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Buying guide for best handlebars for mountain bikes

If you’re into mountain biking, you know that having the right equipment greatly improves your ability to withstand uneven terrain. The handlebar you attach to your bike is no exception. This vital part of your bike must provide you with enough control to maneuver over rocky, bumpy ground. If your current handlebar isn’t getting the job done, it may be time for an upgrade.

The handlebar on your mountain bike doesn’t just affect your steering. It can also influence the riding position you assume and how smooth your ride is overall. With the right handlebar, you may be able to improve your maneuverability as well as your balance for downhill pedaling. If you frequently ride tree-lined trails, the right handlebar can help you get through tight spaces between the trees. Your ride will also feel more comfortable because every bump and pothole won’t feel so jarring.

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If you do a lot of downhill mountain biking, you may want a handlebar that’s as wide as 32 inches to give you better control.

Key considerations

Type

There are two main types of handlebars to choose from: flat handlebars and riser handlebars.

Flat handlebars are the classic handlebar style for mountain bikes. A basic, straight design makes the handlebar strong and durable. A flat handlebar typically encourages a riding position in which you lean forward slightly. This is an effective posture for most basic trails, steep climbs, and cross country riding. 

Riser handlebars feature a straight middle. They rise slightly toward the ends and then straighten again for brake and grip placement. Because of the rise in the bar, these handlebars allow you to sit up straighter and use a wider grip. Many mountain bikers find riser handlebars to be a better option for extreme mountain biking because they offer better control and comfort.

Material

Handlebars for mountain bikes can be made of a few different materials. The most common options include the following.

  • Aluminum or aluminum alloy: This is a fairly strong, durable metal that comes in at a reasonable price. Some aluminum handlebars are butted: the tubes are thin in some areas to keep the weight down and thick in other areas to make the handlebar strong and durable. Notably, aluminum handlebars don’t offer much protection from impact when riding.
  • Steel: Steel is extremely strong and durable. It’s a good candidate if you’ll be doing any extreme riding. The metal is heavy, so it’s a better option for BMX biking than mountain biking.
  • Titanium: This somewhat heavy material can be fairly pricey. However, handlebars made of titanium are incredibly effective at reducing vibration and impact.
  • Scandium: Scandium is thinner and lighter than aluminum, but it offers the same durability when used at equal weight.
  • Carbon fiber: This is a lightweight option, yet it’s still incredibly strong and durable. In fact, carbon fiber handlebars offer at least the same strength as aluminum when used at equal weight. They also reduce vibration significantly to provide a more comfortable ride.

Features

Diameter

Nearly all mountain bike handlebars have a 22.2mm diameter at the grip. As such, you should be able to use any grips with the bar you choose. When it comes to the clamping surface, though, you can find handlebars for mountain bikes with a few different diameters. A 25.5mm clamp diameter is the most traditional, but in recent years, a 31.8mm diameter has become more common. A 35mm diameter is becoming popular, too, so be sure that any new bar you consider is the right fit for your stem clamp size.

Width

The best mountain bike handlebar width for you is typically a matter of personal preference. A wide handlebar can provide better leverage than a narrow bar, which is better for rough trails. The reason: the greater width slows down your steering so you feel more in control of the bike.

Narrow handlebars are a good option if your primary concern is maintaining an ideal riding position. Narrow handlebars also work better if you often ride dense forest trails, are a cross-country rider, or have short arms.

Flat bars are a bit narrower than riser bars. The average flat handlebar has a width of 23 or 23.6 inches. (Riser bars typically have a width of 27 inches.) That said, you can find handlebars for mountain bikes that are as wide as 32 inches. Keep in mind that you can always cut down a bar that’s too wide. As such, you may want to opt for a wider bar if you’re not sure which width is best.

Bend

A handlebar’s bend is how much the bar is angled back from the center. This figure helps determine how comfortable your hand and wrist positioning is. Some bars have zero bend, which means they are completely straight. Others have a bend of up to 9 degrees. They sweep backward slightly to allow you to position your hands closer to your body.

A bend of 4 to 6 degrees will provide a good neutral position for most riders.

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Did you know?
Most mountain bike handlebars are available in a wide array of colors. It’s fairly easy to find an option that complements your bike to a tee.
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Mountain bike handlebar prices

Handlebars for mountain bikes usually vary in price based on their materials and durability. Most range from $8 to $175.

The most affordable mountain bike handlebars are made from steel or aluminum. They usually cost between $8 and $65. Mid-range mountain bike handlebars are typically made from aluminum alloy or titanium. They generally range from $28 to $95. The most expensive mountain bike handlebars are usually made from carbon fiber. They typically cost between $40 and $175.

Tips

●     If you’re not sure how wide your handlebar should be, aim for a model that positions your arms at a 45-degree angle with your torso. You can figure out the best width for that position by doing a push-up: the distance between your hands is the ideal handlebar width for you.

●     Choose a flat handlebar if you prefer to maintain an upright position when you’re sitting on your bike. Flat bars make that riding position much more comfortable.

●     If you tend to ride on rougher trails or do a lot of downhill riding, a wider handlebar is often the best choice. The width provides greater leverage than a narrow bar, boosting your control and stability on uneven terrain.

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If speed is your primary concern as a mountain biker, a carbon fiber handlebar is your best bet because it is incredibly lightweight and won’t slow you down.

FAQ

Q. Can a mountain bike handlebar be too wide?
A.
Absolutely. If you’re 5’9” or shorter, a too-wide bar could put serious strain on your shoulders because your hands are positioned too far apart. You can usually tell if your bar is too wide by how your shoulders feel (sore or not sore) after hitting the trails. If you notice tightness or discomfort in your shoulders the next day, it’s a sign that you should cut your handlebar down to a more comfortable length or swap it out for a narrower one.

Q. How long do mountain bike handlebars last?
A.
It depends on a variety of factors including bar material, how often you ride, and the kind of terrain you ride on. In most cases, you should be able to get at least two or three years from a handlebar before needing to replace it.

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