Flat Bar Gravel Bike vs Drop Bar Gravel Bike

Imagine yourself on a picturesque trail, pedaling your heart out, feeling the adrenaline rush as you conquer rocky terrains, sprint through lush rolling hills, and tackle challenging descents.

The only thing constant in your adventure is the unwavering sense of freedom, and the companion making this possible – your trusty gravel bike. But wait, did you choose the right handlebar type?

If you’ve found yourself caught in the great debate of Flat Bar versus Drop Bar Gravel Bikes, then you’re in the right place.

Join us as we dive deep into the world of versatile cycling machines, compare the merits of these two popular handlebar designs, and help you make an informed decision for your next great escape. So, buckle up for an exhilarating ride, because, in the end, it’s all about choosing the right steed that promises the ultimate off-road immersion!

Introduction to gravel bike handlebars

Gravel biking has gained immense popularity among cycling enthusiasts, thanks to the versatility and freedom these bikes offer. Long, adventurous rides through varying terrains are a common characteristic of gravel biking, making comfort a top priority.

One key aspect that contributes to riders’ comfort is the type of handlebar on the bike. Gravel bikes predominantly feature two popular types of handlebars – flat bars and drop bars.

Flat bars, borrowed from mountain bikes, provide an upright riding position that reduces strain on arms, back, and core. They offer superior handling and control on rough and technical terrains.

Drop bars, which originated from road bikes, are characterized by their curved design, allowing for multiple hand positions for increased palm and forearm comfort, as well as improved aerodynamics.

The choice between flat bars and drop bars depends on various factors such as personal preferences, riding style, terrain, and the importance of aerodynamics. While both handlebar types have their own set of advantages and disadvantages, the ultimate decision lies in the hands of the individual rider.

It’s essential to understand the role of handlebars in your gravel biking experience to make an informed decision for optimal fit and comfort. 

Importance of comfort for long gravel rides

When embarking on extended gravel rides, prioritizing comfort is essential for riders to fully enjoy and endure the journey.

Gravel biking often consists of traversing challenging terrains, such as uneven surfaces and rocky trails, which can intensify minor discomforts and detract from the overall riding experience.

Ensuring a comfortable ride involves selecting the appropriate handlebar design to optimize bike fit and control.

The two most prevalent handlebar types for gravel bikes are flat bars and drop bars, each offering distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Flat bars provide a more upright riding position, similar to mountain bikes, alleviating strain on the arms, back, and core for most riders. This design also improves handling on rough and technical terrains, making it an ideal choice for off-road enthusiasts.

On the other hand, drop bars allow riders to assume a more aggressive, aerodynamic posture that can benefit those who are able to maintain faster speeds, such as in racing scenarios (>15 mph).

The choice between flat and drop bars ultimately depends on individual preferences, priorities, and riding styles. By prioritizing comfort, riders can ensure a more enjoyable and sustained journey, allowing them to fully appreciate the unique challenges and beauties of gravel riding

Two most common types of handlebars for gravel bikes

When it comes to gravel biking, comfort and control are the top priorities for riders exploring off-road trails and uneven terrains. Among the various factors to consider for optimal bike fitting, the type of handlebar used can make a significant difference in the overall biking experience.

Gravel bikes typically feature two common types of handlebars: drop bars and flat bars.

Drop bars, inherited from road bikes, are an excellent choice for riders who value aerodynamics, classic bike aesthetics, and maintaining faster average speeds. These curved bars offer multiple grip positions, providing better palm and forearm comfort during long rides.

However, drop bars may not offer the best handling and control on rough and technical terrain and might have limited space for bar-mounted accessories.

On the other hand, flat bars provide a more upright riding position, similar to mountain bikes, resulting in better comfort and improved off-road handling. These handlebars also make it easier to replace cables and components, as well as offering more space for lights, cycling computers, and navigation devices.

The main downside of flat bars is their limited hand positioning options and reduced aerodynamic efficiency at faster speeds.

Ultimately, the choice between drop bars and flat bars depends on individual preferences, riding styles, and the specific terrain that the gravel rider plans to explore. No matter the choice, both handlebar options offer unique advantages to enhance the gravel biking experience.

Evolution of gravel bike handlebars

Over the years, gravel bike handlebars have undergone a significant transformation, adapting to the varying demands of riders who seek comfort, efficiency, and control on rough terrains.

In the early days, gravel bikes inherited drop bars from their road bike counterparts, offering riders multiple hand positions, increased aerodynamics, and a classic look. However, as gravel biking gained popularity, the need for more versatile and comfortable handlebars grew.

Enter the flat bars, which started to influence the design of modern gravel bikes. Flat bars, commonly seen on mountain bikes, provide an upright riding position, offering riders enhanced control and handling on technical terrains.

With more space for mounting accessories and easier cable replacement, flat bars have become an attractive alternative to drop bars for many gravel riders.

In the ongoing quest for versatility and performance, unique handlebar designs have emerged, such as Canyon’s multi-level handlebars on their gravel bikes.

Moreover, many bike manufacturers have started offering both drop bar and flat bar options from factory, allowing riders to choose a handlebar type that best suits their riding style and preferences.

Today, the gravel biking community enjoys a diverse range of handlebar choices, from narrow drop bars and gravel-specific wide and flared bars to flat bars and beyond.

This evolution reflects the growing importance of comfort and customization in the gravel biking world, empowering riders to make the most of their off-road adventures. 

Pros of drop bar gravel bikes

Drop bar gravel bikes offer numerous advantages for riders who enjoy cycling on mixed terrain. One of the primary benefits of such bikes is their versatility.

Thanks to the unique design of drop handlebars, riders can easily switch between various hand positions to accommodate changes in speed, terrain, and riding conditions.

This flexibility allows cyclists to maintain a comfortable and efficient grip on the handlebars during long rides, reducing hand fatigue and discomfort.

Additionally, drop bar gravel bikes typically provide better aerodynamics than their flat bar counterparts. The lower hand position on drop bars reduces wind resistance, enabling riders to achieve faster speeds and maintain a more streamlined riding posture.

This aerodynamic advantage is particularly beneficial when riding into headwinds or when cyclists need to conserve energy during long-distance rides.

Drop bar gravel bikes also offer improved control and handling, thanks to the additional leverage provided by the drop bars. This greater leverage allows riders to easily maneuver their bikes in challenging off-road conditions, such as loose gravel, mud, and rocky terrains.

Moreover, drop bar bikes usually come equipped with powerful disc brakes, which provide consistent stopping power regardless of the weather conditions, boosting riders’ confidence and safety.

In summary, drop bar gravel bikes offer increased versatility, better aerodynamics, and improved control and handling, making them an excellent choice for cyclists who value comfort and performance on varied terrain.

Cons of drop bar gravel bikes

Despite their popularity and classic appearance, drop bar gravel bikes come with certain disadvantages that riders should be aware of before making a decision.

Firstly, they can compromise handling and control when navigating rough and technical terrain, as they provide less grip and leverage compared to flat bars. This can potentially make the ride less stable and more challenging for those who are less experienced in off-road cycling.

Additionally, drop bars have less space for mounting accessories such as lights, cycling computers, and navigation devices since most of the available space is taken up by the brake hoods and gear shifters.

Moreover, replacing cables and components on a drop bar gravel bike can be more difficult, as it requires unwrapping and re-wrapping the handlebar tape, which can be a time-consuming and tedious process.

Drop bar bikes also have less leverage at the brake levers, which can be somewhat problematic in emergency stopping situations.

Lastly, drop bars may not be suitable for riders who prefer a more upright riding position, as they can place extra strain on the arms, back, and core.

Overall, while drop bar gravel bikes offer certain benefits for gravel riding, it’s important to consider these cons and evaluate one’s priorities and preferences before making a final choice.

Pros of flat bar gravel bikes

Gravel biking has gained immense popularity in recent years, and one crucial aspect that contributes to the overall biking experience is the type of handlebar used.

Flat bar gravel bikes are acquiring a dedicated fan base due to the numerous advantages they offer. Let’s explore the top seven pros of flat bar gravel bikes:

Enhanced Comfort

A more upright riding position results in less strain on the arms, back, and core, ensuring comfortable rides even on rough terrains.

Superior Control

Flat bars provide better handling and control on off-road terrain and technical sections, making them a popular choice among adventure seekers.

Convenient Maintenance

Replacing cables and bar-mounted components is easier with flat bars, as there is no need to unwrap and re-wrap handlebar tape.

Space for Accessories

Flat bars offer more room for mounting cycling accessories such as lights, cycling computers, and navigation devices, making them ideal for long-distance riders or bikepackers.

Better Braking

Flat bars provide increased leverage at the brake levers, which can be particularly useful in emergency stopping situations.


Flat bar components are generally more affordable, making them an excellent option for budget-conscious riders.


Flat bar gravel bikes strike the perfect balance between the features of a road bike and a mountain bike, offering a versatile riding experience on various terrains.

Cons of flat bar gravel bikes

Although flat bar gravel bikes provide an upright riding position and enhanced comfort, they are not without their drawbacks. Here are the main cons of opting for a flat bar gravel bike:

Limited hand positions

Unlike drop bar bikes, flat bar bikes offer limited options for hand placement, reducing long-distance comfort and versatility.

Less aerodynamic

The upright riding position of flat bar gravel bikes increases air resistance, leading to decreased efficiency and speed, especially when riding against headwinds or at high speeds.

Aesthetic appeal

While this point is subjective, some riders may feel that flat bar bikes lack the sleek, stylish look of drop bar bikes, which could impact their decision.

Less suited for road riding

Flat bar bikes are better suited for rough off-road terrains, but may not perform as well on smooth roads as drop bar bikes.

Reduced climbing efficiency

The position offered by drop bars is advantageous when climbing hills, providing better power transfer and leverage. Flat bar bikes do not have the same advantage in this regard.

Accessory space

Flat bar bikes may have more space for accessories, but the options available for mounting them might not be as varied or secure as those for drop bars.

Features and pricing

As the market for drop bar gravel bikes is larger, there are more features and options available, usually at more competitive prices than flat bar bikes.

Longer reach

With a wider grip, flat bar gravel bikes may not be suitable for riders with shorter arms, requiring additional modifications or adjustments for comfortable reach. 

Other handlebar options for gravel bikes

Gravel biking has grown immensely in popularity, leading to innovations and unique designs to cater to every rider’s preferences.

While drop bars and flat bars tend to be the most common choices for gravel bike handlebars, there are alternative options available for those seeking a different experience.

One such option is the flared drop bar, which combines the benefits of both traditional drop bars and flat bars, offering better control and stability while maintaining the aerodynamic advantages.

They have a wider flare at the drops for improved leverage and handling, particularly on challenging terrain.

Another option is the bullhorn handlebar, which features a straight section in the middle and then curves upward and back towards the rider.

This design provides multiple hand positions similar to drop bars and is often considered more comfortable for riders who do not like the deep drop of traditional drop bars.

Some riders also prefer the “dirt drop” handlebar, which has a shallower drop and a more pronounced flare, providing enhanced control and comfort on off-road adventures.

Conclusion and considerations for choosing a handlebar type

In conclusion, the choice between a flat bar and a drop bar gravel bike largely depends on your preferences, riding style, and intended use. Both handlebar types have their own set of advantages and drawbacks, so it’s essential to consider these factors while making a decision.

For riders who prioritize aerodynamics, speed, and versatility in hand positions, drop bars may be the more suitable choice.

These handlebars are often preferred by seasoned cyclists with a background in road biking or those who participate in gravel races.

On the other hand, flat bars are more suitable for riders who value a comfortable, upright riding position and enhanced control on rough terrains, similar to what is experienced on a mountain bike.

When choosing a handlebar type, think about the type of terrain you are likely to encounter, your average cycling speed, and how much time you plan to spend on the bike.

You should also take into account your personal comfort, core strength, and flexibility, as these factors will impact your overall cycling experience.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong handlebar type for gravel biking; it all comes down to finding the best fit for your individual needs and preferences.

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