Near the beginning of Craig's Smoked Out thread, he made an astute observation about steel frame set-up & sizing from the '90's and earlier, with brake levers being positioned quite low on bars that had deeper drops, compared to what we have today. That old school position is what I started on back in the mid-80's. It's been a while since I've ridden a bike with that set-up, but when I went to revive my MX Leader, I decided to remove its new school Deda bars which had a flat transition and levers high, to an old school, re-issued Criterium bar.
Levers are positioned with the bottom of the blade in line with the bottom of the bar, instead of high up. The drops are nearly parallel to the horizontal top tube. I placed the bar clamp at -5.5cm below the saddle, which was my old position. A negative 5.5cm drop was relatively aggressive for the small frame size that I use (51 or 52cm).
This is obvious - with the levers positioned low on plunging Criterium drops, it lowers the hood contact point another 4cm, so that the total drop from the saddle to the hoods is nearly 10cm - a lot for a small guy like me, riding a tiny frame. When I was setting it up on the MX Leader a couple of weeks ago, I thought, it looks period-correct and old school, but there's no way I'm going to be able to tolerate this drop. My current bikes (Hampco and Primus Mootry) have a -6cm drop to the bar clamp, but the hoods are also at -6cm too, with their flat transition.
I decided to try out the nearly -10cm drop from saddle to hoods anyway, and the last half a month have been surprising. Sure, there's a lot more pressure on the web of my hands, where it rests in the hoods. But not only was it tolerable on my hands and back, it took a lot of pressure off my saddle and it put me in a much more powerful position.
Another interesting effect is that due to my old school down tube shifters on the MX Leader, I had to move my hands off the hoods far more frequently than if I was using Ergo shifters. So the choice of DT levers alone meant there was frequent relief for my hands.
For this reason, I'm not likely to replicate such a low drop on my contemporary bikes, but I found it interesting how effective and comfortable it was to ride with the low lever position. I may try dropping the lever position on my current bikes below 6cm, but not as extreme as -10cm.