The handlebars are one of the three touchpoints (Pedals and Seat being the other two) you have with the bike. However, they are often overlooked when cyclists are looking to upgrade their ride.
Finding the best road bike handlebars for you can drastically improve the comfort and quality of your ride. With so much choice, let’s look at the main things you should be considering when buying new handlebars for your road bike.
Buying guide – find the best road bike handlebars for you
Road bike handlebars are unique; they allow for three different riding positions. You can have your hands on the bar itself, on the hoods, or the drops; enabling you to stay comfortable on longer rides and adjust your positioning to reduce drag when required.
There are several variables that you need to consider when buying new handlebars for your road bike. The width, reach, drop and bend of the bars can all vary depending on manufacturer and brand.
These factors will impact the stability and comfort of your ride, so you need to consider them carefully.
One of the joys of cycling is that no bike or component is one size fits all. You have the opportunity to build a bike that is unique to your riding style and body frame. Although it is down to personal preference, there are some things you need to consider.
The drop will give you that aerodynamic advantage on the fast flats. If the drop is too large (the vertical difference between the bar top and the lowest part) you will have a lot of weight on your arms and will be craning your neck to keep your eyes on the road ahead. Drops are generally 100mm – 150mm, if you are not a serious racer, then a shorter drop will be more comfortable in the long term.
The width of your bars should be roughly the same as the width of your shoulders. Back in the day road bikes had much narrower bars, in the vain hope, it would improve aerodynamics. However, the benefits of reduced drag are outweighed by the additional comfort of not having your shoulders rolled and tucked in for long periods. Also, with your chest open, it makes it much easier for your diaphragm to fill your lungs when you need it most.
The reach is self-explanatory and will come down to personal preference. Also, the stem length has more of an impact on your reach. So do not get too hung on this aspect. Simply put, the longer the reach, the more aerodynamic you will be but will be compromising comfort. Again your body shape will play a role, depending on how long your upper body and arms are.
The diameter has little to do with your comfort, but you need to make sure that your new bars fit the clamp on your stem. The standard diameter is 25.4mm or 31.8mm, and unless you are looking for aero or flat handlebars, you should not struggle to find bars that fit your current stem clamp.
Road Bike Handlebar Styles
Drop bars are still the most popular road bike handlebar and for a good reason. With several different riding positions to choose from and easy access to gear levers and brakes, they provide comfort and versatility no matter how long your bike ride is.
Aero bars are relatively new to the market, they prioritize speed by reducing wind resistance, both in the design of the bar and by forcing the rider to reduce their surface area.
These are great for time trials and triathlons, but you are compromising comfort on longer rides in the pursuit of a new PB. They are often expensive and not a very comfortable option for your day to day bike ride.
This list of the best road bike handlebars will focus on the more popular drop bars. However, if you are looking for the best of both worlds, it is worth checking out clip on aero bars, for an easy and convenient way to upgrade your drop bars for your next time trial.
What can you get for your budget?
Budget: Handlebars in this category cost between $20 and $50 and are usually made of aluminum alloy. In this range, most handlebars have basic shapes that do not taper to accommodate for your grip.
Often heavier than the mid-range bars, so not the best option if you are looking to save weight.
Mid-range: For $50 to $150, you’ll find high-quality aluminum and carbon fiber drop bars. They will be molded to allow for more comfortable grips and tend to be much more lightweight in design, than the budget options.
Top of the range: Road bike handlebars for $150 and above will be carbon fiber and maybe aero bars. These are bars for you if you are looking to save weight and improve your aerodynamics. If you only bike casually, there is little reason to opt for bars in this price range.
The 5 Best Road Bike Handlebars
SPECIALIZED Expert Alloy Shallow Bend Handlebar
Best for value for money and comfort
These bars offer the same ergonomic benefits as the more expensive s-works version. The butted aluminum construction provides strength, without being as weighty as cheaper alternatives. With the alleviated top perch, they feel comfortable when you are riding on the hoods and with five width options (36cm – 44cm), you can get the perfect fit for your body shape.
These have one of the shallowest drops on the list, giving a much more comfortable and less aggressive riding position. These are great value for money for the amount of thought that has gone into the ergonomic design.
- Relatively cheap for the ergonomic design
- Shallow drops are not the best for racers
- Not the lightest on the list coming in at 290g (for 42cm width)
Width: 36cm, 38cm, 40cm, 42cm, 44cm
Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm
Weight: 290g (42cm)
BLACK INC Carbon Integrated Handlebar/Stem
Best for improved aerodynamics
By integrating the bar and the stem, Black Inc has created beautiful, well-built carbon handlebars that are designed to reduce drag and increase comfort. By eliminating the stem clamp, you do not need to worry about over-tightening and risking crushing your precious new bars.
The flat-top design creates less surface area than the traditional tubular design, while also adding to the comfort of your ride. Also, they have integrated a Garmin mount at the front center, which only adds to the sleek design of these bars.
The bar’s dimensions are compact-yet-comfortable, reducing weight while allowing stability and added comfort on the drops, which have a 3-degree flare.
While they do not come cheap, you are paying for top quality carbon fibre, that will not break under the usual stresses of regular use. The high-quality carbon layup works to dampen the bumps in the road and 50km later you will not suffer from the usual hand fatigue that you get from less compliant carbon bars.
These bars have the perfect balance of stiffness and compliance so that when you need to put the power down on the pedals, none of that energy is wasted by movement in the bars.
If you are looking for sleek, top quality carbon road bike handlebars, then these are worth the investment.
- Beautiful ergonomic and aerodynamic design
- Integrated Garmin mount
- Added steering precision due to the carbon layup and integrated stem
- Never have to worry about over tightening your stem
- They are an aggressive fit, but at this price point, you expect them to improve your performance. To be the best, you need to make some compromises
Width: 38cm, 40cm, 42cm, 44cm
Clamp Diameter: 25.4mm
Weight: 320g (42cm)
Bontrager XXX Integrated Road Handlebar/Stem
Best lightweight bars
With Bontrager bars, you are paying for Treks known quality and excellent customer service. When you consider that the weight of 221g includes the stem, you have to wonder if they are strong enough to take your weight when going all out.
Made of 100% OCLV Carbon (Good quality) these bars give you perfect control while out on the road. The seamless one-piece bar/stem combination looks clean and saves weight.
By having a slight flare to the drops (4° flare), these bars are incredibly conformable on a sprint, and because it is one piece of precision engineered carbon, you feel the contours of the road without suffering from hand fatigue.
They were surprisingly stiff on a sprint and proved to be the best on the list to find the perfect balance of compliance and stiffness. They are made from the same high-quality carbon as Treks best and lightest carbon bikes.
These bars are the ideal addition to your speed machine. If not for the hefty price tag, these would have made the top of the list.
- Beautiful design
- Incredibly stable for something that weighs so little
- The addition of a small degree of flare on the drops make them very comfortable and easy to switch hand positions
- You are paying a premium for top quality
Width: 40cm, 42cm, 44cm
Clamp Diameter: 25.4mm / 31.8mm
Weight: 221g (42cm)
UPANBIKE Fixed Gear Bike Road Bicycle Drop Bar Bent Handlebar Aluminum Alloy
Best on a Budget
No frills attached drop bars that do what they say on the tin. With a 150mm drop, you have the option to get low for when you need to attack. They come in 2 sizes, but unlike the more expensive bars, you cannot choose the width, only the diameter.
The thin diameter of these bars will not suit everyone, but once you have good quality bar tape wrapped around, they still feel strong and stable.
These are a good option if you are looking to upgrade your current flat bars, but these cannot be considered an upgrade to any drops bars you already have on your bike.
- Cheap, but stable
- Large drops
- As you will have to expect at this price point. They are heavy coming in at 350g
- The thin diameter of these bars do make them feel cheap
Clamp Diameter: 25.4mm / 31.8mm
Bontrager Pro VR-C Road Handlebar
The latest addition to Bontrager’s “entry-level” road bike handlebars is one of the best yet. These carbon fibre bars are great value for money and the perfect way to upgrade your bike from the stock handlebars that came with your bike.
Made of the same quality carbon that is used to make some of Treks best bikes, these bars are strong and durable.
From a distance, they do not look like anything special, just your standard set of drops, but when you use them, you notice how comfortable they are, in part due to the variable compact bend that creates the ideal hand position for quick transitions from the tops to the drops.
Although they have a relatively small drop (124mm), this does not affect your performance when exerting maximum effort on the pedals. Not the best choice for all-out sprinters, you can get lighter and stiffer carbon bars.
However, the Bontrager Pro VR-C Road Bar is the perfect way to improve comfort on rough roads, especially if you are upgrading from aluminum bars. Ideal for endurance, sportives and commuting (basically what most of us cyclists use our road bikes for).
- Top-quality carbon fiber – offering strength and compliance
- Surprisingly comfortable hand positions, despite it’s simple looking design
- Just within the midrange cost bracket, these bars offer great value for money
- The simple design disguises how powerful these bars are
- More flex than some other carbon bars at this price point
Width: 38cm, 40cm, 42cm, 44cm
Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm
Weight: 252g (42cm)
Top Tip: Carbon fiber components and parts are a great way to save weight and improve the comfort of your ride. However, there is a reason these are often more expensive.
The manufacturing process for top quality carbon is time-consuming and involves a lot of quality controls to spot and correct imperfections before they reach your bike.
Be careful when searching online and do not buy the cheapest carbon bar you can find on Amazon, without doing thorough research on the brand and manufacturer.
Upgrading your road bike handlebars is the perfect way to improve your comfort and performance on the bike.
I’ve spent way more time in the bike trade than anyone should reasonably want to. In that time I’ve wanted to make cycling jargon and marketing easier to cut through to help people get the bike of their dreams.
When I’m not writing about bikes, I can be seen out bikepacking on single speed bikes or teaching kids how to ride.