Cyclocross in the drops

Lee covered this briefly in the most recent podcast but I wanted to hear some other opinions.

When racing cyclocross and attempting technical sections or descents, i always find my comfort and confidence much better in the drops. It sounds counterintuitive, but i feel like its easier to weight the pedals correctly in these situations. I notice, however, that most of my fellow racers stay on the tops for these same sections (and the whole race in fact) as do the large majority of the pros.

Does anyone else feel like this? Is it right/wrong, does it point to poor technique or inadequate bike setup?

I’d say more right! i have my bars low but almost always stay on the hoods. Being on the drops lowers your center of gravity, makes it easier to shift weight backwards and also gives you better grip, i’ve never had my hands slip off the drops, but it happens on the hoods much more than i’d like it to, If you make use of all parts of your bars, theyre probably set up right! they should all have their place in cross. do whatever you feel most comfortable with, don’t just copy pros :wink:


This depends on the way you set up the bars also. If you feel unstable on the hoods then you probably need to set them up differently for cross, its not the same as road. If you are more comfortable and can ride in the drops during an entire race, you may want to consider lowering your bars significantly and making the hoods an easier to use position since its easier and faster to dismount/remount from the hoods or tops compared to the drops.


Sometimes I’ll ride steep bumpy descents that require heavy braking in the drops. I’ve noticed that the older style SRAM mechanical hoods don’t offer a lot of grip when things get hairy and my hands tend to slip off them. The drops offer more grip and brake control.


I only use the drops for technical sections that require a bit more finesse, not for general riding and dismounts/remounts.

I ride cross primarily in the drops. I find it gives better control for both cornering and technical stuff. And as a few others said it is easier to maintain grip in the drops. Only time I am in the hoods is easier pedaly sections to rest my arms and core or dismount/remount situations.

I also find bike setup helps with this. My bars are stacked higher and the reach is setup shorter than on my road bike. I also use slightly flared drop bars to give me a wider handlebar in the drops.

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For me having to switch back and forth between the hoods and drops during a race especially when the transition is abrupt is a no go. I’d rather just have a good hoods position that works for the majority of descents. We have a few venues that have extended descents where I use the drops but 95+% of my time is spent on the hoods. I use the drops when riding my cross bike on the road as well. This is in contrast with my gravel bike that is set up with flared drops where I spend the majority of my time. Again its about set up and functionality during the race. If your hoods position isn’t secure enough to descend confidently they you need to adjust it. If its good enough for the pros, its good enough for the joes.

I definitely switch between hoods and drops a lot. I think I start a race on the hoods until it thins out a bit. Then for downhills and turns I’ll usually make an effort to switch to the drops. I find it really helps me get my weight back for stability. Out of sheer laziness I’ll then just stay in the drops after that until I hit a climb/hill – at which point I switch back to the hoods or tops for climbs/hills. For straights, it’s kind of crapshoot where I’m holding the bars… it depends what the terrain immediately prior was like.

Does anyone else find that it is really easy to inadvertently feather your front brakes when trying to row (as in pumping) over technical terrain on the hoods, not to mention bunny hopping? Brake hoods are definitely not designed for hanging your weight.

Not at all but that could be my CX bike (now sold) running the older 105 hydraulic shifters which were pretty long, plus running it a little shorter and taller than my road bike - my fingers would only be near the brake levers if I wanted them to.

I would have thought most SRAM stuff and even the newer Shimano kit would be similar, where the hood sticks up almost vertically and you can really pull on it without hitting the levers,

Could also be a by-product of hood angle.

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I’m surprised by this part. Vertically? My hoods are parallel to the bars, maybe 10-degrees slanted upwards, but not vertical. The portion holding the hydraulics sticks vertically above the levers but you don’t hold on to that part, right? :thinking:

Here is how mine are angled:

Both saying the same thing but I am suggesting holding the hydraulic part over rough bits (two or three fingers above and two behind, depending on shape of hoods).

The old Shimano 505 hoods meant you could almost get whole hand grip above the lever.

Even on the road I hold levers like that.

I might be my monkey arms that help?

My mind is kind of blown. It never even occurred to me to hold on to the tippy top part. I guess this would also be a form of death grip like the tops because you won’t be able to brake without moving your hands? On second thought, I guess it is not that big of deal to slide your hands down to the normal position when you need to brake.

On hydraulics I use my second and third finger to brake on hoods unless slamming them on, so my main grip is still on the upright hydraulic section.

Can even sort of do this on old mechanical brakes, depending on conditions.

I’ve always held top of the hood like this

My hoods are angled pretty much like yours, I hold unto them with 2-3 fingers behind the brake lever and 1-2 fingers on the brake. Only ever once slipped off, and that was after I’d just stuck my hand in the mud and it was covered in half an inch of slime. Only hold on to the hoods like boombang when trying to get aero on the hoods, find it easier to get the arms parallel to the bars.

What is it about the drops that you favour?

I feel like they give me better control and maybe a more balanced position on the bike. So im wondering if this suggests that i might need to shorten my stem/reach and drop so i can feel more controlled on the hoods too. I definitely feel like i have too much weight on the bars in descents and that really affects my confidence in technical sections

I feel more stable in that position. I’m tall and ride an XL bike, so anything I can do to get my center of mass lower seems to help in the turning/descending department. I also feel more comfortable putting my weight back when I’m in the drops – I think because my wrists can be straight instead of bent if I’m on the hoods (tops would probably be comfortable, but lack of brake access and poor leverage is generally a no-go in situations where you’re shifting weight back). I race a canyon with an integrated stem/bar, so I can’t really play with my reach much. I don’t have the bar slammed, but even as-is the drops get me lower than the tops will be when slammed. My back is pretty level currently in the drops, so if I dropped them more I worry it’ll be too aggressive of a position, but I’m thinking about trying it soon.

A lot of that resonates with me actually. Im 6"3 and ride a large/58cm bike.

The angle that your hands rest in the drops makes a lot of sense and isnt something I’d considered before. But i still wonder why my preference is so different to most of the other riders I see.

Im on the shorter side, 5’8", and I also prefer the drops. Lower CG improves cornering ability. And the drops just provide a much better surface to hold on to with a softer grip. I can ride in the drops with one finger covering each brake and the rest of my fingers barely have to grip the bars even on bumpy grass.

For me braking on the hoods in technical terrain requires a stronger grip, and a strong “death grip” does makes it harder to execute the bike-body separation necessary to ride technical terrain smoothly.

@bclarkson, I have two bikes with the additional levers on top of the bars. They are great for trimming speed on technical descents as you can get further back over the bike and adopt an mtb like position-anti rowing. I believe only Katie Compton uses them now amongst the Pros. It also helps that I use mechanical brakes, not hydraulic.