This week it is the turn of the humble handlebar to receive a bit of attention. Along with the saddle and pedals your handlebars are one of the main contact and control points on your bike. They contribute significantly to the feel, weight and comfort of your ride, so it is worth getting them right. To try and make choosing them a bit more simple, we’re going to take a look at the various materials, shapes, specifications and designs available to help inform your next purchase.
Much like the saddles we looked at last week – a lot of the price differentiation and performance benefits come from the different materials used. At the top of the range we have the carbon fibre bars. Using either a carbon weave or uni-directional layering, carbon fibre handlebars are light, extremely strong and also comfortable thanks to their shock absorption properties (which is also why forks are often made out of carbon-fibre even when the rest of the frame is alloy/steel). Fears over the strength and durability of carbon bars should now really be put to bed, bars like the 3T Rotundo Team Carbon Garmin Edition are used by professional teams like Garmin-Transitions, proving their durability. As always with carbon you must be careful when clamping it, carbon is susceptible to crush damage through over clamping by the stem and controls. Check the manufacturers recommended torque settings.
Alloy is a very popular handlebar material and still the default choice for many thanks to its lightness, strength and relatively low cost. Alloy bars, like carbon, are also available in a variety of shapes like 3T’s Ergonova Pro in alloy which has egg shaped uppers for comfortable hand placement when sat up. Alloy bars are often butted or tapered for strength with an oversize (31.8mm) stem clamp and the bar then narrowing through its length for strength. The quality and type of alloy used also varies; lighter alloys like 7075-T6 command a higher price than say the 2014-T6 because of their lower weight for similar strength.
Most bars are measured from the centre of the drops, but check as manufacturers vary. As a rule, the bars should be the same width as your shoulder when sat on the bike with the wrists roughly in line with the upper arms. Unless you’re competing in cyclocross, where riders may choose slightly wider bars for improved control.
Road handlebars can be split in to two distinct categories, traditionally shaped and ergonomic: Traditionally shaped usually have a medium to deep drop with a round bend; ergonomic bars tend to have a shallower drop, and either a tighter bend or a bend with a straighter section half way round for comfortable hand placement and sometimes flatter profiled tops for added comfort when sitting up. Ergonomic bars have become increasingly popular with enthusiasts and pro’s alike, when riding in the drops the more ergonomic shape can create a more comfortable wrist angle, and the flatter profiled tops make riding along in the peloton more comfortable. The shallower drop is enough for most riders, but ergonomic bars often have fewer hand positions because of the shallower drop and shorter extensions.
Traditionally shaped bars tend to have a round profile, with a deeper drop. Often better for those with bigger hands and the more flexible amongst us who benefit from the deeper drop. They also often offer longer extensions on the drops allowing you to relax your shoulders without coming out of the aero position, important on long races.
Look out for the Deda RHM (Rapid Hand Movement) design as well, this features a shallow drop (compact) design with a tighter bend but no ergonomic straightening of the handlebar. This gives you the variety of hand positions associated with a traditional drop, but in the now often favoured compact drop and tighter bend. Check out the Presa carbon bar and the new RHM 02 alloy bar.
Look out for integrated bars and stems as well, these offer a weight saving advantage and also a comfortable ride thanks to the shock absorption properties of the carbon stem, but the rather obvious downside is that you can’t change your stem length! Check out the Pro Series Stealth integrated bar.
The bicycle industry is plagued by any number of ‘standards’. Handlebars generally are either a standard clamp diameter of 26.0mm, or the increasingly popular oversize 31.8mm. Deda use a 31.7mm oversize diameter, but this is in fact the same as a 31.8mm – the actual measurement lies in the middle and Deda round down, instead of up like everyone else!
When looking at width measurements take the time to check how the manufacturer measure their bars, some measure from the centre of the drops, others measure from the centre of the top of the bend and some measure from the outside edges. Remember also the drops sometimes go outward slightly, making them wider at the bottom, so where they measure from is important! Bars sometimes also have single or double grooves to accommodate cable routing underneath the bar tape. This gives a cleaner appearance and keeps the cables out of the way, but not all shifter/brake lever systems are compatible.
No look at handlebars would be complete without a quick look at bar tape. Bar tape can make quite a difference to your riding experience, plus it can really make your bike look smart with a nice splash of tasteful (or not!) colour! Check out the Fizik Microtex glossy tape; a fairly thin breathable tape it is sure to do a good job and has a lovely shiny finish. If you are a fan of more cushioning check out a gel bar tape like this Cinelli Gel Cork tape, it will help keep you comfortable all day. How about some nice purple tape from Deda?
What do the pro’s use?
This depends on personal preference, last year the Cervelo test Team riders rode either 3T Ergosum or Rotundo bars, Garmin-Transitions used 3T Ergosum, Rotundo and Ergonova bars. This really illustrates the personal nature of bars; like saddles, what works for one person might not necessarily work for another – however choose the right width and it’s just a matter of choosing the shape. The interesting thing for us here at PBK towers is the increasing use of carbon bars in the pro-peloton – while some stick with alloy, there are plenty of riders now moving to carbon. Even cyclocross riders including Stybar (who uses a carbon integrated stem and handlbar!) and Todd Wells are using carbon bars for ‘cross, quite a tough testing ground!
When looking at bars remember to choose your width carefully, use a torque wrench to clamp your carbon components and much like saddles, check to see what handlebars your friends have lying around! You never know what you may be able to borrow.