Buyer’s guide to road bike handlebars

Whether you're touring, racing or in need of a change from drops to straights, there's a huge choice of shapes and prices to consider.

Handlebars come in a seemingly infinite combination of shapes and materials

Whether you’re touring, racing or in need of a change from drops to straights, there’s a huge choice of shapes and prices to consider. Some bars are better than others at dissipating shocks before they get through to the rider’s hands, but you can maximise comfort cheaply and without having to change to a new handlebar simply with the application of a gel-type tape, such as the Specialized Bar Phat, and a pair of gel mitts.


If you want to improve comfort further still when riding on the tops, consider changing to a handlebar with the wing-shaped top section in either carbon or aluminium. These handlebars provide a greater surface area for the hands, and by doing so they dissipate vibrations. Carbon fibre handlebars save weight but Deda and 3TTT have recently shown that hydroforming aluminium creates the new anatomic shapes that were once only thought possible with carbon fibre.


There are three stem-eye standards to consider. Straight handlebars are, with the exception of oversized types compatible with handlebar stems that have a 25.4mm eye opening. Almost all road and low profile handlebars use the standard 26mm and oversized 31.8mm (or 31.7mm in the case of Deda) openings. Modern dropped handlebars are not compatible with older-style Cinelli 1a stems, which are the outmoded 26.6mm standard.

Single or double grooved?

Handlebars have external grooves to accommodate the integral cables running beneath the handlebar tape. Users of the Campagnolo equipment should select a double grooved handlebar or, in the case of some carbon fibre units, a design with a double-width single groove

What to look for

The width of the handlebars is usually made in accordance with the width of the rider’s shoulders, and can be anything from 38cm to 48cm, or wider in the case of some specialist cyclo cross untis. Most manufacturers size their handlebars by measuring the distance between the tube centres at the drops (centre to centre), while 3TTT measure the overall width (outside to outside). With the rider sitting astride the bike, the shoulders should be the same width as the handlebars, and the wrists should be approximately in line with the upper arms.

Dropped handlebars with a round bend are becoming a popular aftermarket choice, although 95 per cent of the main market is for the anatomic bend. When choosing a drop handlebar, check to see that the drops extend far enough back to give some relief to tired shoulder muscles on long rides.

Straight handlebar users’ requirements vary. Some prefer to cut them down using a hacksaw to get through tight city spaces, while off roaders prefer the leverage of a full-length handlebar to coax a bike through a singletrack.



Some manufacturers, such as Easton, use proprietary grades of aluminium. Others use series alloys such as buget-priced 2014 – T6, which is popular for straight handlebars, or the super-hand heat-treated 7075 or 6061 grades. There are also the proprietary grades from Specialized or Easton, which are hard but the easiest to work into shape. Carbon fibre handlebars are generally made using woven fibres, though Easton use undirectional fibres that are stronger for a given weight. Almost all aluminium handlebars start with a larger diameter tube that’s formed to a smaller diameter to increase the density of the grain structure and increase strength. This is called bulge forming.