My love of drop bars dates back to my first 10-speed bike. I got it for my 13th birthday in 1976. It was a dark blue Paris-Sport with racing handlebars. I rode that bike everywhere and everyday that summer. We lived in Ross Township, a northern suburb of Pittsburgh. I would ride it to North Park and ride the 5 mile bike path loop around the lake. By summers end I was riding 5 laps each time there.
The next summer I started racing it at the local Thursday night club races of the ACA, Allegheny Cycling Association. They had a 1K, four corner criterium course in the parking lot of the Pittsburgh Zoo. I raced every Thursday night. That summer I also did my first week long bike tour through the mountains of Western Pennsylvania.
In 1978 I saved all my money from snow shoveling and lawn mowing gigs and with a little help from my parents I bought a real racing bike, a champagne colored Nishiki PRO. I got my amateur racing license from the USCF, or United States Cycling Federation and moved up into the “A” race at the Thursday Night Races. I was racing and learning from the best racers in Pittsburgh. This included future National Champion Matt Eaton, brothers Danny and Tom Chew. Danny would win the grueling Race Across America or RAAM twice in the 90’s. Also there was a first year Senior, a 19 year old Davis Phinney, who would later become America’s winniest racer. I was 15 and racing against this group once a week. I never won, but Mote importantly I never got dropped. And I learned how to race from those guys. I ended up qualifying for National Championships by placing second at State Championships. I finished 13th in the field sprint at Nationals in the Intermediate Boys Race.
At the end of that summer we moved to the Chicago area. I never found a racing community to replace what I had in Pittsburgh. I tried to race one more year and then lost interest without that supportive community.
My racing years formed my ideas of what bikes should look and feel like for the next couple of decades. Any bike without drop bars was silly to me. It took a very long time to move on from that.
Even the mountain bike I commuted on from 2002-2005 had drop bars on it. In fact all my main commuter bikes from when I was car-free between 2002-20015 had drop-bars. Drop bars have always been, and still are my favorite bars to use.
Now if you were to ask me how often I ride in the drops, I would honestly have to tell you I can’t remember the last time I did. Perhaps in some nasty headwinds back in 2006 or 2007 when I was putting in big miles training for the Arrowhead Ultra 135. I was about 18 lbs lighter, younger and a bit more flexible during those couple of years.
As I have gotten older I am less comfortable in the drops, I’ve gained some weight around the waistline, I’ve lost some flexibility and my handlebar stems have gotten taller. But I still love riding drop bars. I like riding on the hoods, behind the hoods on the curve, and on the flat bar section. I don’t use the drops anymore…….
……until yesterday!!! I rode comfortably in the drops. What changed? Sooo many things in the past few years. I haven’t had the built in daily workout of bike commuting. My base fitness level isn’t at a high level all the time like it was when I was commuting by bike daily. I’m aging and I’m in those years where it’s much, much harder to maintain fitness.
Last year, for the first time in my life, I really felt like I didn’t have the base fitness to do want I wanted to do. I’ve always loathed gyms and “working out” indoors. But I realized I need to listen to the experts on aging. This past October I decided to join a gym and try strength training. It’s been 30 years since I did any serious strength training. I went and did my strength workouts consistently for four and a half months until last week when my gym closed for the Covid-19 virus.
What did four and a half months of strength training do for me?
I COMFORTABLY GOT IN A TUCK POSITION ON THE DROPS DURING A 1.5 MILE DESCENT YESTERDAY.
The strength training combined with 7 lbs of weight loss helped me do something I never thought I’d do again, ride in the drops on a drop bar bike.
Ride your bike (and do some strength training).