Handlebars are the most essential static component of a mountain bike’s parts. These components contribute to better steering accuracy and comfort. Having the right handlebar fit for your mountain bike also improves your cycling posture and ergonomics, enhancing your riding agility and overall performance. That said, knowing what aspects of your mountain bike handlebars need improvement is pertinent. In this article, we highlight how to choose mountain bike handlebar upgrades.
Common mountain bike handlebar upgrades include adjusting the handlebar geometry, shape, rise, bar sweep, bar diameter, or just changing the material used in the handlebar.
While most upgrades offer aesthetic benefits, specific adjustments contribute immensely to increased riding comfort and better cycling ergonomics. According to this study from Research Progress in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering on ergonomic risk assessments (ERA’s), multiple factors relating to poor riding posture increase the risk of musculoskeletal illness. So it is important to make appropriate adjustments that promote a proper cycling posture. We discuss this in greater detail in our guide on where to hold mountain bike grips to maintain proper posture.
For instance, by upgrading your handlebar shape from a straight bar to a more multi-dimensional option like this Jones-H bar, you improve wrist flexibility and comfort, especially when navigating rough terrains. Additionally, opting for a handlebar with an appropriate grip diameter improves steering control which invariably increases riding performance. Check out our article on how to choose a mountain bike grip diameter for a step-by-step guide.
All in all, when making upgrades to your MTB handlebars, it’s vital to prioritize your comfort, so it would be best if you considered going through many options and trying them in your various cycling positions until you get one that properly suits your needs.
You might also be interested in learning how to choose a mountain bike extended seat post. If so, be sure to read our related article for more information. Additionally, you may want to consider adding mountain bike hand warmers to your handlebars. If so, be sure to read about some of your options.
Reasons to Change the Handlebars on a Mountain Bike
Despite being the most essential static part of a mountain bike, handlebars are often overlooked. Unfortunately, most riders only upgrade their handlebars after they have been used to a point beyond salvaging. Tell-tale signs of why you should consider changing handlebars on mountain bikes include compromised cycling ergonomics, loose or worn-out grips on the handlebars, or when you need a handlebar that satisfies your cycling goals.
Reasons to change handlebars on a mountain bike include compromised cycling ergonomics, ill-fitting bars, poor coupling of the handlebars with other bike components, or to suit specific cycling needs.
Different factors of the handlebar, such as the handlebar geometry, sweep, diameter, or material, affect other parts of the body while riding. However, before you consider switching up your handlebars, rule out poor posture as your cause of pain. If you constantly assume an improper form or use an ill-fitted bike while riding, you’ll likely develop musculoskeletal issues in the long run. However, if you’re confident that you have a properly fitted bike, as explained in our article that provides a mountain bike sizing chart, and have the correct reach as shown in our mountain bike reach calculator guide, then your handlebar might just be the cause of your discomfort.
With that being said, here are a few reasons why you should change your mountain bike handlebars and the factors that affect each:
1. Numb Hands and Fingers
When used for an extended time, a poorly fitted handlebar could lead to a great deal of discomfort. The primary factors that could lead to feelings of paresthesia (numbness) in the hands and fingers are the handlebar geometry, width, and diameter.
Handlebar geometry encompasses two factors: the handlebar rise and sweep. The handlebar rise, also called the handlebar height, refers to the height at which your handlebars sit relative to the center of the bike seat. Conventionally, the bar rise ranges between 0 to 100mm, but most bar rises accommodate a 40 to 50mm height. The bar rise should be tailored to your riding position to improve comfort.
Handlebar sweep comprises two types: the upsweep as this one has, and backsweep as this one has. The upsweep refers to the vertical angle of the handlebar at the grips, and the angle where the handlebar points to the back of the bike is the back sweep. Most upsweeps fall between 4 and 6 degrees to prevent wrist strain by keeping it at a neutral angle, while back sweeps could range between 0 (for completely straight bars) to 45 (for specialty bars).
Another upgrade to consider for numb hands and fingers is adjusting the handlebar diameter. The universal 22.2mm size makes handlebar interchange possible, meaning more options for riders who want to switch things up every now and then. On the other hand, the stem clamps like these, the rod connecting the handlebars to the bike, come in three different sizes: 25.4mm, 31.8mm and 35mm.
Larger stem clamps like these reduce clamping pressure due to an increased surface area and improved load distribution. It should, however, be noted that the 35mm stem clamps trade increased strength and stiffness for flexibility. Hence, several riders opt for the 31.8mm stem clamp as it’s less bulky and provides better flex. If you decide to upgrade your bike handlebars, it’s essential to ensure the new bars pair well with the stem clamps.
2. Sore and Painful Wrists
This research from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene indicates that frequent vibration transmitted through the hands and wrists, even for a short period, can negatively impact the upper limbs. Handlebar shape is the primary factor to consider when you notice increased discomfort in your wrists.
Another upgrade to consider if you have sore and painful wrists is the handlebar width. The handlebar width is essential when focusing on wrist comfort and steering. When paired with a short stem, wider handlebars like this reduce steering input, increasing bike control. Additionally, wider handlebars make breathing easier during climbs as your chest assumes a more open position rather than hunched over. The only con is that wider bars can be challenging to navigate through dense forest trails. Additionally, a handlebar that is too wide could stretch out the wrists during rides, limiting the possible range and tires you out faster.
On the other hand, narrow handlebars like this increase the rider’s range of motion but also make for heavier steering and reduce riding stability. Conclusively, when making adjustments to the handlebar width, you should consider what terrain you often ride through and opt for a width that best satisfies your riding needs. Most mountain bike handlebar widths fall between <600mm and >850mm. It’s advisable to go for an option that makes cutting down on the handlebar width easier if the need arises. It’s more convenient to cut down on a wide handlebar than bulk up a narrow one.
The standard straight bar shape like this is the most common and appropriate option for riders who do more simple riding. However, if you engage in a lot of high-impact cycling that requires you to assume several wrist positions, it’s better to opt for the more flexible Jones-H road-style drop handlebar shapes like these.
3. Strained Shoulders
Like the above-mentioned factors, strained shoulders could be due to handlebars with improper geometry, width, and diameter. However, you must ensure you’re assuming the correct posture while riding.
Another factor that could translate to having strained shoulders is the handlebar height. The correct handlebar height, also called the rise, largely depends on the bike you’re riding and your body position and proportion.
This factor relates to your saddle height, and for mountain bikes, handlebars should be placed about 1 to 2 inches above the saddle. Too high, and you tend to flex your elbows too far back, which leads to discomfort in your arms that radiates to your shoulders. Conversely, if your handlebar height is too low, you’re more likely to hunch over while riding, leading to back problems. Hence, it’s crucial to fit your handlebars at a height that offers the most comfort for your riding position.
4. Improving Control
If you wish to improve steering control while riding, adjusting the handlebar stem and width is the primary upgrade to consider for your handlebars. A too-short stem could make riding on ascents quite tricky as you might struggle to keep your bike in a straight line. Conversely, a stem that is too long would move your weight forward during descents and increase your likelihood of falling over the bar during rides. A stem like this with a 50mm to 80mm mark would abate such unwanted situations.
5. Increasing Handlebar Durability
Regardless of your chosen material, the following characteristics should be considered: weight, strength, flex, and vibration cushioning. Carbon bars like this are stiffer and much lighter than their aluminum counterparts. They also do a much better job cushioning vibration, which would ease tension through your hands and make for a more pleasant riding experience. However, a notable con with carbon bars is that they are much more expensive than aluminum bars and don’t offer as much material flexibility.
Although both options are pretty strong, aluminum bars bend or flex on impact, which is an excellent pointer to know when your bars need changing. However, when subjected to impact, carbon bars break. With that being said, if you do a lot of high-impact riding, aluminum bars like this might be a better option.
As for the less common titanium and steel options, handlebars made with titanium have been found to offer the least resistance and give the best feeling regarding cushioning vibration noise. However, they can be heavy and are often more expensive than carbon bars. On the other hand, steel bars are pretty affordable and offer a natural spring and flexibility that’s a lot more comfortable and preferable for most riders.
Regardless of what bar you choose, it’s essential to ensure they’re fitted with the proper torque. Additionally, it’s vital to inspect your handlebars for any damage and replace them when the need arises. Regular replacement would ensure handlebar longevity and reduce possible accidents while riding. You may get the necessary tools and make the upgrades yourself or get them done at a professional bike mechanic.
6. Getting a Proper Fit
If you have an inadequately fitted bike, even if paired with an appropriate handlebar, there’s likely to be constant improper weight distribution, which would, in turn, lead to discomfort, pain, and injury in the long term. With this in mind, it’s in your best interest to get yourself professionally measured for a bike like this and a handlebar like this that suit your body specifications. Check out our article on what mountain bike you should buy for tips and tricks to select the right bike for your needs.
7. Improving Comfort
Handlebars made with carbon fiber are pretty light, very strong, and durable. As a result, they’re the primary option to consider if you wish to upgrade to a more comfortable handlebar. The major setback, however, is that carbon handlebars are usually the most expensive. Additionally, they might not provide as much durability on rougher terrain as they’re more likely to get damaged. Steel handlebars are the heaviest and cheapest but can also be the most durable and substantial.
Aluminum handlebars fall right in the middle by offering the best of both worlds. These bars are light and relatively firm, and the cost falls between steel and carbon fiber. The major con about aluminum handlebars is that they are the least durable. Finally, titanium bars, though heavy, are the most durable and have the most extended shelf life. All in all, it depends on your budget and what you’re willing to sacrifice in exchange for comfort.
Summary of Suitable Mountain Bike Handlebar Upgrades:
|Situation||Which Mountain Bike Handlebar Upgrades Can Help||Example|
|Numb Hands & Fingers||Handlebar geometry, width, and diameter.||Carbon Fiber MTB Handlebar (~$90)|
|Sore & Painful Wrists||Handlebar shape and width.||RaceFace Next 20mm Riser Handlebar (~$170)|
|Strained Shoulders||Handlebar stem and width.||Senqi MTB Handlebar (~$40)|
|Improve Bike Control||Handlebar stem and width.||Upandbike Drop Bar Bent Handlebar (~25)|
|Increase Handlebar Durability||Handlebar materials.||Ritchey Classic EvoCurve Drop Handlebar (~$55)|
|To Get a Proper Fit||Handlebar geometry, shape, stem, width, and diameter.||Pro Tharsis Carbon XC Handlebar (~$220)|
|To Improve Comfort||Handlebar materials.||Renthal FatBar Lite V2 (~55)|
You may also want to upgrade your handlebars just to make your bike look cool. If that’s the case, be sure to read our related article for more ideas.
Mountain Bike Handlebar Types and Their Pros & Cons
Finding the right handlebar is crucial in improving your riding comfort and experience. With the various options, making a choice could be pretty daunting. Although they come in different forms, the shape and material are significant factors to consider when getting a handlebar type.
Different types of mountain bike handlebars include flat, rider, cruiser, and drop bars. Additionally, materials come with their own pros and cons. For a great riding experience choose the optimal combination.
There are different types of handlebars depending on the shape of the bar including drop bars, cycle bars, riser bars, and so on. Each has qualities that satisfy different cycling needs. However, because of their characteristic build, drop bars are the most popular option with mountain bike riders. You can check out our article on what mountain bike drop bars are and why you need them, for more information.
As for handlebar materials, the primary factors to consider are dampening performance, weight, durability, and cost.
Here are the different types of handlebar materials along with their pros and cons:
1. Aluminum MTB Handlebars
Aluminum handlebars are probably the most common choice in the market. In addition to being affordable, another major pro with aluminum handlebars is the added level of strength and durability.
The significant downsides with aluminum bars are that they can be pretty heavy, which limits steering control. Additionally, there’s the likelihood of an overbuild if you decide to fit in a 35mm clamp. The said overbuild could potentially damage the handlebar in the long run. Due to their characteristic durability, aluminum bars like this are pretty popular with rough and high-impact riders. If you were to crash your bike, the aluminum handlebars would sustain a few scrapes and scratches or, at most, a dent or bend. Unlike their carbon bar counterparts which break on consistent impact.
2. Carbon MTB Handlebars
Where carbon bars fall short on durability, they make up for it with significant flexibility. The carbon fibers used in bars like this make them easily moldable to any shape. This characteristic also helps ease the tension off the wrists and hands and makes cycling much more comfortable. This factor contributes to increased damping performance because carbon bars cushion vibrations from rough terrains much better than other materials. However, the major setback with carbon handlebars is the price. Also, as highlighted earlier, carbon bars don’t handle well with constant impact. Hence, if you navigate rough terrains, it’s vital to manage your carbon bars frequently or opt for a choice that’s more compatible with your riding needs.
3. Steel MTB Handlebars
In addition to offering better vibration dampening, steel handlebars like this also have a longer fatigue time, meaning they won’t wear out as quickly and are also pretty strong. The problem with steel handlebars is they are heavyweight and likely to rust. Additionally, since they aren’t quite as common as other materials, fixing a problem or getting a replacement might be a bit dicey.
4. Titanium MTB Handlebars
Like steel, handlebars made from titanium aren’t quite as common. Titanium bars offer the flexy characteristic of carbon bars and the durability of aluminum. Another advantage of the titanium bar is its longevity and fatigue life. For instance, while it’s advisable to replace aluminum and carbon bars every three years, titanium bars like this boast a seven-year replacement period meaning you’d be cutting down on handlebar costs in the long run. However, the major cons of these bars are they’re pretty bulky and may sometimes be heavier than aluminum bars. Additionally, they’re more on the pricey side and might not be your first choice if you don’t wish to splurge in one go.
Summary of the Pros and Cons of Different Types of Handlebars:
|Type of Handlebar||Pros||Cons||Example|
|Aluminum||AffordableReadily available;Durable||HeavyRigid||Wake 31.8mm MTB Handlebar|
|Carbon||LightweightReadily availableFlexibleGood vibration dampening||ExpensiveMore likely to break on constant impact||OneUp Carbon Handlebar|
|Steel||DurableGood vibration dampening;Long fatigue time||HeavyNot as common;More likely to rust||Sunlite Mtb Steel Handlebar|
|Titanium||DurableGood vibration dampening;Long fatigue time;Aesthetically pleasing||HeavyRigidExpensiveNot as common||Thomson Ti Riser MTB Handlebar|
How to Make a Mountain Bike Handlebar More Comfortable
There’s nothing quite as unpleasant as having to adjust to uncomfortable handlebars. Naturally, some level of discomfort is expected with a sport as strenuous as bike riding, even for seasoned riders. However, if you’re constantly left with great pain after each riding session, you might be dealing with a much more significant issue.
To make a mountain bike handlebar more comfortable, get a properly fitted handlebar, alter the handlebar height to encourage proper hand placement, and consider getting an upgrade to satisfy specific needs.
As vital as the tips mentioned earlier are, it’s equally important to ensure you’re following the guidelines for proper cycling ergonomics. Mountain bikes generally have a 0 to 100mm rise option with about a 4-inch leeway. If you’re experiencing discomfort with your bars, it could be due to an improperly positioned saddle which could affect the handlebar rise. Adjusting your seat to the correct height is the first thing you should consider. A saddle with too much forward tilt could lead to downward sliding, while one tilting too far to the back could lead to groin pain. If you’re looking for a guide for proper bike seat placement, our article on how to choose the proper mountain bike saddle height will come in handy.
Once you’ve appropriately fitted your saddle, adjusting your handlebars to the proper position takes less effort.
Here are some other tips to consider on how to make your MTB handlebars more comfortable:
Tip 1. Get a Properly Fitted Handlebar
If you wish to make your handlebar more comfortable, it’s advisable to get professionally fitted for an option that suits your anthropometric properties. For instance, a broader and higher handlebar could relieve shoulder discomfort if you have longer arms.
With that being said, there’s an array of other factors to consider when getting a proper fit. To make the appropriate adjustments assess your riding position by propping your bike against a sturdy wall or asking a friend to support your bike. Next, you mount your bike by placing your feet on the pedals and holding your handlebars as you usually would and then adjust your bars till they encourage a position whereby your arms are straight with your elbows slightly bent, and your wrists in a neutral position.
This process can be pretty tedious on your own so you can follow along with this video tutorial by Global Mountain Bike Network or better yet, get your handlebars adequately fitted by a bike professional.
Tip 2. Alter the Rise
Another tip to consider is altering your handlebar rise if you’d like to have a more comfortable feel on your handlebars. As mentioned earlier, the handlebar rise or height is primarily related to saddle placement. Hence, you should ensure your saddle is positioned in the correct dimensions before attempting to alter the handlebar height. Another factor to consider when adjusting your handlebar height is the riding you do and what your specific goals are.
Finally, if you feel you’re propped at an inappropriate height or that your cockpit is uncomfortable, you may alter the bar rise till you achieve a comfortable position.
Tip 3. Consider Other Bar Upgrades
This research from Progress in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering indicates that several factors contribute to handlebar comfortability. Tweaking your handlebar materials, sweep, and weight could create a more convenient riding experience. A carbon handlebar offers the most comfortable feel while riding and takes a load of weight off your bike, which in turn improves steering control. Additionally, upgrading the handlebar geometry could make a great deal of difference. For instance, adjusting the sweep angles relieves arm discomfort and encourages proper handlebar ergonomics.
Upgrading Handlebars by Getting Mountain Bike Handlebar Risers
As the name suggests, risers help raise the handlebar height. In addition to raising your handlebars, risers allow for more variety when considering handlebar diameter, meaning more handlebar options, which is always a great advantage if you’re looking to try out different options.
Upgrade mountain bike handlebars with risers for better handlebar height, improved riding posture, and more options to switch up handlebars in the long run.
Another pro of risers is that raising the handlebars to a more convenient height contributes to better riding posture. Your back is kept erected, and your arms, wrists, and hands assume a position that won’t tire you out while riding.
Here are a few reasons why you should consider upgrading your MTB handlebars by getting riders:
Reason 1. Adjusting Handlebar Height
If you wish to adjust your MTB handlebar height without having to replace the bars, risers are an equally effective tool to give your bars the needed oomph.
The reach relates to the distance from the center of the stem to the handlebar. In contrast, the drop refers to the distance between the highest and lowest point of the bar. Risers give allowance to encourage adjusting the said factors, which could, in turn, improve your riding comfort and performance.
Reason 2. More Handlebar Options
If you fancy adding an aesthetic touch to your bike, risers open you up to a wider variety of handlebar options. Several handlebars are made to be accommodated by riser clamps like this and make for a more seamless experience if you decide to try on other options.
Reason 3. Improved Riding Posture
As mentioned above, risers indirectly encourage better posture by improving handlebar height and reach. This is a crucial factor to consider if you ride long, bumpy trials. Risers make it easier to adjust your handlebars in a convenient position. One that reduces discomfort and makes for a more pleasant cycling experience in the long run.
Risers can also be helpful if you often descend steep slopes, as higher handlebars make it easier to hold on to the bar grips and improve weight transfer.
Can I Raise Handlebars on a Mountain Bike?
In the most straightforward answer possible, yes, it is possible to raise your handlebars, and adjusting the handlebar height on your mountain bike can significantly improve your riding experience. While it is possible to raise your handlebars, you need to set them at a height compatible with your body proportions and riding position. If not, you risk developing musculoskeletal injuries and jeopardizing your riding performance.
Raise handlebars on a mountain bike to relieve body pain, improve cycling comfort, and for better riding visibility.
If you frequently experience intense bodily discomfort and find your riding experience less enjoyable, you might be better off giving your handlebars a bit of a raise.
Here are a few reasons why you should consider raising your MTB handlebars:
Reason 1. Body Pain Relief
The importance of proper cycling ergonomics cannot be overstated. As constantly highlighted in this article, not having the right handlebars comes with unpleasant consequences, the most striking being increased body pain and discomfort. The commonly affected areas are the neck, back, shoulders, wrists, and hands.
If your handlebars are set too low, you’re more likely to assume a hunched-over position that strains your back. Conversely, if your handlebar is set too high, you’ll stretch out your arms too far and will more than likely feel numbness and muscle fatigue while riding.
With that being said, if you notice significant discomfort after riding, you need to adjust your handlebars to a height that alleviates that stress.
Reason 2. Improved Comfort
If you constantly feel pain or numbness in your wrists, fingers, or hands, you could be gripping your handlebar at an inappropriate height. It would help if you raised the handlebars slightly for optimal comfort. If it is set too high, you will put stress on your shoulders, and if set too low, you could over-flex your wrists and increase the possibility of developing handlebar palsy as we discuss in our tips on how to choose mountain bike handlebar sweep.
Regardless of the conventional measurements, the most important thing is to set both the handlebar and saddle at the height that’s most comfortable for you.
Reason 3. Better Riding Visibility
An adequately raised handlebar can improve your view while riding. Visibility is an essential safety factor, as a better view of the trail ahead reduces the risk of accidents. Hence, it’s best to set your MTB handlebar at a height that gives you a better field of vision.