A while back I realized that I barely use the drops on my road bike except for one short descent on the way home. Most of the time, I ride with my hands on the flat or curved part of the bars.
Truth be told, this wasn’t always the case. When I first got my road bike, I was riding in the drops all the time due to the novelty effect. Eventually, however, I got tired of the position.
I had two options in front of me – flat bars and bullhorns. I decided to go with bullhorns for the extra hand positions.
Unfortunately, where I live, bullhorns are a rarity. Only one shop was selling them, but they were out of stock. The only option was to order from the Internet, but I decided to save some money by making my own DIY bullhorns. Below you will find a detailed guideline.
The Flop and Chop Method
The flop & chop method has been the go-to solution for DIY bullhorns for many years. I decided to follow the same route as I already had all the needed parts and tools.
Step 1: Acquire a set of drop bars compatible with your stem
If you want to make your own bullhorns, you will first need a set of drop bars. Unlike bullhorns, drop bars are readily available in most bike shops.
That said, it’s recommended to get a cheaper model as it will get cut.
I had two sets of drop bars already. One was made of aluminum while the other was steel. I used the aluminum one as it’s much lighter and easier to cut (aluminum is softer).
Step 2: Mark the first cut
The drop bars should be cut at the point where the curvature towards the drop ends.
If the cut is under that level, the new bullhorns will not be comfortable, and the rider’s hand may slip due to insufficient support when riding on the horns.
If the cut is over that level, the bullhorns will look weird and will be longer than necessary.
That said, it’s better to cut less than you need to because you can always trim the bars later.
The standard way to determine the cut mark is to grab the bars at the most comfortable location and then add a few millimeters.
Step 3: Make the first cut
You don’t need special equipment to cut a set of handlebars as they’re fairly thin.
Below is a list of tools that you can use:
- A pipe cutter (The pipe cutter makes the cleanest cut and is also safer than other methods. The only downside is that the tool doesn’t have any other use other than cutting pipes and may end up being a needless expense).
- An angle grinder (A basic angle grinder cuts bars in no time. The downside is that the cut isn’t as clean.)
- A bandsaw
- A hacksaw (The hacksaw is the most economical solution. It’s also fairly safe and doesn’t need power.)
- A sabre saw (A sabre saw is essentially a powered hacksaw.)
- A jigsaw (a jigsaw with a metal blade can also be used to make the cut)
I used a sabre saw which can also transform into a jigsaw. (I bought it from LiDL, a European supermarket).
The downside of using a sabre saw are the vibrations that happen if you don’t secure the bars sufficiently.
I wrapped the bar in a cotton shopping bag and secured the unit in a vise while paying special attention to avoid overtightening. Tightening the vise too much will crush the bar.
I also put a hose clamp just above the curt mark to use it as a guide for the blade.
Once you make the first cut, put the cut piece on the other side and scribe the next cut line.
Contrary to popular opinion, scribing is often more accurate than measuring.
Then cut the piece just like the previous one.
Step 3: File the Edges
Use a file or a piece of sandpaper (e.g., 120 grid) to smoothen the cut. Of course, you can also utilize a deburring tool.
Note: Make sure that there aren’t small metal pieces inside the handlebars once you’re done.
Step 4: Install the Brake Levers
This is the part where many people get it wrong by installing the levers normally.
It’s better to install the brake levers upside down for the following reasons:
When the levers are upside down, it’s very comfortable and easy for the rider to grab them.
If you keep the levers in their normal position, only the pinky and the ring finger have access to the end of the lever which is the part offering the most leverage.
If you flip the levers, however, that part of the lever is controlled by the index and middle finger which are much stronger than the ring and pinky finger.
Or in other words, in the upside position, the rider can apply more force and trigger maximal braking.
- Lower Chances Of Bottoming Out
In the normal position, there’s a higher chance for the lever to hit the bars and bottom out.
- Clean Cable Routing
Unless you have old-school levers from the 70s or earlier, the hoods will have a channel that guides the brake cable towards the stem. By flipping the brake levers, you can use the same/original routing and get a very clean setup.
Otherwise, you will have to come up with some weird cable management that will neither look nor be as effective as the original.
It’s subjective, but I think that the upside-down levers are more aesthetically pleasing.
Tips For Lever Installation
- Switch the Levers For Better Alignment
My shifters are old-school (the 80s), and I found out that I get a better alignment between the horns and the brake lever if I switch them and use the original left lever on the right and respectively the right lever on the left.
This switch will, of course, require the full disassembly of the brake cable and housing, but in my case, it was worth it.
- Make sure that the levers allow you to fully grip the horns.
- Route the cable housing along the front part of the handlebars
The cable housing should go on the underside of the bar pointing away from you. The purpose of this choice is to make the bars as comfortable as possible.
If the housing is routed on the inner side, it will create a hump that will dig into your palms and make riding uncomfortable.
Secure the housing with electrical tape at 4 locations and then install the bar tape.
You can re-use the old bar tape provided that it’s in good condition. Mine was a little dirty so I put in the zip pockets of my riding pants and then threw the pants in the washing machine.
This strategy worked very well. The tape came out clean.
Of course, you can also use a laundry bag to isolate the tape and avoid damaging it. (I don’t have such bags, and the pants trick worked just fine.)
The final result looked as follows:
I also added a mirror on one side (hence the missing bar plug).
I install mirrors on all my commuter bikes. A mirror isn’t hot, but it makes the ride safer and allows you to be more fluid in traffic. To me, the sacrifice in aesthetics is totally worth it, especially after you get used to the mirror.
I consider the conversion a total win. Riding in the horns is very comfortable, and the entire procedure didn’t require buying anything new.
I don’t miss the drop bars at all as I rarely used them and they were often hitting me in the legs when pushing the bike.
Moreover, you can still assume a very aerodynamic position by bending while holding the horns.