Hello and welcome to another guest blog post. This time out author is Kent MacWilliam. I have been in contact with Kent after he sent me an email about his handlebar tape product, Fatwrap Handlebar Tape. Kent wanted to share his great article about the types of handlebars you can use for bicycle touring. So lets get started. Hope you enjoy!
Grip, release, shuffle, grip, release, drop....
Bike touring can be an endurance test as much as an adventure. Our butts, knees and hands support us as we focus on the glorious scenery. For comfort, we dial in our clipped pedals, set the seat post height and upgrade our saddle. But what about our hands?
So many riders commit to a handlebar set-ups without knowing all the options, and many more never look at the alternatives. This article looks at common and sometimes underused handlebar options, and explains how to upgrade. Read through and check out the options if you’re looking for comfort, or maybe just variety for your next cycle tour. If you are riding your bike set-up from the day you purchased it, or maybe re-assembled at the airport in a rush while on tour, this is for you too.
Who is using what?
The split on handlebars in the bike touring community. In total there are 4 common and 5 underused styles of handlebars, with many customisation options.
Which bars are you using? Here is the split of the bike touring community taken from Icebike's Statistics. Roughly speaking the split is 1/3 Drops, 1/3 Trekking bars and 1/3 flats/other.
The Touring Community Uses (n=166)
- 36% Drops
- 33% Butterfly bars
- 19% Flats
- 7% Bull-bars
- 5% Other
Underused Styles (Other)
- Randonneur bars
- Mustache bars
- Jones H-loop
- Carsey’s Crazy Bar
Lowdown on drops
Drops come as standard on most new touring set-ups. They are found at any bike shop, and come in numerous shapes and sizes. Do try to choose the right stem when be fitted for the bike, remembering to check the handlebar width and adjust the tilt. Brake levers and bar tape finish the job and deserve some thought during set up too. You need to be comfortable.
If you are switching from drop bars (a.k.a. drops or racing bars), consider rando bars, woodchippers and moustache bars. All three bars let you “drop” your riding position, lowering your body for better aerodynamics (good for bombing hills) and will help reduce pressure on your butt.
Rando bars a.k.a. round bend
These are a welcome shift from regular race drops. They have a distinct curl and slight convex shape upwards for a more natural grip in the upright position. Randonneur bars are often steel, well suited to touring.
Soma Brevet and Velo Orange Round Bend are examples of rando bars.
Already popular in the USA, these bars are making their way into the main-stream. Woodchipper bars occupy the niche between drops and moustache bars.
Wrap these bars and use road style brake levers. The bar shape keeps the brake levers upright. Woodchippers are readily equipped with bar end shifters. They could conceivably use grips but not many do.
Find them through Salsa, or alternatives such as Gator by Soma exist.
TIP: Get a kickstand if you use bar end shifters. Leaning your bike against a wall with the Woodchopper bars will wear bar end shifters out.
These handlebars deserve their namesake of the bold yet misunderstood facial hair. Their broad sweeping shape gives a classic appearance. Like woodchippers, moustache bars work well with bar end shifters.
Mustache bars come at a variety of angles, essentially bridging the gap between drops and upright bars. The open stance opens your chest and lets the rider get slightly lower, with an upper stance also available on the brake levers.
Think of switching to these from drops or flats if you’re looking for a more open riding position. These bars are perfect if you generally don’t need to drop as much as open up your riding stance.
When switching, try unwrapping and re-wrapping tape to swap bars. Note that normal brake levers will be slightly tilted, so consider swapping for a pair with a more rounded grip.
TIP: Already using mustache bars? Easily transition to using Jones H-bar (carry on reading).
Do you prefer an upright riding position?
Consider the trade offs for a dropped or an upright riding position; upright riding's provides lower back relief, but adds weight on the saddle. Upright bars are ideal for standing on the pedals and pumping
There are many options in the under-explored world of upright riding. Note that even though the following bars have similarities, they are not necessarily easy to swap, and upgrading from drop bars will require a new stem.
TIP: Fork tube length too short to swap from flats to upright bars like trekking bars leaving handlebar too low? Try a steerer tube extension.
Trekking bars: a.k.a. butterfly bars
Ah, upright comfort. Breathe a sight of relief when a bike tourer rides by with these delights. But despite being used by a third of riders, many bike tourers haven’t tried trekking bars as a handlebar set-up.
Trekking bars offer a lot of natural positions for riding, including the wide grip. To install, wrap the bar and use mountain style brake levers near the bar ends. Bar end shifters don’t work well with trekking bars.
TIP: Use your brake levers from drop bars, simply mount on the upper outer position, similar to moustache bars.
Some easy alternatives for your bars are:
- Butterfly handlebars with grip: use ergo grips for world-class comfort in the lower hand position
- Convex butterfly bars: normally butterfly bars are mounted dished upward, but some riders prefer them convex up
- Flipped butterfly bars: simply flip these puppies up and over, so that the bar ends are above the stem, towards the top of the bars. Some riders prefer keeping the gears and brakes in the upper hand position
A win for simplicity. Flats are comfy, easily customized and require minimal maintenance. It is among the most popular handlebar set-up, normally with bar-ends.
Many choose to bike tour on frames not specific to touring, like mountain bike frames or even single speeds, not to mention a Walmart special, so many bike tourers use the default handlebars. When upgrading, consider bar-ends, Bullbars or the Crazy-Loop.
If you’re riding flats without bar-ends, you might as well add some as they’re widely available and inexpensive. These can be wrapped for more comfort.
For anyone using flats, pay special attention to your grip. Ergonomic, or hand-shaped grips, made from rugged yet soft materials like rubber or cork are an easy upgrade.
TIP: Space hand grips at a natural width, not necessarily as wide as they go on the bars.
The second-most simple bar, bullbar is an easy upgrade and should be strongly considered if you’re riding flats.
Bullbars a.k.a. cowhorn
To flat bar riders, bullbars are an easy swap. There are two ways of achieving a similar bar, either using bar ends with flats, or a dedicated handlebar. Normally, the flats with bar ends use grips, and dedicated bullbars are wrapped. These bars can even be made by cutting drop bars and flipping them, as seen on fixie bikes. Check Out a Picture of Bullbars.
Bullbars are universal receivers. These bars have some really awesome options for shifters and brakes, and can use the ones that come on drop bars. They also fit the flat bar shifters and brakes. Or take a tip from the fixie community and hang a brake lever off the bar-end.
Consider swapping to Bull bars if you prefer keeping hands high and palms facing, the natural position for standing up on your pedals. It isn’t possible to drop your grip, but you have far more hand position options than simple flats. Best of all these bars leave plenty of room for a handlebar bags.
TIP: Bullbar have the best mirror option, just slot it in the bar end.
TT bars a.k.a. tri-bars a.k.a. aerobars
With the shape of a Star Wars fighter, these things look mean. They are built for comfort, but deliver power. Check these out if you want to take weight off your wrists, and cover long straight distances.
Carsey’s Crazy Bar a.k.a. Velo Orange Crazy Bar
This bold design is nothing short of perfect for people who want a more open grip, love bull bars, and carry a large handlebar bag. These can be fitted with simple or ergonomic grips and/or taped as desired.
Beloved to their users, the Jones H-loop or H-bars Great design comes at a price, and these bars hold their value even second-hand. These bars offer an “aero” position to drop, with tucked elbows and hands out front. Consider these if you’re standing to pump, doing hill climbing or gravel riding, yet want the ability to drop.
TIP: Use grips and wrap for extra customization.
At the shop or in a rush?
Dial in comfort on your current bars by swapping the stem. Change the stem length by one of two cm’s or angle it up or down and you will find the most comfort from your bars. On a newer thread-less system, the stem can be swapped without unwrapping the bars.
TIP: If your handlebars need adjusting mid-ride and you are miles from any shop, try rotating your bars up or down, and rotating grips/brake levers to match. All you need is an allen-key to loosen the bars.
Swapping handlebar set-up
What are your main considerations when swapping out your current bars?
There are 2 main categories; the drops and the upright bars. Drops are ideal for crouching low, an important feature for fighting wind and gaining speed downhill. The upright bars, like trekking bars, are all about maximizing comfort, giving extra room for attachments like mirrors, lights and bells. Both have a neutral riding position with palms down and wrists slightly upturned at resting.
TIP: When changing your handlebar, think about an ideal handlebar bag and make room with your bars.
Stem swaps are an important consideration when switching out your handlebars. The right stem is difficult to order in advance, and it’s advised to swap bars at a bike shop. A bike shop will be stocked with new or used options available at prices to suit all budgets. Be cautious if ordering parts online, and assemble at a bike shop when possible. If ordering, consider an appropriate stem and tube extension for the switch.
TIP: Always keep those spacers on your new touring rig in the headset. Try to avoid sawing the fork tube! The extra length on the handlebar tube will accommodate future handlebar set-ups you may want to experiment with.
If your handlebars need adjusting mid-ride, miles from any shop, and all you have is an allen-key? Try rotating your bars up or down, and rotating grips/brake levers to match.
Changing your handlebar? Think about an ideal handlebar bag and make room with your bars.
Always keep those spacers on your new touring rig in the headset, don’t saw the fork tube! The extra length on the handlebar tube will accommodate future handlebar set-ups.
- Swap your break levers for more comfort on drops. Parts are widely available and easily installed.
- Get a kickstand if you use bar end shifters. Leaning your bike against a wall with the Woodchopper bars will wear bar end shifters out.
- Already using moustache bars? Easily transition to using Jones H-bar (see below).
- Fork tube length too short to swap from flats to upright bars like trekking bars leaving handlebar too low? Try a steerer tube extension.
- Use your brake levers from drop bars, simply mount on the upper outer position, similar to moustache bars.
- Space hand grips at a natural width, not necessarily as wide as they go on the bars.
- Bullbar have the best mirror option, just slot it in the bar end.
- Use grips and wrap for extra customisation.
Anything I have missed?
With products like attachable grips, bar ends and aero bars readily available it is possible to achieve any conceivable handlebar set up. Please leave a comment and share some weird ones you’ve seen.
Finally, if you’ve read all this and are perfectly fine with your drop bars, the best advice is wrap ‘em nice and keep riding ‘em. If you love your drops and still want an upgrade, check out Nitto steel bars.
Now grab and allen key and get to work! Remember, all these options are definitely within your...
wait for it...
About the Author
Kent MacWilliam, cycling enthusiast and creator of Fatwrap | https://tasisbikes.com/products/fatwrap