We've spent thousands of hours testing almost 100 handlebars. Here are our recommendations for the best handlebars you can buy.
The best-scoring of the handlebars we've tested over the years that you can still buy, plus our favourite budget picks.
The Genetic STV Road Bar delivers a good balance of stiffness, comfort and weight at a decent price. It also has a compact shape that can be used by less flexible riders. The STV does pretty much everything a handlebar needs to. Made from 6061 series aluminium alloy, it offers loads of stiffness and it’s slightly thinner-than-usual top section means you can run thicker bar tape for extra comfort without adding too much to the bulk.
The Genetic Driser-16 bar is a good choice for long rides off-road, where the flared drops give control and the wide tops offer plenty of comfort for your hands.
This bar offers a 16° flare of the drops, plus a 20mm rise to the tops. This rise will come in handy for those looking for a more upright position for long rides on or off-road without getting a new stem or – for anyone who has maxed out their steerer tube – a new fork.
The tops are 'semi-aero palm friendly' as Genetic puts it, meaning even extra-large hands get plenty of grip with just a single layer of bar tape. Cable-run indentations on the underside of the tops help to guide and minimise the feel through the bar tape.
The flare makes for confident handling at speed through the rough stuff. The end of the drop section is straight for a palm's width and immediately above that is a pistol grip for all-out efforts where you need access to the shifters and brakes.
Value is pretty darn good when you compare it with what else is available – especially given that if you need to raise your bar you don't need to fork out for a new stem.
All in all, the Genetic Driser-16 is a cracking handlebar for more adventurous riding, and with the 20mm rise and wide tops it may well suit you for less-rigorous pursuits as well.
The Bontrager Elite Aero VR-CF handlebar is one of the cheapest aero road bars that money can buy, making them an attractive option for a DIY aero bike. They're also decently stiff, with no real feeling of flex when pulling hard, but despite this you don't feel too much road buzz through them, which makes them very comfortable to use. Assisting this comfort is the slight flare in the drops, which allows for extra stability when sprinting or descending. It is certainly not massively pronounced when you look at them, but you can certainly feel it when riding in the drops. Aside from this slight flare, they are a regular compact bar, with a 123mm drop and 93mm reach.
The PNW Components Coast handlebar is an instant classic: wide, shallow and stable, it's perfectly suited for long days on rough roads and trails. It's affordable too, and has a lifetime warranty.
The Coast bar is, on the face of it, a simple idea: go wider and shallower, to give more stability and more comfort. PNW does a range of mountain bike bars, where wider has been better since the world got over the 1980s addiction to bar ends and realised leverage is king in keeping your wheel tracking through the rough stuff.
Tester Mike writes: "I'm 6ft tall with long arms, and shoulders that measure 440mm across the protuberances. Traditional roadie thinking says I should be happiest on a 440mm bar, but the Coast proved that wrong. Whether climbing, descending or on long, flat runs, I felt comfortable and in control. Once trails turned rowdy the feedback to the bar and propensity to deviate from chosen course was markedly reduced – something I could scarce believe was afforded by a mere 20mm extra either side."
The Pro Vibe Aero Alloy Handlebar is comfortable to hold, whether on the tops or drops, with the six-degree flare allowing for a narrower position when on the hoods while retaining maximum control when using the drops. It's not the lightest bar, but it's high quality and will save a heap of cash over carbon alternatives, plus it features internal routing and looks the business.
PRO's PLT Carbon Handlebar offers good stiffness and excellent comfort and is reasonably lightweight, at a price that is lower than most other carbon-fibre options. The compact drop offers a powerful sprinting position and the round tops with internal cable routing are a super-comfy place to spend time on the climbs and flats.
This bar is constructed using UD T700 carbon, with a 130mm drop and a comfortable 80mm reach. The drops flare out by 2°, giving a hand position in the drops that is 1cm wider than at the hoods. It's all very comfortable for a relatively aggressive position.
The PLT bar absorbs buzz well to provide plenty of comfort and it comes with about three inches of internal routing. This gives a clean finish and because the section is straight and short, it's incredibly easy to feed cables through.
Out on the road, there is no rattling from the internal cables and wrenching on the bar brings no front end movement.
The PLT Carbon looks really smart, performs well it comes at a very attractive price for a bar of this kind.
Pro says its PLT Ergo Carbon handlebar is all about 'maximum comfort and ergonomic fit...for long, hard days on the bike'. With its shallow drop and wide tops that extend nicely around the corner to just behind the hoods, it certainly fits that bill. You can also spend an awful lot more on a carbon handlebar.
Pro, being a Shimano subsidiary, effectively makes Shimano's own-brand saddles, stems, seatposts and handlebars. In its eight-strong line-up of carbon handlebars, the PLT Ergo is the one that's designed to be comfortable, while the others focus more on weight, aero or stiffness.
It's made from UD T700 carbon, and that carbon has been laid up well. There is noticeably less road buzz than I'd get with an alloy handlebar on the same bike. Although it's not designed for racing, it's plenty stiff enough for muscling around sprinting or hoiking up a steep hill. Where you really notice the difference is on longer rides. After a recent 170km gravel ride, my hands and wrists felt absolutely fine. And that was with some basic handlebar tape and no gloves to provide extra padding. Similarly, on road rides with narrower tyres, comfort levels are positively plush.
Pro PLT Ergo Carbon Handlebar
Prime's Primavera Carbon Aero Handlebar is a great upgrade option at an attractive price. The drop is slightly shallower than the previous version with a more ergonomic shape that's excellent for sprinting, and the price is still very good.
The Primavera Carbon Aero Handlebar's key features include easily-accessible drops, an aero top section, huge holes for internal cable routing, and space around the stem clamp for a computer mount and light.
Tester Liam writes: The shape gives a tight and stable hold on the bar that really helps you get planted and the road buzz that can hamper stiff carbon components isn't present here. Even with gloveless hands resting on the bare carbon of the aero top section, I don't feel much buzz.
Intended to work best with the X-One Carbon stem, with the stem providing stiffness and the bar comfort, the X-One carbon bar is nevertheless stiffer than most, especially with your hands on the wing-shaped tops. Tester Stu found his bike became "much more point and shoot" with the X-One fitted. Nevertheless it's comfortable to ride on the tops, even without bar tape (you wouldn't want to cover those graphics) and padded gloves. The flat tops make a perfect place for your hands and with the bar sweeping back towards you, your arms feel in a very relaxed position.
The Coefficient Cycling Wave carbon handlebar is designed to offer enhanced comfort and some claimed aerodynamic benefit when holding the tops of the bar. It can be fiddly to fit, but we found that it gave multiple hand positions which were comfortable for extended periods.
The Wave bar has really quite a complex shape. The most striking thing when you first see it is the upwards kink either side of where it is held in the stem. At first glance, many will be reminded of the Specialized Aerofly riser bar as fitted to the Venge VIAS, or the Genetic Driser bar, but whereas the tops on those bars are horizontal, meaning that all hand positions were higher than they would be on a straight bar, the unusual thing about the Wave is that it then slopes back down across the tops.
What this means is that with your hands on the hoods or the drops, they are no higher than they would be on a conventional straight bar. What's the point then, you're asking? Coefficient says that it noticed if you hold your arms out in front of you palms-down, the natural position of the hands is with the thumbs slightly raised. Hence, if you are holding onto a horizontal bar, you're having to rotate your wrists away from their neutral position. The tops are also swept backwards by 12 degrees in the horizontal plane, something we've seen with quite a few other "ergonomic" bars such as the Ritchey Comp ErgoMax.
Tester Jez Ash says: "I quickly noticed a big change when riding in the drops along a stony towpath. This bar has the most effective vibration isolation of any that I've used, (disclaimer – I haven't ridden Canyon's double handlebar yet). Back to back with a standard handlebar, the difference was akin to going from a 28mm tyre to a 40mm tyre (with pressures adjusted accordingly). Really. It was that noticeable."
The Schmolke Roadbar Oversize Evo TLO is an astonishingly light carbon-fibre handlebar that offers a good level of stiffness although the price is going to send all but the most dedicated weight-savers diving for cover.
Schmolke is a German brand that has supplied bars for the likes of Jan Ullrich and Erik Zabel in the past. All of its products are made in Germany. The TLO – it stands for 'The Lightest One', by the way – is made from T1000 carbon fibre and it comes with a reach of 76mm and a shallow drop of 126mm.
The top section of the bar is slightly squashed in profile, fitting beautifully into your palm when you're climbing, and it's easy to arrange things so that you get a flat or just slightly angled platform from the shoulders to the hoods of your levers.
The drop bends smoothly with a generous amount of rearward extension at the end, allowing you to shift your hands backwards if the road ahead is clear and you don't need immediate access to the controls.
The Schmolke Roadbar Oversize Evo TLO sits about mid-table for a high-end bar in terms of stiffness, offering plenty of confidence when you're out of the saddle or cornering hard while, on the other hand, also helping to damp vibration over rougher road surfaces. It's a decent balance.
If you want to use clip-on aero bars or Di2 internal wiring for a bar-end junction box, models are available with the necessary strengthening (which adds 8g of weight in each case).
All current handlebars are made from either aluminium or carbon fibre, but there's a huge range of weights and shapes in both materials
Handlebar width comes down to fit — they should be as wide as your shoulders — and to an extent to taste; if you're used to a mountain bike bar a 40cm drop may feel narrow even if it fits
High-end bars tend to have provision for Di2 cabling, but even cheaper units give you lots of options in reach, drop and details of shape
Bars with flat top sections are claimed to offer better aerodynamics; we're quite fond of them as a place to rest your hands when cruising along
After vanishing for many years bars with a flare that provides a wider stance in the drops are making a comeback for gravel riding
Here we're going to explain the key variables you need to consider when choosing a new bar.
Width is usually measured between the two ends of the bar (but see Flare, below). Beware, though, that some brands – such as FSA – measure between the centre of the ends while others – such as Deda – measure from the outside of one end to the outside of the other.
Drop handlebar widths usually increase in 2cm/20mm increments.
Broad shouldered riders will get more stability and breathing capacity from wider bars, but go too wide and you could end up with aches in your neck and shoulders.
A rule of thumb is to match your handlebar width to your shoulder width, but we'd advise a professional bike fit to make sure you get it right.
This is the horizontal distance that the handlebar extends forwards from the stem clamp area. A longer reach pulls you further forward.
Ritchey's WCS Streem handlebar has a reach of 73mm across all sizes, for example, while the majority of FSA handlebars have an 80mm reach.
Drop is the vertical distance from the stem clamp area to the end of the bar. FSA's K-Force New Ergo handlebar, for instance, has a drop of 150mm while the K-Force Compact has a 125mm drop.
Compact handlebars have become common over recent years. Some people use a compact bar as a means of avoiding an extreme riding position that's hard on their back and neck when they move from the hoods to the drops.
Flip the thinking, though, and some racers use a compact bar to ensure they don't come too far out of their most aero position when they shift from the drops to the hoods.
Flare is the amount that the drop section of the handlebar slopes outwards from the vertical, measured in degrees.
Most road handlebars have just a small flare or none at all. On the other hand, gravel and adventure handlebars have a large flare to provide extra stability and control when you're using the drops. The Pro Discover Medium handlebar, for instance, has a 12° flare.
In cases like this the brand will often quote the handlebar width as the distance between the shifter clamping points (measured centre-to-centre) rather than the distance between the ends of the bar.
Constant-curved drops are traditional but many brands offer different types of bends that are designed to be more comfortable.
The Genetic Drove (above), for example, is an anatomic shape with a tight radius at the top of the bend, a flatter section where your hand can rest just behind the lever, and a gentle curve towards the end.
The tops of most handlebars are circular in cross section but some are shaped for comfort or aerodynamics.
Ritchey, for instance, says that the tops of its Comp Ergomax gravel/adventure handlebar (above) are ovalised for comfort – your weight is distributed over a larger area so pressure is reduced – while the Prime Primavera carbon handlebar (below) has flattened tops that are designed to reduce frontal area and drag.
Bear in mind that it can be difficult to fit some lights, computer mounts and so on to the non-round sections of bars, although it's usually possible right next to the clamping area.
The tops of most handlebars head out at right angles to the stem but others sweep forwards or backwards. The Vision Metron 5D (below) has a 10° forward bend, for instance. Vision says that this results in "a more ergonomic climbing position and easier breathing".
In contrast, the tops of the Ritchey Comp Ergomax handlebar sweep 5° backwards. Ritchey says that this, combined with the ovalised tops, more evenly distributes the weight of the rider's hands and wrists and puts them in a more natural position.
The tops of most drop bars sit level with the stem clamp but riser drop bars do exist. The bars slope upwards on either side of the stem clamp area before levelling out.
Most bars of this type are designed to increase the height of the front end for gravel use, doing a similar job to a taller head tube, a higher rise stem, or a stack of headset spacers. The Genetic Driser–16 handlebar that we reviewed, for instance, has a 20mm rise to provide a more upright riding position.
Specialized's S-Works Aerofly Carbon Handlebar isn't designed for gravel riding, though. Specialized says that "a 25mm rise [will] allow you to achieve a more powerful position, or lower you stem stack to become more slippery in the wind".
The outward bend, or outsweep, is the degree to which the ends of the bar are angled relative to a line going down the centre of the stem. Most Pro bars, for example, have no outward bend, the ends of the bar pointing directly backwards. Zipp's SL-70 Aero has an outward bend of 4°, the same as most FSA bars.
Brake cables/hoses and gear cables are usually positioned on the outside of the handlebar, underneath the tape. Some bars, like the Easton EC70 SL Di2 (above) we reviewed, have recessed channels to accept them.
Other handlebars allow cables and wires to run internally. The Vision Metron 5D handlebar (above), for instance, has holes in the tops where cables/wires can enter and exit.
Internal cable routing does make swapping to a new handlebar more complicated.
Handlebars are almost always made of either an aluminium alloy or carbon fibre. Carbon is lightweight and can be shaped more easily into aerodynamic or ergonomic profiles, but many racers still prefer aluminium for its ability to withstand the odd crash or drop. It's also more obvious when an aluminium bar has failed following an accident.
You can't fix clip-on triathlon aerobars to all drop handlebars. Some bars are the wrong shape and others simply aren't designed to handle the forces. It's always best to check the manufacturer's specs before fitting any.
The vast majority of drop handlebars on modern bikes have a 31.8mm clamping area diameter, but when buying a new bar always double-check that you're replacing like with like. Smaller bars, usually found on older bikes or some very cheap models, may be 25.4mm (Japanese and British bars), 26.0mm (most old Italian bars) or 26.4mm (old Cinelli bars).
A few years ago Deda introduced bars and stems with 35mm clamp sections. That idea wasn't a big success for road bikes, but there are quite a few mountain bike bars and stems now in 35mm, where the greater strength and stiffness makes sense along with super-wide modern mountain bike bars.
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Road.cc buyer's guides are maintained and updated by Mildred Locke. Email Mildred with comments, corrections or queries.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.