There are countless factors to building or buying the perfect mountain bike for you.
Whether you’re picking out your tires or deciding what material frame to go with, each mountain bike-related decision you make will determine your riding experience.
The type and size of your mountain bike handlebars are no exception. After all, you are holding onto them for the entirety of your ride, so they need to fit you and your needs perfectly.
Keep reading to learn about the different mountain bike handlebars, how big yours need to be, and how to measure the ones you already have!
Mountain Bike Handlebars Types
There are two main types of mountain bike handlebars: flat bars and riser bars.
A flat bar, like the name suggests, lays parallel with the ground.
However, it’s not completely straight. The ends of the handlebars turn towards the rider slightly on the clamping area.
Flat bars are lightweight but sturdy and help riders keep their hands low and aligned with their stem.
Riser bars are more popular than flat bars and can offer more comfort than flat bars.
Like the name implies, risers bars lift upward on the sides so that the grips are anywhere from 10-40 mm higher than the bar attached to the stem of the bike.
Like flat bars, riser bars also turn inwards slightly.
Upsweep and Backsweep
Although these aren’t types of handles, talking about the upsweep and backsweep of a handlebar will help you understand its construction.
Upsweep refers to how much the ends of the handlebars (the grippers) turn outward.
Using upswept handlebars makes going through rough terrain—especially downhill—feel more stable. However, holding these handlebars can be taxing on your wrists.
Backsweep, on the other hand, refers to how much the grippers learn towards the rider.
A typical handlebar will have a backsweep of 4 to 9 degrees. More backsweep feels natural because it supports the natural angle of the hands. You won’t need to lean over as much, which is more comfortable.
How Size Should Your Handlebars Be?
This question isn’t as straightforward as you might think.
Handlebar lengths have grown about 15 percent in the last 10 years as mountain biking has evolved.
The idea is that a wider handlebar provides more stability and comfort to the rider. A large bar helps absorb terrain impacts and easily corrects itself when it sways off-center.
Generally, you want handlebars that are less than 800 mm wide but much more than 700 mm, the length they were back in 2009.
If the bars are any wider than 800 mm, you may begin to lose the benefits of having a wider handlebar. Conversely, handlebars around 700 mm are too short and make riding difficult.
Competitive mountain bikers in championships have used 760 mm long handlebars, which has worked well for them. The general rule of thumb is to have handlebars anywhere from 750 mm-800 mm long.
If you have a shorter stature, you will want shorter mountain bike handlebars. However, even the shortest of riders will want handlebars significantly longer than 700 mm.
The diameter of your handlebars can vary depending on how old your bike is. Older bars were thin and could measure around 25.4 mm in diameter.
As the years have gone by, handlebar diameters have gotten thicker in an attempt to make riding more stable, strong, and comfortable.
The average handlebar diameter is currently around 31.8 mm. However, some companies are making even thicker ones.
How to Measure the Width of Your Mountain Bike Handlebar?
Now that you know the handlebar length you’re looking for, it’s time to bust out the tape measurer and see how your own bike measures up to today’s standards.
Measuring handlebars is simple.
While some people may be tempted to measure the length of material in the bar, that’ll overcomplicate the process and leave you with an inaccurate number.
The simplest way to measure is from tip to tip, straight across. This means your tape measurer should not be bent while figuring out the length.
We recommend using a firm tape measurer-or even a ruler if you have one that’s long enough—to do the job. That way you won’t risk miscalculating.
If your handlebars are significantly turned in, you may want to measure around them, but that will not be accurate.
How to Measure the Diameter of Your Handle Bar?
If you remember anything about high school math, you’ll know that finding the diameter of a circle requires a bit of math.
While you could just lay your tape measurer across the end of the handlebar to see the distance between two ends of the circle, it won’t be very accurate.
To measure the diameter, you are going to need a calculator with the pi function. A smartphone will usually do the trick. If you have an iPhone, open the calculator app and turn the phone lengthwise to access the full calculator.
Start by measuring the circumference of the handlebar. If you don’t have a wrap-around tape measure, you can use a strip of paper, then use a ruler to measure that.
Once you have your circumference, divide it by pi in your calculator. The answer will be the diameter of your handlebar.
We recommend measuring in millimeters, not inches. You want the number to be as large as possible or else you’ll end up with a bunch of decimals as your final answer.
To Wrap Things Up
Mountain bike handlebars have come a long way in the past decade or two.
For rough terrain, you’ll want wider and thicker handlebars that will keep you stable and strong.
Measuring the width and diameter of your bars is simple, and you can get away with taking measurements with a long ruler if that’s all you have around.