Marin Headlands

In the mid 80’s Wilderness Trail Bikes, one of the earlier pioneers of mountain bike design, unleashed the Dirt Drop Bar, a wide flared drop bar intended for off-road use. The bars were wildly popular on cyclocross style with Specialized even throwing in the mix on their Specialized BB-2, unveiled on their Rockhopper Combo, the manufacturing giant’s response to the Bridgestone’s XO series (as an example of the lack of interest in drop bar mountain bikes, the Rockhopper Combo only lasted one year and had trouble selling stock).

WTB Dirt Drop bars, credit to My Brain Hurts on Flickr
Specialized Rock Combo
Specialized Rock Combo with Specialized BB-2 drop bars, credit to Russ Teaches on Flickr

Over the years dirt drops never caught on. While the WTB Dirt Drops stayed in production, mountain drops were rare on full build kits, until the Salsa Fargo 2. The Fargo featured their own in house mountain drops, the Woodchippers. They fit what this bike was intended for very well, for an off-road touring bike, because they offered the multiple hand position of a drop bar but also had more horizontal brakes and wide grips for control.

Salsa Fargo

Now, mountain drops are coming back into style as bike touring is on the rise and off-road bike touring is no longer seen as a totally insane venture. The choices are still slim, but they are out there (besides hounding ebay for the now discontinued Specialized BB-2 or WTB Dirt Drop bars), some of the choices are the aforementioned Salsa Woodchipper,the Soma Junebug, the Origin-8 Gary bar and the On One Midge Bar. After reading reviews I decided give the Midge Bars a run, being my first mountain bike drops, this is both a review of this style and of these bars themselves.

The first thing I noticed on the Midge bars was how natural the hoods were. My hands rested easily on a 45 degree angle on the hoods, both widening my grip and making my ability to reach the brakes much easier, a joy when descending on dirt. This isn’t the only good position for descending though, as I found in the hooks was way better, with immense braking power and a very wide balanced controlled position with my hands in that semi-horizontal position. Ascending was equally better with these bars, as I could grab the drops and mash some leverage on the wide position as well as being low enough to keep my butt in the saddle, keeping traction on my skinnier cross tires. The tops were great for road riding too, expanding the hand positions so my wrists never don’t tire, as what often happens on flat bar touring.

One One Midge Bar Cockpit
The cockpit view.

Shifting on my bar ends was a breeze on the On One bars, as the drops were shallow and when positioned correctly the bar ends sat perfectly near the bottom of the hoods, making that switch easy. I even began to get into the point of on road of finding that shift perfectly in the drops with my pinky. STI shifting is also an option on these bars, but I have never been a fan, as bar ends are far easier to fix on the fly (the ability to switch to friction shifting is even nicer when the cable stretches and you don’t feel like playing with it).

Surly X-Check on Dirt
Side view on the Cross Check.

The On One Midge Bars make great off road touring bars as they offer the multitude of positions but also allow for more controlled descents and more traction and leverage on the ascents. That plus easy functionality with bar end shifters make these my go to for off-road touring at the moment. How they match up to the Soma Junebugs or Salsa Woodchippers is hard to say, but they definitely work well for me, plus come in at a better price point than the Salsa or Soma bars.

Late Night Tilden Digs
Further reading:
  • Guitar Ted on how to setup Mountain Drop Bars on a Mountain Bike not designed for drops.
  • 29 Drop on a better history than mine on Mountain Drops.

via Blogger

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