OK, this is the kind of stuff I thrive on. What you’re looking at is four bikes with four distinctly different handlebars. From left to right we have a Surly Long Haul Trucker with a Nitto North Road bar, a Rivendell Sam Hillborne with a Nitto Moustache bar, an Independent Fabrications Club Racer with a Nitto Noodle (drop) bar, and a Civia Hyland with a Civia 17° bend flat bar. I’m currently rotating through the bikes to solidify in my mind the differences between the bars. I haven’t stumbled upon any Earth-shattering revelations yet, but here are a few random thoughts anyway…
North Road / Albatross
North Roads provide the most rise among the group. They’re great for getting a more upright position on bikes that are too small for the rider. They sweep back and shorten the reach to the grip area. They place the hands in a comfortable, ergonomic position. A disadvantage is that with grips and mountain bike levers they really only provide one hand position. The Albatross is a similar bar also made by Nitto.
I’ve only been riding these for a week, so I can only give you a first impression. They’re a lot like North Roads, but with multiple hand positions and no rise. The lever position is similar to the lever position on a flat bar. Because they have a deep forward bend and long reach to the brake levers, they require a short, high rise stem such as a DirtDrop. I really like the variety of positions this bar provides, though some people might miss the drop bar brake hood position for climbing.
The brake hood position on any drop bar is super for climbing out of the saddle and the multiple hand positions are hard to beat for long rides. The Noodle bar is a unique version of the standard drop bar with a flare in the drops, a slight rearward bend at the tops, and a nice, level platform (see comfy) behind the brake lever. The unusual rearward bend at the tops makes that position more ergonomically correct and more useful as an all-purpose position. Until recently, I hadn’t ridden drops for years, but this bar has me wanting drops on at least one of my bikes.
Flat bars provide a ton of control for dodging taxi cabs or hopping logs. They’re light and stiff, and they’re the best bar out there for short, intense rides in urban traffic. They’re a simple bar that intuitively appeals to novices, but they’re the least comfortable among this group. Because of their not-so-ergonomically-correct position and lack of multiple hand positions, they make my wrists hurt on long rides.
Of course, there is a myriad of other bars out there. The On-One Mary is a popular, semi-swept bar that falls somewhere between a typical flat bar and a North Road or Albatross. Wald, best known for their excellent utility baskets, also makes a number of interesting handlebars; Mike Flanigan at A.N.T. specs Wald bars on some of his bikes. There’s no right or wrong here. Handlebars, like bikes, each offer advantages and disadvantages. The trick is not so much to determine which is “best”, but to figure out which one is best for your bike and how you ride it.