It is one of the most underrated components of a bike. However, if we want to optimize our comfort, it is one of the most important. Let's see how many bicycle handlebars there are and which one to choose.
- Hands positioning
- Frameset size
- The ideal posture
- Flat Handlebars
- Drop Handlebars
- Butterfly Handlebars
- Alternative Handlebars
- Handlebar accessories
Before entering the description of the types of bicycle touring handlebars, I suggest reading Luigi's article about a general overview of handlebars for different disciplines.
As sometimes happens with components, the choice of a bicycle handlebar is very personal and the best solution would be to try most of them in order to find the most suitable for one's needs and features. Since this is not always possible, let's try and see the pros and cons of the different types, in order to have a broader view and make a perfect choice.
Traveling by bike can sometimes be pretty stressful on a physical level, for our hands and body. We usually travel on secondary roads and so gravel. Disconnections, holes, gravel can be the order of business and this can cause much stress on the back and on hands, the two parts carrying the weight of the body when traveling on a bike. One of the most annoying problems could be the carpal tunnel syndrome, the inflammation due to the compression of the median nerve between the palm and the wrist.
In order to avoid this and many other problems, for a bicycle traveler pedaling many hours every day, it is important to often change the position of your hands, of the wrist and of the body, to decompress the nerve, relax the muscles and use others. This goal can be reached by different choices, but mostly by choosing the right bicycle handlebar.
It's difficult to talk about ideal posture in bicycle touring because each of us reads the trip personally. People who love traveling for many kilometers and being lightweight might prefer a more straighten and aerodynamic position. The slow travelers who love stopping from time to time and taking a look around are usually higher and crouchy. Then there are all the other shades in the middle...
I personally prefer and suggest an intermediate choice, allowing to pedal for many kilometers whenever you want, but also guarantee good comfort in everyday bike rides. In order to obtain this position, I suggest keeping the handlebar higher than the saddle (2-3cm) and having a frameset size not too big (if you didn't decide between a smaller and a bigger, go for the smaller and adjust the position with saddle high and the stem).
It's important to choose from the beginning the right handlebar because changing it frequently means varying the posture and the frameset size. When using an MTB or trekking handlebar, the length o the frameset in order to reach the brakes levers will be superior to the one you need to reach them on a road handlebar. This doesn't mean that, if you change the handlebar you will need to change the frameset, but still you will have to adapt it. Furthermore, a handlebar change usually requires a change of brakes levers, which usually are not compatible with all handlebars. Therefore, the correct choice from the beginning will cause fewer problems and less money spent in the future!
Let's finally analyze the various types of handlebars for bicycle touring. I distinguished four classes, based on the shape.
Flat handlebars type MTB could be a great solution (and that's what w usually use) if you want to fully control your bicycle even in heavy disconnected roads. They are ideal for beginners in bicycle travels and isn't used to the use of a bike: position and manageability. It's important to have a large handlebar, in order to have better comfort during the climbs and better drivability during the descent, allowing us to stretch a bit and gain in aerodynamic. An important detail in flat handlebars are the knobs, helping in the variety of positions you can keep, allowing more support surface. Other than that, I always suggest getting some appendix, allowing more variations in the position of your hands. I personally loved the Ergon GP2 with an integrated appendix (even if they are small, they allow to change position to your wrist) on my Cinelli Hobootleg Geo that I'm currently using for my trips.
Drop handlebars with a road bike shape are the most used by bicycle tourer who have a better experience on the bike and who travel for some days or weeks. They are great for changing a lot of positions of the hands but you have to keep a straighten and low position on your ride. If you think you are going to travel on roads only and you are used to pedaling on a road bike, this might be the right solution for you. I personally dislike them for the kind of bicycle touring that I usually do (slow and exploration), so I haven't been using them. Being a little too narrow, there isn't much space for accessories.
Butterfly handlebars are the best solution for bike travelers: they are the most used by veterans. They represent a balanced mix between the two categories listed above: they are sufficiently large to have good control of the bike, they guarantee uncountable positions of the hands, allow good access to the brakes and allow to sit high on the bike but also aerodynamically. Speaking about accessories, there is a lot of space. The only disadvantage is that not so many bike models can put it as standard, so you have to have adapted your bike to it.
Other than the three categories mentioned above, there are some alternative handlebars on the market. Not everybody can choose between the flat, the drop or the butterfly. The most alternatives handlebars are:
It's a great handlebar for your trip, guaranteeing various positions for your hands and allows to pedal high and crouching OR stretching and aerodynamically. It offers a lot of space for accessories, even if I don't see it ideal for a classic handlebar bag (you cannot fix a steel cable in order to hang the bag to the stem), whereas it's used by bikepackers for its width (and drivability) and double tube where to hang the front bag.
It's a great alternative to the flat handlebar with the appendix or the butterfly handlebar. Many positions of the hands and comfortable posture. For a complete list of advantages and disadvantages, please take a look at the butterfly handlebar. The only difference between the two is that, if added to a bike, it broadens the position on the saddle whereas the butterfly shortens it.
Very popular on gravel bicycles, it's a road bike handlebar with a sloped inferior appendix in order to guarantee better comfort while pedaling. Being an alternative to a road bike handlebar, its advantages and disadvantages are similar to its more used cousin.
One thing I consider fundamental in the choice of a handlebar is the presence of sufficient space for accessories. Here below you will find a shortlist of the accessories I think could be useful on your bike (I'll be short so you will find a dedicated article to this topic):
- rear-view mirror
- front light
- handlebar bag
- bikepacking bag
- GPS navigator
- USB charger for a dynamo hub
Logically not all these accessories are useful for you, but some of them could really be essential and make your trip better.
What about you? Which is your favorite bicycle handlebar? Are there other alternatives I didn't mention and you'd like to suggest? Please write a comment below and let me know.
I'm from Piedmont and I'm 30 years old, I have been living and working in Lombardy for a few years. After a start without any competence in this field, I then approached the bicycle world more and more. Today I can call myself a bicycle traveller and videomaker who would never ever stop. I ride my bike trying to understand why it is so beautiful, rich, therapeutic. And every time I try, I do not understand it. So I must leave again...
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