BikeParts Wiki
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Conventional drop handlebars with harlequin cloth tape wrapping.

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Flat handlebars with a slight rise on a mountain bike.

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BMX style bars with cross brace.

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.


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Drop ("ergo" or "anatomic") handlebars

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"Track" style bars with large-radius curve


"Ergo" or "anatomic" drop handlebars with added Profile 2000 aerobars

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 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 have been adapted to fit levers and hand positions.

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[]

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North Road handlebars

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Trekking bars

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 used on three-speed and single speed Raleighs, Schwinns, and other three-speed bikes well into the 1980s, as well as various European utility bikes and roadsters. They have recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity on some hybrid bicycles, city bikes, and comfort models. They are also known as "Townie", or "Tourist".

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.

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 complementary 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.


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Bullhorn handlebars

Pursuit bars, or Bullhorn handlebars, curve up and forward. 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, although this does not provide as much forward extension (reach) as purpose made bullhorns. These are sometimes called "Chop and Flop" bars, and 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.



A moustache handlebar as seen from the top of the bike

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"Ape hanger" style bars used on a Gold Rush recumbent to produce comfortable reach

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. This style of bicycle handlebar became wildly popular in the 1960s after the introduction of the Schwinn Stingray, Raleigh Chopper and other highly stylized youth bicycles that imitated the appearance of drag-racing or chopper motorcycles of the day. They are still frequently seen on lowrider bicycles.

As the result of intense pressure by consumer advocacy organizations to outlaw such handlebars, beginning with Public Citizen in 1971, some U.S. jurisdictions actually have regulations on how high the hand grips may be above the seat.[citation needed]


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Under seat steering handlebars on a recumbent

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[]

The design goals of handlebars varies depending on the intended use of the bicycle. Common to all bicycles are the goals of

  • Providing necessary leverage to steer the bicycle and generate power.
  • Providing a comfortable ride by damping road/offroad vibration
  • Providing a mount point for any brakes and gear levers.

Racing/touring and triathlon bars have additional goals

  • Enabling the rider to assume an aerodynamic position.
  • Enabling the rider to change body positions during long rides, preventing fatigue.
  • Enabling aerodynamic routing of brake/gear cables.

Mountain bike handlebar design goals have less focus on aerodynamics, more on negotiating terrain:

  • Providing enough control to manoeuvre the front of the bicycle over obstacles.
  • Being strong enough to withstand the extra forces generated in some activities/crashes.
  • Optionally: not significantly increasing vehicle weight.

BMX/Trials bike bars have similar needs to mountain bikes:

  • Providing the control needed to execute advanced cycling manoeuvres.
  • Withstanding the forces generated in the process.


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).[1] 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 on sports oriented bicycles, although other accessories that mount near the stem also need to be oversized to fit (some brackets are adjustable). Standard 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 "Cello-Tape", made from plastic, popular in the 1970s and 1980s. 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, was available in a vast range of colours and stays clean. Similar types of "shiny tape" exist.
  • 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.

Applying conventional tape is something of an art. A small length (about 2 inches) is cut and tucked behind the brake lever clamp, otherwise a small V-shaped bare patch may be left when the main tape is applied. Taping then starts at the open end of the handlebar, leaving some overlap which is later tucked in and secured by fitting an end plug. Care should be taken to keep the overlaps neat and as even as possible. A figure-of-eight is made around the brake lever clamp and then taping continues up to the "tops"; the tape normally runs out at or near the point where the diameter of the bar increases for the stem clamp, but on bikes with non-aero brake levers or track bikes it may be preferred (given a sufficiently long roll of tape) to finish at the stem itself. Ideally, the loose end of the tape should be in such a direction that twisting the bars backwards tends to tighten rather than loosen the tape. It is then secured with a couple of turns of electrical insulation tape. Strips of bar gel may optionally be applied to the handebars prior to applying the tape in order to reduce vibration transmission and increase comfort.


Grips are usually made of firm or soft plastic, foam, gel, or sometimes leather. 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. 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. Plugs are also required by competitive cycling governing bodies.[2][3]

Bar ends[]

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Single (left) bar end.

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Pair of 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, and by providing more than one place to rest hands on a long journey.

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. It is also possible to purchase combined ergonomic hand grips with integrated bar-ends

Bar ends were very popular on mountain bikes from the early 1990s until the late 1990s, when upswept "riser bars" came back into fashion; the combination of riser bars and bar ends is rarely seen.

Bar ends can prove troublesome when trying to negotiate twisty tracks in between trees and are known for hooking around branches and injuring the rider. They also remove the rider's hands from the brake levers, which can impact the time it takes to stop a bicycle.

See also[]


  1. Bicycling Magazine: Choosing the right handlebar width.
  2. Template:Cite web
  3. Template:Cite web

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