Points of Contact: Handlebar Position

The handlebar position is one of the most requested modifications on both new and existing bikes. Lower handlebar position will cause you to lean forward, rest more heavily on your arms and wrists, and require more bending of your neck. This offers aerodynamic advantages to racers, and improved handling for mountain bikers, but usually compromises comfort. Urban, recreational and touring cyclists generally benefit from a more upright position, which is more comfortable over long miles, and makes it easier to view the road ahead when you’re riding in traffic.

With the variety of handlebar and stem styles and configurations available, it’s nearly impossible to make blanket recommendations. However, you should be aware that the following general options are available, and —with a few exceptions— most bikes can be relatively easily modified using these options.

I’ll get the exception out of the way first: it is possible, but not easy or generally recommended, to go from drop-style handlebars to straight or raised handlebars or vice versa. It is possible, but requires complete replacement of brake and shift levers, and in some cases may require changing the components themselves. This may be worth doing if you have an older bike with an excellent quality frame which you need to adapt to a new style of riding, but does not make a lot of sense if you’re buying a new bike.

Otherwise, the following changes are generally easy and not prohibitively expensive:

  • Handlebar stem with different reach and angle of rise for incremental changes to your position

  • Handlebar stems that are adjustable

  • Handlebar stem riser for dramatically more upright position

  • Both straight and drop handlebars are available in different widths to accommodate different shoulder widths (straight handlebars can be simply cut down for riders with narrower shoulders)

  • All types of handlebars can be angled slightly to make minute fit adjustments

  • Riser handlebars are available in a wide variety of heights

  • Riser handlebars are also available with various degrees of sweep toward the rider, which can make for more comfortable wrist placement

  • A variety of non-conventional multi-position handlebars are available that allow you to vary your position on longer rides or under changing circumstances (eg. butterfly bars, mustache bars etc.)

Links to other parts of this guide:

Upright handlebar stem

Upright handlebar stem

Extended handlebar stem

Extended handlebar stem

Adjustable handlebar stem

Adjustable handlebar stem