I promised pics, so here you go:
One thing I’ve never understood is why road and mountain bikes have different cable pull ratios for brakes. I suppose it’s so you have to keep buying more shit. Well, since I just bought these Avid BB7s not too long ago, I decided to keep them, and go the cheap route by using Problem Solvers Inline Travel Agents, which allow road brake levers to work with mountain bike brakes. Yes, they’re ugly, and yes, they add a little weight. But I wasn’t going to give Avid the satisfaction of selling me a set of Road BB7s. Also, by keeping the current calipers, I can easily go back to using a flat bar at any time. Honestly, though, I can’t imagine I ever will.
Brake feel is still on par with what I had before, so the Travel Agents don’t make braking feel weird, either from the main brake levers or the ‘cross levers. In the past, I rode rim brakes with 2mm or less gap between the rim, and my brakes had very little modulation. I loved it. Move the index finger 2mm, and you brake gently; 3mm and you brake hard; 4mm, and you’re dead. It was wonderful, and I’m not being sarcastic. However, now that I’m used to brakes that have actual modulation, I quite like it and, as I said, I’m happy with the feel.
Here’s another ugly but tolerable add-on that I have to live with. My fork has a mechanical lock-out remote that mounted to my old MTB handlebar. However, there’s no way to fit it to a larger diameter road bar (even on the narrow section), so I had to get creative. I ended up using a generic mount I found on eBay, which was intended to be used as a spot to mount lights. I cut a 1.5" piece of an old Easton carbon bar that can’t be used anymore, and mounted the remote to that. It’s still in close reach when I need it, but I though it’d look better if I could mount it directly to the handlebar. Oh, well… compromises must be made when you’re building weird bikes.
Here’s another look at the remote mount, as well as my super tidy cables.
So, what was the point in this ridiculous set-up? Primarily comfort.
Coming from mountain bikes, it took me awhile to adapt to road drop bars. But, once I did, I began to love the race position they put me in, especially in the drops (I spend about 99% of my time in the drops, rarely using the hoods on my road bike). I know, most people don’t think a race position is anything near comfortable, but for me it is. I love that forward position, staring not at nature, buildings, birds in the trees, but at the road directly ahead of me, crouched like a cheetah ready to pounce. To me, it’s Lay-Z-Boy comfortable for hours on end.
I’d been riding my road bike almost exclusively for about a year, when I signed up for that sadistic Cedar Cross race last Spring. Since I didn’t have a real ‘cross bike (my Scrambler probably would have worked, but the widest tires I could fit were 32c, and I didn’t know if that’d be enough on the singletrack), I took my hardtail. As natural as it was to ride, using a flat bar was no longer comfortable on the gravel roads or Katy Trail, and using the bar-ends didn’t help much. All I could think for the final 30 miserable miles was, "Man, too bad this bike doesn’t have drop bars; then it’d be perfect!"
So, now the day has come–my MTB has drops. Reach and drop are identical to my main road bike, and I feel totally at home riding it for the first time in a long time. I haven’t had much time to ride singletrack, yet, but the little bit that I have done has gone well. For steeper descents, I can use the ‘cross levers and get my butt behind the saddle, and for climbing, I have my choice of drops when I have traction, or hoods when I don’t. Oh, and when I hit a fire road or pavement, I can just lock the fork, stand up, and sprint, just like I do on my road bike.
I also discovered a side benefit of using a road bar: it’s very narrow. My old flat bar was 22", which is considered too narrow by today’s standards (and too wide by mine). My road bar is only 16.5", which gives me anywhere from 5 to 10 inches extra space between trees or fence posts than other bars.
I can’t say this set-up is for everyone (or anyone), but it works for me. Thankfully, SRAM’s Exact Actuation throughout their higher-end component lines helps make this sort of thing not only possible, but extremely easy to do. If you like the feel of a cyclocross bike, but want some fork travel and fatter tires, maybe give it a second thought.