The shape of your bike’s handlebar defines what type of bike it is and what it does best, but that’s not to say that carefully choosing a new ‘bar couldn’t make it even better and more suited to you and the riding you do.
Mountain bikes and hybrids have flat or straight bars while road bikes have drop bars – that’s the conventional wisdom. However, that tradition has changed a little in recent years with gravel bikes intended for off-road riding featuring drop bars, and fast commuting machines using road bike frames with simple flat bars.
But even within those two broad categories – drop or flat handlebars – there’s a massive range of options to really make your bike’s controls feel custom made for you. So here’s how to pick the perfect handlebar for you and your bike.
Drop bar or flat bar?
Let’s start with the basics – do you need a straight handlebar or a drop handlebar? The simplest and most obvious response is: what is already fitted to your bike? Then just replace like for like.
That said, it is perfectly possible to change the type of handlebar your bike uses but there are two big considerations to make before attempting it. Firstly, bikes are designed holistically, and so most drop-bar bikes will work best with drop handlebars, and most flat-bar bikes will work best with flat bars.
But the even bigger hurdle is that if you change the type of handlebar your bike uses, you will also need to fit different controls, such as specific flat or drop-bar gear shifters and brake levers. And that means you’ll also have to fit new cables or hoses, which becomes quite a big job. So changing handlebar type can be done, but be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.
Oversize or non-oversize (Or other sizes)
Assuming you’re just looking to tweak your handlebar choice rather than fundamentally alter it, the easiest thing is to replace your old bar with something that has a matching tube diameter. This means you can clamp it into your existing stem without needing to buy a new one of those as well.
Most modern handlebars – whether flat or drop – come in one of two sizes of diameter: either 25.4mm(non-oversize), such as our 25.4mm Workshop drop bar; or 31.8mm (oversize), such as our 31.8mm Workshop drop bar.
There are also some other less common handlebar tube diameters, most notably 22.2mm found on BMX bikes. We have replacement bars in that format, too, such as the Workshop BMX bar.
Material and width
Before we look at the specific virtues of drops or flat bars, there are a couple more universal qualities that need to be thought about. The first is product material, with handlebars available in either steel or aluminium.
Steel handlebars, such as our B’Twin Leisure bar , are most commonly used as simple replacement options. For enhanced performance and weight saving, upgrade bars are often made of aluminium, such as our Workshop 25.4 560mm City Riser.
You’ll notice that particular product features two measurements in its name: 25.4, which we know is the diameter needed for the stem clap; and 560mm. That second figure leads us to our second universal consideration: bar width.
Generally speaking, mountain, leisure and flat-bar commuting bikes use wider bars to really enhance bike control, while drop bars tend to be narrower for more efficient riding at higher speed.
As a rough rule of thumb, road bike drop bars should be about as wide as your shoulders with many products, like the Deda 31.8mm bar , coming in a range of widths to achieve this.
Flat bars are also available in a range of sizes, although which you should choose ultimately comes down to personal preference. Take your time to find what works best for you - this is one area of your mountain or leisure bike where you can really improve the ride experience.
For ease of reference, we’ve called all non-drop handlebars ‘flat’ or ‘straight’ bars. It’s definitely possible to find bars that literally are almost perfectly flat or straight, such as our Workshop Road 560mm bar. However, in most cases, the terms ‘flat’ or ‘straight’ are far from technically true for two reasons.
The first is called the ‘rise’ and this is the amount the handlebar has been moved back towards the rider. Most often this is provided by a kink either side of the bar’s central section, such as on our Rockrider 760mm handlebar with 30mm rise , which brings the other parts of the bar 30mm closer to the rider.
As well as, or instead of rise, straight bars can also have backsweep and/or upsweep. This is where the bars have been angled to bring them closer to the rider as they move further back along their length.
City or traditional cruisers commonly boast obviously swept bars, such as our Workshop City Handlebar. However, it’s also common to find mountain or leisure bikes with bars that have both rise and modest backsweep and/or upsweep, such as our Rockrider 620mm bar .
As you might expect, the real area of interest with drop handlebars lies in the drops themselves. The three main things to consider are the depth of the drop, or the distance from the flat top part of the bar to the bottom of the drop; the length of the reach, or how far the drop extends in front of the straight top section; and shape of the drop.
If we take one specific product, our B’Twin Ergo Road Handlebar has a 130mm drop, an 82mm reach and features a particularly ergonomic shape, with a tighter bend at the top that opens up as it comes round and down. The idea that all drop bars use a standard C-shape is not true! As with most things handlebar related, take time to work out what drop, reach and shape works best for you.
There’s another consideration that comes to the fore particularly on gravel bikes, and that’s flare. This is where, rather than dropping perfectly vertically down, the drops are angled slightly outwards, such as that found on our Workshop Gravel Handlebar.
Finally, if you are a road rider looking for extra performance and comfort, remember you don’t have to go to the trouble of fitting a whole new bar. Accessories such as our B’Twin Multiposition Handlebar Extender are simple ways to really transform your position on the bike.
So you thought the handlebar was your bike’s least exciting component and just a basic metal tube? Don’t believe a word of it. There’s a lot more to think about when it comes to finding your perfect bar than simply whether it’s flat or drop.