May 29, 2020

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Choosing Handlebars for Bike Touring

Bicycle Handlebars For Touring When you see different touring bicycles, you will notice a variety...

Bicycle Handlebars For Touring

When you see different touring bicycles, you will notice a variety of bicycle handlebars. But which style is best for you and your tour?

Selection Criteria

So when you choose a handlebar for your bicycle, you should pay attention to a number of factors:

  • Number of different hand positions available – While touring, I prefer to switch my hand positions regularly to eliminate or reduce hand and wrist problems. If your hands stay in an unusual position for too long, the pain can be unbearable as time passes. So a bicycle handlebar with one or two hand positions may be fine for certain tours and terrain but not others. Also, certain hand positions allow more leverage for hill climbing.
  • Body posture – Different touring conditions require different body posture positions. If you are battling a head wind for hours, an upright position will just exhaust you quickly. So you will want to be able to get low with your head down. While some bicycle handlebars will stretch you out more to get you lower, your body may put more weight on your hands and wrist, resulting in severe pain. And if you tour mainly off road, terrain will be more of a factor than wind. Consequently, you will want a handlebar that allows plenty of climbing leverage and quick turns.
  • Stem clamp compatibility– Mountain or hybrid style stems require compatible handlebars and the same for road stems. A mountain/hybrid stem has a clamp diameter of 25.4mm. A regular road stem clamp will be 26.00mm. Compatible handlebars will have the corresponding clamp area, which is not the same as the rest of the bar. A few mountain bars and an increasing number of road handlebars utilize an oversize stem clamp diameter of 31.8mm.Other factors relating to the stem and handlebar will include stem height and length. If the shape of the handlebar is different from your existing bar, you may have to shorten or lengthen your stem to keep your arms at a comfortable stretch. The same applies to the change in height due to the new handlebar. You can raise or lower your handlebar by replacing the stem with an adjustable stem. However, as you change the height of the handlebar, you will also be changing the length of the stem in relation to the distance from the seat to the handlebar. So you may have to buy a different stem length with the adjustable stem.
  • Brake levers/shifters compatibility – Mountain bike brake levers and shifters fit mountain style handlebars, which have a diameter of 22.2mm where. Road bike brake levers and barend shifters require handlebars of 23.8mm diameters. In other words, you can’t install road brake levers on mountain bike handlebars.

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Mountain (Straight) Handlebars

straight bar

Mountain style handlebars are great for off-road terrain, but typically they have just one hand position (see number on photo). If you add barends, then you can add another hand position.

If you need to get low to avoid a head wind, you still have to use the same hand location. You won’t be able to hold this low posture for any length of time without feeling it in your back. So it not a desirable bicycle handlebar for long distance road riding. However, it is a logical choice for rough terrain where you need quick turning and steep climbs, especially if you attach bar ends outside the grips.

These bars will have a 25.4mm stem clamp and 22.2mm bar diameter for mountain brake levers and shifters. You won’t be able to use road style components without a bushing to increase the bar diameter.

Learn more about Mountain Style handlebars

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Raised (Upright) Handlebars

Raised Handlebar

Raised style handlebars are common on hybrid bicycles, but they have just two possible hand positions (see numbers on photo).

Like mountain bars, if you need to get low to avoid a head wind, you still have to use the same hand locations. You won’t be able to hold this low posture for any length of time without feeling it in your back. So it not a desirable bicycle handlebar for long distance road riding. However, it is a logical choice for someone looking for just an upright posture for short trips.

Raised bars will have a 25.4mm stem clamp and 22.2mm bar diameter for mountain brake levers and shifters. You won’t be able to use road style components without a bushing to increase the bar diameter.

What are some of the best riser handlebars?

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Drop Handlebars

Nitto Noodle Handlebar
Nitto Noodle Handlebar

The drop style handlebar that I recommend for touring is the Nitto noodle (shown in the photo). This model is probably one of the most popular drop bar for bicycle touring.

It has a shallow 15 degree slope directly behind the brake levers. This gentle slope keeps your hands from sliding forward. And the tops curve back toward you about 4 degrees. As shown in the photo, this drop bar has four hand positions. It is perfect for a variety of wind and terrain conditions.

Drop bars will have a 26 or 31.8mm stem clamp and 23.8mm bar diameter for road brake levers and shifters. You won’t be able to use mountain style components on a drop bar. Bar end shifters are popular for these bars.

Learn more about drop handlebars

What are some of the best drop handlebars?

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Trekking (Butterfly) Handlebars

Trekking Handlebar

Trekking or Butterfly style bicycle handlebars are popular in Europe. They offer about four possible hand positions (see numbers on photo).

Since the majority of touring is done in an upright position, the handlebar has about three possible upright posture hand locations. These handlebars offer plenty of locations to vary your hand position to reduce hand problems. It is a desirable bicycle handlebar for long distance road riding.

Trekking handlebars will have a 25.4mm stem clamp and 22.2mm bar diameter for mountain brake levers and shifters. You won’t be able to use road style components without a bushing to increase the bar diameter.

What are some of the best trekking handlebars?

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Mustache Handlebars

Mustache Handlebar

Mustache handlebars are similar to the popular Trekking or Butterfly style bicycle handlebars. They offer about three possible hand positions (see numbers on photo).

Like the trekking handlebar, if you need to get low to avoid a head wind, you stretch out to the number 3 position to lower your posture without having a drop bar. Since the majority of touring is done in an upright position, the handlebar has about two or maybe 3 possible upright posture hand locations. These handlebars offer plenty of locations to vary your hand position to reduce hand problems. It is a desirable bicycle handlebar for long distance road riding.

Mustache bars will have a 25.4 or 26mm stem clamp and 23.8mm bar diameter for road brake levers and shifters. Bar end shifters are popular for these bars.

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‘Cowhorn’Handlebars

Cowhorn Handlebar
Cowhorn Handlebar with bar ends

A ‘cowhorn’ style handlebar is really a time trial style bar. It makes a good touring handlebar if a drop style hand position is not needed.

The photo on the left shows a standard ‘cowhorn’ handlebar and the three hand positions. You have plenty of hand positions for upright body posture, especially the hands near the brake levers. This handlebar is great for road riding on pavement and off-road riding on good dirt and gravel roads where drop handlebars are useless.

One modification that you can make to this handlebar is to add bar ends. This is shown in the photo on the right. The bar ends allow a more stretched out posture, similar to the trekking handlebar. Since the ‘cowhorn’ bars are 23.8mm diameter, regular mountain bar ends need to be drilled out to fit the larger bar diameter. Mustache bars will have a 25.4 or 26mm stem clamp and 23.8mm bar diameter for road brake levers and shifters. Bar end shifters are popular for these bars.

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