‘Cross bike: drop bars or flats?

Hey gang. I’ve been riding a cyclocross bike with drop bars for about a year, and it’s been fun. I’m about to do a real build (good parts and “ideal” setup) on the Mighty S-Works Tricross, and I keep vacillating between drop bars and risers.

I plan to ride paved road, dirt road and a bit of trail. Pros and cons, pros and cons:


Rock a pair or road bars or ‘cross bars with flared drops.


– Lots of hand positions.

– Cruising with hands on the hoods is just so relaxed and neutral.

– Get nice and low in the drops. Haul ass.

– Roadie cred. I teach quite a few roadies, and it’s great to show how the skills apply to drop bars.


– Weak braking. And road levers aren’t conducive to one-finger actuation.

– Narrowness. I know that means better aerodynamics, but air resistance is not my limiting factor (especially at 190 lbs.)

– Longer reach and lower hands. While this feels great when pinning it on the road, my body isn’t used to it, and my shoulders hate it.


Reproduce the feet/butt/hands relationships on the Mighty Stumpjumper — the most neutrally bad ass bike I’ve ridden.


– Full on braaap and control.

– Run some real brake levers and brakes. I’d love discs, but the Tricross doesn’t take ’em. So V-brakes.

– Consistency. I can make the cockpits on my Stumpy and Tricross almost identical. That’ll be easier on my body, and training on one translates directly to the other. (Right now, this second, Jon Watt is getting even faster. I’m not giving up!)

– Baby trailer! An upright position and real brakes seem like a good idea. And I want The Girls to know daddy is a mountain biker.

– Bar ends! I have some original-issue Onzas, and they want action!


– Not as varied and aero on longer road adventures. Unless I get clever with the bar ends.

– Not really a road/cross bike. More like a 29er with skinny tires. And a carbon frame/fork.

– Lack of roadie cred. Is that a con?

What to do, what to do

I’m sure you folks have some thoughts. Fire away!

— Lee

Know more. Have more fun!

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15 replies
  1. dblspeed says:

    I’d go with drops on the cx and leave flats\risers to the mtb.

    Besides the sports car like handling that I get when I’m in the drops, it’s been beneficial and fun to get used to a whole different position on cx (ss tricross) compared to the mtb.

  2. Clinton says:

    I say stay with the drops. I don’t give a damn about roadie respect but for road and even dirt path/light trail riding drops are just more comfortable and the position is just more natural. If you want a more mountainish position then I’d recommend a higher stack, shorter stem combo with something like a Salsa Bell Lap bar or if you don’t mind ditching the brifters then a dirt drop like the On-One Midge with bar-end shifters might be a good setup. I don’t think STIs work well with my Midges because STIs are really designed more for primary use from the hoods than the drops and dirt-drops put you primarily in the drops most of the time with the hoods as an option.

    Good cantis or mini-vs set up right can easily skid the rear wheel and provide a hell of a scary fast stop from the front wheel so I just don’t see the disadvantage. There’s definitely a bit a black voodoo brake magic in an awesome canti setup that doesn’t squeel or shudder while still providing over-the-bar superman capable braking but it can be done. Sheldon Brown’s excellent but cryptic treatise on the subject is a good starting point (that you’ve probably already read).

  3. dan says:

    risers – the main advantage of drops is lowered wind resistance…and you said that’s not your limiter – so I see no strong advantage to drops. OTH you should’ve figured out how to ride risers by now and there is a lot to say about consistency across platforms.

    I’m guessing, but I think you’ve got enough gear lieing around you can always switch.

  4. vapor says:

    A handful of my friends have been shredding with risers or flat bars. They have a blast airing it out http://www.dmroth.com/xcross_09/rainier/photos/photo49.html and drifting moto style. They are all on single speeds so their bikes have a bmx look.

    I used to race in the A category and was competitive on a mtb one year. Really, if it’s not muddy, a mtb is hardly slower, though there were races where I suffered getting stuck alone in the wind. The drop bars can yield a big aero advantage and they are what is on my cross bike. I ride road bikes so i’m used to the drops.

    You didn’t mention racing, where there is some consideration as to what the sanctioning body allows, so I guess it’s your free choice. If you’re going to ride lots of distance on the road, the drop bars will be more comfortable and faster in a fun way. Dirt roads are fun with drop bars, but trails will always be more fun with risers. Cross bike are awesome kung fu practice on the trails. The reason I pointed out my experience racing is that going too far with risers and big tires is just a rigid 29er, while a 26″ hardtail xc bike (with squishy fork!) is hardly slower than a real cross bike, so why not just ride the way more trail worthy mtb?.

    Rambling on…You need a rigid 29er and a cross bike with drop bars! As well as a road bike and a hardtail xc 😉 Maybe try your cross bike with some risers before you decide what the ultimate build would be. You’ll know which one is best for how you’re using the bike and where you ride it.

  5. vapor says:

    Rambled on so much I forgot…

    Pulling the babies in the trailer… doesn’t matter. The trailer doesn’t act in a way that more leverage at the bars would help. Info graphic?;) If the ultimate build is going to be the trailer puller, consider a mtb cassette if you need to go up long steep hills. V brakes are nice, but we’ve been keeping the speed in check and the cantis are more than enough. Way below the kung fu level, just slow and steady premeditated braking. Consider mini v’s if the ultimate ends up with drops.

  6. MW says:

    I seam to rember Lopes owning it at a CX race with risers. Hoping all the gates and ripping the corners. The thought of a mud fest and drops is…..interesting.

  7. Will says:

    I personally wouldn’t want to give people the option of saying “That guy wouldn’t be taking corners that unbelievably fast if he were on drop bars.”

    Just sayin…

  8. Davis says:

    You could use top levers on drop bars. It would let you get your weight back in the steeps and basically mimick a mtb position. That’s what JHK ran at Valmont and it looked the the best of both worlds.

  9. cycloscott says:

    Cross bike + risers = 29er.
    And people actually think the whole 29er thing is new?

    You already know my opinion. 😉 Drops all the way. Get a WTB Dirt Drop bar and channel your inner Tomac.

  10. Jeff says:

    I’ve been using a 1/2″ riser bar on my Tricross with 2×10 sram flat bar shifters. The only noticed dis advantage is for longer rides, I would like another hand position. I like having the mtb. feel when racing cx or just riding, steering is much better, I can’t get a bike to drift with a drop bar.

  11. Sean says:

    You can use drop bars and v-brakes, Lee. Tektro makes a road lever that pulls enough cable to run v-brakes. Cane Creek sells a re-badged version also.

    I have v-brakes on my cross bike and I can brake with one finger riding singletrack downhill at a good clip.

  12. Petey says:

    46cm drops.

    Think Harkins Ridge, in the rain.

    Tops positioned about 2cm back from your typical cross country position.

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