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Buyer's guide to handlebar types

26 Oct 2016

How to pick the best handlebars for perfect fit, control, comfort and value.

Alloy handlebars are most definitely a mature market – a couple of decades of development has meant that there are few unexplored ideas, manufacturing techniques or versions of aluminium. With so much choice, how do you find the right ones for you? Read on to find out…

Deep bars

3T Rotundo Pro

Pioneered in the 80s, 3T was the first mnufacturer to come out with what it calls the Pro bend – what the rest of us know as deep drop. Born out of big bunch racing, this shape offers a more significant step between the shifters and the lower section, with the aim of facilitating comfort when taking it easy yet offering an aggressive position when in the wind. Reach is listed as 83mm and the drop about one centimetre more than typical shallow bars, at 139mm for these round-profiled drops. Three widths are available – 40, 42 and 44cm, measured centre to centre. 


Bargain bars

Condor Strada

You can trust a true specialist shop like Condor to come up with something that’s just a little different. These days, pretty much all the well-known bike brands produce their own component ranges for budget bikes, but Condor caught our eye for not just making a ‘me too’ product. By offering four widths, two clamp sizes and two colours, Condor offers something a little different for its budget-conscious double-butted 6061 series alloy bars. Before we got obsessed with carbon and stealth, handlebars were silver and the Strada harks back to those days, coming in either high-polish or anodised black finish. Along with the traditional colour, they’re a traditional shallow shape with a round bend.


Shallow bars

Fizik Cyrano R5 Snake

Nothing says Italian quite like a set of shallow bars. From Fizik’s entry-level range, the R5 comes in 130mm measurement from tops to drops. Fizik runs a novel system to describe fit – with the longer 80mm reach of the shallow-drop bar, this one is called the Snake as you’ll need to be the most flexible kind of rider to reach it (as opposed to the less supple Bull or Chameleon). Whatever the name, these alloy bars give a great introduction with the relatively quick radius first bend and minimal drop from stem to shifters allowing comfort for long periods of riding on the hoods, while the extended lower section can be used for aggressive efforts.


Flared bars

Ritchey Comp Evomax

Ritchey has gone to town forming the Comp Evomax bars. Working from the stem out, the tops are swept backwards at an angle of four degrees to give a more natural position and take pressure off the wrists, while the drops incorporate an outward flare of 12 degrees, again to give a more ergonomic hand position. To standardise things, the measurements are based on the point where the brake levers are attached and four widths from 40 to 46cm are available; the reach and drop are 73mm and 120mm so Evomax are about as short and shallow as you can get.



Width, drop and reach may sound like a firm of suburban solicitors, but they’re all things to consider when buying bars. 

When it comes to handlebars, there are several measurements to consider, foremost of which is width. Bars should be roughly equal to your shoulder width but you can go up a size for a touch more stability or drop a size to get a more agile feel. Most manufacturers measure centre-to-centre at the open ends of the handlebar tubing, but some measure outside-to-outside, so be careful not to get caught out if ordering online. 

Once you’re sure of the width you’ll need to consider the drop – this is measured from where the bars are clamped at the stem to the lower section – and the reach, which is measured from the tops to the point where your brake levers will be mounted. These measurements and the radius of the curves help classify them into one of the three main categories: shallow, deep or ergo. We’ve picked representative examples from each of these categories, plus a few more options, which refine these measurements further to accommodate particular needs or riding styles. 

Comfy bars

Bontrager Race Lite IsoZone VR-CF

Riding the Belgian cobbles might not be everyone’s idea of fun but there is no denying that it’s a great testing and proving ground, especially for products that promise to aid comfort. Bontrager has long looked to improve comfort and these 6066 series aluminium bars draw on that experience with built-in foam pads which are said to displace vibration by a fifth. Coming in an impressive range of five sizes, they have a reach of 93mm and drop of 123mm. The bend is variable with a small outward sweep or flare, to help your wrists avoid hitting the upper portion when riding in the drops. 


Sprint bars

Pro Vibe Sprint

Combining an ergo profile with a medium drop, the Pro Vibe Sprint is pretty much the latest technology in handlebars thanks to its four internal slats that gently spiral along the inner surface. Designed with sprint legend Mark Cavendish, they give a deep drop for an aggressive position, with ergonomic flat sections to provide as secure a connection as possible. Those internal ribs work to increase stiffness, as does the extended 31.8mm-diameter top section running out from either side of the stem clamp. Interestingly, with no flare built into them these give greater room for wrists and forearms when out of the saddle.


Ergo bars

Zipp Service Course 70 Ergo

Ergo or ergonomic handlebars come in various depths depending on the brand, but it’s the visibly sharp bend that denotes them. Zipp prefers to go for a shorter 70mm reach with the shallow 128mm drop so it’s the distinct kink in the lower section that defines them as Ergo, providing distinctly defined ‘zones’ for riding in and a flatter space for the hand in those areas, rather than a continuous bend underneath the palm. Zipp offers four widths and uses the durable 6061 grade of alloy. The bars also feature a small four degree out-sweep. 


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