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AASQ #5: Flat bar road bikes, fat bike top tubes, and MTB to road conversions

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Ask A Stupid Question - ask Bikerumor your bicycle maintenance and tech questions and we'll find the answer

We know, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. But there are definitely some questions too embarrassing to ask your local shop or riding buddies. This is the first in a weekly installment where we get to the bottom of your questions – serious or otherwise. 

M wants to know, Can a flat bar road bike be as fast as a bike with drops? Where do drop bars give the most advantage?

Given the same bike with the same fit, a more upright position (a flat bar) will be less aerodynamic and therefor slower. It is possible to set up your flat bar in a way that is faster and more aero, but the benefit of a drop bar is that you get multiple hand positions that allow you to have a very aero position along with more comfortable upright positions. There’s more to the equation such as bar width and frontal aero footprint, but for the most part the advantage of drop bars is probably more about comfort than speed. But being comfortable over a long ride will ultimately make you faster.

Z asks – Why are there only a few fat bikes that have a low top tube/low standover height? What kind of moron designs a fat bike frame with the top tube positioned high enough to guarantee a nad smasher every time you put your foot down in the powder?

That’s a legitimate concern when it comes to fat bike design. A lot of it likely boils down to tube shapes and trying to meet certain geometry constraints, but recently there has been a lot of focus on frame bag fitment as well. Many fat bikes are designed as backcountry race or exploration machines, so companies have been trying to allow them to fit the biggest frame bags possible inside the front triangle. Then there’s also the likelyhood that it simply comes down to looks and certain frame designers put more emphasis on aesthetics than the ability to straddle the top tube when the bike is on packed snow but your foot is in powder.

Dan writes – What am I missing, if I convert a mtb to road tires, compared to a dedicated road bike, if I’m going to just join club road rides? What kind of stereotypes am I going to have to overcome to be treated more equally if I show up on one?

See above for the debate on flat bar vs. drop bars, but there’s a lot more at play. Putting slicks on an MTB is a great way to dabble in road riding but if you plan on doing it on a regular basis a dedicated bike will be more enjoyable. Slick road tires for a mountain bike wheel will often be lower profile than the knobby tires which lowers the bottom bracket and decreases pedal clearance on corners. Also, the geometry on a mountain bike is most often more upright and slacker than a road bike which just means you’ll be working harder and have a bike that doesn’t handle as quickly on the pavement.

As for how you’ll be treated if you show up on one? I’d hope that you could join your local club on just about any bike without being ostracized, but honestly that all depends on the riders you’re trying to join. Many cities have groups that welcome any riders without judgement, but there are definitely those out there that would likely turn up their nose at a converted MTB for a group ride. But if you have the legs, some times it can be very satisfying to best “serious” riders on an “inferior” bike.

Got a question of your own?  Click here to use the AASQ form, or find the link under the Contact menu header up top anytime a question pops into your mind!

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David
David
7 years ago

Follow up for Dan, I did the same for a friend. Unfortunately, his mountain bike had such low gearing that even if he was accepted, he couldn’t pedal must past 15 miles per hour. Of course, he could change cranks/chainrings but that’s even more money that he could spend on a road bike that doesn’t weigh 30 pounds.

Tim
Tim
7 years ago
Reply to  David

Was he stuck in the granny ring on a 26er?

On my 1×11 29er MTB I have the gearing to do 25 mph without having to pedal above 100rpm. I don’t disagree that a road bike is the better tool for the job but if you have an XC bike with a double (or triple) up front you should have the gears to keep up on a road ride as long as they aren’t descending any big hills.

fred
fred
7 years ago

One can certainly ride a mountain bike on a normal group road ride, even with knobbies. Seen it, done it, etc. If you have some weird gearing restraint then it will probably suck or you will get dropped, but otherwise just pedal hard and draft. From a social stand point, you obviously wont fit in, but if you can keep up it will be kind of hard for them to trash talk you. If you end up enjoying road riding best get a road/cross/gravel bike for the long run!

Pete
Pete
7 years ago

Regardless of what we ride, the only issue for the majority of us on a group ride is: at what point will you get dropped? I say if you’re always on the front of your group road rides, use a mtb once in a while to get back to the mental struggles that a novice feels.

Tomi
Tomi
7 years ago

Wide flat bar may not be very convenient for group rides as it would force the rider to be shifted from the paceline and hit a bit more wind. A single chainring setup might not be ideal if you want to switch from road and propoer MTB

There are a lot of people riding on the road on MTB. It might help to swap the stem for one that lower the handlebar a bit but beware of doing too many modifications because it will make it unsuitable to use it offroad again and you might end up spending more money than buying a second hand road bike. If you look at the second hand market you can find some 10-15y old high end road bikes for less than 200usd/€ that would do the job better. Unless there is space constraint buying a second bike would be the better option.

As for the reaction of other riders in a group ride, the road biking world is not the most open/welcoming one.

preston
preston
7 years ago

I ride a flat bar road bike and I love it. I’m mostly urban and it gives me the confidence to bunnyhop obstacles and otherwise ride very aggressive in a way that I can’t do on drop bars. I used to road ride a converted mountain bike too and wondered how much difference it would make. It made a huge difference ! So much faster and funner to ride.

Ryan
Ryan
7 years ago

Something completely skipped by the author regarding “where do flat bars give the most benefit?”

As established, they give no speed benefit. It’s also true that there are less hand positions, thus on longer rides may not be as comfortable as a drop bar. However, as someone who has owned a couple different flat bar road bikes at some point in time, they are a total blast to ride as commuter bikes. More of an upright position (flat bars will sit ~100mm closer to you than drop bars on the same stem). More control, and a more natural riding position are all benefits you’ll find. Add into the mix the fact that you’re still on road bike geometry, not say hybrid or MTB geometry, and they’re fast little machines to zip around town on. I tend to think anyone who is considering flat bars on a road bike is less worried about aerodynamics. Additionally, I’ve helped several friends convert their old clunker steel bikes with downtube shifters and sketchy suicide brake levers to a drop bar setup with MTB brake levers, it is a night and day difference in braking power (even with the old calipers) simply due to the increased cable pull.

In short: If you want a more confident (and I personally feel that it is more comfortable) ride on your road bike than what the drop bars are offering, flat bars are a totally viable option. On a bike with downtube shifters it can be done for less than 50 bucks.

mudrock
7 years ago

You’re answer to M is incomplete. The aero benefit to drop bars is only part of the advantage. A more bent over position uses more of your muscles in the pedal stroke – the glutes and back are utilized more with drop bars. Riders naturally want to “get low” when they pedal harder.

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

“Given the same bike with the same fit, a more upright position “

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