The handlebar is a crucial component of your road bike as it is responsible for controlling your steering and how your bike handles. Additionally, the handlebar plays a vital role in determining your frontal area and serves as a leading edge in aerodynamic terms.
Road Bike Handlebar Styles
Road bikes are available in two handlebar styles: drop-bar and flat-bar. Drop-bars are more common.
1. Drop-bar – Drop-bars are a type of handlebar that creates a more aerodynamic shape with the rider's body, resulting in more efficient energy transfer and a faster ride. Additionally, they provide multiple riding positions due to the increased number of places to put your hands. However, it's important to note that if you are a less flexible rider, the position of your back may cause discomfort. Stretching when you're off the bike can help alleviate any discomfort.
Here are the important measurements for gravel handlebar:
- WIDTH is the distance from hood to hood. Some brands list this at the outer edges, which would make the bar narrower than a bar with the same figure as measured C to C, so double check how they measure.
- REACH refers to the distance between the handlebar and stem clamp area. A longer reach (>80mm) when in the drop position puts the rider in a more aggressive and aerodynamic stance, which is suitable for higher speeds. On the other hand, a shorter reach (<75mm) is more comfortable and provides better control when riding on off-road and dirt surfaces.
- DROP is the distance from the horizontal stem clamp area to the bottom of the bar's drop extension. A larger drop (>120mm) will bring the rider into a more aerodynamic position, while a shallower drop (<120mm) may be more comfortable and easier to transition in and out of. Additionally, it's important to note that many modern gravel bars have a less rounded "hook" shape to create a dominant drop grip.
Image credit: https://road.cc/
2. Flat-bar – Flat handlebars provide a more upright riding position, which allows for better visibility ahead while reducing pressure on the back.
Integrated vs Independent Bar and Stem
The integrated handlebar is gaining popularity, especially in the high-tech bike industry we're in today. They are a great fit for premium bikes, and feature a stylish design. The cables are hidden inside the handlebars which go through the stem and into the frame, resulting in a sleek and clean look.
Integrated System Pros:
- Aerodynamic - Hidden cables create a smooth profile.
- Lightweight - Minimal extra hardware saves grams.
- Custom-fit - Geometrically matched for a precise feel.
- Sleek aesthetics - Clean integrated look appeals to many.
Integrated System Cons:
- Expense - Replacing a whole system gets pricey.
- Inflexibility - Can't tweak fit aspects like many independent parts.
- Installation difficulty - Cable routing requires careful attention.
Independent systems preserve upgrade flexibility. Crashes potentially only damage single parts rather than necessitating a full new system swap. Adjusting stem length and bar rotation remains as simple as loosening a few bolts. Independent components also yield cost savings should replacing individual parts become necessary over time.
Independent System Pros:
- Modularity - Parts can be swapped/upgraded individually over time.
- Cost-effectiveness - Only replacing damaged components saves money.
- Fit adjustability - Fine-tune stem angle, bar width/drop easily.
Independent System Cons:
- Aesthetics - Cables and extra hardware look less clean.
- Specialized fit - May require trial and error to dial setup.
How To Choose Handlebar Width
For more experienced riders or riders with a naturally slimmer grip, narrow handlebars can offer some benefits. If you find your wrists splaying outwards to the brake hoods, you might consider trying a narrower bar.
Handlebar width can have an impact on your aerodynamic drag. In general, narrower handlebars can make you go faster. If you're currently using 44cm handlebars and looking for some free speed, consider switching to 42cm or even 40cm bars.
Carbon vs Aluminum Handlebars
Carbon handlebars are becoming more and more popular on high-end road bikes. This is due to several reasons. Firstly, carbon can be molded into any shape that a manufacturer desires, making it more versatile. Additionally, carbon can shave off some weight, which is always a plus for road bike enthusiasts. Furthermore, carbon naturally dampens vibrations, making it a more comfortable choice for riders. Lastly, they look pretty cool too!
What Are Aero Handlebars and Do I Need Them?
Aero road bikes are becoming increasingly popular, and the handlebar set-up plays a huge role in decreasing drag.
Handlebars that improve aerodynamics will often present a smaller surface area at the front, flattening out to create a longer surface area on the top.
This means they slice through the air more efficiently, and also has the added bonus of being comfortable to hold on a long climb. Plus, aero handlebars will be designed to cater for internal cable routing. ICAN's A22 and A9 handlebars are excellent examples of this. Both models are compatible with the A22 and A9 frames.
To learn about gravel handlebars, please refer to the Gravel Handlebars Guide.