The sweeping curves of a set of road bars are synonymous with the classic imagery of what defines a road bike. Whilst road bars may all look to be made from the same mould, there have been many innovations and variations in design, creating a whole host of different bars to accommodate very individual rider preferences.
Road handlebar anatomy
The basics of road bars remains the same; you have a straight section of bar along the top which curves down into a drop at both ends of the bar. At the top of the curved section of bar you attach the brake & gear 'hoods' which are commonly used by riders when climbing out of the saddle. The lower dropped section of the bar is most commonly used by riders looking for a more aerodynamic position to allow them to reach higher speeds, particularly when descending.
Road bars are now widely available in two materials; aluminium alloys and carbon fibre, with different grades providing a wide range of weights and stiffness.
Bars now come in two different clamp diameters and choosing the right one that matches your stem is critical, as the wrong size could result in a poor fitting. The standard size is 25.4mm, but there has been a recent move towards oversized clamps which measure 31.8mm.
Two main designs of bars are currently being manufactured; the traditional bend which provides the rider with a smooth curve throughout the drop, and in recent years we have seen the development of ergonomic bars which have a more angular curve, designed to provide a more comfortable hand position for riders.
There are also ergonomic bars with flattened top sections of the bar to provide the rider with a larger area when they are riding 'on the tops', which can help to reduce the strain on the hands and wrists.
Most modern road bars come with a “double groove” channel for the gear and brake cables to run down, this enables the cables to run smoothly under the bar tape without being bulky and uncomfortable for the rider.
A number of manufacturers like Deda and Cinelli have developed integrated handlebar and stem solutions such as the Cinelli Ram 3, which provide riders with an all-in-one solution that can lower overall weight and improve the aerodynamics of the bar.
Handlebar Widths and Drops
One of the first factors to consider when choosing a set of handlebars is the width, your bar width should correspond with your shoulder width; measure between the centre of your shoulder sockets and this should provide you with the bar width you need for maximum comfort.
Bar widths can vary from 36cm wide up to 46cm so there are plenty of options out there to cater for all shapes and sizes. The width of a set of bars is typically measured from the two centres of the dropped section of bar, but some manufacturers measure from the outside edge of the bars so it’s worth checking which figure you’re looking at.
Alongside the varying widths there are a range of options for the aggressiveness of the drop. Recently a lot of bars use a “compact” or “shallow” drop, which reduces the distance between the top of the bar and the drops. The reduction in distance makes for a less extreme difference in position when moving from the hoods to the drops, which can be better suited to riders with less flexibility.
Finding the right set of handlebars is a very personal thing and there are no right or wrong designs, all that is important is that you find something comfortable for your needs and you enjoy riding them!