An Introduction To Bike Handlebars
As every cyclist knows, handlebars are an essential bicycle component as they allow us to steer and remain in control of our bikes.
Handlebars come in many shapes and sizes, all of which offer a different cycling positioning which impacts our level of control and comfort.
In this Bike Handlebar Type guide, we’ll explore and look closely at some of the more popular handlebar types, as well as looking at some types of mountain bike and road bike handlebars that I doubt you’ve heard of!
Without further ado, let’s find you the best handlebars for your riding style!
What To Consider When Buying Handlebars
When you’re thinking of getting some new handlebars, there are a few factors you’ll need to consider first.
Paying attention to the steps below will ensure you end up with the best handlebars for your bike.
The shape of your handlebars significantly impacts the performance and comfort your bicycle provides, so make sure you carefully study the hand positions each handlebar type offers.
Handlebars that offer multiple hand positions can be more comfortable over long distances, which is why many touring bikes use butterfly handlebars.
Alternatively, if you’re proud of your weight weenie, you might choose to cut down a pair of flat handlebars to minimise the weight of your two-wheeled steed.
Handlebar width significantly impacts the amount of control and leverage that you have over your bike’s movements.
For example, handlebar types such as risers and flat bars will typically provide more leverage and smoother steering than narrow road bike handlebar types such as drop or aero handlebars.
Handlebars that don’t offer much rise and require you to lean forward will increase pressure on your hands and wrists, which can cause numbness and tingling for cyclists over longer rides.
On the other hand, bicycle handlebar types that provide an upright riding position are more comfortable over long distances.
On the contrary, an upright riding position offers worse aerodynamics and places more pressure on your crotch area.
So if you’re considering upright handlebars, you might want to consider a more padded saddle!
Before you buy new handlebars for your bike, you’ll want to consider the bar’s diameter you’re looking at.
If you’re replacing your existing handlebars, you’ll want to measure the stem clamp size, so that you know what size to look for with your new bars.
I’ve put together a helpful handlebar size chart that explains the standard sizes for these measurements.
Nowadays, handlebars are avalible in a wide variety of materials, each serving a different handful f characteristics and supporting different riding styles.
I’ve also produced a table at the bottom of the article that compares the materials used to build bicycle handlebar types and explains their benefits.
Click here to compare now.
Common Bike Handlebar Types
Flat bike handlebars are the most common type of handlebars and are easily recognised thanks to their shallow, horizontal profile.
Flat handlebars offer a limited number of hand positions, but they do offer benefits, such as:
- Easy for beginner cyclists to learn with
- Offer easy and responsive steering due to their increased width
- Provide plenty of room for mounting bike lights & other accessories
- Simple to fit with bike handlebar extensions/bar ends
Many flat handlebars offer a small amount of backsweep (a 2-10 degree bend towards the rider), which provides a more comfortable position for your wrists and hands whilst cycling.
Flat bicycle handlebars bars come in a range of sizes spanning from 800mm for downhill and mountain bikes to mini 440mm bars for urban & fixed gear bikes.
It’s becoming increasingly popular for fixed gear and urban cyclists to trim their handlebars down to be super narrow.
Narrow flat bars make steering less accurate and much more effort, but shave off weight and make filtering through traffic much easier as you won’t have to worry about clipping car wing mirrors.
Riser handlebars offer a similar profile to flat handlebars. But as their name suggests, riser bars are a type of bicycle handlebar that angle upwards slightly on either end, offering a raised hand position whilst cycling.
This elevated position helps cyclists stay in a comfortable, upright seated position and place less pressure on the hands and wrists.
Riser handlebars are wide, and their upright position provides a clear view of the road/trail ahead, which explains why they’re popular with road and urban bikes.
You can find riser handlebars as narrow as 480mm and up to around 850mm in width. You’re also able to choose between differing heights, the average height being between 20-50mm.
Many super-wide riser handlebars are designed to be trimmed down to size. Many riders opt for a width just wider than their shoulders, which opens the chest and prevents you from hunching over.
Many cyclists choose to use riser and flat handlebars because they offer unrestricted storage space for bikepacking, allowing you to attach oversized bike bags to your bars.
Bullhorns are a type of bicycle handlebar that exit the stem horizontally and then bend away from the rider and upwards on either end, imitating the horns of a bull.
The front section of bullhorn handlebars provides an aggressive cycling position, which cyclists can use to increase their speed and reduce drag.
Bullhorn handlebars were originally used by time trial and track cyclists for their improved aero tuck position and increased pedalling leverage. However, most time trial handlebars are now referred to as aero handlebars, which I cover below.
Bullhorn handlebars are both aesthetically appealing and perfect for quick, aggressive cycling. Therefore they’re commonly found on track bikes and fixed gear/single speed bikes.
Due to the narrow profile of bullhorn bars, they provide less leverage than most, making them an unsuitable choice as mountain bike handlebars, which require leverage for technical trails.
If you want to modify mountain bike handlebars to imitate bullhorns, add some bar extensions for assistance on your hill climbs!
The majority of bullhorn handlebars sit between 360-480mm, significantly narrower than flat bars.
Many cyclists modify drop style handlebars using the “chop and flop” method, to create custom bullhorn style bike handlebars.
Drop bars have long been the most common road bike handlebar type on the market and are utilised by a wide range of racing and adventure bikes for their many benefits.
These bicycle handlebars are instantly recognisable thanks to their hooked shape.
Drop handlebars exit the stem horizontally before pointing toward the front of the bike and then curving down around towards the rider.
Drop handlebars provide more hand positions than most handlebar types. As a result, they are the go-to choice for road bike handlebars as their dropped section encourages an aerodynamic tuck position.
As I covered above, the tuck position is perfect for hill descents and reducing wind resistance.
Like bullhorns, drop bars are traditionally very narrow, ranging from 360mm to 520mm. Narrowers bars encourage elbows to tuck in more, further reducing aerodynamic drag.
Because of their narrow profile, traditional drop bars don’t provide the best handling for technically challenging routes or sharp turns.
However, there are many different variations of drop bars, one of the newest additions is flared drop handlebars. Flared drops are used by gravel bikes and other adventure bikes. The flared bar ends provide better handling and leverage whilst cycling off-road.
Whilst it’s less common, some cyclists invert drop handlebars so that they curl upwards from the stem, providing an upright riding posture with multiple grip options.
Aero, Time Trial & Triathlon Handlebars
Aero bars are bicycle handlebars that attach to the middle of your handlebars, either with a detachable clamp or are integrated into the handlebars.
Aero bars hunch you over the stem, drastically decreasing wind resistance and allowing you to travel 1-2mph faster with the same effort.
Aero handlebars are the crème de la crème in aerodynamics. Unlike most other handlebar types, aero bars tend to be made from carbon fibre, while the lower-end bars are made from hydroformed aluminium.
Outside of the competitive disciplines of Time Trials, Triathlon and track racing, you won’t find any bikes using aero bars. The tight tuck position they provide is uncomfortable and provides no benefits for casual cycling apart from looking like a fighter jet.
Because cyclists lean so far forwards with aero bars, they usually use padded cups which support your arms and help maintain the tuck position for optimum aerodynamics.
Many aero bars have integrated gear shifters, which allow cyclists to hold the tuck position whilst controlling their gears.
While these bars sound fantastic, they’re often costly due to the tremendous amount of engineering required to increase the performance of each new model.
Many cyclists consider aero bars dangerous as they significantly reduce steering ability, increasing the likelihood of an accident if you find an unexpected turn or obstacle.
Designed for cruising around, cruiser bikes with their flared ends provide an upright, comfortable riding position.
There are too many variations of cruiser handlebar shapes and sizes to even begin listing, some are higher and bear a resemblance to ape hanger handlebars, whilst others have a flat profile and protrude backwards further towards the rider.
Because traditional cruisers use coaster brakes and internally geared hubs, their handlebars are generally free from cables.
Many cyclists utilise this free space by attaching a basket or crate, which can be handy for running errands whilst cruising around!
Butterfly or Trekking Handlebars
Butterfly handlebars are commonly found on trekking and touring bicycles and are characterised by their figure of eight-like shape, which is where their name comes from.
Due to this unique shape, butterfly handlebars are an excellent option for long-distance bike rides and allow riders to utilise multiple hand positions, avoiding numbness and wrist discomfort.
Butterfly handlebars are usually covered in thick foam padding to avoid discomfort and allow cyclists to use any hand position they wish for extended periods.
Butterfly handlebars tend to be wide, and sometimes they can catch your bike frame on tight corners. Some cyclists choose to fit a longer stem to prevent this from happening.
BMX handlebars are entirely different to other handlebar types as the BMXs are used to complete stunts and tricks, unlike most other bike types.
To increase leverage on the front wheel and help riders perform tricks, BMX handlebars, on average, offer between 7-11″ of rise.
Apart from their rise, three other measurements you’ll want to pay attention to with BMX handlebars is their width, spanning from 27-32″(end to end) and their up & backsweep, the average being 2 degrees up and 12 degrees back.
Because they offer so much rise, BMX handlebars require a crossbar that spans from hood to hood and prevents damage during heavy impact tricks or falls.
When talking about BMX handlebars, rise is the distance between the middle of the bar that the stem clamps onto to the inside hoods at the top of the bars.
The majority of BMX handlebars are made from aluminium or Chromoly. Aluminium is lighter than Chromoly, but Chromoly provides a better strength/weight ratio.
Less Common Bike Handlebar Types
The different bike handlebar types listed below are less common and not available in most cycling stores.
Should any take your preference or if you wish to find out more about a specific type, youtube has a few helpful videos and you’ll most likely have to buy them online.
H bar handlebars were invented by Jeff Jones and come in a wide variety of models, which are variations of the same handlebar type.
H bars provide an upright riding position with backsweep comparable to some cruiser handlebar types.
Some H bar models have a front loop feature that Jeff describes as a “loop bar”. This bar sticks out in front of the rider and allows for a more aerodynamic tucked cycling position.
It’s worth bearing in mind that some earlier models of the H bar are not compatible with bar-end shifters, so check yours will work before purchase!
Ape Hanger Handlebars
Ape hanger handlebars provide an excessive amount of rise, with their handles usually sitting around shoulder height. This places riders in an upright position with arms stretched forwards parallel to the ground.
Ape hangers are typically found on motorcycles and are commonly seen on Harley Davidson motorbikes. However, several bicycle versions are available as well, which were first introduced in the 60s on the classic Schwinn Stingray chopper bicycles.
After passing through the stem, Ape hanger bars rise steeply in a V or U shape. In some cases, the handles of ape hanger handlebars may sit above the riders head, which explains the name!
Most modern ape hanger handlebars provide 8 to 16 inches of rise. Taller versions used to be available, but several laws now prevent the sale of handlebars with more than 16″ of rise, for safety reasons.
Due to the extreme right riding position they provide, if you’re using ape hangers, you might want to consider a more comfortable bike saddle. In addition, many users find ape hangers place pressure on the crotch as well as placing strain on their back and shoulders.
All in all, ape hangers aren’t hugely practical handlebars. They provide less leverage than most handlebar types, and they can be uncomfortable to use on longer rides. So instead, most users choose ape hangers for their unique retro appearance.
Porteur handlebars are typically found on vintage road bikes. These handlebars appear similar to cruiser handlebar types but are generally used alongside a front basket or crate for transporting cargo.
Porteur handlebars form a curved W shape, which provides multiple hand positions for riders and a comfortable upright cycling position.
The brakes on classic french porteur handlebars are fitted on the bar ends with the levers pointing towards the front of the bike along the underside of the handlebars.
Now only found in specialist online stores, porteur handlebars are much less common, check out north road handlebars if you’re looking for something similar!
Condorino handlebars were first produced in the late 40s/early 50s and originated from Italy. Condorino is an Italian word that translates to “little condor” in English, a condor being a well-known bird of prey. 
The shape of these handlebars is unique. After seeing them, their name will make sense to you. Their curved handles and sharp-angled hoods imitate the wings of a small condor.
Designed for town bicycles and casual road bikes, condorino bars are great for navigating narrow streets because they aren’t as wide as most bike handlebar types.
However, because they’re narrow, condorino handlebars aren’t as practical for maintaining stability and control.
Whatton handlebars are a non-traditional bicycle handlebar found on both recumbent bikes with under-the-seat steering and on penny-farthing bikes looped behind the rider’s legs whilst riding.
As you can imagine, this takes some getting used to compared to traditional handlebars, but you won’t require these unless riding a recumbent or penny-farthing.
Whatton handlebar’s underleg design was initially produced so riders could quickly dismount their penny-farthings if they anticipated a crash or other dangerous situations.
As you can imagine, these handlebars are hardly used anymore since the invention of the safety bicycle, which quickly became the norm and penny-farthings have become much less common.
It’s pretty obvious where moustache handlebars inherited their name from.
Moustache handlebars were first produced in the early 90s and look like a pair of drop handlebars that have been squashed flat.
These are a road bike handlebar type that provide multiple hand positions for riders, and normally have brakes fitted at the front of either peak of their M shape, or what would have been the hooks of drop handlebars.
Due to this brake positioning, moustache handlebars place the rider’s hands out in front of the stem, which can be quite a stretch for some, especially if you have a longer stem fitted on your bike.
As you can imagine, recumbent handlebars are designed for use with recumbent bicycles so many cyclists won’t have seen or used these.
Some recumbent handlebar types are similar to ape hangers, which extend back towards the rider, allowing them to easily maintain control whilst remaining in a comfortable reclined position.
Whilst most recumbent handlebars are positioned in front of the rider, there are many different types avalible.
Some sit on each side of the rider whilst others are positioned underneath the bike seat (like Whatton handlebars), allowing riders to quickly dismount the bike.
As recumbent bikes are built for comfort and support of the spine, their handlebars support this. However, they’re normally more expensive than conventional handlebar types as they are often designed to suit a specific model or brand of recumbent.
Bullmoose handlebars come in several variations. However, most of them remove the need for a stem and instead attach directly to your fork steerer tube.
The bars are attached to the fork steerer tube by a stem clamp that’s attached to the back of the handlebars via two small bars, forming a small v-shaped triangle.
Bullmoose handlebars were traditionally used by early mountain bikes, but have become less popular over the years due to their increased weight and price.
How Wide Should My Handlebars Be?
As briefly discussed above, the width of your bars is an essential element to consider during your handlebar selection process.
Below I’ll help you decide what width handlebars you need for a road bike and a mountain bike.
The ideal width of your road bike handlebars depends on what kind of cycling experience you desire. For example, narrower road bike handlebars are a better option if you use your road bike for competitive racing and other fast-paced adventures.
Narrower handlebars will reduce aerodynamic drag and encourage a tighter tuck position whilst riding.
On the other hand, if you use a road bike to commute or simply for leisure, wider handlebars will offer increased comfort and smoother steering, improving your cornering abilities.
If you’ve been wondering how wide your road bike handlebars should be, and want an exact answer, unfortunately, there isn’t one width that suits every rider.
That said, many riders find drop bars that match shoulder width or the width of your acromioclavicular joints (AC joints) to be an ideal place to start.
If you can’t decide, go to your local bike store and test ride a few different bikes with bars of varying widths.
Just like road bike handlebar width, the ideal width of your mountain bike’s handlebars depends on the mountain bike discipline that you practice most.
Generally, riders interested in getting more air and manualing should opt for narrower mountain bike handlebars.
Mountain bikers who aim to complete technically challenging downhill courses and mountain bike trails would feel more comfortable with the stability and accurate steering that wider bars can provide.
If you’re looking for a secret formula for deciding the perfect handlebar width, sadly, there isn’t one.
Some people say your press-up hand width, some say shoulder width, I say ride what feels right and what works with the geometry of your bicycle.
What Is the Best Bike Handlebar Material?
The most common handlebar materials on the marketplace today include aluminium alloy, carbon, titanium, and steel.
Ultimately when it comes to choosing which handlebar material is best, this will heavily depend upon:
- The type of bike you’re riding
- Your riding style & cycling disciplines you practice
- Your budget
- Your priorities (what you desire from a new paid of handlebars)
Read the table below to learn which material you’ll need for your bike handlebars.
|Aluminium Alloy|| Aluminium bars are the most popular choice. They're lightweight, readily available in almost all handlebar designs and they're cheap to purchase. |
Aluminium bars on average are 20-40% heavier than their carbon counterparts but are less prone to irreparable damage.
|Carbon Fibre|| Carbon fibre is the no.1 choice for people looking to reduce the overall weight of their ride. As stated above, carbon handlebars can be up to 40% lighter than the same aluminium bars. |
Bear in mind that carbon bars can be very stiff which can be uncomfortable over long distances. Carbon handlebars are also more prone to damage and need to be taken care of.
After a small crash or drop, carbon bars could show no signs of damage but could be badly damaged internally, and dangerous to ride with.
|Titanium|| Titanium handlebars are much less common than carbon or aluminium bars. |
Some riders enjoy titanium bars as they're slightly less stiff than most carbon bars, but lighter and stronger than aluminium bars.
Most of the time, however, titanium handlebars are the most expensive option, as the production process is longer and harder to do correctly.
|Steel|| Steel handlebars have taken a back-seat for some time now. |
Back in the 60s when everyone was riding Schwinn Stingrays and choppers, steel handlebars we much more common.
Steel handlebars are stronger than aluminium and carbon bars, but weigh drastically more and are more expensive than aluminium bars, hence their reduced market presence.
A Brief History of Bike Handlebars
The first bike handlebars were created by Karl von Drais in 1818, used on his invention called the dandy horse. The dandy horse was, in many ways, the vehicle that inspired the modern safety bicycle, and its handlebars were a solid bar created from wood or steel materials.
Another significant historical handlebar contribution was Percy Stenton’s 1920s invention of the drop handlebars. These have since become the go-to road bike handlebar type.
Since the 20’s as you can see from the bicycle handlebar types above, many different handlebars have been invented to suit all of the cycling disciplines that have been introduced and to support the riding style of different cyclists.
Bike Handlebar Extensions & Ends
Bike handlebar extensions are added to each side of a handlebar to benefit cyclists in a variety of ways.
Handlebar ends allow riders to enter a more aggressive cycling position, providing increased pedalling leverage, which is beneficial on hill climbs. Their more aggressive position is why bar extensions appear on flat and riser handlebars, which would otherwise be slower on hill climbs.
Additionally, utilising handlebar extensions also allows cyclists to change the positioning of their hands to prevent numbness or pain, which is common on longer rides.
Bar Ends in Middle of Handlebars
Whilst using aero bars is much more common, cyclists that already have them may choose to use handlebar extensions in the centre of their handlebars to allow them to enter an aero tuck position and benefit from reduced aerodynamic drag.
If you’re considering this, have a read about aero bars above, they’re your best bet and will provide better aerodynamics and comfort than stubby bar extensions.
However, if you want to test out a more aggressive riding position, bar extensions in the middle of your handlebars can be similar to aero bars.
Bike Handlebar Grips & Tape & Plugs
Bike handlebar coverings offer cyclists increased safety and comfort whilst cycling. Without some form of covering, handlebars can be slippery, which can end badly.
Below I’ve summarised each covering type, I’m working on a more detailed guide with recommendations, but the info below explains the basics of each grip type.
Grips, tape and plugs can all be bought at affordable prices and should be used by all cyclists for safety and increased performance.
Here are a few types of commonly used coverings:
Like tape, grip coverings are great for increasing a rider’s ability to keep their hands comfortable and in control of the handlebar whilst cycling
Handlebar tape is another way to improve grip and hand comfort whilst cycling.
Most bikes that use tape are designed for the road, whilst mountain and offroad bikes tend to use grips.
Tape can be a great way to customise your bike, as many different colours and prints are available.
Different types of tape are available, some are absorbent to keep hands grippy when sweaty, whilst others are glossy but more cushioned.
Uncovered bars are not a good idea as they’ll be very slippery and difficult to grip, especially in adverse weather or on muddy trails.
Leaving bars uncovered will greatly increase your risk of losing control and becoming involved in an accident.
Your hands will be much more comfortable, and you’ll perform better on your bike. Thank me later.
You’ll want to make sure you use plugs, read below to find out how much danger you can be without them.
Bike handlebar plugs are small plugs that insert into the end of your handlebars, some people also refer to these as bar ends, but these shouldn’t be confused with handlebar extensions.
Handlebar plugs are used by nearly every bicycle. Firstly, they seal your handlebars and prevent them from filling with dirt and secondly, riding without them can cause traumatic injury.
Unplugged bars can easily puncture your skin in the event of a crash. The cycling community labelled this as being “corked” for obvious reasons.
Being “corked” sounds just as bad as it is, and riding with missing bar plugs has claimed the lives of many cyclists and horrifically injured many others.
Otherwise, another benefit of bar ends is that they’ll protect against heavy falls. If your handlebar strikes the ground directly, it could easily chip or break, whereas a bar end will absorb some of the impact and help to minimise damage.
If you don’t have any already, get some bar plugs! If you need convincing, all it takes is some googling *gore warning*.
Bike Handlebar Clamp Sizes
|Stem Clamp Size||Grip & Lever Clamp Size||Type of Handlebars |
|22.2mm (7/8")||22.2mm (7/8")||Most handlebars types of this size are made from steel and are older bars used by mountain bikes or BMXs.|
|23.8mm (15/16")||22.2mm (7/8")|| Another old handlebar size that was used for British road bikes and three-speed bikes. |
These were made with steel, but this size is no longer used.
|25mm (61/62")||23.5mm (13/14")||Old French Handlebar Size|
|25.4mm (1")||22.2mm (7/8")|| This is a Standard ISO measurement used by most new bikes that use flat or riser handlebars. |
Particularly common with modern mountain and hybrid bikes.
|25.4mm (1")||23.8mm (15/16")||ISO standard size for the majority of drop handlebars.|
|25.8mm (1")||23.8mm (15/16")|| An Italian size that sits between two ISO standard sizes and is designed to be used with either. |
This is a rare size mainly used by more expensive road bike handlebars.
|26mm (1")||23.8mm (15/16")|| The Standard size for drop bars and several other handlebar types compatible with Italian stems. |
Some cyclists refer to this as the "road bike handlebar size", which is misleading and incorrect.
|26.4mm (1")||23.8mm (15/16")||Some older Italian handlebars, including Cinelli, since 1998 Cinelli changed their handlebar size to 26mm.|
|27mm (1")||23.8mm (15/16")||Discontinued.|
|31.8mm (1 1/4")||23.8mm (15/16")||Oversized road bike handlebars.|
Bike Handlebar FAQs
Bike handlebars are interchangeable, and you can use any handlebars you like with your bike. However, you’ll need to make sure their stem clamp size is compatible with your stem.
It’s always worth taking your time with selecting new handlebars. Make sure the new set provides a riding that you’re comfortable with.
The ideal width of your handlebars depends on your overall cycling aim.
If comfort and stability are what you desire most, wider handlebars are a better choice for you. Wide bars will perform better on technical trails and increase your cornering capabilities.
Riders looking for speed and efficiency are best off with narrower handlebars. Narrow bars encourage you to tuck your elbows, providing better aerodynamics and reduced drag.
While every rider has a unique set of needs for their handlebars, wider handlebars are a good choice for many riders, especially those on mountain bikes.
Wider bars provide better handling for technical trails, and you’ll have more leverage for tight corners.
Some riders also enjoy wider handlebars as they reduce pressure on the chest, allowing you to breathe more easily.
However, narrow handlebars have their own set of benefits as well. They allow for higher speeds and easier filtering through traffic.
When selecting the best handlebars for you, always consider your cycling aim and riding style.
This transition is usually best for riders who find that their drop handlebars do not provide enough comfort or stability.
Road bars aggressive riding positions can place a lot of strain on your spine, so if you’re uncomfortable, swap them out! Just make sure to purchase straight handlebars compatible with your stem size.
Conclusion - Bicycle Handlebar Types
So there you have it, a complete guide to bike handlebar types and almost everything you need to know about handlebars in general.
I hope you found the information above helpful, if you still have any unanswered questions, let me know in the comments below and I’ll get back to you.
If you ever worry about the security of your bicycle, it’s probably time you got yourself a good quality bike lock.
If you’re on a tight budget, I’ve also reviewed the best cheap bike locks here, take a look.
Otherwise, as always, lock it or lose it!
Ciao for now.