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Handlebars As A Touch Point

Handlebars As A Touch Point

95% of all handlebars are the wrong shape, size and height.

How do you know your handlebars are bad? Here’s an experiment. Stand over your bike, feet on either side, like you’re sitting at a really long stop light. Drop your hands to your sides, just relax them. Now, look down at the angle of your wrists. Now look at your bars. Where on your handlebar is that angle matched? If you have a bad handlebar, it’s not matched anywhere. If it’s a flat bar that’s not a trekking bar, it’s not even remotely matched. If it’s a standard road bar, you might think that the drops or the hoods match it, and might be close but probably isn’t a true match.

At Analog Cycles, we’re obsessed with touchpoints. That’s your handlebars, pedals, and saddles. Also, they’re the three things that outta-the-box bikes totally ignore. They’re the most important aspect of any bike, but to your detriment, every big brand minimizes their importance. If these three things are in the right spot, the right shape, and made of the right material, they’ll make even a cheap bike feel like magic.  Routinely, big brand touchpoints are either cheap, nonexistent, or woefully misguided attempts at ergonomics. Low-grade saddles, bars that are way too low, grips or bar tape that’s prone to dry rot, pedals that are either plastic or are nowhere to be found.

We routinely do refits for bikes, and the average cost is well over 300 dollars. That means that your 1500 dollar road bike you got on sale is actually 1800+. That’s just for a refit, and does nothing to address the terrible tires, too high gearing, or fragile wheels. Suddenly a custom 2500 dollar bike with everything fit to you, from gearing, to wheel toughness, to touchpoints, makes a whole lotta sense!  

 

Ok now take this quick test. Just answer the questions honestly, if you cheat you’re only cheating yourself.

            • Toward the end of a ride, do your shoulders hurt between the shoulder blades?
            • Do your wrists hurt?
            • Do your palms have pressure on them?
            • Do your fingers go numb?
            • Does your crotch have pressure?
            • Do your feet or toes fall asleep?
            • Do your arms feel tired?
            • Does your neck hurt?
 

If you answered yes to any of these, your bars (and probably more) need help. They’re probably too low, too narrow, the wrong shape and have the wrong grip material.

So why the hell would manufacturers put bad bars on so many bikes? There’s a number of factors at work:

  • Trends and Laziness. Manufacturers closely follow trends. Generally they don’t invent trends, that’s up to the little guys. Standard mountain bike bars were borrowed from motorcycles and dirt bikes, which needed wide flat bars for off road control. They have different factors at work than bicycles: Way more suspension travel, heavier, more relaxed headtube angles, more speed, more traction. The first independent mountain bikes built used bars like this, and then everyone else copied them, and very few people have ever looked back. Once something becomes established as a norm, it’s very hard to justify reeducating a customer to something that’s better but different. Education takes time, willingness, and acceptance. So naturally it’s a turnoff to some customers and lots of salespeople.
  • Drop bars are made for road racing. Which means they are made for racers who get paid to go as fast as possible, because that’s their job. If they suffer during that quest for speed, but they are the fastest, then that’s ok. Road racers don’t typically ride on bad roads, or fire roads. They are generally rail thin, they never carry a load on their bike, and make up an incredibly small portion of the people who ride bikes. But for some reason manufacturers still look to racers for marketing inspiration. 100 years ago there was a lot more innovation in road bars than we currently see. More shapes, sizes, and consideration for ergonomics. But from the 80’s on, the idea was: copy what the racers do. The concept of the drop bar is not bad per se, but drop bars made for, or in the likeness of, road racers bar are. Which is the vast majority of drop bars. Analog Cycles stocks only a small selection of what we think are the best drop bars currently made, and it’s only small because there are not many good bars out there!
  • Fear of failure. If a big brand comes out with a new handlebar, even if it’s based on a proven 100 year old design, and no one likes it, it’s a failure. On the flip side, if you just copy everyone else’s PSL, then no one is gunna care, one way or the other, because at least you’re not making waves.  

Here’s Analog Cycles’ guide to picking a handlebar without actually holding one in your hand first:  

If your bike is used for casual road touring, long distance road riding, or commuting, and you want to sit really upright, like 60-80 degrees, get a swoopy bar like an Albatross or Choco bar. Put some cork grips on it, and if it’s going to be use for longer rides, wrap the front of the bar with cloth tape. We prefer bar con shifters for these bars, as it frees up more bar to slide you hand around on.

 

If your bike is used for casual road riding, gravel riding, long distance road riding, and you are comfortable with your torso between 60 and 45 degrees, get a roadish bar with reasonable sweep and at least a bit of flare. For quill stems we like the Nitto bar we call the OG Dirt Drop bar, and for Oversized bars we like the Salsa Cowchippers.  We usually pair these bars with dirt drop or LD stems from Nitto or Velo Orange. If you are under 5’6″, the hood to hood measurement should be around 44-42cm, but the bottoms will be wider.

If your bike is used for off road bike packing, dirt roads, and class 4 roads, and you want a bunch of hand positions, get a wide dirt drop bar. The widest, unless you are under 5’4″. We like Ritchey Beacon bars, and Spank Flare 25s. We can help you set them up right. Most folks set em up wrong. If you want to have a fairly aggressive fit, use a stem with less rise and a bit more reach. If you want a more relaxed fit, put a use a Velo Orange Cigne stem.

 

 

If you ride mainly technical trails, very little road stuff, and are riding a true mountain bike, get something like a Jones bar, or a Nitto trekking bar. They have lots of sweep, lots of width, and have more hand positions than a standard mountain bar. We only only recommend these for serious off road riding. Drops are better for everything else, because they’re more comfortable, and offer not just different hand positions, but different riding positions. Pair with a standard stem and just jam a bunch of spacers under it. We like Salsa stems for the price, and Paul or Nitto stems for the best o’ the best.