Best gravel handlebars and how to choose them
The concept is one and only: gravel! And when we talk about this world, we cannot fail to mention one of the main components of this type of bike that is increasingly gaining ground in the cycling and bicycle tourism environment: I'm talking about gravel handlebars and I say it deliberately in the plural as there are so many, of various shapes and facets. For this reason, below I will try to explain how to choose a gravel handlebar and what are the features of some of the best gravel handlebars for your bicycle adventures.
Gravel handlebars: a foreword
It is undeniable, currently gravel bikes are literally exploding among two-wheel enthusiasts. Derived from racing bikes, they convince more and more road cyclists who want to measure themselves on gravel terrain out of traffic but also all off-road enthusiasts who have seen in this novelty a different way of approaching nature and the non-technical dirt roads. Looking at the handlebars of a racing bike and a gravel bike, it is obvious to notice a difference: the shape of the handlebar.
In Leo's article on touring handlebars, two fundamental aspects related to the riding comfort of a bicycle have been identified, clearly replicable also to bikes with gravel handlebars: the position of the hands, in order to avoid fatigue and tingling resulting from nerve compression, and the ideal posture resulting from an accurate study by the biomechanical or adaptation to the vehicle with experience for the less demanding. In the context that I am examining, I would recommend at least to accurately evaluate the width of the gravel handlebar as a function of the width of the shoulders, to avoid physical problems such as various physical aches.
How to choose your gravel handlebar
But let's get to the terminology and technical aspects, which are fundamental to understand not only the geometry of a gravel handlebar but also its functionality and therefore understand how to choose among the best gravel handlebars. The fundamental parameters are essentially six.
Gravel handlebars width
In reality it would be more correct, in this case, to talk about widths, since there are two parameters to consider. The first is the total width of a gravel handlebar which is measured as the horizontal distance between the axes of the two extremes (red line), unlike the width of the handlebar (blue line) which represents a partial but reference value for manufacturers (from now on we will only use this). Clearly, the wider the handlebar, the more stable driving will be achieved, even on fast speeds.
Gravel handlebars drop
The drop is nothing more than the vertical distance between the axis of the upper stem and the axis of the lower end of the gravel handlebar. A very small drop facilitates the cyclist in preventing back pain caused by too pronounced arching of the trunk when passing from the high to the low position.
Gravel handlebars reach
Handlebar reach is the horizontal distance between the axis of the upper stem and the axis of the forward end of the gravel handlebar. Again, a reduced reach facilitates a quick movement of hands from the low grip to the brake levers.
Gravel handlebars flare
The flare or bell mouth is one of the most evident characteristics that differentiate gravel handlebars from the classic bend of a racing handlebar. Basically it represents the outward opening angle of the lower ends of the gravel bike handlebar. This configuration allows the cyclist to have a secure grip and greater control of the vehicle on rough terrain, in favor of driving comfort and stability. On the other hand, the bell mouth affects a little on the aerodynamics and therefore on the performance which is a secondary parameter in gravel bikes.
Gravel handlebars backsweep
The handlebar backsweep, not present in all gravel handlebar models, is a sort of backsweep angle of the upper handlebar stem. This favors a slightly more comfortable position of the hands and above all a little less tiring for the wrists.
Gravel handlebars rise
The rise is the vertical distance between the stem and the grip of the hands on the upper stem of the handlebar. The higher the rise, the more comfortable the position will be as the wrists will be loaded less in favor of the well-being and less fatigue of the wrists themselves.
The best gravel handlebars for your adventures
Well, the time has come to list the best gravel handlebars for your adventures, also paying attention to Italian manufacturers. The selection criterion is essentially based on the concept of providing a fairly wide range of models currently on the market according to the different combinations of the parameters listed above and the most suitable contexts of use.
Easton EA50 AX
This aluminum alloy gravel handlebar has a width between 400 and 460 mm depending on the model, a 120 mm drop, an 80 mm reach and a 16° flare. It is a compact handlebar and easily manageable in the grips, even if in the narrower model the control with the hands resting on the horns could be a bit compromised, in addition to the little space to house a bikepacking handlebar bag.
FSA A-Wing AGX
This handlebar is made of both aluminum and carbon. It has a width between 420 and 480 mm depending on the model, a 121 mm drop, an 88 mm reach and a 15° flare, all parameters that allow it to guarantee good driving control on mixed terrain. In addition, postural comfort is also improved with a 2.5 mm rise.
This gravel handlebar in carbon and fiberglass has the purpose of guaranteeing rigidity and absorbing the vibrations induced by use on dirt, has a width between 400 and 440 mm depending on the models and therefore a bit limiting, a consistent drop 125mm, 80mm reach and 16° flare. In favor of driving comfort and more relaxed arms, a 3° backsweep is introduced.
Salsa Woodchipper gravel handlebar
Clearly, in this list of the most interesting gravel handlebars, the model perhaps most appreciated by cyclists on gravel and adventure bikes, the Woodchipper gravel handlebar, could not be missing. The structure is unmistakable: width from 420 to 460 mm, drop from 114 mm, very compact reach with its 56 mm, flare of 25° and therefore the handlebar is decidedly open, very pronounced outsweep of 38°. Also available in the carbon version, this handlebar allows you to house Anything Cradle and aerobars on a clamping area of 120 mm (140 mm for the carbon version). A distinctive feature is the slight inclination of the gear lever and brake lever downwards. Fra (and recently also Vero) are two happy owners.
Decathlon Riverside Bikepacking
Aluminum alloy gravel handlebar mounted as standard on the Riverside Touring 920, it is wide and open to offer ample space for housing the handlebar bag and to ensure a position of the hands and arms as comfortable as possible, thanks to drop values, reach and flare comparable to the Salsa Woodchipper handlebar (drop 115.5-124 mm; reach 52.6 mm; flare 24°). It is available in two sizes, with a total width of the handlebar varying from 580 to 620 mm, a backsweep angle of 4° and the characteristic, also common to other models of different manufacturers, of a dominant grip at the ends.
Aluminum alloy handlebar with variable width between 420 mm and 460 mm, 115 mm drop, 85 mm reach and 30° flare. Ideal for offroad thanks to the very wide shape, the brake / gear levers very open for a comfortable handlebar grip and a large space for a large handlebar bag.
Gravel handlebar available in various widths, from 460mm to even 600mm, among the widest on the market. The accentuated width makes it possible to change the position of the hand several times, preventing tingling and discomfort on the wrist, guaranteeing more effective control of the vehicle, especially when loaded, and improving off-road driving stability. In addition, such a wide handlebar offers plenty of space to house a bag, light, GPS device, etc. All features guaranteed by well-balanced parameters: 110 mm drop, 60 mm reach, 29° flare and 7° backsweep.
Ritchey WCS Beacon
Aluminum alloy handlebar with a width range between 400 and 460 mm but with very low drop (80 mm) and reach (65 mm) values in favor of driving comfort. In addition to a 4.5° handlebar backsweep, the peculiarity lies in the 36° flare, a decidedly high value compared to the most common gravel handlebars.
Gravel handlebar in aluminum alloy with a width between 380mm (very small value) and 460mm. With a drop of 103 mm, a reach of 70 mm, a flare of 12°, driving on dirt becomes stable and effective. By adding a 15 mm rise, comfort will certainly not be lacking.
Surly Truck Stop
Another widely known brand in the world of cycle tourism, which offers an aluminum gravel handlebar between 420 and 480 mm in width, 114 mm drop (average value), 68 mm reach and 12° flare. A 30 mm rise for a more relaxed riding position completes the geometry.
Redshift Kitchen Sink
Particular model of gravel handlebar, available with or without aerodynamic loop (the latter suitable for endurance). With a variable width from 440 mm to 500 mm, a drop of 110 mm, a reach between 65 and 70 mm and a flare of 25°, comfort will surely be rewarded. Furthermore, with a backsweep of 7° and a rise of 20 mm you will reach an even higher level of comfort associated with efficiency especially on natural terrain. At the lower ends can be inserted knobs with ergonomic grip.
In support of this list I want to include an additional gravel handlebar, more particular than the others, perhaps more extreme but worthy of further study, also because it is from an Italian brand.
The Italian brand Deda Elementi offers a high-end gravel handlebar in carbon with internal cable routing. The particular shape makes it suitable for competitive use on endurance courses, but nothing prevents you from being able to use it even at an amateur level for your own adventures. Three widths are available, from 440 to 480 mm, with different possibilities for positioning the hands. 100 mm drop allows a quick movement of the hands from the brake / gear levers to the low position, while a reach of only 40 mm allows a very close position to the brake levers. 16° flare, 12° backsweep and 7 mm rise complete the geometry.
And with the Deda Gera, our overview of the best gravel handlebars for this 2021 has come to an end. Who have we forgotten? Let us know in the comments!
ITA - Ho 32 anni e sono piemontese, anche se da qualche anno vivo e lavoro in Lombardia. Dopo un inizio da totale inesperto in questo campo, mi sono avvicinato al mondo dei cicloviaggi e della bicicletta sempre più. Oggi posso definirmi "cicloviaggiatore", e assieme all'altra mia passione - il videomaking - non mi fermerei mai! Cyclo ergo sum, pedalo quindi sono, per cercare di capire perché andare in bici sia così bello, terapeutico, ricco... E ogni volta che provo a capirlo, non ce la faccio, e sono costretto a ripartire sui pedali!