Unfortunately, many people don't realize just how much of a difference mountain bike handlebars can make to their overall riding experience. MTB handlebars in Australia come in various shapes, sizes, materials, and sweeps, each serving a specific purpose. In this MTB handlebar buying guide, you'll learn how to find the best bar for you. You'll also find out how a well-fitted handlebar can improve your on-trail performance and ride control.
Additionally, we'll show you how to select the best handlebars based on your personal preference and needs throughout the entire buying guide. Hopefully, in the end, you'll be able to use this article as your guide in the process of buying a handlebar for your bike.
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The Geometry of a Mountain Bike Handlebar
Understanding the geometry of mountain bike handlebars is essential when picking the perfect one for you. After all, if you want a bar to increase your riding performance, it has to fit your frame perfectly. The perfect bar will also help your bike have better control on the road, and make for a more comfortable ride. When we’re talking about handlebar geometry, there are four critical features we have to take into consideration — rise, sweep, width and clamp diameter.
All of these components offer you a variety of customization possibilities, and each configuration comes in several options. So next, we’ll talk more about these features, to help you figure out how to customize your off-roader to heave the best mountain bike handlebar in Australia.
The Handlebar Rise
The rise of the handlebar is defined by the vertical incline, measured from the centre to the end of the bar. The typical height of a riser bar is anywhere from 0 to 40mm, but some come with as much as a 100mm rise, although they’re not as common nowadays.
Rise often comes down to personal preference, but it’s important to consider your riding position as well. Additionally, you have to determine whether the rise you’ve chosen works on your particular off-road bicycle. So, it might take some experimenting to figure out the perfect rise and complete your bike setup. Depending on their height, rise bars can be considered as either high rise(riser bars) or zero rise (flat bars).
A greater rise makes the handlebar feel taller when you’re handling it. So, if you tend to ride your bike on steep terrains, a bar with a higher incline might ensure a more stable and safer ride. Rise bars are also great for people who prefer riding in an upright position. Additionally, a higher riser bar allows you to gain more weight on your bike’s hind part, which is incredibly important when riding on steep terrain.
Thus, riser bars are commonly installed on gravity-oriented setups, as they’re also one of the best options for downhill riding. The reason behind this is that riser bars can help keep your torso and head higher, allowing you to have more control while descending. Additionally, carbon riser bars can often be seen on DH, enduro, and trail bikes, as they fit best with these riding conditions.
Zero Rise Bars
On the other side of the coin, zero rise bars lay completely flat on your bike’s frame. They’re also known as short, flat, or straight bars, and they encourage the weight to go over your bike’s front wheel. Also, a straight bar typically has less flex than a riser bar — assuming they’re both made from the same material and have similar dimensions.
Carbon flat bars are also sometimes popular with mountain and gravity bike riders. Additionally, if you have a pure-bred XC bike, for example, you could benefit more from low rise carbon bars. The reason behind this is that the bar that will keep most of your weight at the front wheel while it’s on a steep climb, allowing you more control and comfort.
After you’ve decided on the handlebar rise, the next thing you need to think about is the sweep. Sweep is the bend of a handlebar that can improve your comfort level and help keep your body in the desired position while riding.
When it comes to choosing the perfect sweep, you might need to try out several different solutions to see which one fits best. If the sweep you have on your off-road bicycle right now is comfortable, you can consider it as a good starting point when trying to find a new one that suits you. There are two types of sweeps — the backsweep and the upsweep.
The backsweep is the angle at which the handlebar descends towards the rear end of a bike. In general, backsweep bars can help keep your wrist in a stable, safe position, as well as increase your overall riding comfort.
Most mountain bikes have a backsweep from seven to ten degrees, but this range can vastly differ when it comes to specialized bars. For example, Jones H carbon bars have a backsweep of 45 degrees, which can be quite comfortable for some riders.
The upsweep is the vertical angle that starts at the bike’s grip bars. It has a similar function to the rise of a handlebar — in smaller increments, that is. The upsweep can help increase your bike’s rise by four to six degrees, to ensure a more neutral position of your wrist while you’re driving.
As we said, if your current setup has an upsweep that you’re comfortable with, you could measure its angle and try to find a similar bar. You can do so by drawing and measuring an imaginary line, perpendicular to the direction of the bar’s rise, and parallel to the clamping surface.
The Width of a Bar
Nowadays, most mountain bike handlebars in Australia have an average width of 600-840mm. We’ve also been able to notice a trend when it comes to bar width, which is the wider — the better. However, that doesn’t mean that narrow bars should be disregarded, as they also serve a particular purpose. So, let’s try to figure out which bar width would suit your mountain bike the best.
Wide Bike Bars
Most modern bikes have wider bars — and for a good reason. Namely, a wide bar can help you get more control by slowing down the steering input. Wider bars can also make manoeuvring easier and give you more leverage while riding. This is even truer if the bar is paired with a shorter stem and a long brake lever as it could even make it easier for you to manage the weight of the bike. Additionally, wide handlebars can even allow you to breathe easier on climbs, as they’ll allow you to keep your chest more open while riding.
However, you have to be careful not to choose a bar that’s too wide, as it could limit your range of motion. This is especially important if you plan on going to a lot of cross country rides. An overly wide bar could also stretch out your bike’s rider, making it lose stamina faster. Generally speaking, male DH and enduro riders tend to go with bars between 780-800mm, while women choose the ones between 740-780mm.
Narrow Bike Bars
Narrow bars could help increase your bikes range of movement, allowing you to navigate certain terrains with more ease. For example, narrow carbon bars (in the 750-780mm range) are preferred for forest trails and cross country rides. These bars could also help feel more comfortable while riding, especially if you have short arms.
However, there is a downside to narrow mountain bike handlebars. Their tight corners could cause your steering to feel heavier, making your overall driving experience less stable.
Pro tip: mountain bike handlebars are often somewhat customizable, and you can cut them down to be more narrow if you need to. However, we’d advise against decreasing the bar width by yourself, as that could make the bike unsafe.
The Clamp Diameter
The good news is that all MTB handlebars in Australia come in a standard grip width of 22.2mm. However, stem clamps are an entirely different story.
The clamp diameter (a.k.a the bore size) is measured at a specific place of the handlebar’s width. It’s located at the spot where the bar clamps to the stem, and then gradually narrows down to the end where the grips are fastened. When it comes to the clamp size, there is no right or wrong answer — only one that best fits your preferences and needs. In the past, most bikes featured a standard clamp width of around 31.8mm, while some DH bikes were made with 35mm clamps.
Over time, the vast majority of bikes have started featuring 35mm clamps, because their thicker circumference made the handlebar/stem interface stiffer. These clamps come with greater durability, as well as increased performance characteristics. However, there are some merits to both stem clamp widths, and they both serve a purpose.
Who Are 31.8mm Stem Clamps For?
Narrower clamps are perfect for riders that need more comfort while riding. These clamps are often featured on XC and trail bikes, as they give you more control on both rough and smooth terrains.
Who are 35mm Stem Clamps For?
In recent years, the 35mm stem clamp design has evolved to accommodate both enduro and trail riding. Moreover, this clamp width could be perfect for you if you prefer stiffer, more aggressive handlebars. Thus, carbon handlebars with the width of 35mm are often featured on mountain bikes.
Pro tip: If you want to switch out your old stem clamp out for a new one, you’ll need to measure the existing diameter. Also, keep in mind that if you want to get a different clamp width, you’ll also need to purchase a new stem to match it.
The Shape of a Bar
While the majority of MTB handlebars in Australia are straight, many riders enjoy experimenting with other shapes as well. For example, road bike style drop bars and Jones H-bars are often preferred by ultra-endurance riders. The reason behind this is that they allow you to change the position of your hands throughout the ride. Thus, you’ll be more comfortable, and your hands won’t get fatigued as quickly as they otherwise would.
The Bar Material
There are three most popular bar materials when it comes to MTB handlebars in Australia — aluminium, carbon, and titanium. Each comes with their own benefits and flaws, so let’s see which one fits your bike and driving style best.
If you’re on the market for inexpensive, sturdy and safe mountain bike handlebar — look no further than aluminium. Namely, the material can withstand more pressure than others, so it’s more durable and less likely to break. However, aluminium bike bars tend to be heavier and stiffer, which may result in a limited range of movement.
Carbon handlebars tend to have a bad reputation in Australia, which is quite unfounded. Namely, carbon bars can be just as tough as aluminium ones, and offer more freedom with maneuvering. Carbon handlebars also offer greater vibration reduction, allowing you to have an overall smoother ride.
Titanium bars offer even better vibration absorption than carbon bars and can make your ride much smoother. However, they tend to be heavier than other materials and more expensive as well. Still, if you’re searching for one of the highly sturdy and powerful MTB handlebars in Australia, titanium ones will likely do the trick.
When it comes to choosing the best mountain bike handlebars in Australia, it mostly comes down to personal preference. Different riders appreciate different aspects of a bar and expect different things from it.
Hopefully, once you’ve read this buying guide, now you know how to select the best mountain bike handlebar, based on your needs and preferences. All of that being said, there is one important consideration to take into account as well. Every MTB rider must ensure that their bar is correctly installed. This way, you’ll always be in for a more pleasant and safer ride.