Should I buy a flat bar road bike or road bike?

Specialized VitaAs regular readers of this blog probably know I work in a bike shop and one of the most regular questions I’m asked by both men and women is: Should I buy a flat bar road bike and a drop bar road bike. So I thought it would be useful to talk about the pros and cons of both types of road bike.

Firstly I have to confess that I ride a drop bar road bike and love it, so I won’t be changing to a flat bar any time soon, but I can see some merit in them, and for some riders they are definitely the best option.

A flat bar road bike is similar to a standard road bike, but with flat bars as opposed to the drop bars seen on most road bicycles. Some people call them hybrids but strictly speaking a hybrid normally has front suspension which  flat bar road bikes do not.

They are great for short to medium length rides and very popular for people who want to get fit, and they are often used by commuters. I find that women particularly are a little intimidated by drop handle bars, and think they are for ‘professional or serious’ riders so steer well away from them.

The advantages of flat bar road bikes are the riding position is more upright which may be beneficial to those with back problems. They also often come with bolts for racks for those who wish to commute with panniers.

The disadvantages include a lack of hand positions which may lead to sore wrists on longer rides (although they can be fitted with bar ends to alleviate this issue). The rider position is not as aerodynamic as drop bar road bike which can slow you down. They are usually supplied with lower end parts, although this can also be advantage because they are lower cost.

From my experience they are very popular and range in price from about $500 for a basic alloy frame bike right up to several thousand dollars for a beautiful carbon model. Check out the Specialized Vita range which is what I sell.

The standard road bike with drop handlebars, is made to be lightweight and for spending long days in the saddle. It is built for speed and those who love to compete, and comes in many different levels from very beginner to competing in the Tour de France level.

It can be used for all types of riding from commuting to group riding to competing. Traditionally road bikes have been for everything except go off road, but recently manufacturers like Specialized have launched the ‘adventure road bike’ which is designed for off-road use as well.

The main advantage of the road bike is its aerodynamic and lightweight construction. It’s the fastest and lightest bike available and is simply a pleasure to ride. I ride a Specialized women’s road bike called the Amira and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The disadvantages are that they are not generally designed to carry racks or baskets, although there are exceptions, and because you ride in a more aero position those with back problems may find them uncomfortable.

I think the advantages outweigh any of these issues: there are multiple riding positions so you can change your hand position for comfort; you can literally ride all day and still be comfortable; you can easily carry it up a staircase or lift it on to a car roof-rack; and you can spend as little as around $1,000 to get going.

Plus I’ve never sold a road bike to a female customer who has come back and told me she doesn’t like it. In fact, one of my customers thanks me profusely for selling her a Specialized Ruby every time she sees me. She even sent a friend my way a couple of weeks ago, who also bought a Specialized Ruby.

But as I always tell my customers you need to decide what’s best for you. I recommend you head to your own local bike shop and test ride both types of road bike to determine which one you like best.

2 comments

  1. I’m also specialized Ruby convert thanks to you Nicola! I started off with a flat bar when I first started riding and it served its purpose building confidence until I was ready to make the change. Haven’t looked back.

  2. I have both. I love my drop bar roadie for distance, speed, comfort. It lives at my home in Newcastle where prefer to spend most of my time. I do long distance, with friends or alone. I feel pretty safe on those roads and bike paths. I have a flat bar roadie in Sydney. I prefer the upright sitting position when I’m riding in traffic and places I dont know. I also feel safer with a bit more visual width, the bars providing me with more personal space in traffic.

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