The roadbike’s dropbar shape is like a creme brulee……you can add all kinds of extra ingredients but nothing beats classic simplicity in the end. The elegant, constant curves of the classic dropbar (what was once called a “Maes” style) are the harmonious combination of post-WWII manufacturing techniques and rider function, but it was inevitable that companies would corrupt it in the quest to set themselves apart in the marketplace. Starting in the 80s with brands like Modolo, the “ergo” or “anatomic” styles, with a straightened section on the hook similar to a pistol grip, became predominant on OEM bikes. The 3ttt “Forma” added a subtle compound curve to the hook, which Ritchey exaggerated in their “Bio-Max” series. And then all manner of stupid designs appeared. What was amazing was that some of the designs targeted towards people with small hands and in particular women by having a short reach and drop actually had the worst access to the lever when actually using the drops.
Through it all, the Euro professional riders tended to stick with more traditionally round handlebars with moderate reach of around 80-100mm (longer reach dropbars like the Atax Philippe Professional having faded from popularity after the 1970s). Broadly speaking, handlebars are frequently described as shallow drop “Italian” (eg. Cinelli #64 Giro d’Italia, 3ttt Tour de France) or deep drop “Belgian” (eg Cinelli #66, 3ttt Merckx).
In the last 5-6 years, the “compact” style handlebar has come to largely dominate the road scene for both OEM and premium aftermarket. The hook does not have a simple curve nor a flattened ergo grip, rather a compact bend has something roughly halfway between where the curve’s radius continuously increases until the hook smoothly transitions into the drop. The ramp, or portion of the bar behind the hook, is usually angle rather shallow compared to older designs. Since the top of the hook begins with a very small radius, the newest style integrated levers can mount to the bar in a way that the levers’ hoods and the bars tops form a continuous level grip. Though the reach to the lever from the drop is still less than a traditional, round bend, the issue is largely negated by the fact that current SRAM and Shimano integrated levers have adjustable lever reach. So finally the ultimate handlebar has been acheived and everyone lived happily ever after…except there remains a demand for an unadulterated round dropbar.