11 December, 2017

Dirt Drops - a Setup Guide

By Scott

I've long been a fan of dirt drop style handlebars. My buddy Kevin and I were typical mountain bike riders of the early 90's in BC. Our bikes had super narrow flat bars to enable us to ride between trees on the narrow single track trails of the area. A bike shop owner in Whistler, who had all the cool parts from the US that we'd only seen in magazines, convinced us to try drop bars. The bars were a hoot to use. On flowy single track, they felt more precise than traditional flat bars. The dirt drops also gave my bike an unconventional look, that helped it stand out in a sea of bikes in BC.  I don't think we saw anyone else with them in years of riding in BC and the western US. I used them on my Brodie  for off road riding, commuting, and touring for over a dozen years.

An original set of WTB off road drop bars circa 1987(?)

Fast forward to now and you'll see a proliferation of drop bars with flare being used for all sorts of bike builds. So you've seen them on builds on sites like The Radavist or Cycle Exif and you've gone and bought a set of bars. Now, how do you set these up? Well, let's work on that shall we.

A brifter shifting set up

The basic tenant of using dirt drops is that unlike traditional drop bars, you want the brake hoods to be at least the same height as the saddle, preferably higher. The idea is that you can ride with your hands on the hoods for comfort and you can get into the drops for "rough stuff" and still maintain control. You'll see that many dirt drop bars have a fair amount of flare, compared to road drop bars, and this extra leverage gives you more control in those situations where finesse is needed- threading the needle on single track trails or trying to get through a mud pit on a remote gravel road in western PA.

Getting your bars up high is key to taking advantage of dirt drop bars

So you should look at your current cockpit set up. If you are running a threadless set up, you might need to get a new stem. Something like the Cigne stem would help to move your new drop bars up into a higher position. If you are running a threaded headset, using a Cigne adaptor lets you use the Cigne stem or you could use a removeable face plate quill stem to move the bars up higher.

What else to think of when switching to dirt drops? Shifters would be the other thing. You can set up shifting in three different ways. You can use traditional bar end shifters. The Dia Compe ones we sell work great for up to a 9 speed set up. You can do with "brifters" like Igor did on his Piolet build. Or you could be more unique and go with the thumb shifter mounts and put them up by the handlebar clamp area and shift with your thumbs on the flat section of the drop bars.

What's your set up with dirt drop bars? Let us know in the comments.


Jean-Francois Caron said...

I've got a 1993 Miyata Elevation frame built up as an off-road touring monster. The bars are Salsa Woodchipper 2, with Tiagra 3x9 brifters. I've wrapped the bars with boring gray tape, but for the bar-ends, I've slipped on some Oury grips overlapping the tape a bit.

Unfortunately the bike has a 1 1/4" threaded headset, so my stem options are zero. I made my own threadless adapter by cutting a section of frame tubing from another 90s mountain bike (std OD 1 1/8", and the headset ID is the same, as is the clamp for a modern threadless stem), and using the wedge & quill from an original 1 1/4" stem. It works pretty well.

Tristan said...

I've always battled with a cross check that was too long and low for me.
I put a Cigne stem on it and now it's super comfortable.
Did a 50-miler yesterday and feel totally fresh today. Previously would have had some soreness in the shoulders.

teamdarb said...

1988 Panasonic Mountain Cat 4500 with On One Midge bar, wrapped with paracord. Dia Comp brake levers with the release tab removed for long travel (works perfect for Canti). The 60mm stem is two stems and a seat post sleeved and welded together. Suntour XC shifters stem mounted. I just realized today the brake levers have mount points for suicide levers. I'm thinking of putting the shifters there next.

Jimw said...

Anyone have experience with this set-up on a touring bike? Been looking for a taller stem setup for my Kona Sutra, and some different options for hand positions than standard road drops. This has potential.

Bagdad Himself said...

I've got myself a Piolet with a hot new Cigne Stem attached to my favorite bars ever: 48cm Dajia Far Bars!! She's tall, wide and ohh so comfy! That lower back pain (you know the little bit that creeps up around mile 20) has totally left the building; along with that lame AF ultra CNC'd mtb'er stem. Steel is real y'all! My MTB feels more like a gravel bike that pooped out an ALL MTN EVERYTHING BIKE. I'll ride 20 miles of road just for some sweet, cutty single track. What can I say, she likes distance!

Last Saturday I busted through a 50 mile gravel ride (totally loaded) then the following day I threw down the 50 mile return road route. The drop bars made my road ride a dream and the ability to use the entire bit of the handle bar was huge in the dirt. On previous builds I was never able to really "get it" in the drops. The rough stuff was just too rough for my set up but with this new Cigne Stem, I can really tackle anything in the drops. Totally bringing new life to my riding style. TY VO!

And as per your recommendation, I set up the bike for optimal comfort in the drops and every other position followed suit.

If I could change anything, it would be for a wider set of the Far Bars! Can a brotha get some 52cm?!

Till then :)

teamdarb said...

Yep. Here's the major thing... Not all dirt drops are the same shape. Think of standard drops. There are numerous style angles of how deep or how long the grip area. I've used 3 different ones over the last 6 years of adventure. Origin 8 Tiki on the 520: Had to use a huge rise stem and they flared out pretty far and deep (think Major Taylor). Not much top area. Next I hung a set of Nitto dirt drops: Huge top area, deep drop, small flair. Setup is simple. Just the usual dropbar method works. Crazy comfortable and hand space. It clears the large Wald basket. That was on my BST mixte, trek 850, MB3, and the Ross Signature. The best has been the On One Midge. Still no idea how larger guy fot these bars. My tiny hands just fit. These must be set with the tops slanted down or your hands will fall off.

When setup for trail I find it crazy how many variations I see. First, the bars should but jammed into the palm. Second, the brake lever ought to be trailed readily-not moving the hand around to grasp them. Depending on the bar, riding the hoods is for spectators. Heck, don't even try.

teamdarb said...

Careful what you wish for. The wider the bar the shorter your stem must become our you'll be right back at square one. When I measure the reach between my flat bar, drop bar and dirt drop, the dirt drop is an inch shorter.

mack_the_turtle said...

I plan to build a monstercross-ish bike on the cheap by converting an old hybrid from the local co-op. I usually ride a road/cx bike with a 545-555mm effective top tube and a 90mm or so stem with regular drop bars or a mountain bike with a 600-615mm top tube, 60mm stem and wide flat bars.

since I will be using an old bike for this and need to search to find the right one,* what should I be looking for in terms of size? it might be hard to get exact measurements on the frame as I search but I might be able to dig up geo charts on old bikes using my phone as I go.

any particular frames that make good candidates? I am looking for steel, rigid, canti brakes, room for at least 40mm tires. I'd like to singlespeed it, which might require a tensioner

VeloOrange said...

I'd go on the bigger side on a touring bike. You really can't go wrong with an old steel MTB. They have good clearances and are built well. Additionally, components are easy to maintain with really little to go wrong. Chains, pads, consumables are cheap and plentiful.


George Krpan said...

I've been using dirt drops since 2008 when I got a WTB Mountain Road bar. After 10 years of trying many others I have evolved to riding "drops only". If I don't ride the hoods then I don't need hoods. I would like to see a 22.2mm dirt drop with the right bend to enable the use of MTB brake levers and shifters.

ofajen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ofajen said...

I’m trying this with an old steel MTB. Last summer, I bought a 1986 Specialized RockHopper. I didn’t really get along with the Ritchey straight bar it came with, but it does seem to be a good frame.

I currently have it set up as a dirt drop with some old schoolish junk: Zoom classic drop bars, Weinmann non-aero levers from a ‘70s Schwinn and Dia-Compe bar end friction shifters (OK, the shifters are not junk). I’m using an XLC adjustable stem at the moment so I can experiment with height and reach.

Currently, the bar is about like my road bike, about 2 inches below the saddle, but I”m going to try raising up to at least the saddle height.

Anonymous said...

I was riding drop on BC singletrack in the 90s—on my Ibis SS. So much fun to ride singletrack on a properly set up dirt drop bike.
M Burdge