Bike Handlebar Types: Which is the Best?

The handlebar is one of the most important parts of the bicycle. It’s the steering wheel without which, nothing much can be done.

Bike handlebars come in varying shapes and sizes depending on the bike model and the purpose of the bike.

Whether it’s something as simple as flat bars or one as complicated as aero bars, their positioning and shape aren’t random—there’s always some physics behind it.

Many riders never pay much attention to the parts of the bike, but a seasoned rider will be keener, and the one area they spend the most time examining is the bicycle handlebar.

The handlebar does more than controlling the bike, it also plays a huge role in ensuring the comfort of the ride. The upright position your body assumes on the road is determined by how low or high the bicycle handlebar is.

In this article, we’re going to give handlebars a closer look, the types that exist, and what to look for when selecting one.

Top 7 Handlebar Types – Our Reviews:

It’s hard to tell the type of handlebar fitted on a bike by a simple look. It takes an experienced eye to tell them apart, and even that’s still a long shot.

There are about 7 types of handlebars, they include the following.

  • Butterfly Handlebars
  • Cruiser Handlebars
  • Aero Handlebars
  • Drop Handlebars
  • Bullhorn Handlebars
  • Riser Handlebars
  • Flat Handlebars

1. Butterfly Bars

The butterfly bars are synonymous with touring and cross-country trekking bikes. The bars from a half-spiral that curls upwards allowing the rider to either hunch over while holding the lower curve or sit upright by holding the horizontal plane.

This is the kind of handlebar that professional racers use as it allows them to position their body in a way that allows the laws of aerodynamics to be applied to their bodies.

Pros

  • Works best for long cross-country rides
  • Gentle on the wrists
  • Compatible with shifters

Cons

  • The extra curve makes the handlebars heavy

2. Cruiser Bars

Also called the upright handlebars, they’re the type of bars that you’ll find on conventional bikes used for small errands and leisure rides. like cruising around on mountain bikes.

When using this type of handlebars, the rider sits upright on the bike, this requires the bike to have a wide and comfortable saddle since the rider transfers all the weight directly onto the seat when cycling upright.

Cruiser mountain bike handlebars can either be flat or slightly curved.

Pros

  • Offers superb comfort
  • Looks good on the bike
  • Best suited for basket bikes

Cons

  • Uncomfortable without a padded seat
  • Not suited for high speeds

3. Aero  Bars

As the name suggests, aero bars are handlebars designed with aerodynamics in mind. They’re built for road bikes used by the many riders.

It has extended bars on either side that are close tighter to provide a resting hub in the middle for the elbows. You’ll find this type of handlebars on time-trial bikes where the riders are racing alone against time.

It’s hard to find this handlebar on normal bikes.

Pros

  • Excellent aerodynamics
  • Allows the resting of arms
  • Has room for modifications

Cons

  • Not stable when in cruise mode
  • Performs very badly on climbs

4. Drop Bars

Drop bars are the most common bicycle handlebars used across the globe. They’re loved by lots of bike enthusiasts for their good balance, great looks, and versatility.

There are about three different types of drop bars based on their design.

We have the classic drop bars which have a deep drop and a long reach. There are the compact drop bars with a shallow drop and a short reach.

Finally, we have the anatomic drop bars that vary the shape of the drop and the reach to create more comfort.

Drop handlebars are common in racing bikes.

Pros

  • Offers decent aerodynamics
  • Versatile
  • They make pedaling easier
  • Excellent aesthetics
  • Can be used for both elite road  bikes and consumer bikes

Cons

  • Not suitable for sudden turns
  • Doesn’t work well with long distances

5. Bullhorn Bars

Bullhorn bars have the most bizarre shape of all bicycle handlebars in the list. Instead of curving downwards as expected, they curve upwards to form the shape of an animal horn.

The horns are extended into a forward arch that forces the rider to hunch over to reach them. It’s the type of bar you would find in a single-speed bike and the reason for the forward arch is to provide aerodynamics on the rider.

Bullhorn bars do so well with climbing bikes as the upright position gives them more legroom for powerful pedaling.

Pros

  • Excellent aerodynamics
  • Performs very well on climbs
  • Has room for modifications
  • They look good
  • Suited for great speeds
  • Good weight distribution

Cons

  • Performs poorly on turns

6. Riser Bars

Riser bars are handlebars that rise from the middle of the clamp area. They don’t rise too much and from a distance, it’s easy to mistake them for flat handlebars.

Riser bars are commonly used in trailer bikes as they give the rider the chance to ride while upright, which helps them avoid straining their backs while conserving energy. Riser handlebars are good for resting the arms as you cycle.

Pros

  • Offers the rider more control
  • Gentle on the wrists
  • Ideal for trail biking
  • A riser bar Allows modifications

Cons

  • Riser bars cost a lot
  • They are heavy
  • Too wide
  • Performs dismally on climbs
  • Lacks aerodynamics

7. Flat Bars

Flat bars are the standard handlebars type found in conventional road bikes, mountain bikers will relate to them better.

They’re flat in with a slight bend at times in the middle and they tend to slightly bend towards the rider. They’re common in mountain bikes.

The reason why flat bars are preferred for many bikes is the comfort they give the rider on top of being a very versatile bar. Steering and balancing are the easiest because of the upright riding position, allowing you to have a better view of the road ahead.

Flat bars are the recommended handlebars for a beginner cyclist.

Pros

  • Simple and versatile
  • Handles tight corners very well
  • Lightweight and cheap
  • Ideal for people with back issues
  • Comfortable hand positions

Cons

  • Flat bars become unstable at high speeds
  • Poor on challenging terrain

Choosing the Right Handlebar: 6 Things to Consider

Handlebars usually come with the bike and having a say in it may be beyond your prerogative, but if you ever find yourself faced with a choice, the following are some of the factors you should keep in mind.

1. Width

Handlebar width is vital.

Bars are designed with respect to the average shoulder width of the average rider. This creates a new problem where finding a handlebar that fits your size well becomes hard.

This is the reason why women will find it difficult to use bikes designed for men as they have a smaller shoulder width, and this throws the balance of the bike off.

When the handlebar width is are too broad, there’s a lot of force that is exerted on the neck and arms as you’re forced to stretch yourself to reach the ends. This will make even the simplest bike hard to control.

Narrower bars on the other hand will constrict the space that your elbows need and this will negatively impact the aerodynamics of the bike and the rider.

2. Shape and Drop

The shape and drop of the bike determine the posture you will have when riding it. If the drop is too low, you’ll be forced to hunch over more and this could create a strain on your back.

When it comes to the shape, having a bar that’s too narrow or too wide will affect the balance of the bike on top of forcing the rider to assume difficult positions that may end up hurting them.

Always go for a balanced drop handlebar. Try mounting the bike first to get the feel of it before buying.

3. Reach

The relationship between the handlebar and levers is crucial for a comfortable ride. For most fixed gear bikes, the lever can be adjusted to suit the size of the rider; however, for those that can’t be adjusted, you’ll have to go for a handlebar you can reach without overexerting yourself in the process.

4. Material

Bars are made using metal, the type used is where it matters. If something heavy like steel is used, the balance of the whole bike will be affected, the same is true for lighter metals like aluminum.

Lighter carbon bars are better than heavy ones as they offer more control and balance. For the best material, you’ll be best served with carbon fiber handlebars due to how malleable the materials.

Carbon fiber is 40% lighter than metal alloys and it can be fine-tuned to suit the individual preferences of the rider.

5. Aerodynamics

Anything that moves at high speed will always encounter some form of resistance, be it a submarine cruising underwater or a cyclist on a road. The only way to minimize resistance is by embracing aerodynamics.

Bike handlebars have to be designed in such a way that allows the cyclist to assume the best possible position with their hands that will offer the least resistance when speeding down a road.

A good handlebar has to have a smaller surface area at the front, transferring that shape to other parts of the bike.

6. Diameter

A normal flat bar measures about 25.4 mm.

In reality, this is the center point where the stem is attached. The diameter of the stem has to march that of the handlebar type.

When shopping for a flat bar, make sure you know the diameter of your stem. The last thing you would want is to spend money on a bike handlebar only to realize that it doesn’t fit.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Bikes and all their parts don’t come cheap, that is why people do a lot of research before committing their money to get one.

It’s impossible to cover all areas of concern. However, there are general inquiries that every potential bike buyer will have about bars.

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions.

Q1: How high should a handlebar be?

This depends on the riding style.

A raised handlebar style gives you an upright riding position and vice versa. Both have significant consequences on the bike’s general performance.

The hand position is affected by the height of the handlebar, If the bar is too low you will suffer.

Q2: What’s the best material for handlebars?

This again comes down to personal preference and riding position. Aluminum bars for instance are cheaper but a little heavy compared to carbon handlebars which cost a lot more.

A heavy handlebar type will come in handy when dealing with rough terrain as the bike will have more balance thanks to the extra bike body weight that holds it down to the ground. If weight is an issue for you, then carbon fiber bike handlebars should be your priority.

Q3: Should I get drop bars?

Drop bars are best suited for experienced riders who can handle lower hand positions, but newbies can handle them without any issue though.

However, a drop bar may prove a little challenging for most beginners still figuring out their riding style. Starting with flat handlebars before transitioning to a drop bar is recommended as it has a comfortable biking position and the easiest to handle.

Q4: How do I stop my wrists and hands from hurting?

Wrists and hands hurt when the saddle is raised much higher than the handlebar. This makes the upper body to lean forward, exerting pressure on the hand positions.

When you take on rough terrain with this setup, you’re bound to have sore wrists at the end of the ride.

The best way to avoid this is to either level the handlebar and the seat to give you an upright riding position or raise the road handlebars higher to get the pressure completely off the hands.

Q5: Can I replace my handlebar?

Yes, most fixed-gear bicycles have detachable bars that can be replaced anytime whether they’re damaged or not. If it’s just improved grip you want though, you can always just add some handlebar tapes.

The one thing you have to pay attention to is your road bike’s stem. The bike handlebar you plan to have must be compatible with it.

What may be a challenge for riders is switching a road handlebar with a bar from another model. Bike makers tend to create propriety designs and types that can’t work with products from their competitors.

The Bottom Line

It’s clear as day how vital a road bike handlebar is to riders. The bars are like the steering wheel and for the sake of a safe riding position and performance, they have to function as designed.

Fortunately for many, bikes come with their own handlebars that have been tested several times. The chances of you ever needing to replace your road bike handlebar are very minimal as it’s the least likely part to get physical damage.

You can’t write anything off though. If you ever find yourself in a situation where a new type of handlebar is necessary then this handlebar guide should help you sift through the many types that exist.