth mentioning that the steeper seat tube angle makes it harder to pedal uphill due to the reduced power output.
- Short Reach
The reach of a bicycle is the horizontal distance between a line going through the middle of the bottom bracket and another passing through the middle of the headtube.
TT bikes have a shorter reach due to the main riding position and the use of aero bars.
In the default stance, the elbows of the rider form a 90-degree angle. The main position offers a healthy mix of aerodynamics and control.
If the reach of the bike was greater, the rider will be stretched even more and will technically be in a more aerodynamic position. However, the extra aero gains will come at the expense of control and stability.
The short reach will be a problem when using drop bars. In some situations, the rider will feel compressed.
This issue can be negated to a degree by installing a longer stem.
- Custom Stems, Handlebars and Head Tubes
Expensive TT bikes have proprietary stems, handlebars and head tubes designed for one another. Thus, the system itself may prevent the rider from installing drop bars and adjusting them as needed.
- Pre-Cut Fork Steerer
Threadless forks are cut once the stem is set at the necessary height. This prevents the user from elevating the stem later in the future. Normally, the cut steerer isn’t a problem. When the bike is adjusted properly, there’s no need to lift the stem anyway.
When you switch to drop bars, however, the pre-cut steerer of the fork will be an issue if the handlebars end up too low.
There are two ways to fight this problem:
a. Get a stem with a greater rise.
b. Buy a new fork and cut it again to the necessary height.
What Are The Advantages Of Putting Drop Bars On a TT Bike?
The main incentive behind this conversion is to turn a TT bike into a road model. TT bikes are not safe for “classic” road bike riding because they don’t offer the needed control. Moreover, climbing with a TT bike is an unpleasant experience.
Having said that, the conversion can offer satisfactory results but only when the geometry of the TT bike isn’t aggressive. A “full-blown” TT bike cannot but turned into a road bike.
Thus, the only advantage of this conversion is that you might turn a TT bike into an acceptable road bike.
What Are The Disadvantages of Putting Drop Bars On a TT Bike?
- Altered Geometry
TT bikes are not designed for drop bars by default. By putting a set of drop bars on a TT bike, the riding position of the rider is very likely to become uncomfortable and inefficient.
Even if the conversion is somewhat successful, the bike will not handle like a regular road model because the front will be supporting more of the rider’s weight.
The conversion will not be cheap because the rider will have to purchase several parts to make it work. In the world of cycling, it’s always more expensive to buy parts separately than to get an entirely new bike with the same components.
The needed parts are:
- Brake-shifters – to get full advantage of drop bars, you will need brake-shifters (a combination of brake levers and shifters designed for drop bars). Brake-shifters are expensive, especially when bought individually.
2. New handlebars – obviously, new handlebars will be needed too. Drop bars are not particularly pricey unless you go for carbon models.
3. New stem (potentially) – to improve the fit, you may also need a new stem.
4. New fork (potentially) – if you want to raise the handlebars significantly, you may also have to get a new, uncut fork.
5. Cables + housing
As you can see, the conversion is not cheap. You may be able to get an entry-level road bike for the same money on the second-hand market. The bike is very likely to have better handling than the mixed unit that this conversion will produce.
- Low resale Value
Another downside is the low resale value of the converted bike. A buyer is highly unlikely to want a bike that’s neither a TT nor a road model.
That said, it’s still possible to sell the parts individually and make a good profit.
- The geometry of TT bikes is different from that of road bikes. TT bikes have a shorter reach, smaller head tubes, and steeper seat tube angles. Hence why putting a set of drop bars on a TT bike won’t produce a legit road bike.
- High-end TT bikes have a proprietary set-up which will prevent you from installing standard drop bars.
- The conversion will be fairly expensive. It may be wiser to buy a cheap road bike than to convert an existing TT model.