Another Look at Handlebar Preferences

Le Moustache

I rode traditional drop bars for decades before spending the past couple of years experimenting with various alternatives such as Moustache, flat/porteur, and North Road/Albatross style bars. I think my stint on recumbents awoke my interest in alternatives to the traditional drop bar riding position, and a year on an upright English roadster probably sealed the deal. The last bike I owned with drops was a custom frame that was a spot-on fit, but still, I never re-acclimated to the reach and drop to the ramps.

Of course, it’s possible to set-up drop bars so that the ramps are at saddle height or above. Rivendell and others have done much to promote this set-up. Getting drop bars up into this position is one of the strong arguments for traditional frame sizing. I haven’t completely written off drops, and I may try to set-up my Hillborne this way at some point. In the meantime though, I’m happy on moustache, flat, or riser bars with a relatively short forward reach, some sweep, and a grip area at about saddle height or slightly above. For me, this riding position provides the most secure feeling for city riding. It’s also the easiest on my neck, back, and wrists. For sure, this is highly personal, and opinions are going to be quite varied on this subject.

We ran a poll last year asking what kind of bars our readers are running. Here are the results:

  • Drop Bar (34%, 225 Votes)
  • Fully Swept Upright Bar (Albatross/North Road, etc.) (27%, 181 Votes)
  • Moustache Bar (11%, 75 Votes)
  • Partially Swept Upright Bar (On One Mary, etc.) (11%, 72 Votes)
  • Flat Bar (8%, 55 Votes)
  • Trekking Bar (3%, 21 Votes)
  • Bullhorn Bar (3%, 19 Votes)
  • Other (explain below) (3%, 13 Votes)

I was surprised that the drop bar fared so well. Undoubtedly, it’s still the most versatile handlebar, and it’s also the most familiar among experienced bicyclists. But still, I’d assumed flat or North Road type bars might be more popular among our commuting/city-centric crowd. I’m going to run this poll again to see if tastes have changed at all in a year.

What type of handlebar do you prefer for commuting and city riding?

View Results

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26 Responses to “Another Look at Handlebar Preferences”

  • Tim D. says:

    I voted moustache, because that’s what I used to have on my commuter. Now I actually have north road bars, but they’re flipped upside down. They don’t reach as far forward, and leave more room to stack stuff on my porteur rack.

  • alan g says:

    Drop bars are great! They are more versatile and offer more hand positions, as well as being more aero in windy situations (the only time I need to be ‘aero’ anymore. The problem for me is an arthritic right elbow, not caused by, but no doubt aggravated over many years by drop bars. So for the rest of my riding life it is Nitto Albatross. I might look like Mary Poppins, or Pee Wee Herman on the things, but at least I’m still riding – and enjoying it!

  • Jammy says:

    I really like moustache bars for my city bike. My ‘city’ rides sometimes go above 20 miles so the multiple hand positions are nice. If my frame was larger I could deal with a drop bar, but as it is my Nitto periscope already has plenty of extension.

  • michael says:

    I’ve been riding drops for as long as I can remember. I’m hoping to build up my next frame with a more upright position. Also a front porteur rack, either stem or downtube shifters… a totally different type of ride hopefully.

  • Jon Grinder says:

    I voted “other” because, while I prefer the Albatross and North Road styles, I invert them, in the manner of Mustache bars. The hand position is parallel to the top tube on the Mustache bar, and I prefer a bit of flare on the ends of the bars.

  • Jed Reynolds says:

    I prefer flat risers with bullhorns when I have cargo on my a hybrid mtb setup or my extracycle. On my short diamond frame, I have trekking bars. On my Rans Tailwind I just have a short flat bar. I commute on all three as weather and cargo dictates.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    For me, drop vs upright bars are not in competition, because I use them for different purposes. I prefer upright bars on transportation bikes, and drop bars on road and touring bikes. It a matter of which tool is best for the task.

  • Roland Smith says:

    My preference is under seat steering on recumbents, especially trikes.

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    Agreed! :-)

    Just to clarify, I was asking the question in the context of commuting and city riding (implying shorter mileage). For long distance riding it’s hard to beat drops.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • RDW says:

    I really like the versatility of my wide (48cm) Nitto Noodle bar. The top of the bar is very comfortable when I want to ride more upright – in town, approaching intersections, or just sight seeing. The drops and ramps are super comfy the rest of the time.

  • Mike says:

    I’ve only got two bikes at the moment: a single-speed fixed-gear wit bullhorns and a bakfiets with slightly swept-back handles. If I’m sitting fully upright, I’m not sure how much the angle of backward sweep would matter to me, but I’ll get to test it out in a couple of months when we get the Omafiets that we ordered, with widely-spaced, fully-swept-back handles.

    Back in high school I rode a bike with a drop bar, but I was entirely clueless about how to use them. The drops were uncomfortably low, and I generally rode with my hands on the tops and used the secondary brake levers. It never occurred to me to put my hands on the hoods. After using the bullhorns, I feel like there’s very little difference between them and the upper half of a drop bar, so I’m going to try a Noodle bar on the Rivendell that I ordered.

    I didn’t answer the poll, because I haven’t tried enough different bars to know what I prefer.

  • Mel Hughes says:

    Coming back to riding after too many years off the back, I have found that my lower back does not love drop bars once the miles creep over 20 or so. Last summer and fall, I did several rides that went over 30 miles. But I was very happy to get off the bike at the end of them. My back was even happier! So it is with great interest that I stumbled upon EcoVelo as well as Rivendell’s site and the plethora of handlebar and position possibilities.

    I have to say that I do love the FSA compact wing drop bars I put on my road bike. The width of the flats behind the brake hoods are very comfortable on long rides. But more and more, I keep looking at the moustache bars. I think I would really miss having the more upright brake hoods as a position option. But other than that, I do very little riding in the drops these days. So it might be that the moustache would be a much more comfortable option all-around. My old Litespeed already looks a bit Frankenbikesh with the steering tube extention to get my bars up above the seat. It won’t look that much stranger with a set of moustache bars…

  • Whistler says:

    On my city bike, i have a straight bar Nitto with the Ergon grips that have the short extentions. 500mm end-to-end. Rides real comfy here in Holland. On my tour bike, Nitto Noodle drops (420mm).

  • Androo says:

    I’m with Whistler – I find that flat bars with bar-ends are one of the best and simplest arrangements for fit, control, comfort, and versatility.

  • voyage says:

    @ Mel Hughes

    I recently put compact drop bars on a couple of my restored Techniums and am happy with the shorter reach (about 82 cm) and shallow drop. Definitely makes for an even more nimble, responsive sport road bike. On my other, more period-correct Techniums, I retain the venerable Sakae Modolo Anatomic Bend drop bars.

    ~~~~~~~

    In commuter/util applications I prefer flatbars with the slightest sweep and fitted with Ergons.

  • michael says:

    My current commuter has some great Nitto randonneur drops – not super wide up top but with a good amount of flare through the drops (I would never ride in my drops because it was very uncomfortable for my wrists, but with the extra flare, it makes it far more natural). Most of the time I spend with my hands on the bar flat or the brake hoods, so I do wonder if maybe a set of bullhorns wouldn’t achieve a similar ride.

  • Opus the Poet says:

    I have 3 bikes in the rotation at the moment, a RANS Fusion crank-forward that gets most of my city miles, a 1983 RANS Stratus modified with 700c wheels on both ends, and a Franken-bike that is a 20-20 crank forward conversion of a 26″ BSO. The Fusion is running the OE riser bar, the Stratus is running the factory-replacement chopper bars from 1984, and the 20-20 crank forward is using a BMX bar with the brace the same diameter as the rest of the bar. All 3 bars have their advantages, The riser bar on the Fusion was designed to give the most comfort on the road, the chopper bar for the Stratus covers the long reach between the stem and the rider with a minimum of material and also allows for mounting 2 extra water bottles and I can carry on-road foods in the coroplast fairing I mounted.. The BMX bar on the Franken-bike lets me mount a bunch of stuff on the “dashboard” without interfering with the stem so the light gets centered instead of mounting left or right of center.

  • Rick says:

    I’m with RDW, nitto noodle drop. Wide enough for off-road leverage, plus the multiple hand positions. I’d add that the cycle-cross style interrupters complete the deal, adding the braking option for an up-right position. I like other bars, but nothing provides this many advantages for me.

  • William Seville says:

    If I have to pick one, it’s drop bars. I love my \north road\ bars for sub-mile jaunts, and further with the wee ones but with the local \breezes\ one needs to get out of the wind. So the 20 mile commute to work is done in the drops for most of the way

  • Alan says:

    @Mel

    Moustache bars are an acquired taste for some people, and they seem to be a love ‘em or hate ‘em proposition for most. In my experience they’re not a great bolt-on option. In other words, to work well for many people, I suspect they’ll want a tall, short-reach stem like a Nitto Dirt Drop. This brings the deep forward bend back toward the rider and reduces the reach to a point that it’s similar to the ramp position on a drop. I’m running this set-up on my Hillborne and couldn’t be happier.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Fergie348 says:

    I’m considering a modified drop bar style that used to be popular with the dirt set for commuting – WTB dirt drops. I need a bar that give me a modest drop and a bit of a wider grip in the drops, and I think this might be it:

    http://www.wtb.com/products/components/handlebar/mountainroaddropbar/

    My commute is 25 miles, so I need several hand positions. I like the look of the moustache bars, but not the feel so much. I also am running barcon shifters and will need to have mounts for those, so drops of some kind are a must.

  • voyage says:

    @Fergie348

    Get thee bike to an active local Surly dealer. They should have LHT experience with bar ends and can advise on two critical dimensions: clamp diameter (I think you need 25.4, NOT 31.8) and the bar end diameter that will accept bar end shifters. Generally 31.8 clamp diameter bars don’t taper enough to accept bar ends.

    Also, bar end shifters are not necessarily restricted to drop down bars. It’s really just a question of their fit to the end bar diameter regardless of bar style.

    2 cents.

  • Sebastian says:

    I am really amazed that drop bars rank #1 as a choice for city or urban commuting. I’m from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I’ve been commuting for about a year (and been doing urban freeride on my freeride bike for more than 10 years). Here in Buenos Aires, drop bars are reserved almost exclusively for roadies. In this year of commuting by bike to work, and in my 10 years of riding around in the city just for fun, I’ve never seen a drop bar that has not been mounted on a road bike and ridden by a road biker (with all the apparel, bells and whistles of a road biker, sorry but we freeriders kinda laugh a little at roadies).

    I find very interesting how the bicycle culture changes from country to country and region to region. For example, almost everyone here that commutes by bike uses a cheap beach bike (and by cheap I mean really cheap). Even I use a beach bike frame with an electric bike kit (well, I swapped all components and customized the entire bike).

    From what I’ve seen, I have to say that commuting by bicycle in USA and in Argentina (specifically Buenos Aires) has a lot of differences from a cultural point of view. Here, people that choose to commute by bike generally do not concern about CO2 emissions, benefits to the environment, or reduced costs in transportation. Just do it because it is cheap, and their acquisition capacity do not allow them to buy a car and maintain it. This bicycle culture, sustained by lack of knowledge and generally reduced understanding of the bicycle as a serious vehicle, somewhat leads to a slow acceptance of the bicycle as a real alternative of transportation.

    This leads to find interesting that you can have a poll about types of handlebars used for urban commuting, when usually commuter here hardly can differente a one piece crankset from a three piece crankset, much less the technical differences between them. Another example, when I was looking for a north road type handlebar, not only it was really difficult to find, but also no salesman knew what it was, and I had to give a physical description of what a North Road handlebar is (of course, then salesman usually replied “-oh, you mean one of those! Haven’t seen them as an aftermarket component for years, sorry”).

    These differences in the evolution of the bicycle as a serious vehicle and serious alternative to urban transportation led me to find them as a cultural difference, and not only related to economy facts. Fortunately, despite these facts, I have to admit that the amount of people riding bicycles has increased in the last year. On the other side of the coin, I find that these amount is directly related to the arrival of engine kits (explosion, not electric). Anyway, I’m certainly happy with these even if it’s not perfect, because the CO2 footprint leaved by a bicycle with an engine is much less than the one that leaves a car, in a country that stil does not have any regulation on CO2 emissions, and even public transport are completely out of international standards.

    Best regards, and congratulations for an excellent site, that I have been reading from some months now (and made me fall in love with the Civia Loring, gosh I love that bike, unfortunately impossible to find here in Argentina, though I’d happily pay for it).

    Sebastian
    Buenos Aires, Argentina.

    PS: as all this thoughts came from a simple handlebar poll, maybe the comments ends to be a little offtopic, so pleas feel free to edit it as you consider. And lastly, pardon my english please, is not as good as I’d like!

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  • Jeff says:

    I have Albatross bars with barcons on my Trek 790 and Cro-mo North Roads with barcons on my Trek 950. Both of these bikes had Noodles w/Technomic at one point, but I’ll never ride anything smaller than the North Road bars again. 15 mile r/t commute and either bike is fine with its current set up.

    I love the Albatross bars; it’s what I imagine driving a school bus feels like.

  • dominic furfaro says:

    I voted other: this is what I ride got to: http://domotion2011.wordpress.com/rev-2-modification-dyi/

    Alan thanks for publishing my bike in your gallery. Now I have four set up including a kids bike. I put a page together on my blog for DIY.

 
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