In which the CK Flyer becomes a drop bar beast of burden, or, Dirt Drops and how to use ’em.

September 2019.

I have a confession to make!  I’ve built so many new bikes in the last twelve months that I’ve completely failed to spend a proper amount of time on the CK Flyer. The MK4 is getting top honours at the moment as my go to bike, but the Gravel Bastard has also seen many hours of riding. It covers ground so damn quickly compared to my big rubber machines that its hard not to automatically pick it from the shed. It handles MTB trails just fine and is the definition of ‘all day comfort’, so in many ways its the perfect bike.

So the CK Flyer was getting ignored. Shame on me. But ever since I’ve built it I’ve had this itch that it would make a great dirt drop bike in the very traditional sense – big tall stem, proper old-skool Nitto dirt drops. I also had a feeling that if I set it up like this it would actually become my go-to bike for longer off road jaunts.

I love dirt drops! My interest was first engaged when a friend bought a first gen Salsa Fargo many years ago with a set of early Woodchippers. I thought that bike was fantastic and it kinda lit a spark that made me question everything I thought I knew. On one level it made no sense, and yet the idea of handicapping yourself (as I thought at the time) seemed really appealing. Same with rigid bikes, I guess, but i’m completely drawn to the idea of becoming a better, more satisfied rider by ditching the bells and whistles of modern mountain bikes.

This may run the risk of sounding twatty, but I think dirt drops are something that you have to learn about and experiment with before you actually begin to understand and eventually work out how they need to be set up. There’s still a lot of confusion out there, especially with the advent of the Gravel bar, which although flared is a totally different beast. A fair few gravel bikes are actually sold with dirt drops rather than gravel bars so no favours are being done to the bike and the bar. But here’s a few things that I think I’ve learnt on the way, and feel free to disagree, but i’m fairly convinced i’m right…

  • Dirt drops don’t and won’t work well on a gravel bike, and vice versa. I tried it on the Gravel Bastard with a pair of Woodchippers, it felt okayish, but a gravel bike is ridden a lot on the hoods and dirt drops are designed to be ridden in the drops, so the two don’t mix well at all. When the GB was fitted with a set of gravel bars the difference in all day comfort was outstanding.  Dirt drops are basically too narrow at the hoods, its akin to riding around on a set of 40cm bars when you’re used to 46. it just ain’t right. That and the angles. Gravel bars have ramps and hoods that are virtually the same as standard road bars, dirt drops don’t.
  • Dirt drops won’t make any sense at all until you set them up outlandishly high so your bike looks like a complete freak. You won’t even know this until you do it, and I think a lot of people are automatically put off by the appearance of such a set up, but by Christ it works.  It took me years to make this leap, running the bars so high that riding on the hoods was virtually out of the question, and then BAM,  riding fast off road with your hands in the hooks no longer feels like a handicap but a very real advantage. The flared drop section and the hooks is what makes these bars. You can also ride all day on the drops in total comfort. Result!
  •  Run your levers at such an angle that it makes it even harder to even consider riding on the hoods, down low is key, way out of reach from above.
  • So in a nutshell, if you want to run your bars low, get a gravel bar, but if you want to convert an MTB for proper drop bar action without giving anything up, get the bars up high with a proper set of dirt drops.

DSC_0465  The Velo Orange Cigne stem does a good job of getting your bars up where you need them.

So with all this in mind I decided to revamp the Flyer and turn it into a drop bar MTB. And all of a sudden its the bike I want to ride everywhere all of the time. The riding position is spot on perfect, it looks amazing, it rides like a supertruck on steroids, and you get the feeling it would carry you safely to the end of the world and back. The stem is a Velo Orange Cigne that I had lying around with some 14cm of rise, bonkers, but on this bike it looks just so. The bars are Nitto Dirt Drops, the RM3. The quality of Nitto stuff is amazing, and these bars are certainly the oldest of skools in their design, but so they should be, because they were pretty much the first.  The design is much copied (On One Midge, Sonder) and out of all the dirt drops this would be the absolute worst when set up on a gravel bike, but set up properly they make complete sense.

So there we are, onwards and upwards, and long live the dirt drop. If you’re curious, grab a cheap second hand bike and give it a go, there’s a lot of fun to be had in them there drops.

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