Types of Bicycle Handlebars

by wheretheroadforks

The handlebars play a major role in the comfort, aerodynamics, and handling of your bicycle. Along with steering the bike, the handlebars also support part of your weight while you ride. In addition, they provide a mounting location for your brake levers and shifters as well as accessories such as a light, cycling computer, GPS, etc. In this guide, I describe 17 types of bicycle handlebars and list the pros and cons of each. I’ll also outline handlebar sizes, materials, compatibility, grips, and more. Hopefully, this guide helps you choose the best type of handlebars for your style of riding.

flat bars

Flat Handlebars

Flat handlebars are the most basic type of bicycle handlebars. They are commonly found on mountain bikes, hybrids, cross-country bikes, flat bar road bikes, and fixed-gear bikes.

Flat bars are a simple tube that is nearly straight. Most bend slightly back toward the rider between 2 and 10 degrees. The amount that the bar bends back is called its sweep. Flat bars also come in a range of widths. The average pair measures around 580-600 mm wide.

Pros

  • Flat bars give you good control of the bike- Because flat bars are wide, they give you a lot of leverage. You can steer precisely, even at slow speeds or on technical terrain. This is the reason that most mountain bikes use flat bars.
  • Parts are easily available- If you’re touring in a rural region or the developing world, it is easy to find flat bar compatible brake levers, shifters, and cables. Every bike shop and most department stores stock them.
  • The brakes are easily accessible at all times- Your hands are always right next to the brake levers. This allows you to stop faster in an emergency situation because you don’t have to move your hands to a different part of the bars to reach the levers.
  • Replacement parts are affordable- Flat bar shifters and brake levers are usually cheaper than comparable drop bar road components. Bar grips last longer than tape. You’ll save some money.
  • Plenty of space for mounting accessories- Due to the width and relatively straight tubing, there is room for a light, GPS, bell, cycling computer, your phone, etc.
  • Comfort- Many riders enjoy the upright riding position that flat bars offer. This position puts less stress on your neck and lower back because you’re not hunched over while you ride. You can also mount bar ends for additional hand positions.
  • Changing cables is easy- The brake and shifter cables and housings are all exposed and easy to access.
  • Good visibility- Due to the upright riding position, you look ahead of yourself at all times instead of at the ground.

Cons

  • There is only one hand position- This is a problem if you ride long distance. You may experience hand numbness or wrist pain if you keep your hands in the same position for too long.
  • Not aerodynamic- Flat bars put you in an upright riding position. In this position, your chest acts as a sail and causes drag. This slows you down.
  • Inefficient- The poor aerodynamics cause you to burn more energy to maintain your pace. Particularly while riding through a headwind or at speed.
  • Flat bars can’t fit through narrow gaps- Due to the width of the bars, you can’t pass through tight gaps between cars or trees as easily.
  • Not good for climbing hills- You can’t shift your weight forward to gain leverage.

For more pros and cons, check out my flat bar vs drop bar pros and cons list.

Drop Bars

drop bars

Drop bars feature a straight center section where the bars attach to the stem. The ends of the bars curve forward and then down and finally back toward the rider. This is one of the most popular types of bicycle handlebars today. They are common on road bikes, racing bikes, and even some off-road bikes.

Drop bars offer three distinct hand positions

  1. On the flat section on top of the bars- This is the most upright position. It allows for relaxed breathing while riding up long moderate inclines or cruising along at slow speeds.
  2. The brake hoods- This slightly more aggressive position leans your body forward to reduce wind resistance. It is great for faster riding. Riding the hoods also allows you to quickly grab the brakes if you need to stop quickly. Many riders find the brake hoods to be the most comfortable position.
  3. In the drops- This is the most aerodynamic position. Riding the drops is great for powering through headwinds, sprinting, or climbing steep hills. This position gets uncomfortable quickly.

drop bars

Types of Drop Bars

Drop bars come in a number of different styles for different types of cycling. They are defined by three measurements:

  1. Reach- This measures how far forward the bar curves.
  2. Drop- This measures the distance between the top of the bar and the drop.
  3. Width- This measures the distance between the drops.

These measurements are usually listed in centimeters or millimeters.

Types of drop bars include:

  • Standard drop bars- These are common on road and track bicycles. Standard drop bars can be subdivided into two types of drop bars. Classic drop bars have a long reach and a deep drop. Compact drop bars have a short reach and a shallow drop. Some standard drop bars have an indentation along the bar. These indentations hold the cables so you can feel them less under the bar tape.
  • Track- These drop bars are designed to suit the riding position of track bicycle racers. They have large a radius curve that encourages riders to use the ‘hooks’. Track bars are designed to be used without brake levers. For this reason, they are popular among fixed gear bike riders.
  • Ergo/anatomic drop bars- These bars use a non-cylindrical tubing on the top of the bar to make them more comfortable to grip. The tubing is designed to fit the anatomy of the hand. This added comfort allows you to ride longer without your hands tiring out or going numb.
  • Randonneur- These drop bars rise slightly from the center to give you a more upright riding position while gripping the top of the bars. The drop portion flares out slightly at the bottom. These bars are designed to be more comfortable than standard drop bars. They are popular among bicycle tourists and long-distance riders.
  • Drop-in bars- These bars have an extension at the end of the drops that curves back toward the head tube. The idea of this design is to improve aerodynamics. These bars were popular among racers at one time but the popularity has decreased.
  • Dirt drops- These drop bars are designed for off-road use. The ends of the bars flare out to give you more leverage. They are popular among bicycle tourists and bikepackers. Some mountain bikers also use them.

Pros

  • Excellent aerodynamics- Drop bars allow you to crouch down to reduce drag. This helps you ride faster and saves energy.
  • Multiple hand positions- There are three main hand positions: On the brake hoods, on the top of the bars, and in the drops. A fourth position is on the curves on top of the bars. You can switch positions often to avoid fatigue and hand numbness.
  • Great for climbing hills- Drop bars allow you to shift your weight forward. This gives you more leverage to pedal powerfully.
  • Efficiency– Because drop bars are more aerodynamic, they allow you to travel further using less energy. You can maintain a higher average speed and cover more distance per day without tiring out as much. You don’t waste as much energy fighting against wind resistance.
  • Drop bars can fit through narrow gaps- Average drop bars measure about 40-46 cm wide. The narrow bar width allows you to fit through narrow gaps in traffic while commuting.
  • Looks- Something about the curvy design gives the bike a classic and iconic look.

Cons

  • Parts cost more- Drop bar brake levers and shifters are usually more expensive than comparable flat bar versions.
  • Less control over the bike- Because drop bars are more narrow, they are harder to steer precisely. Particularly at low speeds or on technical terrain. For this reason, drop bars are generally better for on-road use.
  • Poor parts availability in some regions- If you ride in rural regions or the developing world, you may find it difficult to find replacement parts like brake levers and shifters. Road components are less common. Sometimes they aren’t stocked in small bike shops.
  • Less room for mounting accessories- With drop bars, there isn’t much space for a light, GPS, cycling computer, bell, etc. Most of the bar is curved or covered in bar tape.
  • Poor visibility- Drop bars tend to put you in an aggressive forward-leaning position with your head tilted down.
  • You may need to move your hands to reach the brakes- This is the case if you’re riding the tops of the bars or in the drops. In an emergency situation, the time it takes to move your hands. This increases your stopping distance which can be dangerous.

For more pros and cons, check out my drop bar vs flat bar pros and cons list or check out my youtube video on the subject. 

Bullhorn Bars

bullhorn bars

Image by Bruce Turner, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Bullhorn bars curve forward and up at the ends. Kind of in a U shape. They get their name from their appearance. They look like horns pointing forward on the bike like a charging bull. This type of handlebar was originally used for track racing. Today, they are popular on fixed gear, single-speed, and urban commuting bikes.

Bullhorn bars are sometimes made by cutting the drops off of drop bars then flipping them upside down so the ends curve up. These are often called “flopped and chopped”. These provide less reach than purpose-built bullhorn bars.

Pursuit bars are a common variation of bullhorn bars. These drop down slightly from the center then curve out and up at the ends like bullhorn bars. This gives you a slightly more aggressive and more aerodynamic riding position. These are common in track racing.

Pros

  • Good aerodynamics- Bullhorn bars allow you to crouch down into headwinds and while riding at speed by gripping the bar ends. Pursuit bars allow you to tuck further down yet. Bullhorn bars aren’t quite as aerodynamic as drop bars but are much better than flat bars.
  • Excellent for climbing- Gripping the horn part of the bar moves your weight forward and gives you great leverage for climbing hills. This position gives you optimal pedaling power. Bullhorn bars may be the best type of handlebars for climbing.
  • Multiple hand positions- You can grip on the flat section for a more upright ride or on the ends of the bars for a more aero position.
  • Looks- Bullhorn bars give your bike a simple and clean looking design. They look cool and the name sounds cool.

Cons

  • Not great for tight turns and technical riding- Due to the narrow design, you can’t get much leverage for precise turning. For this reason, bullhorn bars aren’t ideal for off-road riding.
  • The horns can snag- The way the horns stick out in front makes it easy for them to catch on obstacles like tree branches and car mirrors for example.

Riser Bars

riser handlebars

Riser bars are a variation of flat bars. The only difference is that riser bars sweep up from the stem before flattening out on the ends where the grips are. They typically rise between 15-50 mm. Riser bars are generally wider than flat bars as well. Most measure about 650-800 mm wide. They can also accept bar ends for additional hand positions.

The purpose of these handlebars is to put you in a more upright riding position than flat bars. Many people find this position more comfortable. Riser bars are common on hybrid bikes, mountain bikes, and comfort bikes.

Pros

  • Riser bars give you good control over the bike- Between the width and the upright riding position, riser bars give you a lot of leverage to accurately point your bars where you want to go. This makes them great for riding off-road and at low speeds.
  • Comfort- Many riders find the upright riding position to be more comfortable than an aggressive hunched over position.
  • Easier on your wrists- The upright riding position takes your body weight off of your wrists and arms and moves it to your butt. This is great for people with wrist problems.
  • Excellent visibility- The upright riding position means you’re looking straight ahead instead of toward the ground.
  • Parts availability and cost- Riser bars use standard flat bar brakes and shifter levers. These are available in every bike shop. These parts are also inexpensive.

Cons

  • Poor aerodynamics- When you’re sitting straight up, your chest creates a lot of wind resistance. This slows you down and costs you energy. It is difficult to tuck down to reduce drag while using riser bars.
  • Can’t fit through narrow gaps- Riser bars are some of the widest bike handlebars available. An average one measures around 700 mm wide. This makes it harder to ride through narrow paths, gaps between cars, and crowded bike paths. Your bars can snag on branches, side view mirrors, and other obstacles. It also makes the bike harder to walk through doorways.
  • Not good for climbing- The riding position puts more weight toward the rear of the bike. This makes climbing hills more difficult because you can’t get as much leverage on the pedals.
  • Only one hand position- If you’re riding long distance, you may experience hand fatigue and numbness because you can’t change your grip up. The solution is to install bar ends for a second-hand position.
  • Heavier- The rise and added width means more material is required to manufacture the bars. This adds a bit of weight.
  • Inefficient- Due to the added wind resistance, you’ll burn more energy to maintain your pace.

Aero Bars (Triathlon Bars)

aero bars

Aero bars are designed to put your body in the most aerodynamic riding position possible. They achieve this by drawing the body forward and into a tucked position where the rider’s arms are held out in front of them. Aero bars are popular in time trial events and triathlons where the rider races against the clock rather than other riders.

Aero bars consist of two parallel bars mounted close together that extend straight out in front of the rider. At the close end of the bars, there are pads where the rider can rest their forearms. Most aero bars sweep up slightly at the ends to make them more ergonomic. They are often wrapped in bar tape.

These aren’t really standalone handlebars. Aero bars almost always attach to another type of handlebars. Most commonly drop bars but they are compatible with other types of bicycle handlebars like flat bars and bullhorn bars. They attach near the stem. Sometimes aero bars are integrated into a drop or pursuit handlebar unit. Some riders create a kind of makeshift aero bar by installing bar ends pointing straight ahead near the stem of flat handlebars.

Pros

  • Excellent aerodynamics- These are the most aerodynamically efficient handlebars available. The riding position allows you to cut through the air by reducing drag. Adding aero bars can greatly increase your speed and efficiency. Particularly for fast riders. According to the article “Aerodynamics of Cycling Explained Through CFD,” aerodynamic drag makes up to 90% of the resistance that a rider has to overcome.
  • Clip-on aero bars can be added to your existing handlebars- You can mount aero bars to most handlebar types including drop bars, flat bars, and bullhorn bars. These simply bolt-on.
  • You can rest your hands- While riding aero bars, you don’t really need to use your hands much. You don’t even need to grip the bars most of the time because your forearm keeps them straight. This is great for those who suffer from hand numbness or wrist pain while riding.

Cons

  • Unstable- Holding your hands so close together makes it difficult to turn. You just don’t have the leverage to turn precisely. If you have to turn quickly, you could put yourself in a dangerous situation.
  • They place your hands far from the brakes- This increases your stopping distance because it takes time to push yourself off the aero bars and move your hands to the brakes. This can be dangerous. If you need to stop quickly in the event of an emergency, every moment is important.
  • Not useful for sprints or climbs- Sometimes power is more important than aerodynamics. In these cases, your aero bars don’t help you.
  • Aero bars are illegal in most races where riders race against each other- This is done for safety reasons outlined in the points above.
  • They add weight- Most aero bars weigh between 400 and 800 grams.

Cruiser Bars

These long handlebars sweep up and toward the back of the bicycle at a diagonal. The idea of the design is to allow the rider to sit completely upright. These are common on beach cruisers like my OP Roller. They use the same shifters and brake levers as flat bars.

Pros

  • Wrist comfort- The angle of the grips puts your wrists in a neutral and comfortable position. These bars pair perfectly with ergonomic grips for even more comfort.
    Cruiser bars take weight off of your arms and hands- The riding position takes most of your weight off of your arms and puts it on your butt. With cruiser bars, your arms just steer. This is great for those with wrist problems.
  • Looks- Many riders associate cruiser handlebars with beach bikes. They give the bike a relaxed and chilled-out look. They are perfect for a leisurely ride along the boardwalk.
  • Visibility- The upright riding position allows you to look straight ahead at the road in front of you. You can see the world and enjoy the view as you cruise around.
  • Great for recreational and around town use- As the name implies, these handlebars are excellent for just cruising around. Some riders like to mount a basket to the front and use their cruiser bike for grocery shopping. The swept-back design allows you to mount a large basket.

Cons

  • You need a comfortable seat- The upright riding position puts almost all of your body weight on your butt. You’ll want a wide seat with plenty of padding and maybe even suspension to stay comfortable.
  • There is only one hand position- For this reason, cruiser bars aren’t ideal for long rides. Your hands can still tire out even though they aren’t supporting any bodyweight.
    Bad for climbing hills- Cruiser bars move most of your weight to the rear of the bike. This isn’t ideal for climbing.
  • Poor aerodynamics- This is probably the least aerodynamically efficient type of bicycle handlebars. Your chest faces straight out like a sail and your arms are spread wide while riding. This causes drag. You’ll ride slow and burn a lot of energy.
  • Heavy- These large handlebars use a lot of material to make. This adds weight.

Trekking Bars (Butterfly Bars or Touring Bars)

trekking bars

Trekking bars, also known as butterfly or touring bars, are designed to give you a wide range of hand positions to keep you comfortable on long-distance rides. They are common on touring bicycles. Particularly European made touring bicycles.

Trekking bars look kind of like a figure 8 mounted to the stem horizontally. There is a break on the side closest to the rider where the grips go. Trekking bars use the same brake levers and shifters as flat bars.

Pros

  • Plenty of hand positions- Trekking bars offer an infinite number of places to grip. You can grab the grips on the ends, stretch out by gripping the front side of the bars, hold your hands wide by gripping the sides, or anywhere in between. Moving your hands often helps to prevent hand numbness and wrist pain.
  • Lots of space for mounting accessories- Trekking bars give you plenty of space to mount a cycling computer, lights, GPS, bell, your phone, a map, feed bags, and whatever else you want on your handlebars.
  • Comfortable and roomy cockpit- Being so large and wide, trekking bars allow you to stretch out while you ride. You’re not cramped in a tight cockpit. They also offer an upright riding position which many cyclists enjoy.
  • Better control- The wide grip gives you plenty of leverage to control the bike on technical terrain.
  • Good parts availability- Trekking bars use the same brake levers and shifters as flat bars. These are easily available in pretty much every bike shop.
  • Excellent for touring and long rides- Because you can move your hands around so much, you can ride longer without tiring out.

Cons

  • Heavy- Trekking bars are probably the largest type of bicycle handlebars. They use a lot of material. This adds a considerable amount of weight.
  • Bar flex- Some riders complain that the ends of the bars can flex too much. The flexing can fatigue the bars in the long term, eventually causing them to fail. It also wastes energy that could be used to drive you forward. Whether or not you encounter flexing in your trekking bars depends on the quality of bars you’re using as well as the material and thickness.
  • You may need a long stem- In some cases, the bars can hit the frame when turning if the stem isn’t long enough.
  • You may need to move your hands to use the brakes- You can only use the brakes when you’re gripping the ends of the bars where the grips are. Having to move your hands can cost you time in an emergency situation where you need to brake quickly.
  • Some riders find the brakes and shifters to be too close together- This can make you feel unstable because you can’t get much leverage. The solution is to simply grip the sides of the bars. The problem is that you can’t shift or brake from there.
  • Reduced aerodynamics- Trekking bars put you in an upright riding position which causes drag. This slows you down. You’ll also burn more energy to maintain your pace.
  • Bar tape tends to come off easily- This is probably due to the long and curvy design of the bars. You’ll need to re-wrap your trekking bars more often, which is kind of annoying. Alternatively, you could use foam grips.
  • Unattractive- Many riders don’t like the looks of trekking bars. Some complain that trekking bars make the bike look like a clown’s bike.

Mustache Handlebars

mustache handlebars

Mustache handlebars start curving forward from the stem then curve back toward the rider. The ends of the bars drop down slightly, giving you a bit of an aero position. They kind of look like drop bars if the drops were flared out and they were flattened.

Mustache bars use the same brake levers and shifters as drop bars. They are compatible with integrated shifters or bar-end shifters. The road style brake levers are mounted sideways just inside of the crest of each curve.

Pros

  • Multiple hand positions- Mustache bars offer 4 distinct hand positions. You can ride on the hoods, on the crest of the curves, on the ends of the bars, or near the center of the bars next to the stem.
  • Mustache bars offer better braking power and control than drop bars- Mustache bars put you in a more upright riding position while using the brakes than drop bars. This position gives you great grip and control of the brake levers, allowing you to precisely control your braking. To get the same grip on the brakes with drop bars, you have to be riding in the drops. This puts you in a more aggressive and uncomfortable position with less control.
  • Good for climbing hills- Gripping the ends of the bars gives you excellent leverage for climbs.
  • Unique looks- Many riders like the curvy look and horizontal brake lever placement.

Cons

  • You can’t shift and brake at the same time- The brakes are located on the curve and the shifters are usually on the ends of the bars. This means you have to move your hands often to control the bike.
  • Hard to mount accessories- The curvy design makes it difficult to mount a light, cycling computer, or any other accessories.
  • Not as aerodynamic as drop bars- The ends of mustache bars drop just slightly. You can’t crouch down as far as you can with drop bars. This results in a less aerodynamic riding position.
  • More expensive parts- For whatever reason, bar-end shifters are pretty pricey for what they are. Road brake levers are more expensive than mountain bike levers. This adds makes running mustache bars cost a bit more.

For more info on mustache bars, check out this interesting article.

Upright or North Road Handlebars

upright handlebars on a bamboo bike

North road handlebars curve forward slightly from the stem then sweep back toward the rider. In many cases, the grips are almost parallel with the bike’s frame. Most north road handlebars sweep up 3-4 inches. These handlebars can also be inverted so they sweep down. This gives the bike a more aggressive riding position.

Also known as townie or tourist bars, north road bars are one of the oldest handlebar designs. They were common on 3-speed bikes into the 80s as well as some European utility bikes. They get their name from London’s North Road Cycling Club. Recently, these handlebars have grown in popularity. Today, north road handlebars are common on town bikes, commuters, city bikes, hybrid bikes, comfort bikes, utility bikes, and roadsters.

Pros

  • Easy on the hands and wrists- North road handlebars put you in an upright riding position. This takes the weight off of your hands and wrists. The grips, being almost parallel with the frame, put your wrists in an ergonomic and comfortable position.
  • Great visibility- The upright riding position allows you to look straight out in front of you without having to strain your neck.
  • Looks- Because these are one of the oldest types of bike handlebars, they give your bike a classic look.

Cons

  • Poor aerodynamics- Between the upright riding position and wide grip, north road handlebars put you in an inefficient riding position that creates a lot of drag.
  • Only one hand position- The only place to grip the bars is at the ends on the grips. For this reason, north road handlebars aren’t a great choice for touring or bikepacking.
  • You need a comfortable seat- Because the bars are raised up, they move almost all of your body weight onto the seat. You’ll want a wide seat with plenty of padding and support while riding with north road handlebars.

Ape Hangers

Ape hangers rise up from the stem in a U shape. They generally rise so high that the rider has to reach up to grip them. This means the grips sit above shoulder level. In extreme cases, the grips may even sit above the rider’s head.

Ape hangers are designed to imitate the look of chopper motorcycles. This type of bike handlebar became popular in the 1960s. During this time, they were common on wheelie bikes. Ape hangers remained popular through the mid-1980s. In the later years, they were common on lowrider bicycles.

For safety reasons, laws were passed in the United States and the European Union during the 1970s to limit the height of ape hanger handlebars that were installed by manufacturers. In the United States, maximum ape hanger height was 16 inches (40.64 cm) above the lowest seat setting. In Europe, the height limit was 40 cm above the lowest seat setting.

Pros

Really, the only reason you would use ape hanger handlebars is because you like the way they look. They are a novelty. Some people think they look funny or cool. They also fit in with the aesthetics of some types of bikes like low riders and cruisers. If you don’t care for the looks, there is really no reason to consider ape hangers.

Cons

  • Your arms get tired- You can only hold your arms up above your shoulders for so long before they start tiring out.
  • The bars flex- Due to the extreme length of ape hangers, they can easily flex as you ride. This does not inspire confidence. The amount of flex depends on the height of the bars and the material they’re made of.
  • Heavy- These are probably the heaviest handlebars available due to the extreme length. After all, they use a lot of material to make.
  • Poor aerodynamics- Holding your arms up creates drag. The handlebars themselves create drag as well because they are so large.
    Only one hand position- You can only hold the bars on the grips.
  • Dangerous- This is the reason that ape hanger height is regulated in some countries. This type of handlebars doesn’t give you much control over the bike. You can’t steer accurately with your arms reaching above your head. Ape hangers are made for cruising around.
  • Looks- Many people think ape hangers look goofy and pointless.

H Bars

H bars come in a variety of designs. The main thing distinguishing these handlebars from other designs is the 45-degree sweepback. Most models have a unique loop design in the center with a .5 inch rise. They are available in aluminum, carbon, and titanium. H bars are a popular choice for touring bikes, gravel grinders, mountain bikes, fat bikes, road bikes, commuters, and bikepacking bikes. They are made by Jones Bicycles.

Pros

  • Natural wrist position- The 45-degree sweep of H bars puts your wrists in an ergonomic and neutral position. This is great for those who suffer from wrist pain. They also work well when paired with ergonomic grips.
  • Multiple hand positions- Many riders wrap the center loop of H bars with bar tape. This gives you a couple of additional riding positions including a forward-reaching somewhat aero position.
  • Plenty of space for mounting accessories- The central loop of many H bar designs provides plenty of space for mounting a cycling computer, GPS, light, bell, or even a small storage bag.
  • Excellent control over the bike- These wide handlebars give you great leverage for steering. For this reason, H bars are perfect for off-road riding.

Cons

  • Expensive- These are premium handlebars. The standard aluminum model costs about $120. Titanium options cost around $400.
  • Not aerodynamic- The wide grip and upright riding position produce quite a bit of drag. You can tuck into a somewhat aero position by gripping the front center of the bar.
  • They’re wide- These bars measure either 660 or 710 mm. They aren’t great for riding through narrow trails or dense cities.

BMX Handlebars

BMX bars

BMX handlebars are used on BMX bikes. They rise 8-10 inches from the stem then level off at the ends where the grips are located. Most BMX handlebars have a crossbar in the middle to provide extra strength and rigidity.

These handlebars are designed to handle hard use and abuse. They give the rider a stable base for performing tricks. BMX bars don’t flex, even when a lot of weight is applied.

BMX handlebars are measured by width, rise, and up-sweep. Most BMX handlebars rise 8-10 inches and measure 28-30 inches wide.

Pros

  • Strong- BMX bars are designed to be beat up and abused. They won’t bend or break in a crash or wipeout.
  • No flex- The cross brace makes BMX handlebars incredibly rigid. They won’t flex, even when all of your body weight is on them.

Cons

If you’re not riding a BMX bike, there isn’t really any reason to use BMX handlebars.

Porteur Handlebars

porteur handlebars

Porteur bars are designed to be paired with a front-mounted rack or basket. These are commonly used on porteur bicycles that are built for hauling cargo. Porteur handlebars are usually flat in the front then curve back so that the grips are almost parallel with the bike frame. Some models drop slightly.

Pros

  • Good for hauling cargo- The flat design allows you to mount a large rack or basket to the front of the bicycle. This allows you to carry large packages.
  • Comfortable upright riding position- The swept-back design allows you to sit upright.
  • Multiple hand positions- Porteur handlebars are designed to be gripped at the ends. Having said this, many riders tape the bars so they can grip on the flat section near the stem as well.
  • Good visibility- The upright riding position gives you a clear view of the road. This is particularly important when you’re riding a heavy bike full of cargo.

Cons

  • Not great for climbing hills- The grip placement doesn’t give you much leverage for climbing. Porteur handlebars also put most of your body weight on the back of the bike. This makes climbing a bit harder.
  • Poor aerodynamics- The upright riding position causes drag.
    Heavy- These are fairly large handlebars. They take a lot of material to make.

Bullmoose Handlebars

Bullmoose bars combine the handlebars and quill stem into one unit. Instead of a normal single stem bar, there are two diagonal bars running from the quill to the handlebars. These two stem bars meet the handlebars off-center, forming a triangle. The actual handlebar is fairly flat with a slight sweep back from where the stem meets the bar. Bullmoose handlebars were common on early mountain bikes. They are not really in use on modern bikes.

Pros

  • Excellent control over the bike- Bullmoose handlebars are large and wide. They give you great leverage for steering the bike precisely.
  • Sturdy and strong- Due to the integrated triangular stem design, these bars won’t flex under stress. They are unlikely to bend in a crash.

Cons

  • Heavy- Due to the size and the fact that there is an extra stem bar, these handlebars weigh quite a bit more than similar handlebar options.
  • Not customizable- Because the stem is integrated into the handlebars, you can’t really adjust the height or reach of the bars.
  • Only one hand position- Bullmoose bars are the same as flat bars in this sense.

Condorino Handlebars

These unique looking handlebars have a short straight section near the stem then curve forward almost 90°. From there, they sharply turn outward almost 90°. The grips are on the ends. Condorino bars kind of look like a shallow U shape with bars sticking out perpendicular on the ends. There is no rise or drop. These bars are much more narrow than most flat bars.

Condornino bars became common in Italy in the 1950s. They were designed to give the bike a sporty look but still remain useful for general purpose riding. At the time, most people could not afford to own a racing bicycle and around town bicycle. Condorino bars lost popularity as road bicycles became more common. They went out of production in the 1980s.

Pros

  • Looks- Condorino handlebars give the bike a sporty look, as they were intended to.
  • Can fit through narrow gaps- Due to the narrow design, condorino bars allow you to pass through tight spots between cars.

Cons

  • Only one hand position- Like flat bars, you can only grip condorino bars on the ends.
  • Not great for controling the bike- Condorino bars are very narrow. They don’t give you much leverage for steering.
  • Not much space for mounting accessories- Due to the extreme curves, there is not really any space for mounting anything to your handlebars.

Whatton Handlebars

Whatton bars are used no penny-farthing bicycles. They are designed so the rider can land feet first if they have to bail from the bike. This is achieved with the shape of the bars. They loop behind the penny-farthing rider’s legs. Whatton handlebars are also used on recumbent bicycles with under seat steering.

Recumbent Bicycle Handlebars

Because recumbent bike designs vary so widely, they often use unique handlebar designs that aren’t found anywhere else in the cycling world. Recumbent bikes come in over seat and under seat steering versions.

An over seat steering recumbent with a long wheelbase might use handlebars with an extremely far reach. These are almost like ape hangers mounted more horizontally. An under seat steering recumbent might use a variation of Whatton handlebars.

A Note About Bicycle Handlebar Design

The basic function of the handlebars is to give you leverage to steer the bicycle and to provide a platform where you can mount the brake levers and shifters. There are trade-offs in every handlebar design. When choosing the best type of handlebars for your bike, you’ll want to consider:

  • Comfort- Generally, handlebars that put you in an upright riding position tend to be more comfortable because they put less stress on your neck, back, and wrists. Handlebars that offer multiple hand positions also tend to increase comfort because they allow you to move your hands around to avoid fatigue. Some of the more comfortable handlebar designs include riser bars, cruiser bars, trekking bars, and mustache bars.
  • Aerodynamics- Handlebars that allow you to stretch forward or crouch down to reduce drag are more aerodynamic. Some of the more aero handlebar designs include drop bars, bullhorn bars, and aero bars.
  • Leverage- Some handlebars allow you to pedal more powerfully than others. They achieve this by moving your body weight over the bars and providing a solid grip position. Leverage is important for climbing hills and accelerating hard. Handlebars that provide good leverage include drop bars, bullhorn bars, and mustache bars.
  • Control- Generally, handlebars that allow for the most control tend to be wider. These give you the leverage to precisely steer your wheel where you want it to go. You can even pull the front wheel up to ride over obstacles. Some handlebar designs that give you good control include flat bars, riser bars, h bars, and trekking bars.

Generally for on-road riding, touring, and racing aerodynamics and leverage are more important. You’ll also want to consider weight. Lighter bars are preferable. Multiple hand positions can allow you to ride further without tiring out.

For off-road riding, bikepacking, or mountain biking, control is most important because you need to be able to maneuver over obstacles. You’ll also want to consider strength. Crashes and hitting obstacles can put extra stress on your handlebars.

Of course, you want to be as comfortable as possible no matter where you’re riding.

Bicycle Handlebar Materials

Bike handlebars are made of a number of materials. The material determines the strength, cost, and weight, and vibration dampening properties of the handlebars. Each material has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.

Handlebar materials include:

  • Aluminum alloy- This is the most common material. The main benefit of aluminum is that it is inexpensive. You can buy a decent set of aluminum handlebars for just $20-$30. Aluminum is also fairly strong, lightweight, and rigid. One drawback to the rigidity is that aluminum bars don’t absorb any shocks or vibrations from the road. You’ll feel more road noise in your hands. Aluminum can also fatigue over time.
  • Carbon fiber- The main reason to choose carbon handlebars is the weight. They weigh about 20%-40% less than aluminum handlebars. Carbon can also be molded into any shape. This allows manufacturers to give the handlebars an ergonomic or aerodynamic shape. This can help with comfort and efficiency. The material is also very rigid. The main drawback is the high price. Carbon handlebars are also more fragile than aluminum. For example, if you tighten your stem too much, they can crack. They are also more likely to break during an accident.
  • Titanium- Titanium handlebars are incredibly strong and durable. The material can take a beating without bending or cracking. Titanium also offers a bit of vibration and shock dampening. The problem with this is that there can be some bar flex. Titanium is not quite as rigid as aluminum. The main drawback of titanium handlebars is the cost. Many models cost $200-$500 depending on the complexity of the design. Titanium is also heavier than aluminum.
  • Steel alloy- Steel handlebars are uncommon but a handful of companies do make them. Steel offers more vibration dampening than aluminum because the material is a bit less rigid. The material is also incredibly strong and long-lasting. Your bars won’t fatigue over time. The problem with steel handlebars is the weight. They are heavy.
bike with aluminum handlebars

A Brompton folding bike with aluminum handlebars

Handlebar Sizes and Compatibility

Bicycle handlebars come in a wide range of sizes. Over the years, there have been a number of different standards. When choosing a type of handlebars, you’ll want to consider the following size parameters to ensure that your handlebars are compatible with your components and your body type:

Handlebar Width

Most handlebars come in a range of widths for different sized riders. For example, drop bars usually range from 34-50 cm. Usually, the rider chooses handlebars with grips about shoulder-width apart. This allows the arms to sit parallel to one another. For other types of bike handlebars, the rider may prefer a wider grip position. This is often the case with flat bars which measure around 58-60 cm wide on average.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all manufacturers measure handlebar width the same way. Some measure from edge to edge and others measure between grip positions. It’s a good idea to try handlebars before you buy so you know that they are the correct width for your body.

Stem Clamp Diameter

Your handlebars need to be compatible with your stem in order to mount them. This means that the handlebar tube diameter where the stem clamps must match the stem clamp size. You can measure your bike’s clamp diameter or stem size with a pair of slide calipers.

The current ISO standard handlebar clamp diameter is 25.4 mm (1 inch). This is the size that most modern mountain bikes and road bikes use.

Another common size is 22.2 mm (7/8 inch). These are common on older mountain bikes, BMX bikes, and lower-end department store bikes.

These days, a new standard that is emerging is the oversized 31.8 mm (1 ¼ in). These are found on modern road and mountain bikes.

Over the years, there have been a number of standard sizes. There are also a few odd sizes that are brand or country-specific. For example, 25 mm is an old French size. 26 mm was use on some old Italian road bikes.

Modern stems with detachable faceplates can often accommodate handlebars that are slightly off size. Older quill stems with pinch bolts must be matched with the correct sized handlebar.

For more info, check out this list of handlebar dimensions from Sheldon Brown.

Brake Lever and Shifter Clamp Diameter

The ends of your handlebars where the shifters, brake levers, and grips attach can have several different diameters. For road and mountain bike handlebars, the diameter is pretty much standardized and has been for quite some time. You likely won’t run into compatibility issues unless you plan to mix road and mountain bike components. You’ll need to make sure that the shifters and brake levers that you plan to install have a clamp diameter that is the same as the diameter of your handlebars.

The road handlebar standard diameter is 23.8 mm (15/16 inch). This size is used on most road-style handlebars including drop bars, mustache bars, bullhorn bars, etc. For road handlebars like drop bars, the grip diameter doesn’t really matter because you’ll probably be wrapping your bars in grip tape.

The other standard handlebar diameter is 22.2 mm (7/8 inch). This size is used on most mountain and city handlebars including flat bars, riser bars, cruiser bars, trekking bars, most porter bars, etc. Most thumb shifters, twist shifters, rapid-fire shifters, and mountain bike brake levers are only compatible with this handlebar diameter.

If you plan to switch from a road bike style handlebar to a mountain bike style handlebar, you’ll probably need to replace your brake levers and shifters. For example, maybe you want to install trekking bars on your drop bar touring bike. Trekking bars typically have a diameter of 22.2 mm. This means your standard road levers may not work.

These days, some bike handlebar types are available in multiple diameters. This allows you to choose handlebars that match the types of components that you plan to use. This way, you don’t have to buy new shifters and brake levers when you switch to a different style of handlebars.

Handlebar Grips and Bar Tape

handlebar grips

Bicycles handlebars use either grips, bar tape, or a combination of the two. Generally, handlebars with one hand position use grips on the ends and handlebars with multiple hand positions use tape.

The grip or tape style and material that you choose plays a major role in your bike’s handling. After all, your grips are your hand’s only contact point with the bike. They affect your ability to shift, brake, and control the handlebars.

The grips or tape also play a major role in your comfort. Whenever you ride the bike, your hands will be resting on the handlebars. Choosing the wrong grips can lead to hand numbness or wrist pain. They can also make harm your bike’s handling and performance.

Handlebar Grips

Bar grips come in a variety of materials and designs. A few key factors to consider when choosing grips include:

Grip Attachment Systems: Slip On and Lock On

Grips attach in one of two ways. The most common style is slip-on. As the name implies, these grips simply slide on and stay in place with friction. This works because the grip diameter is slightly smaller than the bar. You can install them with some kind of lubricant like dish soap or rubbing alcohol. You can remove them with compressed air or simply cutting them off. The drawback to this style is that they can slip around.

The second style is lock-on grips. These lock in place with an Allen bolt. This design is easier to install and remove. You can swap grips out easily. They also stay in place better. The drawback is that lock-on grips are heavier and more expensive.

For more info, check out my slip-on vs lock-on grip pros and cons list.

Grip Materials

  • Rubber- This is the most common material. It is cheap, durable, and maintenance-free. Rubber also provides protection from shocks and some insulation. The drawback is that rubber grips can cause blisters because they don’t breathe.
  • Foam- These grips are cheap and light. They also absorb sweat. The drawback is that foam breaks down quickly.
  • Cork- This material is durable and allows sweat to dry quickly, which reduces blisters. The drawback is that cork grips are expensive.
  • Leather- These grips look great on some bikes. They are expensive and less comfortable than other grip materials.
  • Gel- These grips are durable, comfortable, and affordable. They don’t absorb sweat or breathe well so blisters can be a problem.

Grip Designs

  • Ergonomic grips- These grips are designed to put your hand in a natural position to reduce hand and wrist pain and improve posture.
  • Plain gauge- These grips are the same shape throughout.
  • Flanged- These grips have rubber grips on the inside to help your hands from sliding off.
  • Thick grips- Some riders find extra-thick grips to be more comfortable.
  • Grip pattern- Some grips are smooth and some have a kind of ‘tread’. This can affect how comfortable and grippy the grip is.

For more info, check out my complete guide to bike grips. 

Bar Tape

Handlebar tape absorbs sweat, provides grip, and absorbs shocks and vibrations from the road. A number of materials and styles of tape are used. Even the method you use to apply the tape has an effect on performance.

handlebar tape

Handlebar tape applied to drop bars

Bar Tape Materials

  • Leather bar tape- The leather is usually perforated. This material offers a classic and stylish aesthetic. It looks great on vintage bikes and is relatively comfortable. Leather tape often requires a bit of time to break in. This allows the leather to soften up.
  • Cork bar tape- Cork is great for shock and moisture absorption. It is one of the most comfortable bar tape materials. The main problem is durability. Cork tends to get brittle and split. Modern cork bar tape is often blended or backed with a synthetic material to improve durability.
  • Synthetic bar tape- This is the most common variety of bar tape. It is usually made of polyurethane, silicone, or nylon. The material is incredibly lightweight and long-lasting. Some synthetic tapes include a foam or gel layer for additional cushioning. Surface texturing can give synthetic tapes different levels of grip. Some riders prefer a smooth leather-like grip while others prefer a tacky texture.
  • Foam rubber- Some low-end bikes use a foam rubber tubing as bar tape. This is common on trekking bars. The material is comfortable to grip but doesn’t last long. The foam breaks down quickly.
  • Low-profile bar tape- This thin tape measures just 1.5-1.8 mm thick. It offers a more direct to road feel which can improve handling. The drawback is that the rider can feel more road noise because there is less material to dampen vibrations. Racers tend to prefer low-profile bar tape.
  • Thick bar tape- This tape measures 3+ mm thick. It offers more cushioning and vibration dampening due to the added padding. Riders with larger hands or those riding in rough off-road conditions may prefer this thicker tape.

Bar Ends

Bar ends are a popular accessory to pair with handlebars that only offer one hand position, like flat bars. They mount to the ends of the handlebars and extend upward or forward perpendicular from the bar. They usually mount with a simple clamp system. Some grips include built-in bar ends. Sometimes bar ends are welded onto the handlebars. Most bar ends have a slight curve inward.

The purpose of bar ends is to provide a second hand position. This can increase comfort on long rides. The riding position that bar ends offer is upright. The palms face inward in a neutral and comfortable position. This is easy on the wrists. Bar ends also come in handy while climbing while out of the saddle. They give the rider great leverage to grip the bars for extra power.

bar ends

Bar ends mounted on flat bars

Another benefit to bar ends is that they provide some hand protection while your hands are on the grips. For example, while riding through a narrow trail, there might be obstacles like tree branches or bushes in your way. The bar ends protect your hands from scratches by pushing the branches out of your way. They can also provide some level of protection for your hands in the event of a crash.

One problem with bar ends is that they tend to get hooked on trees and branches while riding narrow trails. If this happens, the bars can turn unexpectedly, resulting in a crash. Another problem with bar ends is that they move your hands further from the brake levers. This can increase your stopping distance because it takes a bit of time to move your hands from the bar end to the brake levers. This can be a problem in emergency situations. Sometimes bar ends flex or creak which does not inspire confidence.

Final Thoughts about the Different Bicycle Handlebar Types

The handlebars are one of the most important components of the bike. After all, they are one of only three places where you make contact with the bike. The handlebars play a major role in handling, comfort, and efficiency.

When it comes down to choosing a handlebar style, there is a lot to take into consideration including the terrain, the distance, and the speed. Personal preference also plays a major role. Hopefully, this guide helps make the decision just a little bit easier.

What types of bicycle handlebars do you prefer? Share your experience and tips in the comments below!

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2 comments

Kurt July 15, 2020 - 10:30 am

This is another good article. As I am trying to upgrade my Trek 720 I had considered switching out the riser handlebar to a drop one. But your article pointed out to me the cost to switch out all the other components, brakes and shifters. I would like to do aero bars on a bullmoose handlebar or flat bar. I am sort of hesitant do to the investment and components not matching up. When you listed the sizes are those diameter or circumference?

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wheretheroadforks July 16, 2020 - 2:10 pm

Those sizes are the diameters. As long as the clamp diameter on the clip-on aero bars is compatible with your handlebar diameter, they should fit fine. I was also considering putting drop bars on a bike I have but found that it just wasn’t worth the cost to buy new brake levers and shifters. Another problem is that it could throw off the bike’s geometry or require a different sized stem to work. My friend does have an old drop bar road bike with flat bar brake levers that he installed after one of the drop bar brakes broke. It works fine.

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