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Article posted: 16/04/2014

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Depending on your chosen style, discipline and level of cycling, you’ll require a different set of handlebars. Knowing which type to pick or whether your bike has been supplied with the right style can be confusing so here’s a guide to the most common bars and the materials used to make them.

Tri-bars or extensions are not legal in any mass start cycling event and will usually be frowned upon on group or club rides.

Flat bars

The simplest form of bars are simply a straight hollow tube with grips on the end and are known as flat bars. They are most commonly found on hybrids, commuting bikes and cross country mountain bikes. Cross country riders who use flat bars will often add bar-ends, which sit at ninety-degrees to the main bar, to give and additional hand position that’s more favourable for climbing. They are popular with commuters and recreational riders as they give an upright position, allow good all-round visibility and maneuverability and have plenty of room for a computer, lights and a bell.

Riser bars

Are bars where the grips are higher than their attachment with the stem. These are very popular on all types of mountain bikes and give improved handling and control over rough surfaces. On trail, downhill and free-ride bikes, the trend is currently for ever wider bars for their enhanced stability and turning force. The downside of super wide bars is that they can make narrow gaps between trees tricky.

Drop bars

The classic drop handlebars seen on road bikes are typically narrower than flat bars and although not offering the same control and stability, allow a lower more aerodynamic position and give you the choice of three hand positions. On the flat bar-tops is good for relaxed riding, climbing in the saddle or rough road surfaces. Riding with your hands on the hoods is ideal for cruising along, climbing out of the saddle or, with wrists leant on them and hands hooked over, riding hard into the wind. The drops are there for when you want to ride hard, if you’re descending or launching a sprint.

Drop handlebars are produced in different shape. Classically curved drops are rounded and are most commonly seen on the track. Ergo or anatomic bars have flat sections that are designed to offer more natural and comfortable hand positions. Compact drops have a relatively small amount of drop between the bar tops and the bottom of the drops. This makes for a less aggressive and more comfortable position on the drops and are popular on sportive bikes.

Bullhorn bars

Are normally found on time trial, triathlon and pursuit bikes and are usually paired with tri-bars or extensions. In this situation, they’re often referred to as a base-bar. Bullhorn bars are also popular with urban cyclists and couriers, as they provide the more upright position of a flat bar but also allow a more stretched position for faster riding.

Tri-Bars / extensions

First used by Greg Lemond to take his second Tour de France victory in 1989 by the tiny margin of 8 seconds, in almost all cycling events against the clock, tri-bars or extensions are now standard. With elbow pads, they allow the rider to adopt a low, stretched out and powerful position on the bike that, most importantly, presents the smallest possible profile to the air. Specifically designed time-trial and triathlon bikes will have gear shifters on the end of the extensions. Tri-bars or extensions are not legal in any mass start cycling event and will usually be frowned upon on group or club rides. 

Touring / trekking bars

Also known as Butterfly Bars these give a multitude of hand positions and kit space that you’ll need for multi-day touring epics. They’re also sometimes seen on town bikes and shoppers because of the comfortable and upright position they allow.

Materials

The most common material for bike handlebars is alloy tubing which strikes a good balance between strength, weight and affordability. Carbon fibre is becoming increasingly popular though, is significantly lighter but does require extra care and attention setting up. You should always use a torque wrench to tighten the bolts clamping the bars to the stem to avoid crushing or weakening the carbon by over tightening. It’s also a good idea to use carbon assembly paste, which increases friction and means you don’t have to tighten so much.

 

 

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