Bicycle handlebar

Bicycle handlebar or often bicycle handlebars refers to the steering mechanism for bicycles; the equivalent of a steering wheel. Besides steering, handlebars also often support a portion of the rider's weight, depending on their riding position, and provide a convenient mounting place for brake levers, shift levers, cyclocomputers, bells, etc.

Types of handlebar

Handlebars come in a variety of types designed for particular types of riding.


Drop handlebars, as used on road or track bicycles, may have a shallow or deep drop. Drop bars may have one or two longitudinal indentations so that the brake and shift cables protrude less when they are wrapped under the bar tape. They may also have a flattened (ovalized) top section to provide more comfortable support for the hands.


Track drop bars are a variation of drop bars designed for the typical riding positions of track bicycle racers. Track drops are characterized by large, sweeping ramps, effectively precluding the top and brake hood hand positions, but promoting the rider's use of the ends, or "hooks". Track bars are designed for use without brake levers, but recently experienced a surge in popularity on use with fixed gear bikes, and as such are have been adapted to fit levers and hand positions.

Touring or trekking

Sometimes referred to as "Butterfly" bars, these are commonly encountered in continental Europe. They typically consist of a broken figure-of-eight arrangement mounted horizontally on the stem. This style of bar allows the rider to remain relatively upright while at the same time providing a wide range of hand positions for comfort on long duration rides.

Ergo or anatomic

The shape of the drop may be a simple, traditional curve, or it can have a flat spot (straight section) which some riders find to be more comfortable for their hands. These bars may be described as ergo or anatomic.


At one time, manufactures and racers experimented with drop-in bars that had an additional extension in toward the head tube at the rear end of the drops. This was intended to offer an even more aerodynamic position, due to low and narrow placement of the hands, than just the drops, while still remaining legal for mass-start races. Their popularity has since waned.

Flat or Riser

"Flat" or "riser" bars are the standard handlebars equipped on mountain bikes, and recently on fixed gear bicycles. Flat bars are comprised of a nearly-straight tube, slightly bent toward the rider. Risers are a variation in which the outer sections of the bars rise from the center clamp area. Flat and riser bars may be appended with bar ends, providing more hand positions.

Upright or North Road

North Road bars are swept back toward the rider, with each grip ending nearly parallel to each other and the bike. This type of bar was equipped with three-speed and single speed Raleighs, Schwinns, and other three-speed bikes well into the 1980s, and have recently made a comeback on hybrids and other bikes re-adapted for comfort. Commonly called "Townie", "Tourist", or "Comfort" bars.

Triathlon or aero

Triathlon bars or aerobars include various styles of aerodynamic handlebars for racing bicycles and particularly time trial bicycles. Included are narrow, bolt-on extensions that draw the body forward into a tucked position, pursuit bars that spread the arms of the rider but drops the torso into a slightly lower position, and integrated units that combine elements of both designs.

Triathlon bars are commonly used in triathlons and time trial events on road and track. However, they are illegal in most mass start road races or any other event where drafting is permitted because, while aerodynamically advantageous, they tend to draw the hands away from brakes, make the rider slightly more unstable on the bike, and can be dangerous in the event of an accident. Further, they are not useful in sprints or shorter climbs where power is of greater importance than aerodynamics.

Specialized shift levers (known as bar-end shifters) do exist that can be installed on some triathlon bars so that they can be reached without moving the hands from the aerodynamic position. The complimentary brake levers in this handlebar configuration are placed in the ends of the accompanying pursuit bars.

Aero bars are a recent addition to road racing time trials, with Greg LeMond first using them in the 1989 Tour de France. In a controversial time trial on the final day, LeMond used them to beat yellow jersey wearer Laurent Fignon by 58 seconds, changing a 50 second deficit into an 8 second lead. Fignon protested at the use of these bars but was unsuccessful, LeMond winning the Tour de France by 8 seconds over Fignon, with another 3 minutes and 26 seconds back to third placed Pedro Delgado.


Pursuit bars, or Bullhorn handlebars, curve forward away from the rider. They are often used with dedicated triathlon bars (see above), and are also popular, by themselves, on track, single-speed, and fixed-gear bicycles.

This style of handlebar is named after the discipline of track racing where it was originally used, and has the common nickname of "Bullhorn bars" for their appearance.

Bullhorn bars may be constructed simply by cutting the drops off of drop bars and then mounting them upside down so that the remaining start of the drop provides a slight upward hook for resting the hands. These are sometimes called "Chop and Flop" bars. Note that if this is to be done, care should be taken to properly remove the sharp edges from the cuts, and to properly tape and plug the bar ends for safety purposes.


BMX style handlebars, as used on BMX bicycles, have more rise than straight bars and often have a cross brace to provide rigidity and strength.


Cruiser handlebars, as used on cruiser bicycles, tend to be long and slope towards the rear of the bicycle so that the rider can sit upright.


Moustache handlebars curve forward from the stem and then back towards the rider. This style was designed in the early 90s by Grant Petersen for the Bridgestone XO-1, based on the semi-drop bars used by schoolchildren in Japan.

Ape hangers

Ape hanger handlebars rise far above the stem so that the rider must reach up to use them, hence the name. They are popular on chopper motorcycles and lowrider bicycles. Some jurisdictions actually have regulations on how high the hand grips may be above the seat.


Recumbent bicycles, due to their wide variety, are often equipped with handlebars seen nowhere else. These include handlebars with a very far reach, similar to ape hangers (see above) but mounted less vertically, and handlebars designed for under-seat steering.


Handlebar design is a trade-off between several desirable qualities:

Design goals

  • Enabling the rider to assume an aerodynamic position.
  • Enabling the rider to change body positions during long rides, preventing fatigue.
  • Providing necessary leverage to steer the bicycle and generate power.
  • Provision of a comfortable ride by dampening road vibration


Handlebars are most commonly made of aluminium alloys, but are also often made from steel, carbon fibre or titanium.


There are several size parameters to consider when choosing a handlebar


Drop bars come in a variety of widths from 36 cm to 50 cm. Usually a rider will pick a bar that approximately matches their shoulder width so that their arms can be approximately parallel. The width is measured at the end of the drop section but the exact method varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some measure from outside edge to outside edge (e.g. Deda, ITM, TTT) whereas others measure from center to center (e.g. Cinelli, Profile Design, Ritchey, Salsa). The figure returned by measuring outside to outside tends to be 2 cm greater than measuring center to center for the same handlebar.

Clamp diameter

Care is needed when choosing a handlebar to match a stem, or vice-versa, as there are several standards. The ISO standard for the clamping area of a handlebar is 25.4 mm (1"), which is used on the majority of mountain bikes and many Japanese-made road handlebars. However, the Italian unofficial standard is 26.0 mm, which is the most common clamp size for road bars. There are also intermediate sizes such as 25.8 mm to try and achieve compatibility with either an ISO or Italian stem, and the old Cinelli-specific size of 26.4 mm. In practice, many modern stems with removable faceplates are quite accommodating of slight differences in handlebar clamp size, but the older type of stem with a single pinch bolt must be accurately matched. In the days of quill stems, a road stem was clearly identifiable from its "7" shape, but nowadays it can be hard to tell the difference between a "road" (26.0 mm) and "MTB" (25.4 mm) stem. Manufacturers frequently omit the clamp size from advertising or packaging.

A new standard is an oversize 31.8 mm or 31.7 mm (1.25") clamp for both MTB and road bars. This is rapidly taking over from the previous mix of sizes, although other accessories such as some light or computer brackets and top-mount brake levers also need to be oversized to fit the thicker bars (some brackets are adjustable). Standard (drop) brake levers can be used as it is only the central section that is oversized. Shims are available to fit a 31.8mm stem to either a 25.4mm or 26.0mm bar, so many new models of stems are oversize-only.

Handlebar coverings

Handlebars usually have tape or grips to provide grip and comfort. In general, handlebars which have one riding position have grips, and handlebars which provide several use tape.


There are many types of handlebar tape:

  • Polyurethane tape, introduced in the last few years, provides cushioning.
  • Composite rubber tape
  • Cork tape, padded tape, provides cushioning but less durable.
  • Bike ribbon, plastic padded tape with smooth waterproof surface.
  • Benotto tape, made from plastic, popular in the 1970s and 1980s, also known as celo tape. Compared with other types of handlebar tape it is relatively thin and is unpadded; it does not provide any cushioning from road vibrations. However it is long lasting, does not absorb water, and stays clean.
  • Cotton tape, unpadded woven cotton tape with adhesive backing, similar to twill tape.
  • Leather wrap, for example by Brooks England
  • An inner tube can be cut and wrapped as well
  • A foam rubber tube has been used on inexpensive bikes.


Grips are usually made of firm or soft plastic, foam, or gel, depending on expected use or desired price. They may be simply smooth and round or molded to fit the shape of a human hand better. They have also been made of leather. Foam grips can be applied by submerging them under water and then inflate them with 200000 Pa (30 psi) air while massaging them onto the handlebar. Plastic grips can be heated in water and punched onto the handlebar.


Handlebars with open ends should have handlebar plugs fitted in the open ends for safety reasons. These can be made of metal, usually steel, or plastic. Without them, the end of the bar can cause serious injury upon hard impact with soft tissue.

Bar ends

In cycling, bar ends are extensions at the ends of the bicycle handlebars. Usually fitted onto mountain bikes with straight handlebars, they extend away from the handlebars and allow the rider to vary the type of grip and posture that they use during a ride. They are especially effective when climbing out of the saddle, because they increase leverage. Bar ends can also improve comfort for the rider due to the neutral position of the hands (palms inward) which places marginally less stress upon the musculature.

Bar ends were very popular until the late 1990s, when upswept "riser bars" came into fashion; the combination of riser bars and bar ends is rarely used. Some handlebars have bar ends welded onto them but most are clamped to the end of the bar. They are available in many shapes and sizes, such as stubby models that are around 100 mm in length to ones that curve around so as to provide even more hand positions.

Whilst debatably useful for providing a variety of different hand positions, bar ends can prove troublesome when trying to negotiate twisty tracks in between trees and are known for hooking round branches and injuring the rider.


See also


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