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:
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:
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.
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.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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 m
iss 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.