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by Daniel Atlas
One of the most important upgrades you can make to make your new commuting bike as comfortable as possible or update a well-used commuter bike is to replace the handlebars. Having the best commuter bike handlebars can allow you to more easily reach the brakes and shifters, as well as reduce strain on your back as you ride.
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There are a variety of different shapes when it comes to bicycle handlebars, and choosing the best handlebars for commuting largely comes down to your personal preference and riding style. Here, we’ll review some of the common types of handlebars.
Flat handlebars are commonly found on mountain bikes and are designed to provide maximal grip on the bar ends for the most dialed control. However, flat handlebars offer only one hand position and require your elbows to stick out, which can be quite uncomfortable over long commutes.
Raised handlebars have an upright U-shape that allows you to hold the bars either at the grips on either end or closer to the center of the U. These bars provide grip and control, but similar to flat handlebars can be quite uncomfortable over commutes longer than a few miles.
Drop handlebars provide the most comfort over long distances as well as allow you multiple possible hand positions, and thus are extremely common on road bikes. Drop bars can allow you to bend over to improve your aerodynamics when riding as well. However, drop bars are slightly hard to control than other types of handlebars, which can make them difficult for newer cyclists.
Mustache handlebars have a wavy design with upright handles on the end that is intended to give you up to four different positions in which you can hold the bar. These handlebars are designed for comfort as holding the bar anywhere along its horizontal length will allow you to sit upright, although you can also ride low and fast by holding onto the upright bar ends.
The width on handlebars that come with most new commuter bikes is an estimate based on the shoulder width of the average rider, which may not be the most comfortable width for your body – especially if you bought a unisex bike. Having handlebars that are too wide for your body will put pressure on your neck and shoulders and make it harder to handle the bars during technical turns while having handlebars that are too narrow can leave you feeling crunched.
To find the width of handlebars that is right for your body, measure the distance between the bony bits on each of your shoulders. If you are in between handlebar sizes, sizing down will make you more aerodynamic during your ride while sizing up can increase stability but also add discomfort as your shoulder blades collapse inward.
The diameter of your handlebars might seem like an afterthought, right up until you try to install the new handlebars on your bike and find that they don’t fit on your clamp. It’s important that the diameter of the handlebars matches the diameter of your clamp. While most handlebars are a standard 25.4 mm diameter, some manufacturers are making handlebars with a 31.8 mm diameter to increase their stiffness.
The bar ends on most handlebars may be open holes or finished metal ends. Having open bar ends can be useful for adding accessories – such as a mirror – or extending the length of the handlebars later. When there is an option, it is typically best to opt for handlebars with open bar ends and then simply cap them when not adding an accessory.
These flat handlebars from Outad are as equally suited for a mountain bike as they are for a commuter ride. The bar is extremely sturdy and durable, made from aluminum alloy that is 31.8 mm thick to provide extra stiffness to the bar (note that you will need a large diameter clamp to fit these handlebars). During a commute, this means that you can push and pull on the bar to make quick movements around obstacles like potholes and the handlebars will not break or bend in the event of a crash.
Unlike fully flat handlebar designs, this handlebar has a slight bend at the center that gives riders the option of a second-hand position around the center of the bars. While this position does not provide nearly the level of control that holding the bar ends does, it can provide relief from holding your elbows out when commuting longer distances. Otherwise, these handlebars are most suitable for short to medium distance commutes.
This simple high-rise handlebar from Wald takes the standard raised handlebar design and modifies it slightly to make it more comfortable for the vast majority of riders. The U-shape of the bars is greatly extended in the center while the bar ends slope back towards the rider, reducing the degree to which you need to lean forward to control the bike. While the high 13 mm rise of the bar can be comfortable over short distances, such as inner-city commutes, it can get tiring to reach up to the bars over long rides.
The high rise design is especially intended for comfort, hybrid, and urban bike styles that feature a relaxed seat position and allows riders to hold either the ends of the bar or the area right around the clamp – whichever position is more comfortable. The bars are relatively narrow at only 24.5 inches, making this handlebar most suitable for a woman’s bike. The handlebar itself is chrome plated steel, so you can expect that it will not dent or scratch even in the event of a crash.
This mustache-style handlebar from Origin8 offers a wide variety of hand positions so that you can place your hands wherever is most comfortable for you. The ends of the handlebar sweep back to the rider, which can allow you to get somewhat lower on the bike, but they lack the upright handles needed to get into a fully aerodynamic position.
On the other hand, more like flat handlebars, this design gives you excellent control over the bike even with your hand's places near the bar ends.
The handlebars are constructed from double-butted aluminum and weigh just a scant 340 grams, making them a great choice for riders who are looking to keep their commuter bike light and fast.
However, this lightweight construction also means that they will potentially bend in the event of a crash. The handlebars are available in both 25.4- and 31.8-mm diameters depending on the size of your clamp, but are only available in a 655 mm bar width.
If you find yourself on a budget after purchasing a new commuter bike but need a set of handlebars that better fits your body’s width, these riser handlebars from Sunlite are an inexpensive and durable option. The handlebars have just a slight rise of 3.5 inches, allowing them to resemble flat handlebars in their look in feel more closely. However, they do offer a second-hand position around the elongated U-shape at the center of the bars. A version of these bars with a five-inch rise is also available for tall riders who feel that higher rising bars reduce strain on their back. In either case, these bars are best for short to moderate length commutes as the riser shape can become uncomfortable.
The handlebars are made from steel, which ensures that they are extremely sturdy and will last through years of abuse – and likely any crashes – on your bike. However, note that the steel material is somewhat heavy compared to similar aluminum handlebars. The bars are 27.5 inches wide, making them suitable for a wide variety of riders, although the steel can also easily be cut down to shorter widths as needed. Note that these bars have a 25.4 mm center diameter for standard narrow clamps.
These low rising handlebars from RaceFace are designed to make you as comfortable as possible on the bars. The riser geometry is lower and wider than most similar handlebars, allowing you to get into an aerodynamic position for a faster commute. However, the taper back towards the seat on these bars means that you won’t be stretching to reach the grips. Also, the handlebars have a relatively large diameter that not only makes them more sturdy but makes them a more comfortable fit for most riders’ hands.
The handlebars are made from seamless air alloy, a type of aluminum alloy, that is extremely sturdy but also lightweight – these handlebars weigh just 315 grams. The handlebars are also tapered on the inside to increase their strength under pressure. The bars require a large 31.8 mm clamp and are only available in a 31-inch width, but come with markings to indicate where to cut them down to smaller sizes for riders with narrower shoulders.
Handlebars are typically made of steel, aluminum, or carbon. Steel and aluminum are both excellent choices for commuter bike handlebars since they are relatively inexpensive and highly durable. Aluminum is slightly lighter but less durable in the event of a crash. Carbon handlebars are typically not seen on commuter bikes as they are highly expensive and prone to cracking with extended use.
To find the right handlebar width, measure the distance between the bony protrusions on each of your shoulders. This should give you an approximation that is likely in between standard handlebar sizes. Sizing down will put you in a more aerodynamic but more cramped position while sizing up will give you more stability on the bars but can cause pain in your shoulder blades.
Having a set of handlebars on your commuter bike that both fits your body comfortably and offers the easy and secure handling you need can make a significant difference in your ride to work.
We think the RaceFace Atlas FR handlebars are the overall best commuter bike handlebars because of their lightweight, sturdy design and focus on rider comfort. The bars are designed as raised handlebars, but the low and wide design gives them much of the same feel and handling capabilities as flat handlebars.
While they can become uncomfortable over longer rides, the wide diameter bar is more comfortable on most riders’ hands. Plus, the bars are extremely lightweight thanks to the aluminum alloy construction and allow you to get low for an aerodynamic and fast commute.
While the bars will require a 31.8 mm clamp and come too wide for most riders, markings on the bar make it easy to cut them down to exactly match the handlebar width you need.
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