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Information about road bike handlebar

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To achieve optimal performance on a road bike, you should put all your energy into the drive. In order to be able to ride without pain, the seating position and the contact surfaces on the road bike are essential. Cyclists are in contact with the bike via the saddle, pedals and handlebars. They influence efficiency and freedom from pain. A comfortable grip position and support for the arms enables great riding pleasure and success. The overall ergonomics of the rider therefore also depend on the handlebars. Anyone who studies road bike handlebars quickly realises the depth of the subject. There are different types and shapes for different areas of use. In the following, you will learn everything you need to know about road bike handlebars.

  1. What are the benefits of road bike handlebars?
  2. What are the differences between road bike handlebars?
  3. Areas of use and the right handlebars?
  4. How wide should road bike handlebars be?
  5. How do I adjust the handlebar correctly?
  6. How do I wrap the handlebar tape?
  7. What are the best handlebar brands?

1. What are the benefits of a road bike handlebar?

Basically, the road bike handlebar with its characteristic swing has one advantage - aerodynamics. When riding in a relaxed manner, you can grasp the handlebars "normally" by the upper bar. If you want to ride faster and more efficiently, you lean on the curved ends of the handlebars. This way you sit more "bent" on the bike and offer less surface for the wind to attack. This leads to a more efficient ride, especially at high speeds.

Often you only think about the road bike handlebars when you are passionate and sit on the bike a lot. If you have optimised your wheels and hubs, sooner or later you will come across an underestimated component: the handlebars. The handlebars influence the sitting position and can thus promote bad posture. We all differ in our physique. It is logical that standard parts are not suitable for every buyer. You quickly notice this in the saddle. The seat humps hurt particularly quickly with the wrong saddle width. But the handlebars can also be individually adapted to the rider. Many complaints while riding are caused by an incorrect sitting position, but there is no one right one. The seat height can be determined on the basis of the inside leg length. Whether the seating position should be sportily bent and thus aerodynamic, or rather straight and comfortable as on a mountain bike, is a matter of taste on long tours. It also depends on the distance to be covered or the situation. Competitions tend to be contested with a sporty forward lean. Long distances, on the other hand, require greater comfort, i.e. a more upright seat. Hands and wrists, but also the neck and shoulders, often remain free of complaints with optimally adjusted road handlebars. It is also possible that the handlebars do not sit well in the hand. The position of the brake levers plays a role here. When you ride a road bike, you want to perform. To ensure the best possible riding experience, details such as handlebar dimensions, shape and handlebar tape are important. Light carbon handlebars are suitable for racing. When it comes to long distances or aerodynamics, comfort becomes more important.

2. What are the differences for road bike handlebars?

For a long time, there was a uniform shape of handlebars in road cycling. In the meantime, we distinguish between different types of road bikes that have special characteristics. Gravel bikes can also perform on gravel roads, aero bikes or time trial bikes get everything out of a triathlon and touring bikes offer an optimal riding experience even over long distances. The appropriate handlebars have been designed to meet the new requirements. So there are special gravel handlebars, triathlon handlebars or road handlebars. However, road handlebars have one thing in common: aero-optimised shapes. In addition, the thickest part of the handlebar is usually where the clamping point is located. This is where the handlebar is connected to the stem. Handlebars with a thick, raised section in the middle are also called drop bars.

Handlebar dimensions

Handlebars today have different dimensions. A distinction is made between width, drop and reach. Width stands for the width of the handlebar. It is measured at the bend from the centre of the tube to the centre of the tube. The narrower the handlebar, the better the aerodynamics. The wider, the more control you have when steering off the road. Drop means handlebar height and is the perpendicular measurement from upper to lower handlebar, measured from centre of tube to centre of tube. The greater the drop, the lower the rider leans into the lower handlebar position. Reach means handlebar depth. It is measured from the centre of the top bar to the foremost point of the handlebar bend. The greater the reach, the more the rider has to stretch to grip the brake levers. All measurements are given in millimetres. Rise means that the handlebars have a small offset upwards at the stem. Flare is when the lower handlebar is wider than the upper handlebar. This gives more control when steering. This makes the riding position more upright.

Basic forms

There are three basic shapes of road bike handlebars: classic, anatomic or ergo. The difference between the shapes is the downward curved part.

  • The classic road handlebar is used on older generations with steel frames. It is round and has a long reach and deep drop. Many professionals still swear by the classic shape. You sit sportily.
  • A variation of the classic handlebar is the compact handlebar. The shorter reach and lower drop make riding more comfortable.
  • The majority of racing bikes today have Ergo handlebars. Shorter reach and flatter drop reduce the low seating position.

The basic shapes serve as a template for modifying new requirements. There are modified shapes such as the aerodynamic handlebar, backsweep handlebar or offset handlebar. The aero handlebar has a flattened top tube. The backsweep handlebar has a bend towards the rider. Some riders find this comfortable for their wrists. Track handlebars are another special feature. A narrow top handlebar has been designed especially for track cyclists. There are also new "unusual" handlebar shapes, such as on the Canyon Grail CF.

As with most components, the material of the handlebars also determines the price. Aluminium models are available on the market at a reasonable price. Carbon makes the price skyrocket. Even if a stem is already mounted on the handlebar, this can push up the price.

3. Areas of use and the right handlebars?

The creation of new areas of use always brings forth new handlebar innovations. The aero road bike often comes with aerodynamically flattened top handlebars. The handlebars are usually narrower. In principle, all three basic shapes are suitable, but the anatomical shape is usually chosen. Aero racing bikes are less about light weight and more about aerodynamics. Weight should not necessarily be saved on the handlebars. There is a handlebar attachment for time trial bikes. The so-called Time Trial attachment, or TT attachment for short, provides storage space for the rider's forearms. The resulting aerodynamics are suitable for competitions such as triathlons. There are also pure TT handlebars for time trial bikes. 

The race bike can be ridden with all basic forms of racing handlebars. Carbon handlebars and a thin handlebar tape are usually used here. This saves weight. Comfort plays a greater role on Tour and Endurance racing bikes. Ergo handlebars or anatomical handlebars are usually used. A thick handlebar tape and gel pads should provide the necessary comfort during long distances. Gravel or cyclocross bikes rely on wide handlebars. This offers space for the legs or panniers. In off-road terrain, a larger lever is also useful for steering. A road handlebar can also be mounted on a fixie. With e-bikes, racing handlebars can sometimes lead to the loss of the warranty - you should consult the dealer or manufacturer.

4. How wide should a road bike handlebar be?

The width of the rider's shoulders is decisive for the width of the handlebars. Measure between the two shoulder joints and let the arms hang loosely down. The value obtained gives the correct handlebar width in centimetres. If the handlebars are too wide, the aerodynamics will be compromised. If the handlebars are too narrow, the steering becomes unsteady. Only professionals should use handlebars that are too narrow. The width of the handlebars on bicycles is adjusted to the frame size. The most common handlebars are between 400mm and 440mm wide. In addition to the width, you should think about the area of use before buying a new handlebar. This influences the choice of material and the necessary shape.

5. How do I adjust the handlebar correctly?

When mounting the handlebars, there are a few points that need to be observed. This is the only way to prevent an incorrect sitting position and grip complaints. On MTBs or trekking bikes, the flat handlebars offer only one grip option. Road bike handlebars offer several options for holding it. The seating position varies greatly as a result. Three assembly errors occur most frequently:

  1. If the handlebars are mounted too far up or down, an uncomfortable posture is inevitable.
  2. The brake/shift levers must not be mounted too far up or down for the same reason.
  3. It is also problematic if the brake/shift levers are not adjusted equally on both sides. This provokes an oblique posture of the body. To avoid this problem, most handlebars have a printed scale on the front handlebar arch. This makes it easier to position the brake levers in the same way. Wrists should not be bent in or out while riding.

After installation, a test drive is essential. You should tighten the bolts as often as necessary until you get an optimal driving experience. Then all screws can be retightened with the appropriate torque. Last but not least, a handlebar tape can also be wound. With handlebar tape, pay attention to the material and thickness. It should be breathable, dry quickly and be easy to clean. The design should also be to the rider's liking. What is comfortable for one person may not feel good for the next. Gel pads can be glued to the handlebars under the handlebar tape. This also increases comfort. Handlebar tapes are not only comfortable, they also dampen vibrations. This benefits the rider on uneven ground. In addition to the right handlebars, the stem is also crucial. Its length can vary and thus influence the seating position. Here, too, mass-produced standards are used for complete bikes, which are not ideal for everyone. In addition to the seating position, the stem also determines the steering behaviour. A short stem makes the road bike more manoeuvrable, a long stem makes it smoother. The inclination of the stem can also vary greatly and also influences the riding position. If you want to sit sportily on your road bike, a longer stem with a downward tilt is recommended. If you want to sit comfortably, choose a shorter stem with an upward tilt. Here, too, it is important to try out what feels good.

6. How do I wrap the handlebar tape?

By the way, you can wind and renew the handlebar tape yourself very easily and without a lot of accessories. The following steps must be followed:

  1. Removing the old tape: After removing the handlebar plugs on the sides and folding back the grip rubbers, the end tape and handlebar tape can be unrolled. You can use this opportunity to check the routing of the shift and brake cables. If necessary, a little insulating tape can be used to put everything back in place.
  2. Cleaning the handlebars: The handlebars can be degreased with a cloth and some brake cleaner. This is important so that the new handlebar tape can hold well.
  3. Winding: Now you can start wrapping. It is easier if someone holds the handlebars. Check that the new handlebar tape has a left and right side. For wrapping, start at the point where the handlebar plugs were previously removed. The tape should protrude a little. Wrap inwards. The protective film is removed gradually during wrapping, not completely at the beginning. A particularly nice result is achieved if the tape is always kept slightly taut and wrapped evenly at a similar angle, half overlapping. After a few rounds, the first handlebar plug can be reattached after folding the protruding end into the inside of the handlebar. At the grips it gets a bit more difficult. Here the end of the tape has to be adjusted and cut. The last wrap should be as close to the grip as possible. The ends can be tucked under the grip rubbers. Then continue winding as close as possible to the grip clamp on the upper side of the handlebar. To make the end look nice, cut off the last few centimetres of the tape at an angle. The end piece can be fixed with insulating tape. The end tape is then attached to the insulating tape.

7. What are popular handlebar brands?

Various manufacturers have made a name for themselves with their handlebars. These include 3T, Deda Elementi, FSA, Ritchey, Syntace, XLC, Easton, Bontrager, Profile Design and Zipp. FSA offers, among other things, the Vero Compact Road handlebar on the market. For little money, you get a compact aluminium handlebar that can be purchased in different widths. It is suitable for longer distances. The Ritchey WCS is represented in the medium and high price segment for handlebars with various materials and shapes. The Easton EA70 AX handlebar is optimized for cyclocross and is in the medium price range. It is made of aluminium and can also be purchased especially wide. The Ritchey Comp handlebar series contains affordable and rock-solid models. The Zipp Service Course series is in the mid-price segment and is trumped by the Zipp SL attachments. Both series offer models with light weight, different sizes and shapes and high-quality design. Originating from the Shimano group, the "Pro" brand brings the Vibe Evo handlebar onto the market. The carbon handlebar is very expensive, but looks good and is state-of-the-art. Which handlebar ends up in the shopping basket is, of course, a matter of taste, apart from the price.

The buycycle team will be happy to help you with any special questions you may have about road bike handlebars. If you are looking for a road bike, gravel bike or mountain bike, then take a look at our shop.

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