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Riser Bars become Drop Bars South of the Equator (and more Science from Madagascar)

by Ted Johnson

We all know for a fact that toilets and drains swirl counter clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. (And by “fact” I mean “falsehood.”)But did you know that south of the equator riser bars become drop bars? That’s right. I have the scientific proof from Madagascar.Check it out:

Dropped Risers - Ampefy

I’ll drop my risers and have asymmetrical brake levers if I damn well please!
Photo: Ted Johnson

I think it’s about comfort and having multiple riding positions. If dropped risers were about being trendy, then this young man would be riding a fixie, and he sure as hell wouldn’t have disc brakes:

Dropped Risers - Antananarivo

Although some hipsters would kill to have his Power Rangers backpack
Photo: Ted Johnson

I estimate that nearly half of the bikes I see in Madagascar have dropped riser bars. I’ve only seen one set of actual drop bars here, and one set of bull horn handlebars that once had been drop bars–both in their northern-hemisphere configuration. So the inverse of this scientific principle does not hold.

Dropped Risers - Miarinarivo

I am the three-foot passing law.
Photo: Ted Johnson

And I think they are on to something. Make the bike comfortable to ride. Having slightly lower bars allows you to hunch down if you need to and lower your wind resistance. But you can also ride as upright as you could with flat bars.

Dropped Risers - Miarinarivo

Hauling charcoal and riding in a skirt. I call it Charcoal Chic.
Photo: Ted Johnson

Another accessory that is ubiquitous in Madagascar are bar ends–those things you mount to the end of your bars for an extra hand position, and are extremely handy when climbing hills.
Bar Ends - Miarinarivo

Are those bar ends, or are you just happy to see me?
Photo: Ted Johnson

In the town of Miarinarivo, I found this guy selling new and used bike parts in the local market. When he demonstrated bar ends, it was only natural that he held them on inverted riser bars.

Dropped Risers and Bar Ends - Miarinarivo

Miarinarivo: One stop shopping for bike parts, dried fish, and fresh fruit.
Photo: Ted Johnson

For some inexplicable reason, bar ends never caught on with utility cyclists, and even seem to have fallen out of favor among mountain bikers.And what happened to all of those bar ends once they became unfashionable in the west?

Bar Ends - Miarinarivo market

I think I know.
Photo: Ted Johnson

The angle and position of the bar ends are clearly tweaked according to individual preferences. I’ve even seen bar ends not on the ends of bars, but nearer to the middle of the handlebar–like those weird-ass antenna things on the head of a giraffe. (They’re called “ossicones.” I looked it up for you.) Giraffe are not native to Madagascar, so that doesn’t explain it.

Double Bar Ends - Alarobia, Antananarivo, Madagascar

Cramming for the bar
Photo: Ted Johnson

I’ve even seen bar ends used in very impractical hand positions, such as this bike, where I think they are installed to protect his brake levers from breaking off if the bike were to fall over or get loaded indelicately onto the roof of a bush taxi.

Bar Ends - Miarinarivo

A fairly simple cost-benefit calculation. Bar ends are cheaper than replacing brake levers–again.
Photo: Ted Johnson

My personal favorite style of bar ends are these, that just somehow look more badass than bent cylindrical tubes. I don’t recall ever seeing this style in the US.

Bar Ends - Antananarivo

Somewhere a hacksaw is missing a handle.
Photo: Ted Johnson

I kept my eyes out, because I knew I’d eventually see a bike both with dropped risers, and with bar ends.I looked no farther than this roadside mechanic–one of many I see on my short commute.

Drop Bars and Bar Ends - Antananarivo

I’ll take the combo, please.
Photo: Ted Johnson

Although I have a frame pump, I’ve never used it. When my tires are getting a little squish in them, I pull over and see this guy and pay him 1000 MGA to top off my tires with a floor pump–about 40 cents. And when I don’t need my tires topped off, I wave as I pass and he waves back because we are pals now.

Antananarivo Roadside Mechanic

But that’s a whole other blog post
Photo: Ted Johnson

I had planned to bring trekking bars (a.k.a butterfly bars) to Madagascar (See Exhibit 10). It was disappointing to leave them behind (along with my ukulele) on account of my luggage being a few pounds overweight. Now, I’m kind of glad I didn’t bring them. I don’t think trekking bars would ever catch on here. Bicyclists here south of the equator have figured out how to configure handlebars to every hand position they need. I do miss my ukulele though.The first time I saw this phenomenon, I thought, That looks dumb. Before long my perception changed to, Why not? And now I have arrived at, That looks cool! I should do that!


Ted Johnson is a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Follow his hardly-ever-about-bikes blogging at Half-Hearted Fanatic, and tweeting at @TedJohnsonIII.Note that the opinions expressed here by Ted Johnson are solely his own and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

 
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2 Responses to “Riser Bars become Drop Bars South of the Equator (and more Science from Madagascar)”

  1. Clint says:

    Hey Ted!

    I enjoyed reading your post. I’ll be arriving as a PCV in February, and I’m wondering if there are any accessories we need bring along ourselves, or if the bikes are well-enough equipped as is (saddle bags/rack, any sort of bike light, etc.)?

    Thanks,
    Clint

    • Ted Johnson says:

      Clint:

      Peace Corps did not provide any kind of bike lighting or a horn. Those are the main two things you might try to bring with you. Since you may not know where you will be posted, I would recommend USB-rechargeable lights. If I could have any lights I wanted, I’d get these:

      I had to choose between a bike with a rack or a bike with disc brakes. I went for the rack. The reality, however, is that you can get a custom made rack here, and they will adapt it to whatever kind of frame you have. I don’t mind good old rim brakes so I’m fine with the bike I have.

      If you are a saddle snob, bring your favorite saddle. Peace Corps will provide you with panniers if you want them, but you won’t get to choose anything special.

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