Let's talk HANDLEBARS!

Let's talk HANDLEBARS!

If words like sweep, rise, or control area are part of your lexicon, you are ahead of the pack, but if they aren't yet, then this article is for you.

It is widespread amongst racers and riders that do a lot of off-road to change their handlebars, but for some reason, it is not that common amongst the majority of adventure riders.

Even when a crash forcefully asks for a handlebar replacement, most times, riders tend to search for an OEM replacement instead of an upgrade.

Going against my instincts, it took me years to become aware of this fact, and not only did it blew my mind, but it also raised one critical question. 

Why are riders spending so much money on accessories, and not adapting such a vital part of the bike?


If you think that handlebars are essential because they allow you to handle the bike, you are not incorrect. Still, you are only scratching the surface of what bars can do for you, especially if you consider that you can ride without them to a certain extent.

Not only is it possible to ride a bike without touching the handlebar, including during corners, it is also possible to do it at race pace, if you have the cohones to try it.

Let me remind you that in 2015 John Barreda did 120kms (74miles) of the 7th stage of the Dakar, with only half a handlebar, and he still finished the stage in 10th place, but we are not here to debate what is possible to do, we are here to discuss something else.

Reference: Image created by BN after images from justacarguy.blogspot.com and autoevolution.com

We are here to debate what you should be looking for on a handlebar, and if upgrading yours is something you should consider.

And why should you consider it? 

Because handlebars can have a direct impact on your comfort, ability to perform certain maneuvers, and even help in injury prevention.


To understand if your handlebar is right for you, you need to take two aspects into account; how we measure handlebars and what you use your bike for.

As I am more off-road biased instructor, I will discard everything that is not dual-sport or adventure riding, leaving us with handlebar measurements to tackle.

Taking that into account, our measurement benchmark should always be the OEM bar that comes fitted from the factory.

Does it feel good, or could it be better? 

That is the question at hand, and to answer, we need a measuring tape and the right amount of self-audit.

Reference: Image from hardcaseperformance.com



Clamp area, as well as the control area, are as simple to understand as they are intuitive.

The clamp area needs to be wide enough to fit your risers, and the control area measurement will depend on how much real estate your controls take. Still, it's important to point out that if you plan on adding anything to your bars in the future, such as light switches, for instance, your measurement of the control area should take that into account.

Sweep is probably the hardest to grasp, but also one of the most important if we are talking about off-road ergonomics and injury prevention.

Knowing that elbows out is the way to go when off-roading, having a handlebar setup that will naturally push us to that position will not only help you remember what position to adopt, but it will also help you prevent injuries.

A sweep similar to the one shown below will allow your wrist to be in a neutral position, helping you prevent wrist injuries, as it will naturally push you to elbows outwards, or at least to a neutral position.

With a sweep setup similar to this one, trying to get your elbows inwards and close to your body will feel unnatural, and that will help you remember what position you should be in.

That is why most adventure and dual-sport bikes have relatively straight handlebars, and enduro and motocross bikes have even straighter bars, adapting themselves to the position a rider usually adopts for said activities.

Reference: Image from seattleclouds.com, and modified by BN-Enduro Camp

When going to a more cruiser or touring kind of bike, you will find more extensive sweeps, as having very outward elbows for long periods is energy-draining and pointless for that kind of more relaxed riding.

When using bars like that off-road, you are risking wrist injuries and an inferior grip on the handlebar. Since these bars tend to push the elbows towards the body, to have an excellent off-road riding position with them, you will always be fighting the bars to a certain extent, and that is far from positive.

Reference: Image from seattleclouds.com, and modified by BN-Enduro Camp

As for the handlebar height, that is an easy one to understand, especially if you read the riser article, but width, on the other hand, will seem deceivingly straightforward.

We are far from all having the same body dimensions, and as such, the width of our handlebars have an astonishing influence on our riding.

For the following examples, I will use as a base a handlebar with a more straightish sweep, as exemplified above.

The right handlebar width will allow you to have an excellent triangular position, with a comfortable arm stance with your elbows pointing out.

Reference: Image from BN-Enduro Camp

A bar that is too wide will immediately force your torso to move forward, your arms to open wider, and your elbows to become straighter.

Reference: Image from BN-Enduro Camp

On the other side of the spectrum, we have a bar that is to narrow, which will straighten your arms, force your elbows inwards towards your body, and push your torso back.

Reference: Image from BN-Enduro Camp

Another vital aspect to keep in mind regarding width is handling.

A wider handlebar will tend to allow for more stable handling, especially if it has handlebar weights, while a narrower bar will tend to be faster and twitchier, as you can go from side-to-side steering lock in less distance.

This means that a wider handlebar for someone with shorter arms will forcefully push their entire body out of its natural alignment in some handlebar positions when compared to a bar suited for their size.

Reference: Image from BN Enduro Camp


Having all of this information at your disposal, you can now go to your bike, and with the help of an instructor, a video camera, or even a friend, see how your stance looks.

Once that is set, correlate it with how you are feeling when riding.

Do you find it hard to put your elbows out?

Do you struggle to maintain a good triangle position, and consistently put too much weight on your bar, or not enough?

Do you find that you would like a faster turning front wheel?

Each one of us is different, so all these inputs need to come from you to you, meaning that comparing your setup to anyone else's is a terrible move.

Years ago, I found a bar that suits me perfectly, and its the one I have on all my bikes.

I can comfortably ride any other bike with modified or OEM bars, but that is my bar, is where I feel at home, and where everything feels perfect.

I know of people that purposefully off-center their bars because one arm is shorter than the other, or people that search for specific sweeps or bar heights due to injuries.

That means that your bar needs to be chosen by you, for you, and always taking your chosen compromise between road and off-road to heart.

Let's talk HANDLEBARS!

1 comment

  • Aman

    Very nicely explained.

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