We reckon handlebars don’t get the respect they deserve. Have you tried riding your bike without them? No, we didn’t think so. Most people, and admittedly we have too, chuck on any old set, and pay more attention to their gears and brakes.
Handlebars have a huge impact on your ride, from the steering to your riding position and the bike’s aerodynamics. The right set will give maximum control and support as well.
Do we consider any to the best of the bunch? Hell yes, we do. Here they are, in no particular order.
Our Top Picks
Wald 803BL City Bicycle Mid-Rise Handlebar
Made from steel and chrome plated for clean lines, the Wald 803BL mid-rise handlebars allows you to sit a little higher while riding, which is especially good if you have any issues with your back, and they also take the strain off your wrists.
We reckon these are 5-star handlebars at a very affordable price, they look great, feel solid, and get the job done. There are a few people who feel the handlebar is too narrow but the majority of riders are very happy.
Origin8 Urban-Pro Riser Handlebar
The Origin8 Urban-Pro Riser handlebar is made from 6061-T6 butted alloy which means it’s a good weight. It’s 25.4mm in diameter, 560mm in length and weighs a mere 264 grams. Whether you take on the suburban streets or tackle trails it’s a good height and offers a good riding position. We liked the laser etched graphics as well.
Easton EC90 Handlebar
Easton produces some of the best handlebars and these are no exception. Made from carbon fiber they’re lighter than alloy, and also really strong. For added strength, the clamping areas have been reinforced on the stem and also where the levers are positioned. We found the handlebars are at the perfect height for the best possible riding position, allowing the rider to open their chest more and get more oxygen. While the graphics don’t do anything in terms of the handlebars, they definitely score major points for style.
If you’re looking to upgrade, replace or buy a new set, handlebar shopping is relatively easy when you know what you’re looking for. We always say it’s better to go in with a little bit of knowledge, so you, at the very least, sound like you know what you’re talking about.
Our quick buying guide will put you in the driving seat, and hopefully steer you in the right direction, from the types of handlebars available to the width and the materials used as well as clamp sizes.
Types of Mountain Bike Handlebars
There are a few types of handlebars available but they generally fall into two main groups, flat or riser.
Flat handlebars are found on most mountain bikes and are characterized by being completely flat, or in most cases, there is a slight bend towards the rider. They’re versatile and are able to do pretty much anything. The simplicity of the bar makes steering precise and predictable.
Pros of Flat Handlebars
Versatile – easy to attach lights. Phone holders, and other biking equipment. You can also fit different bar ends for extra hand positions and functions.
Better position – flat bars are good for cross-country riders because they make leaning forward much easier.
Narrow – they are typically narrow which means it’s easier to navigate through narrow doorways and corridors.
Light and affordable – a flat bar is stronger with less steel, which means it cheaper to manufacture and buy, and it’s light enough to carry around easily.
Riser bars rise from the center clamp area. They are usually wider and are used in trail biking because the bar allows the rider to sit more upright.
Pros of Riser Bars
Control – wider handlebars give more leverage. Turning is easier and uses less energy.
Wrist support – riser bars allow the rider to sit further back which means less weight is distributed in the front, and in turn, less stress on your wrists.
Freeriding and trail riding – the wide handlebar grip gives the rider more control which is better for rough terrain and tough courses.
We find that most riders prefer handlebars that are around 10cm wider than their shoulders, but while it’s not cast in stone. There are riders who enjoy more leverage and there are some who prefer less.
The wider the handlebar the more control you have as a rider. But remember the control and responsiveness come at a cost, with wider bars preventing quick turns. At the end of the day, it boils down to your personal preference and the kind of mountain biking you do; cross-country bikers prefer a narrow bar and downhill bikers tend to go for wider ones.
There are some riders that recommend you buying a wider bar because you can always cut it down to your preferred size, and while we think it’s a clever idea it will probably void your warranty.
There are two different mountain bike stem clamp sizes: the traditional 25.4 mm and the oversized 31.8mm.
The oversized bars are heavier than the traditional ones but at the same time, they increase the strength. However, we suggest you only change sizes when you decide to replace the bar and the stem.
Handlebars are made from different types of material, including aluminum, carbon fiber and titanium. Aluminum has been the most common but the high-end bikes usually have carbon fiber bars, which are much lighter. There are handlebars that have steel for reinforced strength
To be honest we can’t say any of these are better than the next, for the simple reason bikes are designed so that the bars suit the bike. It also comes down to personal choice and budgets.
They’re definitely not the sexiest bike accessories around but bar ends definitely have their place. They make changing hand positions easier and provides a comfortable ride. They’re not a necessity but maybe try them out before you write them off.
Besides the obvious, bicycle handlebars assist with the handling and performance and are also an extension of who you are. In the world of biking it’s a case of “I ride, therefore I am” and you definitely need handlebars for that.