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Bike handlebars: the ultimate guide

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Handlebars. A reliable handlebar is used on all bikes, whether they are mountain bikes, road bikes, or singlespeed fixed-gear bikes. There are a plethora of styles to choose from. Each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks that can make or break your biking adventure. Handlebars have a significant impact on your bike’s overall handling, stability, and reliability, so choosing the right type for your riding style is critical.

I’ve put together a simple handlebar guide to show you the key differences between each type of handlebar. You can probably put “handlebar guru” on your resume after reading this no-nonsense guide. I even spent a long time animating the gif above so that this guide feels like the best and most comprehensive guide available. So let’s get this party started. I’ve put together the ultimate guide to bicycle handlebars for you.

Ratings for Handlebars
A lot of it comes down to personal preference, as most experienced riders know, but it’s important to understand the natural tendencies of each type of handlebar.

The way it keeps your hands and body comfortable is what defines comfort.

The different types of biking styles you can use with it define its versatility.

The amount of power you can transfer to the pedals is known as leverage.

Aerodynamics is defined as the ability to reduce wind drag.

Control is defined by the amount of lift and turning ability it provides.

infographic on flat bars and handlebars

BARS THAT ARE FLAT

Flat handlebars are the most common type of handlebar on most bicycles. They’re known for being completely flat, though there’s usually a slight bend in the direction of the rider. Because of their versatility, they are very popular among cross-country riders. Because it’s just a straight bar, you can basically “put a lot of stuff on them” Steering becomes more predictable and precise as a result of this simplicity.

PROS

Simple and versatile – Lights, brake levers, phone holders, and other auxiliary biking equipment can all be easily attached. It’s also simpler to attach various types of bar ends to add more hand positions and functions.

Flat bars make leaning forward easier, which is another reason flat bars are popular among cross-country riders. During a climb, shifting your weight to the front improves tire grip on the road and moving your body towards the bike bar improves leverage.

Flat bars are typically narrow, making them ideal for tight spaces. This makes it easier for them to get through doors and corridors.

Lighter and less expensive – If you enjoy carrying your bike around, every ounce counts. The simple shape of a flat bar allows it to be stronger while using less material. It is also less expensive to manufacture and purchase as a result of this.

Less lower back strain – If you have chronic back pain, evenly distributing your weight between the bike seat and the handlebar relieves pressure on your spine. Make sure your bike is adjusted properly as well. To ensure your bike is properly balanced, read our article on the top ten biking mistakes.

There are a few other benefits to having flat handlebars, and here’s an interesting forum discussion about the nuances of riding with a flat bar.

CONS

Flat bars are not well suited for performing tricks and “free riding” on a bike, so they are not ideal for risky courses. Riding over difficult terrain and jumping over obstacles necessitates a more upright riding position to provide the rider with more leverage for pulling the front tire.

It’s difficult to get into a tuck position with flat handlebars, which is bad for speed.

picture of a riser bar and a handlebar infographic

RISER BARS (n.d.)
Riser bars are basically flat bars that rise from the clamping area in the middle. Risers, on the other hand, are typically wider than flat bars. These handlebars are popular in trail biking because they allow the rider to sit more upright. Clint Gibbs created an educational YouTube video about the benefits of riser bars over flat bars for trail biking.

PROS

More control – You have more leverage with a wider handlebar. Turning is easier and requires less energy as a result of this. It’s a good idea to use wide riser bars if you’re driving down long, winding roads with a lot of debris.

Riser bars are better for wrists because they allow the rider to sit farther back and distribute less weight to the front, in addition to the back sweep that provides a more comfortable grip. This will help relieve stress in people who have wrist problems.

Better for trail and free riding – The wider handle bar grip and weight distribution towards the back give the rider more control, making it ideal for more challenging courses and rough terrain.

You can give it a negative rise – While the higher handlebar would normally make it less suitable for climbing, some riders flip the handlebar upside down to make it more suitable.

CONS

More expensive – Because the additional rise necessitates the use of more material to keep the bar strong and stable, they will be heavier and more expensive than a flat bar.

heavier than flat bars – If you’re transporting your bikes on bike racks, every ounce counts.

Wider handlebars – Despite providing more control, wide handlebars increase your chances of snagging tree trunks, twigs, and other irritating objects. This makes it more difficult to store bikes with riser handlebars because they will be harder to fit through doors and corridors.

Riser bars make tackling uphill rides more difficult than they are with a standard set-up.

Bad aerodynamics – Tucking while using a riser is difficult, similar to flat bars, resulting in poor aerodynamic capabilities when riding against the wind or at high speeds.

infographics on bullhorn bars and handlebars

BULLHORNS BULLHORNS BULLHORNS BULL
Bike handlebars that curve up and forward are known as bullhorn handlebars. A pursuit handlebar differs slightly from a standard bullhorn bar. A standard bullhorn curves forward and upward. A pursuit bullhorn bar curves forward, then drops slightly before curving back up.

PROS

Bullhorns are essentially flat bars that allow you to lower yourself when riding in a headwind or at high speeds. For speed-oriented biking, such as track racing, this makes it superior to flat bars and risers.

Flat bars give your body room to move forward and up when climbing hills, making them the best bars for climbing. Bullhorn bars not only provide more space, but they also allow you to move further up and forward when climbing, giving the rider the most leverage possible when pedaling uphill.

Pursuit bars are better for speed – Pursuit bullhorns have a drop in them that allows the rider to go into a deeper tuck than a standard bullhorn, which improves speed and leverage.

They look badass, and they’re called bullhorns for a reason.

CONS

Bullhorns are not suitable for frequent tight turns despite the fact that they are functionally flat bars with horns. This is due to the spacing required for the forward curve.

When turning the handlebars, you will have less leverage. When driving through narrow paths, the extra front clearance increases your chances of snagging something.

Infographic illustration of a drop bar handlebar

  1. DROP BARS DROP BARS DROP BARS DROP
    Drop bars are very popular among bikers because they combine great looks with versatility. Drop bars typically have a flat middle section with each end curving downwards and towards the rider, similar to a flat bar.

Drop bars are classified according to their reach (how far forward they curve), drop (how low they go), and width (how wide the bar is). Classics have a wide range of motion and a steep drop. Compacts have a shallow drop and a short reach. Ergo or Anatomic drop bars vary the shape of the drop to make it more comfortable for the hand.

The “hooks” which are the preferred position of track bicycle racers, are encouraged by the large radius curves of track drop bars. The drops flare out from the middle of the Randonneur bars, which have a shallow rise in the middle. These are more suitable for longer rides than other drop bars. At the bottom of the drop, drop-in bars curve back into the head tube.

PROS

Drop bars allow the rider to tuck in the same way that bullhorns do. If you plan on doing a lot of track racing, it’s worth the money and effort to get a good set of drop bars.

Many riders add a brake hood to their drop bars, which serves as an additional bullhorn bar for additional hand positions. Brake hoods are more comfortable for the hand than flat bars for many people because they keep your hand in a neutral position. Drops can also be used as “miniature” bullhorns with the addition of hoods, making them better for climbs.

Better pedaling leverage – Many riders believe that in a tuck position, they can exert more power to the pedals with less effort.

Flat bars are ideal for the typical biker who prefers to cruise and not do much else. Drop bars are ideal for a bike enthusiast who does most of his biking in the city on flat roads but occasionally wants to try out some track riding.

They’re cool – Despite the fact that I think bullhorns are the most attractive handlebars, I occasionally root for the drop bar team.

CONS

Drop bars, like bullhorn bars, aren’t the best choice for making frequent tight turns. Because of the hand positioning on the drops, your hand will come into contact with debris before the handlebar.

Although many trail bikers use drop bars, they should be used with caution if you plan on riding rough terrain because the position puts a lot of stress on the wrist. Riding drops on trails can aggravate wrist issues like ulnar nerve pain and carpel tunnel syndrome.

triathlon triathlon bars handlebars illustration infographic triathlon triathlon triathlon triathlon triathlon triathlon triathlon triathlon triathlon triathlon triathlon

AERO BARS (n.d.)
Aero bars, also known as triathlon bars, are primarily used in time trials, where the rider competes against the clock alone. Two extended bars close together are grabbed with armrest pads to wrest the forearms, putting the rider into a narrow forward tuck position to reduce air drag even more.

PROS

Excellent aerodynamics – Although the narrow tuck position may appear uncomfortable, assuming a more aerodynamic stance can work wonders when riding against the wind, descending, or cycling at speeds above 27 mph.

Can be used to rest your hands – Some riders use aero bars to rest their arms and wrists, which is known as the praying mantis position.

Aero bars that clip on – If you want the option to assume a very narrow tuck position, you don’t have to ride exclusively with aero bars; aero kits can easily be added to drop bars and bullhorns. In fact, this is the most common method of incorporating aero bars into cycling.

CONS

Aero bars put the rider in a disadvantageous position to react to unexpected turns and road obstacles, which can be dangerous. Despite being more aerodynamic, they divert attention away from the brakes. As a result, it is prohibited in most group racing events.

Bad for climbing – Using aero bars puts the rider in a position where it’s difficult to apply power while pedaling, so it’s not ideal for climbing.

infographic on cruiser north road bars and handlebars

BARS FOR CRUISER
These are the kinds of bars you’ll want to take with you on your way to the candy store. North Road or Upright handlebars are other names for them. These types of bars allow the rider to control the bike while sitting completely upright due to their extreme sweep.

PROS

Excellent comfort – While riding, the position of the handlebars places the wrists in the most natural position.

Aesthetics – Cruiser handlebars give your bike a very sweet, homey appearance that is very pleasing to the eye. It’s the kind of handlebar you take home to your mother.

Suitable for baskets – The swept back design of the handlebar not only allows for more space in the front, but also keeps the weight balanced even when a basket is placed in front and filled with groceries.

CONS

More seat padding is required because the handlebars encourage a more upright position, which transfers more weight to the bike seat. When using cruiser bars, narrow bike seats with little padding are not kind to your butt.

Hills are your adversary, and cruiser handlebars are ineffective climbers. You might as well walk if you see a hill while riding a cruiser.

infographic illustration of butterfly trekking touring bars handlebars

BUTTERFLY BARS, NO. 7
These bars, also known as touring or trekking bars, are designed to accommodate a wide range of hand positions during long rides. It also has a lot of shelf space for things like mirrors, phones, maps, and even bags that you might need on long rides. Neil Gunton’s article “The Art of Bicycle Touring” contains a number of inventive butterfly bar applications and modifications.

PROS

Long-ride convenience – The figure-eight handlebar functions as a semi-stable shelf space where you can store items you need quick access to during long rides.

Better for the wrists – The bar’s irregular shape allows for a variety of hand positions that may be required during a long ride.

If you use shifters, many riders consider butterfly bars to be a better alternative to flat bars because they allow you to position the shifters directly in front of your hands, as shown here by an elated blogger.

CONS

Heavier – These bars are often heavier than most handlebars because they have irregular curves and are primarily used for utility. Although the significant increase in weight may not seem significant to most people, those who travel with their bikes on mounted bike racks will notice the difference.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (8)
The types of handlebars listed above are currently the most popular. If this were just another handlebar guide, we’d stop there, but since it’s called “the ultimate guide” we’ll keep going to cover all the other options.

BMX handlebars – These handlebars are designed to withstand a lot of abuse and provide a very stable base for the rider, even when a lot of weight is placed on them. It’s the most common type of bar used for bike tricks like these.

H-bars – These bars are available in a variety of looped, bent, and standard configurations. These bars provide even more hand positions, but they make it difficult to place brake levers and shifters.

Ape hangers – The rider must reach up to steer the bike because the handlebars are so high. Consumer advocacy groups have been pressing for these types of handlebars to be outlawed, and they are now regulated in some jurisdictions due to their ridiculous specifications. Despite how ridiculous they appear, I’m sure they feel great in your armpits.

Porteur bars are a spin-off of cruiser bars.

This type of bar is made to fit bike racks that are mounted on the front. A custom porteur bike carrying a large (but not too heavy) package is shown in a LongLeaf article.

Condorino bars – This handlebar, which originated in Italy in the 1950s, has a unique shape that curves forward and then protrudes straight out. It has the appearance of a large bottle opener.

Whatton bars are a type of handlebar used on penny-farthing bicycles. They’re made so that riding a penny-farthing isn’t complete suicide by allowing the rider to land feet first if they need to bail.

Mustache handlebars – These oddly named bars are basically drop bars with a small drop.

Recumbent handlebars are handlebars that are commonly found on recumbent bikes.

Get to Know Yourself
Bicycling is a quick, inexpensive, and healthy way to get from point A to point B. It’s also an expression of individuality because riding styles often reflect the rider’s personality; for example, laid-back people prefer cruiser handlebars, whereas a hyperactive person like me prefers a handlebar that can accommodate a variety of riding styles.

It’s critical to use a bicycle handle that makes you feel one with your bike, not just in terms of handling and performance, but also as if it’s an extension of yourself. I hope this road bike handlebar review has assisted you in your search for the ideal handlebar. Furthermore, I hope that the information in this guide will help you to improve your overall biking experience.

Author avatar - Bradley Knight

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