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Handlebars are the mechanism for controlling steering on a bicycle. They also support part of a rider’s weight, depending on position, and provide a location for mounting other controls, such as shifters and brake levers, and accessories, such as a reflector, light, bell, or side mirror. Handlebars attach to the stem via a clamp.
There are two broad categories of handlebars. These are flat and drop handlebars. While each is named for the most common variant within them, they are categorized according to the diameter of the tubing, particularly that in the grip area. Both due to design and tubing diameter differences, each style has associated controls and accessories. These differences and some variants of each style are discussed below.
Some types of handlebars don’t conveniently fit into one of these categories. Bullhorn bars, perhaps the most common example, are also discussed below.
One common style of handlebar is the flat handlebar. The conventional form of this type consists of a straight tube, hence the name. The grip area diameter of this tube is 22.2 millimeters while the clamp size may be either 25.4 millimeters, as on older bikes, or 31.8 millimeters, for some more modern bikes.
Flat handlebars are held by rubber grips at the bar end and the bar is either covered by the grip or by a plug. They all share a similar style of brake lever and may use thumb, grip, or trigger shifters
Flat bars come in a number of variants. The following is a list of some such variants.
- Upright or North Road
The other common style of handlebar is the drop handlebar. These handlebars are bent in such a way to provide multiple hand positions, including a low, aerodynamic position from which they derive their name. The grip area diameter of this tube is 23.8 millimeters while the clamp size may be either 26.0 millimeters, as on older bikes, or 31.8 millimeters, for some more modern bikes.
Drop handlebars may be gripped anywhere along the bar, which is typically covered by some sort of bar tape for comfort. Bar ends are covered by a plug that also often doubles to secure the bar tape.
They all share a similar style of brake lever, which can be activated while on the hood or in the drops. Old examples of such brakes incorporated extension brake levers for use while on the flat portion of the bar. More modern examples have done away with this, but may be paired with interrupt brake levers for this purpose.
On old bikes with drop bars, the shifters were commonly on the downtube or stem. Some have what are called bar end shifters, which take the place of plugs. Modern bikes with drop bars often use shifters that is integrated into the brake level, often called brifters.
Drop bars come in a number of variants. The following is a list of some such variants.
Another style of handlebar is the bullhorn or pursuit handlebar. These handlebars have a straight section like flat bars, but curve forward at the ends. This forward section provides the primary hand position.
These bars are typically wrapped in bar tape and may be capped with plugs, like drop bars.
They come in both the drop and flat bar tubing standards, so one must take care when matching parts to these handlebars.
These handlebars allow for the use of a unique style of brake lever mounted to the ends of the bar. Depending on the style of brake lever mount, they may also lend themselves to bar end shifters. However, one may find almost any style of brake lever or shifter on bullhorns.
One may also make bullhorn bars from drop bars.
Summary of Important Points on Handlebars
|Ball Bearings • Brakes (Caliper Brakes, Cantilever Brakes & Disc Brakes) • Brake Levers • Chainrings • Chains • Cranks
|Derailers (Front & Rear) • Forks • Frame • Front Derailers • Handlebars • Hubs • Pedals • Quick Release
|Rim • Seatposts • Seats • Shifters • Skewer • Spokes • Stems • Tires • Tubes • Wheels