How to choose the right handlebars

When looking for a new frame or buying new components one of the most common questions asked is about handlebars. Very logical as this is one of the major points of contact with your bike. But there are various features you’ll need to take in consideration when looking for that perfect handlebar setup. Here you can find a couple of pointers.

Carbon or aluminum

One of the most difficult choices to make when picking a new handlebar is the used material. Here you have two choices: a carbon handlebar or an aluminum. Both materials have their unique advantages and disadvantages.


Carbon is known for its comfort, as it generally does a better job at absorbing vibrations from road irregularities. Aluminum transfers more of these vibrations through your hands. Carbon bars are also known for their stiffness. Many people think that aluminum bars are stiffer than a carbon bar because they feel harsher but this is due to the difference in the already mentioned vibration damping of the two materials. Another benefit of carbon handlebars is the weight, generally a carbon bar will weigh less than its aluminum counterpart.


Of course all these benefits come at a certain cost. As carbon bars are a more premium product they tend to be more expensive than a regular aluminum bar.


As for durability both materials are on par with each other. They can both take the abuse of riding without breaking. Though you’ll notice on an aluminum bar the impact and abuse it has taken as it tends to bend, dent or deform. On the other hand a carbon bar does not show these signs of fatigue. If it has come at the end of its lifecycle a carbon handlebar will simply snap.

aero handdlebar

Drop bars 

On a road bike It is very difficult to choose the correct drop bar because of the load of options that exist to choose from. We’ll give you some pointers on how to choose the correct handlebar.


The first point is handlebar width. As you all are very well aware, we are not all shaped equally. This is why drop bars come in sizes going from 38cm up to 46cm. Generally a drop bar size is chosen based on your height though this has nothing to do with it. What really matters is your shoulder width. Preferably you’d choose a handlebar that has the same width as the distance between your AC joints on your shoulder. But keep in mind that a wider handlebar will make you less aerodynamic but will make your ride more stable. You can always size up or down, depending on your priorities.


Next is the handlebar reach, this where the handlebar reaches the furthest forward. Usually it’s where the brakes are mounted. This guides how far forward you’ll stretch. Again this is in proportion to your height. A smaller rider will have a shorter reach than a taller rider.


The final measurement is the drop. This is the distance between the top of your drop bars and the bottom part. Also here the drop is chosen based on height, a taller rider will generally have a bigger drop than a shorter rider.


A shorter drop means the transition between the break hoods to the drops is a lot easier and it requires a lot less stretch on your muscles, so flexibility has also a big influence on the choice of your drops. This certainly something to take in consideration if you struggle getting into your drops.

Just to put all this into context:

-Compact drop – 120mm drop

-Medium drop –    135mm drop

-Long drop –          150mm drop

Aero bars 

For some of us who like time trials, triathlon, ultra-endurance events or aiming that Strava KOM simple drop bars won’t do it to get that extra speed. On a drop bar your arms are wider whereas on a aero bars your elbows are tucked in which creates a more compact positioning for a more aerodynamic posture with less drag.


When looking for aerobars there are two options: full aero bars and clip- on aero bars.


Full aero bars are what you see on most time trial specific bikes. They have special shifters and brake levers so you do not need to change your body position while on the aero bars.


Keep in mind that If you want to convert your normal road bike to full aero bars this will be quite an investment as you’ll need not only the aero bars but new shifters, brake levers and all the hassle of cabling your cockpit. A full aero bar also has less adjustment points than a clip on.

full aero bar

Full aero handlebar

Clip-on aero bars are ideal for the occasional time trial and triathlon racer. They give almost the same advantage as full aero bars but only for a fraction of the cost, you can install them whenever you want to and uninstall when you don’t need them anymore. And you can keep your traditional road handlebar.


Clip-ons bolt to the central section of your handlebar and they change your riding position upwards or downwards, depending on the type of clip-on handlebar you choose. Of course you need to choose clip-ons that suite your riding style.

The last thing you need to think about is your comfort on the aero bars. This means you’ll have to look into the shape of the extensions itself, the adjustability of the bars and pads and setting everything up correctly for yourself. The best way you can check this is by filming yourself on an indoor trainer and check on your position and your frontal area. Here you’ll notice how changes to your setup can make you look more aero or more comfortable on the aero bars.  

Mtb bars

When investing in a new mountainbike handlebar there are a couple of things you need to consider before buying. The specific geometry of a mtb bar consist out of three parts:

  • -Width

  • -Rise

  • -Sweep

The width is simply the end to end measurement of the bars and typically mtb handlebars vary from 720mm up to even 840mm, depending on the riding discipline. For example a downhill rider will always have wider handlebar simply because it is more stable and comfortable at high speeds. While cross country racers tend to drive a narrower handlebar because it’s more agile and more aerodynamic. The choice of your handlebar width, like in road bars, is also based on your shoulder width but as a general rule you can put certain bar widths to certain mtb disciplines:

  • 720 – 740 = cross country

  • 740 – 780 = trail/endure

  • 780 – 840 = downhill

The rise is essentially the height difference between the center of the bar and the bar ends. Mtb handle bars go up from zero rise all the way up to even 100mm of rise. Yet again the choice on the handlebar rise depends on what you plan to ride. A cross country racer will likely prefer a flatbar or only a minimal rise in his handlebar as this helps his body position on all the climbs whereas a trail or endure rider will prefer a higher rise bar because your body weight is distributed differently. A higher rise bar keeps your body more upright which is necessary when riding more downhill terrain.


Sometimes a different rise of bar is chosen for medical raisons. Some riders get a higher rise bar to lift the strain out of their backs.


The sweep refers to the angle the bar sweeps back towards the bike. This has much effect on your stance while riding your bike. The more inward sweep you get the more your elbows will drop down and get you a more relaxed position. Whereas a handlebar with less sweep will give you more of an aggressive riding stance with the elbows out which is needed in certain riding conditions.

In conclusion, the choice of your new handlebar must be made on the type of riding you do, your physique and what you feel is best for your riding style.

  • Nov 06, 2020
  • Category: Articles
  • Comments: 0
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