This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of pista drop bars and regular drop bars in relation to one another.
Pista Drop Bars
Pista drop bars are engineered specifically for track bicycles ridden on a velodrome. They are curved out and down and have a narrower profile than regular road bike drop bars.
The drops are the main riding position.
Drop bars are the standard handlebars found on road bikes. They offer multiple hand positions and aren’t curved out and down as aggressively as pista bars.
Standard drop bars have a flat section used when the rider does not want to be aggressive.
Number of Hand Positions
Pista drop bars have one “official” hand position – the drops. That said, the rider can also put their hands on other sections of the handlebars. The most common choice are the so-called “tops”. This position may cause discomfort due to the aggressive curvature of the bars.
Meanwhile, standard drop bars offer 3 main hand positions – tops, hoods and drops.
The tops position is the least aggressive and puts the rider in an upright stance reducing the stress on the back.
This hand placement is good for casual riding as well as taking an active brake after a sprint. The downside is that the brakes are far away unless the rider is using in-line brake levers.
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 as well as the shifters (if the rider is using brake-shifters such as STI.)
The drops allow the rider to get low and assume a more aerodynamic position.
Drop bars offer 3 main hand positions whereas pista bars have only 1.
Of course, the rider can also grab the curves and the sections near them, but those hand placements aren’t official and thus won’t be comfortable for everyone.
Therefore, drop bars are clear winners when it comes to hand comfort.
Note: It’s possible to add one more hand placement to pista bars by installing either a real set of brake levers or a fake one (dummy).
The average pista drop bars are 37.5cm wide whereas road bike drop bars are at least 40cm.
Standard pista drop bars are made narrower to increase the aerodynamics of the bike. The decreased drag comes at a price – discomfort. For that reason, classic road bike drop bars are a bit wider.
Both pista drop bars and standard drop bars allow the rider to effectively sprint in the drops. However, basic drop bars equipped with brake-levers make it possible to sprint from the hoods too.
Ultimately, it will be difficult to conclude which model is better for sprinting. Most of the time, it comes down to personal preference.
Drop bars are superior for climbing thanks to their extra width (more leverage) and the greater number of hand positions.
Most people will find climbing in the hoods of drop bars more comfortable than doing so in the drops of pista bars.
If the climb isn’t aggressive, it’s also possible to hold the tops and pedal in a lower gear.
Drop bars offer greater riding visibility by encouraging the rider to use the hoods and the tops and thus assume a more vertical angle. Those positions make it easier for the rider to see and be seen.
Conversely, pista drop bars offer a very aggressive default position which makes the rider shorter and thus less visible.
The cyclist’s view is compromised too. When the neck muscles get exhausted from the aero position, the rider starts looking down more frequently to reduce muscle fatigue and numbness. This behavior dilutes the visual information reaching the rider.
Standard drop bars are built for brakes whereas pista drop bars aren’t. Track bikes do not use brakes to save weight and make slowing down in a race group more predictable. The only way to slow down is to resist the rotation of the pedals.
Subsequently, pista drop bars are not designed with brake hoods in mind. This complicates the use of brake-shifters. In some cases, the levers will be accessible only from the drops.
It’s also possible to install brake levers on the top portion of the bars, but this method makes the brakes inaccessible from the drops and limits the rear estate of the handlebars.
Ultimately, standard drop bars are better suited for handbrakes.
Installation of Lights and Other Accessories
The narrowness and the design of pista bars greatly limit the real estate that can be used for mounting accessories such as lights and bike computers.
Road bike drop bars are superior in that regard and give plenty of options. For example, you can install a light and phone holder near the stem and still be able to use the flat part of the bars.
This point is highly subjective, but many people consider pista drop bars more aesthetically pleasing than drop bars when installed on a fixed-gear or a track bike. Truth be told, this is one of the main reasons why pista drop bars are seen on recreational track bikes.
Availability and Price
Road bike drop bars are more popular than pista drop bars. Consequently, the market is fully saturated with all kinds of models. Some are fairly cheap and yet of good quality too.
In different, pista bars are more specialized. Don’t be surprised if you can’t find one at your local bike shop. The price for base models is higher.
|Comparison Points||Pista Drop Bars||Standard Drop Bars|
|Number of Main Hand Positions||1||3|
|Shifters & Brake Levers||Loser||Winner|
|Accessories||Limited Space||Sufficient Space|
Who Are Pista Drop Bars For?
Pista drop bars offer the strongest performance when used on track bikes ridden on the velodrome.
When used on fixed-gear bikes serving as commuters or recreational bikes, pista drop bars show many of their negative sides (poor ergonomics, narrowness…etc.).
That said, people who value aesthetics over looks may still prefer to install them on a fixed-gear bike.
Who Are Drop Bars For?
Standard drop bars are better for riders who seek comfort and efficiency over aesthetics. Unless you’re riding a track bike or want a fixie that looks authentic, you’re better off with drop bars.