I tried. I really tried.
First, I tried to find a level of comfort or rather less discomfort with the compact bend drop bar that came stock on my cyclocross bike many years ago. Ugh. It was nothing less than an exercise in shifting my hands constantly to find a position where something did not ache.
Next, following the advice of many fellow riders in the area I went with a Salsa Cowchipper. The flared drops and increased width seemed to do the trick along with some generous bar tape and gel padding underneath that bar tape.
I thought this was the ticket. Riding in the drops was much more comfortable with the flare and the extra cushy bar tape/gel padding combo seemed to dull the pain of long rides on the tops. Over time—as in thousands of miles the past couple of summers—several problems reared their ugly heads.
I was never comfortable in the drops for anything other than a moment or two. I was never comfortable with the drops or hoods being the only place to grab a handful of lever. This is not a big deal on wide open country roads or trails, but in town surprises are many and if you are not in the drops you might not be able to brake in time. At least that was the problem for me.
Riding on the tops was okay, never truly comfortable but better than being in the drops. However, with no accessible brake levers I always felt like was riding somewhere between secure and without hands. Call it the mountain biker in me.
With a handful of scavenged parts from my garage and those of a friend I went all-in on a flat bar conversion:
The Answer Protaper Expert bar is 685mm in width and has a nice brown finish. Does anyone else remember when bars came in black or silver only? Maybe that is just me. The bar has an eight degree sweep to the back. The bar ends are some cheap Titecs that would have cost an arm and a leg in the 1990s because of the carbon fiber construction. Grips are repurposed Ergons from another mountain bike build that has been languishing in my garage for the better part of two years.
The result looks a little odd. It is almost like the gawky half-brother of a NORBA cross country rig from the early days of mountain bike racing.
The drop bar mafia is coming for me. I can feel it. Around here fellow riders have already looked somewhat askew at my dirt wagon—the half-kidding nickname given to me well-loved and well-worn bike—as if it were some unwelcome chimera among the carbon fiber matchy matchy set that seems to dominate the weekend population. The best part is that I just do not give a flying f*ck. For the first time in at least three years I am comfortable in the saddle. That is all that matters.