Bicycle handlebars are designed for function and comfort, and they can be simple in design or resemble an art exhibit. They are also shaped based on cycling disciplines, such as mountain, road or cruising cycling. There can be alterations, and some can swapped and used on any bike. However, for the most part, handlebars are specific to the type of bike you have and the type of cycling you do.
Mountain bike handlebars are stocky and straight. They usually have large rubbery grips on the ends to absorb rough terrain, and the grips should be about as wide as your shoulders. When sitting on a mountain bike, your arms should be extended straight out from your shoulders when you have your hands on the grips. If your arms are spread, the handlebars are too wide. Mountain bike handlebars can also have the traditional steer's horns on the top. Also known as bar-ends, these hornlike extensions provide your hands with another riding position and aid when climbing hills. When climbing, grab both extensions with your hands and pull up to give yourself better leverage on the pedals.
The most versatile handlebars can be found on road bikes. These curled handlebars provide at least three positions for your hands. The top position, the flat area on both sides of the bars, enables you to sit straight up on the bike with your hands on either side. This is the casual position sometimes known as riding on top, and is used to rest or move at a slower pace. If you move your hands to the pistol-like grip where you can reach the shifters and brakes, you're said to be on the hoods. This is the position favored by cyclists to ride down the highway comfortably for miles at a time. If you move your hands one more position down into the curved part of the handlebars, you're said to be in the drops. This is the aggressive position used to gain speed and aerodynamics. Time spent in the drops is usually limited because it's the most uncomfortable of road bike hand positions.
Cruisers and Touring
Cruisers and many touring bikes typically have raised handlebars. This type of handlebar is similar to the old-school stingray bicycle handlebars or the now-defunct chopper handlebars found on novelty bikes. This type of handlebar allows you to sit up straight on the bike, offering you a view of the surroundings other bikes can't. This type of upright handlebar usually has large, rubbery grips for comfort, and some even have baskets on them. Touring bikes have bags and other gear attached to them, and they sometimes use loud horns, bells or other aesthetic items such as streamers to make the handlebars more fun or more functional.
A number of alterations can be made to bike handlebars to accommodate the rider. If your butt fits the seat, but your arms are cramped while riding the bike, you can add a longer handlebar stem, allowing you to extend your arms when riding. A shorter stem can be added if the handlebars are too far away. Most bikes are equipped with spacers that allow you to raise or lower your bars using a hex wrench. Spacers can be removed or added to adjust the height of the handlebars to accommodate your needs. Some handlebar stems are also reversible, allowing you to alter the angle or pitch of the handlebars.
Other types of handlebars that are modifications of the standard handlebars also exist. Trekking handlebars, for example, are typically found on some types of road bikes, usually ones with wider tires. They are similar to road bike handlebars but are raised for easier access to the rider. Also known as butterfly bars, these handlebars may accommodate people who are uncomfortable when hunched forward with traditional road bike handlebars. A mulch-faceted handlebar known as a moustache handlebar may be installed on cruisers or touring bikes to give the rider multiple options. These handlebars curve around at different levels, slightly resembling a large handlebar moustache. These provide an alternative hand positions for comfort, especially for long-distance rides.
Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.