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I’ve been obsessing over dirt drops. I’m not even sure why, but from experience, I know it’s best to just go along with these obsessions.

So I bought a high rise stem and a set of Soma Gators. I chose them because they can take MTB brakes and shifters, which would allow me to test things out without the full commitment of recabling the bike (no way the existing cables would reach to the STI shifters). The gator bars were mounted on my 2004 Stumpjumper. This bike has already been the subject of prior obsessions — with mostly good results. One led to it becoming a rigid 69er — original 26” wheel in the rear, 29” wheel in a rigid carbon fork up front. This has worked out swimmingly; For $300, a carbon fork and a tubeless specific wheel is a much better choice than a low end suspension fork the same price.

After a few rides I can definitely say the drop bar is a good concept. The only real issue I was having with the mtb before with straight riser bars was my hands hurting. I was not sure if this was due to the total lack of suspension or because of the angle of my hands, which always seemed awkward. New bars installed and even without the benefit of multiple hand positions with the dirt drops, my hands are already much happier. With the mtb style brakes, I really have to stay in the drops. When I switch to STI that will give me two or more positions.

The only concern I have now is for my back. Even with the goofy looking high rise stem (30 degree, 110mm) I still have a 4.5 inch drop from saddle to bars. That is as aggressive as my road bike and twice the drop I had to the riser bars. Okay, a second concern I have is the bars look a bit weird. And not necessarily weird in a good way. The happy stem is one issue, but it is the gator bars themselves that are really odd. I like the severe flair that kicks the extensions out at quite an angle but the center section is so narrow it looks off. I am reserving judgment until I get the proper shifters mounted and bartape added. This may go a long way towards making it look more “normal”.

Then again, normal is rather boring.

Clifford Blackwell

Clifford Blackwell

Clifford Blackwell is a lover of all types of cycling, from commuting to mountain biking to gravel riding to road racing. He thinks that six is the right number of bicycles, even if his wife disagrees. And she could be right. It might be seven.