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Bicycle Handlebars

Bicycle Handlebars For Touring

When you see different touring bicycles, you will notice a variety of bicycle handlebars. But which style is best for you and your tour?

Selection Criteria

So when you choose a handlebar for your bicycle, you should pay attention to a number of factors:

  • Number of different hand positions available – While touring, I prefer to switch my hand positions regularly to eliminate or reduce hand and wrist problems. If your hands stay in an unusual position for too long, the pain can be unbearable as time passes. So a bicycle handlebar with one or two hand positions may be fine for certain tours and terrain but not others. Also, certain hand positions allow more leverage for hill climbing.
  • Body posture – Different touring conditions require different body posture positions. If you are battling a head wind for hours, an upright position will just exhaust you quickly. So you will want to be able to get low with your head down. While some bicycle handlebars will stretch you out more to get you lower, your body may put more weight on your hands and wrist, resulting in severe pain. And if you tour mainly off road, terrain will be more of a factor than wind. Consequently, you will want a handlebar that allows plenty of climbing leverage and quick turns.
  • Stem clamp compatibility- Mountain or hybrid style stems require compatible handlebars and the same for road stems. A mountain/hybrid stem has a clamp diameter of 25.4mm. A regular road stem clamp will be 26.00mm. Compatible handlebars will have the corresponding clamp area, which is not the same as the rest of the bar. A few mountain bars and an increasing number of road handlebars utilize an oversize stem clamp diameter of 31.8mm.Other factors relating to the stem and handlebar will include stem height and length. If the shape of the handlebar is different from your existing bar, you may have to shorten or lengthen your stem to keep your arms at a comfortable stretch. The same applies to the change in height due to the new handlebar. You can raise or lower your handlebar by replacing the stem with an adjustable stem. However, as you change the height of the handlebar, you will also be changing the length of the stem in relation to the distance from the seat to the handlebar. So you may have to buy a different stem length with the adjustable stem.
  • Brake levers/shifters compatibility – Mountain bike brake levers and shifters fit mountain style handlebars, which have a diameter of 22.2mm where. Road bike brake levers and barend shifters require handlebars of 23.8mm diameters. In other words, you can’t install road brake levers on mountain bike handlebars.

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Mountain (Straight) Handlebars

straight bar

Mountain style handlebars are great for off-road terrain, but typically they have just one hand position (see number on photo). If you add barends, then you can add another hand position.

If you need to get low to avoid a head wind, you still have to use the same hand location. You won’t be able to hold this low posture for any length of time without feeling it in your back. So it not a desirable bicycle handlebar for long distance road riding. However, it is a logical choice for rough terrain where you need quick turning and steep climbs, especially if you attach bar ends outside the grips.

These bars will have a 25.4mm stem clamp and 22.2mm bar diameter for mountain brake levers and shifters. You won’t be able to use road style components without a bushing to increase the bar diameter.

Learn more about Mountain Style handlebars


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Raised (Upright) Handlebars

Raised Handlebar

Raised style handlebars are common on hybrid bicycles, but they have just two possible hand positions (see numbers on photo).

Like mountain bars, if you need to get low to avoid a head wind, you still have to use the same hand locations. You won’t be able to hold this low posture for any length of time without feeling it in your back. So it not a desirable bicycle handlebar for long distance road riding. However, it is a logical choice for someone looking for just an upright posture for short trips.

Raised bars will have a 25.4mm stem clamp and 22.2mm bar diameter for mountain brake levers and shifters. You won’t be able to use road style components without a bushing to increase the bar diameter.

What are some of the best riser handlebars?

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Drop Handlebars

Nitto Noodle Handlebar
Nitto Noodle Handlebar

The drop style handlebar that I recommend for touring is the Nitto noodle (shown in the photo). This model is probably one of the most popular drop bar for bicycle touring.

It has a shallow 15 degree slope directly behind the brake levers. This gentle slope keeps your hands from sliding forward. And the tops curve back toward you about 4 degrees. As shown in the photo, this drop bar has four hand positions. It is perfect for a variety of wind and terrain conditions.

Drop bars will have a 26 or 31.8mm stem clamp and 23.8mm bar diameter for road brake levers and shifters. You won’t be able to use mountain style components on a drop bar. Bar end shifters are popular for these bars.

Learn more about drop handlebars

What are some of the best drop handlebars?



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Trekking (Butterfly) Handlebars

Trekking Handlebar

Trekking or Butterfly style bicycle handlebars are popular in Europe. They offer about four possible hand positions (see numbers on photo).

Since the majority of touring is done in an upright position, the handlebar has about three possible upright posture hand locations. These handlebars offer plenty of locations to vary your hand position to reduce hand problems. It is a desirable bicycle handlebar for long distance road riding.

Trekking handlebars will have a 25.4mm stem clamp and 22.2mm bar diameter for mountain brake levers and shifters. You won’t be able to use road style components without a bushing to increase the bar diameter.

What are some of the best trekking handlebars?

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Mustache Handlebars

Mustache Handlebar

Mustache handlebars are similar to the popular Trekking or Butterfly style bicycle handlebars. They offer about three possible hand positions (see numbers on photo).

Like the trekking handlebar, if you need to get low to avoid a head wind, you stretch out to the number 3 position to lower your posture without having a drop bar. Since the majority of touring is done in an upright position, the handlebar has about two or maybe 3 possible upright posture hand locations. These handlebars offer plenty of locations to vary your hand position to reduce hand problems. It is a desirable bicycle handlebar for long distance road riding.

Mustache bars will have a 25.4 or 26mm stem clamp and 23.8mm bar diameter for road brake levers and shifters. Bar end shifters are popular for these bars.

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‘Cowhorn’Handlebars

Cowhorn Handlebar
Cowhorn Handlebar with bar ends

A ‘cowhorn’ style handlebar is really a time trial style bar. It makes a good touring handlebar if a drop style hand position is not needed.

The photo on the left shows a standard ‘cowhorn’ handlebar and the three hand positions. You have plenty of hand positions for upright body posture, especially the hands near the brake levers. This handlebar is great for road riding on pavement and off-road riding on good dirt and gravel roads where drop handlebars are useless.

One modification that you can make to this handlebar is to add bar ends. This is shown in the photo on the right. The bar ends allow a more stretched out posture, similar to the trekking handlebar. Since the ‘cowhorn’ bars are 23.8mm diameter, regular mountain bar ends need to be drilled out to fit the larger bar diameter. Mustache bars will have a 25.4 or 26mm stem clamp and 23.8mm bar diameter for road brake levers and shifters. Bar end shifters are popular for these bars.

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About John Stultz

John Stultz is the owner of Bear Paw Tents. He's been bicycle touring for over 30 years and is excited for sharing his insight on cycling. He considers himself an ultralight backpacker and ultralight bicycle tourer. John is the original founder of Bicycle-Touring-Guide.com. He started the website to share his passion for touring and to help people plan for their own bicycle tour.

Comments

  1. Hello:

    I’m an upright rider, who is looking to find super long handles (like here: http://www.bicycle-touring-guide.com/images/handlebars/cowhornbarhand.jpg), so i can sit almost totally upright, with my hands hanging down naturally. My wrists are shot. Do you konw where someone can find this type of handles or bar?

    • John Stultz says:

      Hi Eric,

      Hmm… I’m not sure. I’d recommend contacting the manufacturer directly.

    • Linda B says:

      For Eric,
      Try Rivendell’s Bosco Bars. Or find yourself a Dealer who sells bikes from the Netherlands, such as Gazelle. their bikes have handlebars that reach back to you for upright riding.

  2. Kris Henke says:

    You missed a possible hand/arm position on the butterfly bar.

    It is possible to rest your forearms on the straight part of the bar nearest the rider, and grip the forward, tilted up portions of the bar with your hands. It gives you a position that is very reminiscent of the early aero bars for roadbikes.

    Best used when on a straight stretch with headwind, but on a long ride, all alternate grips are welcome.

    Kris

  3. John,
    I have a 12 yr old boy who has one arm shorter than the other due to a birth defect. His right arm is terminated at the elbow. I have searched high and low for any type of extension for his handlebars but had never considered some of those listed above. Can you suggest anything or any direction to explore.
    Thanks
    Scott

  4. A friend who had a cycling accident and now has a shortened arm, uses two different bars. One is a Modolo Dumbo 3D and the other a Humpert Comfort with adjustable handlebar ends. He tells me that he had to get a new stem for one of them. Hope this is of help Scott.

  5. Hi,
    I’m just about to fit some bbb butterfly handlebars to my giant hybrid bike. The problem is I have a back problem which is agrivated when I’m held in a forward position for too long. So here’s the rub, do I put the flat portion of the handle bar to me or away from me? I plan to do a long tour I would like to get out of the wind, having the flat portion forward and use my forearms to lean on. Or I’m I getting it wrong can I have your opinions.
    Regards m

  6. Hi
    Has anyone tried the eurotec adjustable handlebars, any thoughts? The shape looks a lot like bull bars from the 80′s.They seem wider than the butterfly types which may suite the wider shoulders of some of us… They have at least 3 positions I have not seen any comment on these on your site any chance of a review or thought.
    Regards Marcus

  7. While bicycle touring I rarely use the 4th position on the drop handlebars; I find that position to be the most uncomfortable. Can / will the cowhorn bars accept the bar end shifters now in use or will I have to modify the drive train as well?

    Thank yor for your input and time.

    Bill

  8. How about aero bars? I used to ride for hours “resting” my arms while my friends slugged it out up wind. Why don’t more touring folks take a load off their wrists, arms and hands?

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