Bike handlebar reach and drop is the cornerstone for a well-done bike fit and will have a great impact on your overall performance.
Having a comfortable position should be your priority above all, pain and discomfort in the upper body are caused mainly by a poor reach position
In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know: from basic concepts, the best angles for every position to how to choose a new one if you need to.
I spent countless hours researching and speaking with professionals to create this simple guide to understand how to perform a bike fit and here we are on the last step!
But not so fast! Before you go ahead on tweaking your handlebar, make sure you have spot-on these first:
These settings will influence directly your proper bike reach and you should not change them when performing it.
They are? Let’s ride on!
- What is bike reach and drop?
- What is handlebar reach and drop?
- The best position for road and gravel bikes
- Angles, angles, angles!
- Warning Symptoms of a bad bike handlebar reach and drop position
- How to choose the right handlebar
- The finish line
What is bike reach and drop?
Bike reach is the horizontal distance starting from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the top handlebar tube. The drop is the height between the top of the seatpost head and the top handlebar tube.
Your optimal reach will be guided by getting right the previous steps of fitting your bike and your flexibility will play a major role in how low you can be on the drops and the distance of your reach.
Bike reach can be increased or decreased by rotating the handlebar, hood position, changing the length/inclination of the stem, and handlebar reach.
What is handlebar reach and drop?
Two parts contribute to the bike reach, the first is the stem length, and the second is the handlebar reach. Both of them are available in different sizes and are simple to change and install.
Handlebar reach is measured from the center of the connection with the stem and to the handlebar’s furthest point. The drop is measured from the highest to the lowest points of the handlebar.
They say that an image speaks better than a thousand words, and they are right!
The best position for road and gravel bikes
Arms, Shoulders and Elbow position
If you hate geometry you are going to start loving it, because angles play a major role in a good handlebar reach and drop position and most importantly in comfort and performance.
Let’s check the best angles for each part of the upper body.
- Arms: The upper arms should be between 85° and 90° in relation to your torso.
- Shoulders: They should be relaxed without hunching or rolling forward.
- Elbows: They should have a small bend of around 15°.
Signs of your position or your bike handlebar reach and drop being wrong are that you’ll have straight arms and hunched shoulders.
It is tempting to move your bike seat position but it is a bad solution as it will mess up all of your bike fit. The best solution is to change your stem or handlebars for shorter ones.
These are the angles when riding in a normal position and obviously, they change when shifting your posture to a more aerodynamic one or when time-trailing.
Let’s talk about them after checking the hand’s position.
Perfect Hands Position
The best hand position is having a natural wrist position and as simple as it sounds, a lot of people get it wrong, either for aesthetics, bad handlebar rotation, and/or hood placement.
The handlebar rotation is the first thing you need to adjust to match your natural wrist position and then place the hood to be comfortably reachable in the same position.
The hood tilt is also an important factor, they do not need to be in line with the drops, you can point them on the inside or the outside.
Hoods when placed in line with the drops give most people an anti-natural hand position, the solution is to place them pointing a bit inwards.
Having a good hand position will give you better aerodynamics on the drops and comfort on the top.
If you catch yourself avoiding the drops and hoods all the time it can be that your saddle position is very wrong or your stem and handlebars are too long.
Angles, angles, angles!
What is the best angle on the hoods?
The torso angle on the hoods will depend on your flexibility and if you are looking for aerodynamics for more speed or comfort for long-distance riding.
The recommended angle for the torso is between 40° and 50°, the benefit of having a looser torso angle position is that pressure will be reduced from the neck, hamstrings, and lower back.
What is the best angle on the drops?
Depending on your bike handlebar drop size, the angle will vary but normally it is between 30° to 40° or 10° less than the angle in the hoods.
What is the minimum angle for Time Trial and Triathlon bikes?
The curvature of the back due to the low angle makes it difficult to measure the torso angle and it is best to measure the hip angle in this case.
For the majority of people, the hip angle should be around 45° to 50° only people with extreme flexibility can achieve angles less than 40°.
Your general bike fit will directly impact the minimal hip angle you will be able to achieve, including the position of handlebar extensions, elbow pads, and crank length.
Warning Symptoms of a bad bike handlebar reach and drop position
Ergonomics is king when riding a bike, especially for a long time, a bad posture can cause different kinds of pains and will decrease your ability to control the bike correctly.
If you experience one or more of these problems they can be a signal that your reach is wrong:
- Can’t reach the drops: This is a sign that you are overreaching and the causes can be the handlebars being too low or your stems being too long.
- Neck and Shoulder pain: Overstretched arms will put extra pressure on these muscles.
- Lower back pain: Lack of flexibility and overextension is the probable cause.
- Hand numbness: It is caused by a bad hand posture by either the handlebars being too far or too close.
- Seat irritation: Rocking hips and stems too low will generate friction in the seat, shortening your reach or raising the stem will help to correct the position.
As you can see the majority of issues are caused because the reach is too long.
I know that most of us look for a more aerodynamic and aesthetical posture but these two should not be a priority against comfort and personal body limits.
Like any sport, if you want to get better you should train yourself constantly to surpass your limits.
How to choose the right handlebar
Modern road bikes come with shallow drop and short reach bars, and for the majority of people, it will provide better ergonomics. You can buy deeper drop and larger reach bars but they are comfortable for a small fraction of people.
The handlebars are a system and hoods are designed to match them, so if you have an old handlebar and you try to install modern hoods on them the hand angles will be all wrong.
One of the reasons for choosing handlebars with deeper drops is because you have very large hands.
Hands should fit with comfort in the drops and people with small and regular hands will not have a problem with standard drop handlebars.
The right width is relative to your shoulders and the handlebars should be in a parallel position to them with the arms extended, even a little bit of spread from the shoulders is fine. The bigger the spread the less aerodynamic you are going to be and it may cause some problems.
Having a narrow handlebar width will create a situation of poor ergonomics, like having the arms converging when you are in the drops.
- Shallow drops and short-reach bars will fit nicely the majority of riders.
- If you have an elbow with a valgus angle choose a smaller width handlebar in relation to your shoulders.
- If you are in doubt of your handlebar width size go for one extra size.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with other bikes that have a different size than yours.
- If you have frontal shoulder pain go for a wider bar.
The finish line
As for all the bike fit steps, setting your proper handlebar reach and the angles in every position will depend on your body characteristics and comfort.
Bike makers have improved the ergonomics and the standard handlebars will be perfect for the average person.
For people with special characteristics, bike fitting can get tricky as they may need custom arrangements.
Performing a complete bike fit by yourself is possible. Doing it will make you gain knowledge of your body and of the best settings for your bike. The probability that you’ll get it completely right or at least in the ballpark is high!
Now that you just finished your bike fit how about some inspiration to take your bike for a ride?
Check out: The 7 best biking cities in the US!