Gravel is the only genre of cycling that offers a viable choice between drop and flat handlebars and that's because they both have specific advantages and disadvantages. Those differences can transform a bike and tweak it towards your specific needs. In this video, we take a deep dive into what makes each bar great to answer the question, which is best for gravel?
To help lay out the advantages of each handlebar, we joined forces with Marin who gave us two bikes, the Gestalt XR and the DSX FS, both of which are very different As an introduction, the former is an aggressive gravel bike with a drop bar, a dropper post and a geometry that's not too far off what's seen on cross country mountain bikes. At its heart, it's definitely a gravel bike, coming with Shimano GRX shifting and tyres from Vee Tire Co. This bike's built to cover miles as quickly as it descends.
The DSX FS takes things one step further and actually looks an awful lot like a 90s mountain bike. This one is our contender for the flat bar and it gets a similar geometry to the Gestalt XR but it comes with a suspension fork, a Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain, then skinny rubber from WTB. This one looks to be a proper mountain biker's gravel bike that should be more than capable of the odd bit of singletrack.
We use these two bikes as prime examples of why drop and flat handlebars are excellent for gravel riding, and why one might be better than the other. In a nutshell, a drop handlebar offers more hand positions which could mean more comfort over longer distances. A drop handlebar is also more aerodynamic as it pulls the arms and shoulders in, creating a better drag coefficient. Finally, drop handlebars come in tonnes of shapes and sizes, so there will be a drop handlebar to suit everyone.
Flat handlebars change the gravel game a little, offering better control over technical terrain, easier access to all of the controls and more space for larger handlebar bags. A flat handlebar boosts confidence, too, as generally it places weight more rewards. They almost make for an easier transition to more serious riding to newbies, too, as new riders won't have to familiarise themselves with a drop bar.
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