Drop Bars vs. Riser Bars (Comparison & Analysis)

This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of drop bars and riser bars.

Pista Drop on a Fixie

Drop Bars

Drop bars are road bikes’ default handlebars. They provide multiple hand positions and allow the rider to get low by grabbing the drops and assuming a horizontal back angle.

Note: Drop bars are not the same as Pista drops. You can find the dissimilarities between the two here.

(Nonetheless, the differences between Pista drops and risers are similar to those between regular drops and risers.)


Risers

Riser handlebars are fundamentally flat bars with an elevation achieved via an upward curve in the middle. Hence the name “risers” (they raise the rider’s hands).

The rise could be subtle (low rise) or more aggressive (high rise) depending on the riding style and the cyclist’s preferences.

Basic Riser Handlebars

Hand Placements

Drop bars offer 3 “official” hand placements and a few “in-between”.

The main ones are:

  • Tops/Flat (designed for calm and relaxed riding and when the rider’s back needs a rest from the aero positions).
  • Hoods. The brake levers of road bikes are installed on the upper curves of the handlebars and provide a hand position known as “the hoods”. The hoods are the main hand placement for bikes relying on standard drop bars because they give quick access to the brakes and the shifters.
  • Drops. The drops allow the rider to get low and assume a more aerodynamic position. The brakes can be accessed from the drops too.

Meanwhile, riser handlebars offer 1 official hand placement – the grip ends. It’s also possible to put your hand on the curvature when riding slowly and in a calm environment. This position artificially makes your arms longer and offers a more vertical back angle.

The downside is that you lose leverage against the fork and cannot react quickly and act aggressively. Hence the recommendation is to use this setup only when riding casually.

Winner: Drop Bars

Aerodynamics

Drop bars allow the rider to assume a maximally horizontal back angle and reduce the drag created by the torso. Also, the drops lower the center of gravity and make the bike more stable.

Riser bars are the exact opposite – they make the back angle more vertical and increase drag. For that reason, you will never see them on a bike built solely for speed.

Some riders try to assume an aero position with riser bars by leaning forward, but this practice is a compromise and makes you unstable.

If speed is the goal, drops win.

That said, the more vertical back angle of risers has an important positive side – it reduces the strain on the lower back and the hamstrings.

Winner: Drop Bars

Weight Comparison

The next table compares the weights of drop and riser bars.

Drop BarsWeight In GramsWeight In OuncesRiser BarsWeight In GramsWeight In Ounces
Syncros Creston SL Compact175g6.17ozTruvativ Hussefelt 40390g13.76oz
Newmen Advanced 318.0 Wing Bar230g8.113ozOneUp Components225g7.94oz
Nitto B135AA Randonneur Drop Bar315g11.11ozEvelnine Race267g9.42oz
Nitto M186 STI Racing Drop Bar315g11.11ozRenthal Fatbar Lite 270g9.52oz
Salsa Cowbell Deluxe281g9.91ozSixpack Racing Millenium228g8.04oz
Thomson Dirt Drop 31.8 290g10.23oz SQLAB 3OX335g11.82oz
Specialized Short Reach Bar 310g10.93ozNEWMEN Advanced235g8.29oz
Easton EA70 AX Flare Aluminium 290g10.23oz BEAST Components IR 35220g7.76oz
Control Tech One305g10.78ozPRO LT Low Rise346g12.20oz
Bontrager Pro IsoCore VR-SF245g8.64ozTruvativ Atmos 7k250g8.82oz
Average:275.6g9.72gAverage:275.6g9.72oz
Weight Comparison

Ironically, the average weight of the models that I chose for the database ended up identical – 275.6g/9.72oz

However, the indicated riser bar’s weights are for the uncut/long versions. Once the user cuts the bars to their preferred length, the weights will drop by a few grams.

Thus, one can say that on average risers are expected to be lighter, primarily due to the absence of drops.

The difference is extremely small and has no impact on performance. It would matter only if one wants to build the lightest possible bicycle.

Winner: Tie

Brake Lever Positions (from comfort perspective)

Drop bars offer three brake positions

  • On the hoods (the classic position that can be accessed from both the hoods and the drops).
  • On the flat/tops (not very common and used by alternative setups and fixies occasionally)
  • Hooded brakes + inline brakes (normal brakes on the hoods combined with small levers on the tops)

The first option makes the most sense as it’s quite comfortable and light. The only downside is that you can’t access the brakes when riding in the tops which is the issue that inline levers address.

However, the additional levers on the tops add clutter and weight to the bike and hurt its aesthetics.


Riser handlebars have a single position for the brake levers – on the ends.

Winner: Tie

Visibility of the Rider

Riser bars result in a more vertical back angle making the rider more visible. Technically, a similar effect can be achieved by riding on the tops of drop bars.

But the aero positions on the hoods or the drops render the back angle more horizontal. As a result, the rider becomes “shorter” and less visible in traffic.

Winner: Risers

Climbing

Drop bars with hoods are better climbers for the following reasons:

  • The rider can position more of their weight on the front wheel and thus free the rear end. This is beneficial for climbing efficiently.
  • The hoods offer a decent amount of leverage when riding outside of the saddle.

Riser bars are not the worst for climbing, but they certainly aren’t better than drop bars. Moreover, they do not allow the rider to shift the center of gravity closer to the front wheel as effectively.

Winner: Drop Bars

Descending

Drop bars are made for fast descents. They allow the rider to tuck in and get as aero as possible. If the goal is fast and efficient descending, drop bars are just unbeatable.

Riser bars are not ideal for descending as they keep the center of gravity high and don’t provide a safe way to assume an aero position.

Winner: Drop Bars

Sprinting

Wide risers offer a lot of leverage and are therefore effective for short high-effort pedaling.

However, drop bars are good for sprinting too, and give the rider two options – hoods and drops.

Sprinting on the hoods is more comfortable and offers additional leverage. Sprinting on the drops is super aggressive and aero. Tour De France riders do it when a sprint can decide a race.

Winner: Drop Bars

Tricks

Riser handlebars win this point. They make every trick easier thanks to the more vertical back angle and the control that they offer. If you plan on doing manuals, bunny hops, wheelies…etc. risers are the way to go.

Some tricks such as bar spins are not even possible with drop bars (the drops would hit the frame).

Winner: Riser Bars

Clearance

The width of most drop bars ranges between 400mm and 440mm. Meanwhile, risers are designed to be cut according to the rider’s preferences.

Longer risers (e.g., 600mm+) offer more leverage and control but increase the bike’s profile and reduce clearance – a negative when riding in heavy traffic.

In the past, fixie riders were cutting their flat or riser bars ultra-short to make the bike extremely thin and capable of passing through tight spaces.

The disadvantage of this approach is that you lose leverage and stability due to the short lever arm. Turning aggressively and climbing get harder too.

Today, most fixie riders leave the risers fairly long, usually wider than a set of drop bars.

Winner: Drop bars

Front Rack and Basket Compatability

Both types of handlebars can accept a front rack or a basket, but drop bars have a major downside – the drops prohibit the user from placing wide objects on the rack. There’s also a greater chance that the cargo will interfere with the brake levers.

Risers are behind the rack and don’t create the same issues. If you plan on transporting wide objects, risers are the way to go

Winner: Risers

Availability

Both styles are fairly common and available in large quantities. That said, risers enjoy greater popularity as they are seen on more bicycle models (MTB, hybrids…etc.)

Winner: Risers

Table Summary

ParametersDrop BarsRisers
Hand PlacementsWinnerLoser
AerodynamicsWinnerLoser
WeightTieTie
BrakingTieTie
Visibility of the RiderLoserWinner
ClimbingWinnerLoser
DescendingWinnerLoser
SprintingWinnerLoser
Front Rack CompatibilityLoserWinner
AvailabilityLoserWinner
5 wins3 wins
Table Summary

What to choose?

Drop bars have two major advantages – speed and comfort.

The advantages of risers on the other hand are – tricks and great front rack compatability.

If you are after faster times and/or longer riders, drop bars win. If you want to do freestyle tricks, risers are the natural choice.

If you want to transport large objects via a front rack, risers win again.

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