What are Mountain Bike Drop Bars and Why Do You Need Them?

The handlebar is one of the most critical components of any bike and your mountain bike is no exception. While there are many different types of bike handlebars, mountain bike drop bars have become pretty trendy. In this article, we explore the questions “what are mountain drop bars?” and “why you need them?”. 

A mountain bike drop bar is a handlebar with ends that are curved downwards and forward or backward, for more hand positions. Use drop bars for their ergonomic benefits, to navigate narrow trails, for more hand positions, to enhance riding efficiency, and to ride at high speeds with less effort.

Mountain bike drop bars are available in different styles and types. It would be a good idea for you to consider all the advantages of MTB drop bars before purchasing them. We also provide a complete guide on how to choose and install drop bars on a mountain bike. Similarly, you might be wondering if you can put drop handlebars on a mountain bike and why you might need them. If so, pop over to our related article for more details.

Mountain Bike Drop Bars Definition & Drop Bar Vocabulary

Out of numerous handlebar options, many mountain bikers opt for bike drop bars. But what exactly are these mountain bike drop handlebars?

A mountain bike drop bar is a type of bike handlebar that has bars that curl down.

Luckily, there are multiple drop-bar types, enabling mountain bikers to choose the best one based on their bike specs and terrain characteristics. 

Common types of drop bars for a mountain bike include compact drop bars, flared drop bars, shallow drop handlebars, aero drop bars, and gravel drop bars.

By selecting the right kind of drop bars for your MTB, you will not only make your ride more enjoyable but also, ensure your safety on the trail. We suggest that you check out our guide on what mountain bike you should buy to see if there isn’t a suitable upgrade before you choose the drop bars that you like.

Below is all that you need to know about different types of drop handlebars and their features. 

1. Compact Drop Bars

A compact drop bar like this is a type of bike handlebar that is shorter than a standard curved drop bar and features a relatively straight shape. Due to its unique design, the lower part of the drop is situated higher up. 

Besides that, compact drops are comprised of shallower bars with a drop ranging between 115 and 140 mm and a reach from 65 to 85 mm. 

Compact drop bars are less aggressive than standard drops, offer multiple hand positions, and are pretty comfortable when riding on different mountain trails. 

Merlin Bikes shares detailed information about compact drop bar shape, width, and features. If you want to learn more about the differences between compact drop bars and standard drop handlebars, check out this comparison video by Zach Gallardo. 

Compact drop bars are very versatile and offer multiple hand positions while riding your mountain bike on various types of trails.
Compact drop bars are shorter, straighter, and shallower than standard drops, offering a lot of comfort and versatility. Image Source: Amazon.

2. Flared Drop Bars 

Flared drop bars like these are handlebars with the drop flared outward from the top of the bar at the bend. While regular drop bars can also be used on mountain bikes, it is recommended to use flared drops as they offer more control over your bike. 

Check out this article, from Bike Components.De, a manufacturer of bicycle components, which shows how flared drop handlebars allow you to easily control your mountain bike when riding on muddy and rocky terrain or on trails with sharp inclines and declines. 

Overall, bike handlebars with flared drops give you the best compromise between aerodynamics and control of the bike. This is why flared drops are considered one of the best options when it comes to mountain bike drop bars.  

Flared drop bars offer the greatest compromise between aerodynamics and control of your mountain bike.
These flared drop bars feature a 24-degree flare, making them ideal for mountain biking on technical terrain. Image Source: Amazon.

3. Shallow Drop Handlebars

As explained in this article by Dave Moulton, who has been designing bicycle frames for decades, shallow drop handlebars like these are regular drop bars with a drop of 125 mm or less, as opposed to deep drop handlebars that have a drop of 128 mm or more. 

While deep drops promote the most aerodynamic position on your mountain bike, drops that are too deep might make it challenging to stay in an upright position when needed.

Shallow drop bars allow you to have a more upright position when riding your mountain bike.
This shallow drop bar features a drop of 105 mm and provides sufficient control over the bike when mountain biking. Image Source: Amazon.

4. Aero Drop Bars 

Your body positioning has the greatest impact on aerodynamics when riding a mountain bike. The easiest way to improve your aerodynamics is to change your body position and simply lean towards the front of your bike. 

Aero drop bars are regular drop handlebars with additional aero bars in the front. By riding with aero bars, you can improve your aerodynamics and increase your riding speed while making riding your mountain bike more enjoyable. 

Typically, aero bars are sold separately and can be attached to different types of drop bars. 

Adding aero bars to your drop handlebars allows you the freedom to have an aerodynamic position as well as an upright position while mountain biking.
Aero bars can be attached to different styles and types of drop handlebars, increasing your aerodynamics when riding a mountain bike. Image Source: Amazon.

5. Gravel Drop Bars

As you may already know, a gravel bike is a bike with drop bars. Therefore, drop handlebars are commonly referred to as gravel drops or gravel drop bars. 

By featuring a wider design with relatively shallow drops, these gravel drop bars improve the overall stability and give mountain bikers more control over the bike. 

Once you get your gravel bars, maybe you can try out some fun gravel events like those described on the Velo Orange blog! 

This gravel drop-bar provides more stability and control over your mountain bike.
Gravel drop handlebars are wider on the drops and feature extra bends, promoting comfort during long rides. Image Source: Amazon.

Common Types of Drop Bars and Their Features

Type of Drop Bar Main Feature Size Weight Product Example from Amazon
Gravel Drop Bar Wider on the drops than at the hoods. Short and shallow.  Width - 420, 440, or 460 mmDrop - 102 mmReach - 76 mm 350 GramsOr0.77 Pounds Ritchey Venturemax
Compact Drop Bar Compact, straight, short, and shallow.  Width - 420/440 mmDrop - 139 mmReach - 80 mm 260 GramsOr 0.57 Pounds Kabon Carbon Fiber Drop Bars
Flared Drop Bar Semi-compact and 14-degree flared.  Width - 400, 420, 440, or 460 mmDrop - 116 mmReach - 68 mm 340 GramsOr 0.75 Pounds Whisky Aluminum Alloy Drop Handlebar
Shallow Drop Handlebar Shallow drops and 20-degree flared bars.  Width - 480 or 520 mmDrop - 105 mmReach - 65 mm 363 GramsOr0.8 Pounds Pnw Components The Coast Gravel Handlebar
Aero Drop Bar Sonic armrest, ergo 10 mm pads, and attachable to different drop bar types.  Width - 124 mm to 290 mm in 18.5 mm steps 560 GramsOr1.2 Pounds Profile Designs Sonic Ergo Aerobar

You also might find interest in our comprehensive guide to mountain bike drop weight and how it affects steering and handling. So be sure to check that out before changing out your handles. Additionally, the more you know about the mountain bike reach calculator, the more informed decision you will make about your handlebars. Make sure to read all about it in our related article.

Advantages of Putting Drop Bars on a Mountain Bike

While you can ride your mountain bike with regular flat bars, attaching drop bars to your MTB could improve your overall riding experience. 

Advantages of using drop bars on a mountain bike include increased aerodynamics and reduced drag resistance, riders can ride for longer distances, easier navigation of narrow trails, leaning forward makes riding up inclines easier, multiple handling positions provide more comfort, and they allow for greater flexibility.

Below are the main advantages of installing drop bars on a mountain bike. 

1. Drop Bars Make Riders Exert Less Energy on the Pedals and Ride Faster

Drop bars are aerodynamic and this plays a crucial role in decreasing the amount of energy you use while riding your bike. The more aerodynamic you are, the faster you ride. Besides that, when riding with drop bars, you need to lower your body position, and cycling this way is energy-efficient. For more information on how muscle fatigue differs for different bicycle designs, take a look at this article from the Journal of Applied Ergonomics.

2. Mountain Bikers Cover Long Distances Riding on Drop Bar Bikes

Since drop bars prevent you from wasting energy, they allow you to cover long distances. The saved energy makes mountain bikers cover a few more miles while spending the same amount of energy as they would when using regular flat handlebars. 

3. Mountain Bikes With Drop Bars Can Navigate Narrow Trails

As most drop handlebars are narrower than regular flat bars, mountain bikes with drop bars allow you to fit your bike through narrow spots and trails. If you typically weave through such trails, using drop bars that are approximately 200 mm narrower than flat bars would be pretty advantageous. 

4. Climbing Hills Is a Lot Easier

Drop bars offer firm gripping positions and provide enhanced control over your mountain bike. The combination of leaning forward, less drag force, and firm handle positioning make it much easier to climb hills on a mountain bike with drop handlebars.  

5. Drop Bars Offer Multiple Handling Positions

Unlike regular flat handlebars, drop bars allow you to position your hands in three different positions, including in the drops, on the bars, or on the hoods. While you will probably spend most time holding the bars in the drops, these extra handling positions come in handy during long rides. You can simply switch your hand position as you ride your mountain bike to feel comfortable and prevent your hands from going numb. If you would like to know where you should hold your mountain bike grips to maintain proper posture, then have a look at our article

6. Adding Drop Bars to a Mountain Bike Makes it Versatile and More Flexible

While drop bars are suitable for mountain biking, they are typically used for road cycling. Hence, installing drop handlebars makes your mountain bike more versatile and flexible. Instead of riding your MTB just on trails, you can use it for road cycling or commuting as well. 

How Do I Choose a Drop Bar for a Mountain Bike?

While putting drop bars on a mountain bike can be beneficial, choosing the right drops for you and your bike is essential. Having the right shape and size of drop handlebars is crucial since you hold them throughout your ride. 

When choosing a drop bar for a mountain bike, check that the handlebar size fits the mountain bike stem and that the width equals the rider’s shoulder width. The height of the bar must be the same as that of the saddle. Ensure that the drop bar has a comfortable grip and that the bar ends have a five to ten-degree downward angle.

Here is what you should consider when shopping for a drop bar for a mountain bike.

1. Check the Handlebar Size to Fit the Mountain Bike Stem

The primary job of your mountain bike stem is to connect the handlebar with the fork steerer tube. Therefore, you should measure the size of your MTB stem and check the diameter of the handlebar at the stem point to ensure that the handlebar is suitable for your bike.  

2. Choose Handlebar Width that Equals the Distance Between the Two Bony Points of the Shoulders

Generally speaking, drop handlebars are around 380 mm to 460 mm wide. To choose the right drop bar width, consider the width of your shoulders. Ideally, the width of your mountain bike handlebar should be the same as the distance between the acromioclavicular (AC) joints of your shoulders. 

Also, keep in mind that wider handlebars offer you more stability while narrower drop bars enhance your aerodynamics. You should choose the drop bar width based on your personal preferences. 

3.  Compare Narrow vs Wide Road Handlebars Based on the Riding Trails

When shopping for drop bars, you should also take into account the type of trail you typically ride your mountain bike on. If you prefer riding through bushy trails, go for narrow drop bars. If you find riding on wider paths more enjoyable, then opt for wide handlebars instead. 

4.  Choose Drop Bars with Comfortable Handling Points

Keeping your hands comfortable throughout the ride is essential, and therefore, you should select a drop bar based on the handling positions it offers. While most drop handlebars offer three handling points, some are more comfortable than others. By considering your body dimensions and preferences, you can choose drop bars that provide you with added comfort. 

5. Check the Angle of Drop Bars to be Either Medium (125-128 mm) or Shallow (125 mm or less)

While handlebars with deep drops (128 mm or more) are favored by road bikers and commuters, they are not quite suitable for mountain biking. When choosing drop bars for an MTB, you should either go for a medium (from 125 mm to 128 mm) or shallow handlebars (125 mm or less). 

Shorter drops allow you to easily switch handling positions without putting too much pressure on your hands, shoulders, hips, or back. When riding a mountain bike with shallow drops, you can reach the controls without any effort at all. 

Although shallow or medium drops are recommended to be used on mountain bikes, you should always consider your height when choosing the angle of drop bars. Generally, taller bikers might require deeper drops to feel comfortable while riding. 

6. Ensure the Height of the Handlebars is Equal to the Height of the Saddle

Last but not least, the handlebar height should always be set up relative to your mountain bike saddle height. Generally speaking, mountain bikers prefer having their saddle height lower or equal to the handlebar height to be able to easily maneuver and control the bike when riding on rough terrain. Keep in mind that you can always adjust the height of your bike saddle to achieve the desired position when riding. For more information, be sure to read our related article explaining how to choose the ideal MTB saddle position for your body.

Common Mountain Bike Drop Bars, Their Sizes, Quality and Handle Length

MTB Drop Bar Width Length(Reach) Height(Drop) Clamp Diameter Material
Bnvb Drop Bar 380 mm, 400 mm, or 420 mm 90 mm 130 mm 25.4 mm Aluminum
Redshift Bike Drop Bar with Endurance Loop 440 mm or 470 mm 70 mm 110 mm 31.8 mm Aluminum 
Upanbike Drop Bar 420 mm 70 mm 154 mm 31.8 mm Aluminum
Ritchey NeoClassic Aluminum Alloy Drop Handlebar 420 mm or 440 mm 73 mm 128 mm 31.8 mm Aluminum

You may also find interest in learning how to choose between mountain bike drop bars vs. flat bars. If so, be sure to check out our related article for more information.

How to Put Drop Bars on a Mountain Bike

Putting drop bars on a mountain bike can be a pretty straightforward task as long as you follow some basic steps and rules. 

To put drop bars on a mountain bike, first, choose the right drop bars, then remove the current handlebars and disconnect any attached cables. Next, attach the new drop bars and assemble the controls. Finally, tape the handlebars for added comfort. 

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to attach drop bars to a mountain bike with little to no effort. 

Step 1. Choose the Right Drop Bars

Before you even start the installation process, you should select the right type, shape, and size of drop-bar for your mountain bike. Instead of opting for a random drop bar you have found online, consider the type of your mountain bike as well as the roughness of terrain you typically ride on.

When choosing drop bars consider the type of mountain bike that you are riding and the type of terrain that you'll be riding on.
Choosing the right drop handlebars based on the type of your MTB and the trail you ride on is key to benefiting from your new bars. Image Source: Road Bike Action.  

Step 2. Remove Old Bars and Disconnect Cables 

The next step is to remove old handlebars. To do so, you should first detach hand brakes and gear shifts attached to the bars. You might need to use an Allen key, like this one, to remove the brackets. Check out our article to know more about the ultimate list of tools needed for mountain bike maintenance.

Next, you should loosen the lock nut that sits on the stem of your bike. An adjustable wrench like this one can come in handy when turning the lock nut counterclockwise. 

Finally, lift the handlebar until it completely detaches from your mountain bike frame. 

Disconnect cables and levers that are attached to your flat bar before trying to detach it from the bike stem.
When replacing mountain bike handlebars, you should always disconnect any cables or levers attached to the bars. Image Source: Unsplash.

Step 3. Install New Drop Bars

To start the installation process, first, apply some grease to the faceplate bolt threads. You can use a thread locker like this as an alternative. You should also lubricate the area of the drop bar that attaches to the stem to prevent unwanted rotation. 

Then, snug the bolts to attach the handlebars to the bike frame but avoid fully tightening them until you ensure that the bar is centered in the stem. Also, adjust the bar positioning based on how you hold the handlebars during the ride.  

Park Tool provides a useful YouTube tutorial on how to remove and install drop handlebars on a mountain bike. 

Lubricate the area of the drop bar that connects to the stem of your mountain bike.
When installing new handlebars on a bike, it is recommended to grease the bolts and the portion of the bar that attaches to the stem. Image Source: Park Tool.

Step 4. Assemble the Levers

To install the levers on your mountain bike drop bars, you should slide them up to the desired position. Next, tighten the bolts just a little bit to be able to adjust the controls and set the height. After ensuring that you can reach the levers with no effort, you can fully tighten the bolts.  

Before tightening the levers on your new mountain bike drop bar make sure that they are in the correct position.
Carefully installing levers on your mountain bike with new drop handlebars is essential for ensuring your safety during the ride. Image Source: Park Tool.

Step 5. Tape the Handlebars

For the final step, you should tape the handlebars so that they feel comfortable when riding your mountain bike. You can use a regular bike handlebar tape, like this, and wrap it around the drop bars. Check out our article about mountain bike grip taping techniques and the different types of tapes available. 

Global Cycling Network shares a YouTube tutorial on how to properly tape your bike handlebars in a few quick and easy steps. 

Make your mountain bike drop bars even more comfortable by taping them up like this.
Taping your mountain bike drop handlebars is key to achieving comfortable hand positioning during the ride. Image Source: Unsplash.

Different Styles of Surly Drop Bars for Mountain Bikes

Since drop bars are typically designed for road bikes, you might need to change your mountain bike shifters, brakes, and sometimes even brake calipers when switching to MTB drop bars. However, some Surly bar styles allow you to keep your brake and shift levers while having drop bars attached to your mountain bike.

Three popular styles of drop bars for mountain bikes are Surly Corner Bar, Surly Moloko Handlebar, and Surly Truck Stop Bar. 

To choose the best Surly drop bar design for your mountain bike, take into consideration your personal preferences and the different mountain trails you typically ride on. 

1. Surly Corner Bar

A Surly Corner Bar is a type of drop bar that allows you to transform your mountain bike into a gravel bike without changing your current flat bar controls. 

Since none of the regular drop bars are fully-compatible with mountain bike shifters, brakes, and brake calipers, trying a drop bar out on your MTB can be pretty expensive. And this is when a Surly Corner Bar comes in handy. 

Although a Surly Corner Bar retails for about $100, it doesn’t require you to spend money on new shifters, brakes, or a new derailleur. So, purchasing a Surly Corner Bar might be the cheapest way to convert your mountain bike flat bar into a drop bar. 

While putting you in a pretty aggressive position and providing a drop-bar feel, a Surly Corner Bar performs well over mixed-terrain. As this corner bar offers exceptional braking leverage and allows you to slow down a bit faster, it is ideal for technical downhill terrain. 

Besides that, a Surly Corner Bar gives you more control over your bike, especially at slower speeds allowing you can climb steep terrain pretty effortlessly. 

This YouTube video by bikepacking.com provides a detailed review of the Surly Corner Bar, its features, pros and cons, and suitability with different mountainous terrains. 

These Surly mountain bike corner bars are drop bars that give you more control over your mountain bike at slower speeds.
The Surly Corner Bar allows you to use your flat bar gear and brake controls. Image Source: BikePacking.

2. Surly Moloko Handlebar

A Surly Moloko Handlebar like this is another drop bar alternative for mountain bikes that cost around $110. Although it is quite similar to the Surly Corner Bar, there are some significant differences to consider before purchasing one of them. 

According to Ride Your Round in this YouTube video, a Surly Moloko Handlebar is reasonably comfortable, and on many occasions, even more so than the Surly Corner Bar. Besides that, this handlebar offers more handling positions, promoting a more relaxed riding experience. It is very common that your hands will get numb or tired during mountain biking with a regular flat handlebar as we explain in our guide on what mountain bike grips to buy for numbness. A Surly Moloko Handlebar allows you to enjoy longer rides because of the different hand placement positions, no matter how rough the terrain is. 

In addition, Surly Moloko Handlebars are wide enough for a mountain bike and enable you to have full control when riding on technical terrain and on muddy trails. 

When it comes to these Surly Moloko Bars you will find that you can ride for longer as these drop bars help to alleviate numbness in your hands.
Surly Moloko Handlebars are versatile in that they allow you to place your hands in many different positions. Image Source: BikePacking.

3. Surly Truck Stop Bar

This Surly Truck Stop Bar is a cheaper alternative to the drop bars mentioned above. Although it is available for only $70, it is not suitable for flat bar controls. Therefore, you will most likely need to spend extra money on brake and shift levers as well as cables to use these handlebars on your MTB. 

If you enjoy riding your mountain bike with drops but need some extra stability, then the Surly Truck Stop Bars could be the right choice for you. The flare on these handlebars is just enough to make your ride more stable.  

While you can use Surly Truck Stop Handlebars when riding your MTB on relatively smooth terrain, these bars might not be suitable for rough or mechanical trails because they will not offer sufficient control over your bike. 

This article on Mountain Road shares everything you need to know about the Surly Truck Stop Bar. 

Surly Truck Stop Bars are suitable drop bars if you will be needing extra stability when riding your mountain bike on smoother terrain.
A Surly Truck Stop Bar does not allow you to use your flat bar controls and will cost you more to install in the long run. Image Source: Journeyman's Adventure Co.

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