Beginner Guide to Gravel Bike Handlebars: Choosing the Right Fit and Style

Beginner Guide to Gravel Bike Handlebars: Choosing the Right Fit and Style

When selecting gravel bike handlebars, consider their width, flare, and material. A wider bar gives you more stability on rough surfaces, while flare — the outward curve of the drops — offers a more natural hand position. This reduces strain on your wrists and shoulders during long rides. Handlebars made from materials like carbon fibre provide a balance of strength, vibration damping, and light weight, although aluminium options can be more cost-effective.

Ergonomics play a crucial role in handlebar choice too. A well-designed bar will support various hand positions, which is vital for changing grips during long rides to prevent fatigue. Additionally, the position of the brake levers and gear shifters should be easily reachable, ensuring that you can react swiftly to changing trail conditions. Whether you're an aspiring gravel rider or looking to refine your setup, understanding these key aspects will guide you towards making an informed handlebar choice.

Table of Contents

Understanding Gravel Handlebars
Types of Gravel Handlebars
Setting Up Your Handlebars

Understanding Gravel Handlebars

Gravel Vs. Road Handlebars

Gravel handlebars offer a wider stance and flared drops compared to traditional road handlebars. This design improves stability and control on uneven terrain. While road handlebars prioritise aerodynamics, gravel options focus on versatility:

  • Width: Gravel bars are broader, typically ranging from 42-50 cm vs. 36-44 cm for road bars.
  • Flare: Gravel bars have a noticeable outward angle, ranging from 8-30 degrees.

Key Features

  1. Flare: Provides extra control and wrist clearance.
  2. Sweep: Slight backward angle of the tops for ergonomic hand positioning.
  3. Reach and Drop: Varies to accentuate an upright position, reducing strain on long rides.
  4. Multiple Hand Positions: For adaptability during climbs, descents, and technical sections.

Materials and Construction

  • Aluminium: Affordable and robust, with a slight weight penalty.
  • Carbon: Offers weight savings and vibration dampening, at a higher cost.

Construction influences the feel and durability of the handlebars. Look for:

  • Butted Tubing: Thinner in the middle and thicker at the ends for strength without excess weight.
  • Seamless Construction: Reduces weak points, providing better longevity and reliability.

Your choice should align with your riding style, budget, and comfort preferences.


    Types of Gravel Handlebars

    Gravel handlebars vary in shape and ergonomics to suit different riding styles and preferences. Choosing the right type can enhance your control and comfort on varied terrains.

    Flared Handlebars

    Flared handlebars offer a wider grip stance which can improve stability during off-road descents. The angle of flare varies; a larger flare increases control on technical sections but may feel too wide for some riders.

    • Advantages:
      • Better leverage and control
      • Added wrist clearance for off-road maneuvers
    • Common flare angles:
      • Moderate: 12-18 degrees
      • Extreme: 20-30 degrees

    Compact Handlebars

    Compact handlebars are characterised by a shorter reach and a shallower drop. This design puts you in a more upright position, potentially reducing strain on your back and shoulders.

    • Key Features:
      • Short reach
      • Shallow drop
    • Benefits:
      • More comfortable for long rides
      • Easier transition between hand positions

    Ergonomic Handlebars

    Ergonomic handlebars are designed with specific contours that aim to provide natural hand positioning and comfort, often incorporating flatter sections and variable diameters to reduce pressure points.

    • Ergonomic Elements:
      • Shaped tops
      • Sculpted drops for improved grip
    • Potential Improvements:
      • Reduced hand fatigue
      • Enhanced long-distance comfort.


        Setting Up Your Handlebars

        Proper setup of your gravel bike handlebars is crucial for comfort and control. Adjusting the height and reach, selecting the right bar tape, and placing controls accurately are key aspects to consider.

        Height and Reach Adjustment

        To find your ideal handlebar height, start with the saddle in your preferred position. Your handlebar height influences your posture and can affect comfort and aerodynamics. Reach adjustment relates to how far your handlebars are from the saddle. Adjust the handlebars so you can comfortably reach them with a slight bend in your elbows.

        Steps to adjust height:

        1. Loosen the stem bolts that connect the stem to the fork steerer.
        2. Adjust the spacers above or below the stem as necessary.
        3. Re-tighten the stem bolts to the manufacturer's specified torque.

        Steps to adjust reach:

        • If you need to adjust reach, consider altering the stem length. Longer stems increase reach, while shorter stems decrease it.

        Bar Tape Choices

        Selecting bar tape involves balancing grip, comfort, and durability. For gravel riding, thicker tapes or ones with gel inserts are often preferred for their additional cushioning against rough terrain.

        Types of Bar Tape:

        • Cork/Synthetic: Good shock absorption, comfortable grip
        • Rubber: Durable and water-resistant, less cushioning
        • Leather: Aesthetic and durable, may require gloves for better grip

        Control Placement

        Control placement affects handling and accessibility of your gear and brake levers.

        • Lever Height: Align the top of the brake levers with the bottom of the handlebars.
        • Lever Angle: Position the levers for easy access without straining your wrists. A slight downward tilt is typically comfortable.
        • Shifter Location: Ensure gear shifters are within easy reach when your hands are on the hoods.

        Tips for Control Placement:

        • Sit on the bike in a typical riding position.
        • Adjust the lever height and angle for optimal comfort and control.
        • Tighten the controls securely, following the recommended torque settings to avoid slipping during rides.
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