Posted on | March 2, 2009 | 65 Comments
Which drop bar shape and size is best? That depends on your anatomy, conditioning, position on the bike, type of riding you do, how your bike is equipped and your bike’s geometry. One cyclist’s ergonomic heaven is another’s hell. I’ve assembled samples of a representative range of most of the traditional road bar geometries together with current production shapes. I’ve omitted anatomic bars as I’ve never found one that fits my anatomy,  so apologies to fans of anatomic bars.

You can navigate the images using the thumbnails, use the arrows left and right to jog through the menu and the bar specs will display in the lower left above the thumbnails if you roll over the main image.
As Mitch has pointed out in the comments you should note that the bars are pictured for easy  comparison of the shape, reach and drop may or may not be at the angle they are likely to be mounted. Different riders will rotate the bars by differing amounts and place the brake/shift levers in different postions. The range of preferences can be pretty wide but generally you will wind up somewhere in between these positions depending on your preferences:
mounted handlebar
Road bar shapes can be roughly grouped into the following categories:
Track / Pista: These bars closely mimic the shape of track bars providing more clearance for the arms when sprinting out of the saddle then any other road bar shape. The Cinelli model 65 Criterium bar (144mm drop) and 3ttt’s Gimondi bend (drop in the 155mm range) are the classic examples. This style bar all but disappeared with the advent of aero brifters but is making a big time comeback with fixed and single speed bikes.
Shallow / Italian Classic: The 138mm drop of the classic ‘shallow’ drop bar is actualy quite large compared to today’s compact bars. Classic examples include the Cinelli model 64 Giro D’Italia (138mm drop) and 3TTT TdF bend  (138mm drop). Modern Italian classic bars include the Deda Newton / 215 shallow (135 mm drop) and and the 3T Rotundo (139 mm drop).
traditional bend bar
Deep / Belgian / Pave: The traditional deep drop bars like the 3ttt Merckx bend and the Cinelli Model 66 Campione Del Mondo had drops of around 158mm. The current Deda “deep” has a drop of 145mm.
Compact: Aero shift/brake levers changed the cyclist’s cockpit moving the main position for braking and shifting to the hoods from the hooks / downtube. It also moved the postion forward out past the hooks as the brifter grew into a full handlebar extension. This required riders to lower their bars relative to their saddle to maintain the same riding position. Manufacturers responded with an ultra shallow bar with a short reach that raises the drops and moves the in the hoods position back.
Compact bars
Clearance for the arms with a 125mm drop is maintained by having a shallow bend out of the hook and extending the drop farther back then with traditional bars. The shape of the bend is somewhere between anatomic and traditional with some bars having a flatter more anatomic looking bend and others slightly rounder bend. The trade off with compact bars is less variation of position between hand positions. An advantage to some a deal killer for others.
Randonneur: The tops are upswept raising the hooks and drops and the hooks are angled outwards making for a very comfortable long distance bar. You can see in the illustration below how for the same stem height the Randonneur shape gives a more upright riding position. Grand Bois and Nitto currently make Randonneur style bars.
French Maes: The classic Philippe Professionel had a long reach, shallow drop with parallel ramps and drop. This shape is available today with the Grand Bois Maes bar.
These classifications are not well defined. The pista style bar is defined not by the amount of drop but by the shape with the distinctive curve starting almost immediately from the ferrule (see the tops illustrations below). The shallow and deep drop bars are distinguished by the amount of drop with a wide variety of shapes among the different models within each category.
ZIPP bar geometries
3ttt offered all of it’s road models in a Gimondi (Pista) bend, Merckx (deep) bend, Tour de France (shallow) and in later models anatomic as well. So you could get a Super Competizione or Prima 220 marked with a GIM (Gimondi bend) or MEX (Merckx bend). In one 3ttt catalog I have seen they refer to the Merckx and Td’F as if it were the same but in the sample bars I have the Td’F drop is shallow and the Merckx drop is deep but the shape and angle of the ramps is the same. Unfortunately the new 3T has not maintained the practice of different drops/shapes for each model but Deda offers the 215 / Newton in traditional shallow and deep bends as well as  anatomic and have a compact model (Presa / Zero 100) as well. Zipp and Ritchey now offer their bars with a choice of traditional round (shallow/Italian), compact and anatomic bends.
comparing drop bar shapes
In the above illustration you can see how the shift/brake lever as handlebar extension and main control center has impacted the size and shape of road bars. Campagnolo’s new 11 speed brifter has 2 hand positions on the hoods and claims braking from the hoods as effective as from the hooks.

If you stretch your arms straight out in front of you, your wrists will naturally be at an angle not far off that of the Nitto Randonneur. This makes for a very comfortable braking position in the hooks.
But if you are braking and shifting from the hoods with a brifter you might find the angle awkward as it turns your wrists out. In that case you might prefer a straight or only slighly angled hook like the Deda 215.
The equipment you use can change your preference in bar geometry.
I’ll be replacing the above animated gif with a navigable Flash animation once I have a few more samples ready to include. More to say about the tops then.

Handlebar parts
Grant Petersen of Rivendell likes high trail bikes, a more upright riding position and wide bars. Grant designed the Nitto 177 Noodle bar. Here is Rivendell’s take on handlebars.

Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly prefers low trail bikes and narrower width bars. He rides in Paris-Brest-Paris and other long distance endurance events and uses a GB Randonneur bar. You will find an excellent article on handlebars that goes into the relationship between bar width and bike geometry as well as a bit of history and reviews of the GB Randonneur and Maes bar by Jan in the Winter 2008 issue of Bicycle Quarterly.
The Competitive Cyclist sells racing frames and gear to competitive cyclists. Andy at Competitive Cyclist makes the case for compact bars in this video review of the FSA compact bars.
If your equipment preferences and the type of cycling you do aligns with any of the above three you will likely find your handlebar preferences will be similar to theirs as well. So you can use that as a guide for where to go for expert advice.
And what bar do I use? For years I used a 3ttt Ergo Due with Merckx bend. It’s got double grooves for my Campagnolo Ergopower shifters and it’s dimensions work well for my long arms and long fingers. Now that I have switched to Campagnolo’s newest shifter I’ve lowered my bars and am about to give the 3T Ergosum a try. The deep drops are now to low with my lowered hoods. If I was still using brake levers and bar end or DT shifters I think I would go with the GB Randonneur.