Four Bikes, Four Bars

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.

32 Responses to “Four Bikes, Four Bars”

  • Edward Lark says:

    I am in the planning stage for a build-up of a surly cross check as a single-speed/internal hub commuter, and I have been going back and forth on the handlebar question. Part of it is a style question, with me equivocating between wanting to do a “dutch” build on the surly (riser bars, internal hub, chain guard, etc.) versus a more “urban” build (narrow flat or drop bars, single/fixed, etc.). But also, I just can’t decide which I would prefer comfort/control-wise.

    I currently ride a flat bar commuter and a drop bar weekend club ride, both geared. I like the convenience and control that the flat bar gives in city traffic, and the more upright riding position, but like you find that I have wrist pain on rides of 10 miles or longer. My biggest concern with a riser bar is that most of them are quite wide, a big hindrance in city traffic.

    I suppose this is the joy and the frustration of bike-love: there is always too many options and things to tinker with looking for that “perfect” build.

  • Graham says:

    How much time does choosing your ride add to your commute time? I’d be paralyzed by indecision.

  • Tom says:

    Awesome color band of your stable. Orange wins and must be my next color! Adding an ANT would give you a royal flush.

    Maybe it’s an illusion but they look parked in order of top tube slope, with the Civia sloping the most. I love that Riv but the contrast of top tubes in this photo has me loving the level one best. I guess I’m turning retro grouch. If only Surly offered some bold colors.

  • Jonathan says:

    What a fleet! Gorgeous.

    Here’s my stable: I have a Waterford Adventure touring bike with Nitto Noodles, a Bianchi San Remo with Nitto Moustache (but the frame has always been a hair small for me), and finally I have an ANT on order with Nitto Albatross bars — can’t wait.

    That Rivendell could replace my Bianchi quite nicely. But it seems to me the geometry has a longer top tube than the seat tube. (I’m 6’2″ and all legs–I like a tall ST and a shorter TT.)

  • brad says:

    great post! i’m in the middle of updating my daily commuter to be a better weekender and long-trip bike, and i’ve been looking at a couple of the bars mentioned here. right now i’m riding it as a flat bar and it’s killing my hands and wrists.

    thinking i’ll be going with the north road bar..looks perfect for me.

  • ToddBS says:

    I like the Noodles, but actually I like the Nitto B135 Randonneur bar better. It’s basically the Noddle with more flare. Hmm… makes me think of “Office Space”.

    Anyway, I’m putting the B135 on a Soma Stanyan that will be my brevet bike next year. Riding at least a 200k brevet is my sole goal for 2010. Of course, just today I dug out my old bike (my first “real” bike) from my now-deceased grandparents’ house: a 1988/89 Centurion Sport DLX. The thing is in amazing shape and the tubes even held air! I guess because it’s been inside for nearly 20 years. That may end up seeing some Rando action as well!

  • Winga says:

    Nice stable of bikes. As someone who has had or has all the same bars I must say nothing beats a road or drop bar. A well designed one such as the Noodle or Randonneur bar gives many options, and you can place the bars high, low, in or out to suit your needs. The Randonneur makes a great fixie for long distances bar. The flared ends make a great place to sprint and climb on with the fixie. I had a moustache briefly and didn’t like it although I think I had them placed too far out or not high enough. The North/Albatross is a great city/errand bar but wouldn’t want to do long distances with it. Is it a coincidence that almost all the bars we are talking about are Nitto or are they just that good?.

  • Dweendaddy says:

    I have a Redline 925 fixed gear that came with moustache bars. I never liked them. You do get different hand positions. But they were all a bit low for me – I am commuting in a city, not riding in a wind tunnel. I put drops on them because I like riding on the hoods, but had the same too low problem.
    Then I got the Velo Orange Montmartre bars and am in upright heaven. People love their looks and they are nice and narrow for my city slalom course.

  • Alan says:


    I always wondered about Redline speccing Moustache bars combined with a standard low rise stem; it was obvious just looking at the bike that the set-up would be uncomfortable for most people. How I see it, the problem was the stem, not the bars. To be comfortable, you need a high rise, short reach stem like a DirtDrop to get these bars at least a couple of centimeters above the saddle.

  • Leaf S. says:

    This post inspired me to put the Nitto Albatross Bars back on my SS Surly CC. I like it like with the Albatross bars so much more than with the flat bar I had on before, it just makes more sense for commuting. My two Rivendells both have Nitto Noodles which I think are about the best drop bar ever. Eventually I’ll get a bike that’s appropriate for Moustache bars.

  • Nick says:

    I have never liked flat bars because they are always too wide for me and my wrists get tired, though I do use the flats of my drop bar frequently in the city. I have also always liked the look of north road bars when installed upside down with a few centimetres of drop. These work well with inverse levers.

    About Tom’s aside: I’m also a retro grouch: a horizontal top bar is very important to my sense of line. A sloping tube just looks bizarre unless it really slopes like on a mixed. Horizontal top tube, lugs and steel. My favourite.

    Anyone else really fond of the look of old rod-brake handlebars?

    I really like the ones that bend straight back, level with the stem, where the brake lever and handlebar are integrated in the same unit. Some company should make a reproduction of old rod brakes to be used with Bowden cables—I would buy them right away!

  • David says:

    Confucius Say, Well, at least I do

    One can never have enough bicycles.

    Classic sweet lines you have in them there Bicycles Alen……(-;

  • Alan says:

    Thanks, all.


    I’m generally with you on sloping top tubes, though I make a distinction between compact frames and frames with upsloping top tubes like the Sam H. In other words, what I don’t like about the look of most compact frames isn’t necessarily the slope, but the inordinate amount of seat tube showing. To my eye, a fist, or two at most, looks best. I’ve owned many bikes with much more post showing, but it’s always gone against my aesthetic sensibilities. Honestly, I don’t like the look of too much stem showing either, which is the case with some of the Rivendells I see around. The Sam’s 6 degree upslope serves the practical purpose of covering a wide range of riders with the smallest number of frame sizes, but it also has the added benefit of creating a balanced looking bike to my eye (can you tell I’m smitten with this bike? ;-)).


  • Surly John says:

    I have a NItto Rando bar on my Cross Check and I like it a lot. If you live in an area with frequent 20 mph breeze like I do some kind of drop bar is just about required. I have not tried the Noodle to know how it compares. The Rando bar provides a variety of comfortable hand positions. Check it out in the gallery if you are interested.

    I wish I had the Sam H. so I would not have so much stem. I have nicknamed this bike the Giraffe. I love the Sam, if it had horizontal dropouts my bank account would suffer.


  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Oh this is way cool. Four bikes with four different bars! I understand the need for and the enjoyment of this on a very visceral level. I am surprised at your description of Moustache bars as being similar to North Roads. I have got to try them! Have you ever set up a bike with upside down North Roads?

    On my vintage mixte, I currently have a bar that is very interesting. It is the Milan Bar from Velo Orange, which basically gives you the hand position of a classic MB flat-bar, but with the graceful look of a French porteur bike (see here). Riding a mountain bike as a teenager in the 90s probably has a lot to do with my handlebar preferences, and these bars emulate the feel but provide a more graceful look.

  • dweendaddy says:

    I think you are completely right about the Redline folks starting out with a low rise stem. I also think I am a bit big for this frame (but got it used for cheap, as I get all of my bikes).
    That said, the Montmartre is so styling!!
    I also like what you said about how much of the seat post and stem show. That said, I don’t love a huge head tube, either, but with a big frame like I need (like your Orange Rivendell), you have to sacrifice somewhere!

  • Alan says:


    I like the looks of the V/O bar. Sycip has a similar bar: Sycip Wonder Bar

  • Lisa Marie says:

    I just built up a Saluki and chose the Nitto Left Bank bar because I wanted something with a more upright position that still had multiple positions available to me (I plan to wrap them instead of using grips). My old Schwinn has moustache bars on them and I’ve been using those for about 4 years now. Tonight was my maiden voyage on the new bike (we went to the bike-in movie put on by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition) and I was not too thrilled with the Left Bank. I felt a little TOO upright, and now I’m not sure if I should force myself to get used to it or switch them out. I wish there was a local shop where I could go and actually hold every Nitto bar in my hands, as opposed to viewing them on Velo Orange and taking my best guess!

  • John says:

    The one thing keeping me from trying other bars is that I really love road/drop bars. The hoods, as you say, are perfect for climbing or, really, any out of the saddle action. I just can’t imagine being out of the saddle with straight bars or albatross-style bars… but maybe I should just try it.

    The one beef I have with road bars and the small frames I ride is that they don’t leave enough room for a wire basket up front. At least, I haven’t found a basket I like that’ll fit in that space. The medium sized Wald basket kind of fits, but is about 4 inches too long.

  • Anon of Florida says:

    I was in Colombia recently, and I saw a rod braked bicycle modified to use disk brakes, the end of the rods from the handlebars were modified to have anchor bolts for the inner cables. The cable housing from the disk brakes ended at a gyro style housing stop on the headset.

    A touch on the expensive side for the few rod braked bicycles for sale there at 330.000 pesos, compared to the usual 220.000 pesos for a plain rod braked bicycle.

    I do remember replacement rod brake handlebars for sale, but I didn’t ask the price. As an aside one can find Velosteel coaster brakes between 30.000 and 40.000 pesos, most of the cargo bikes there come equipped with these. Reputedly these are the best coaster brakes one can find these days that are still in manufacture.

  • Dave Kee says:

    Alan: I know that you have moved on from your recumbent days, and those are certainly beautiful bikes, but I can not imagine that anyone can find those saddles remotely comfortable. I know I am a minority here, but I don’t see how cycling will ever become a viable alternative form of transportation so long as it has the potential to inflict so much pain on the casual user.

  • ToddBS says:

    @Dave Kee

    Then don’t imagine… try one. It seems counter intuitive that a leather saddle will be comfortable, but they mold to your shape and just plain fit you. My Brooks Champion Flyer is the sole reason that I stopped wearing padded bike shorts for any ride less than 3 hours.

  • Alan says:


    This seems to be much more of an issue for some than others. Typically, when a bike is used for transportation and not for sport, rides are shorter, but more frequent. I ride more total miles now than I did when I was riding predominantly for sport/fitness, but I rarely ride more than one hour at a stretch. At those distances, saddle pain in a non-issue for most people (assuming a person is riding a properly set-up bicycle with a high quality saddle). Statistics show that overwhelmingly, the number one reason more people don’t ride bikes is the fear of cars. If we hope to see the bicycle used as a major form of transportation in the U.S. we’ll need a substantial investment in bicycling infrastructure to separate bicycle riders from automobiles. Take a look at the Netherlands where they have the highest bicycle use in the world. It’s infrastructure, not recumbent bicycles, that is behind the high numbers there.

  • hugo says:

    what can you tell about the selle-anatomica
    ( traditional brooks saddles are also used )

  • Tinker says:

    @LovelyBicycle! I am looking to set up my next bike with upside down Moustache bars, but then I like a more vertical position than most. (I have arthritis in my lower spine and shoulders, secondary to unscheduled get-offs in the 70s.) I like the Nitto Northroad bars, but I think I’ll keep looking for a wider bar than theirs, the moustache bars look universally quite wide, though. Amazon has alloy moustache bars, at quite reasonable prices.

  • andy says:

    hi – would you mind teling me the size dirt drop stem you are using with the nitto moustache bars on the hillborne please? with thanks – andy.

  • Alan says:

    Hey Andy,

    That’s the shorter version with the 8cm extension.


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  • Cormac says:

    I tried road bars for a long time on two different frame sizes trying to get them right. Upright position never felt safe with the brakes so far away and so little steering control city riding. Down on the drops always put too much strain on my wrists, leaving me tired. I might have tried raising them more, but with the mustache bars I’m always comfortable. They’ve worked great for trails, mountain biking and commuting. No, you don’t get quite as much torque when you stand up and not as much control for off road, but you get comfort and a bar that works well in all conditions.

  • Bob says:

    Albatross all the way. I’ve had mine on two different bikes now and they are the only consistent thing on my commuter. Have them on a cross check now. Comfortable on the neck and back, three hand positions (down low with the hands near the stem, on the bends like riding the hoods and in the “normal” spot), easy to ride around and see everything and darn near the prettiest bike component made. I ride mine with cork bar tape in the normal hand position and bare the rest of the way. Love em. Buy a pair and you may never go back. I’ve even seen then flipped over for a modified drop bar style. I rode a set this way for a little while to try it out but like the upright position best. Did I mention that I love these bars? I’d even tour on them.

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