With many new cyclists dusting off the bikes hanging in their garages, and trying to get them road-worthy I thought it might be a good time to discuss handlebar options.
Handlebar and stem choices are two of the most important elements contributing to rider comfort. The above chart from Fred DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling, published back in the 1970’s, provides a nice visual for the effect of hand position on the cyclist’s head and eyes. Commuting requires attention to all one’s surroundings, so a more upright position is the absolute ideal for a commuter bike.
Don’t be fooled by “flat bars”, often marketed as suitable for commuting. Flat bars have no rise, the distance which the bar rises above the stem clamp, and no “sweep”, the degree to which the bars angle back toward the rider. The Velo-Orange Tourist bars, pictured above, have 60 degrees of sweep, and 70 mm of rise. Depending on your stem selection, that might be just about perfect for commuting.
However, most commuter style bars are too wide for comfort. V-O’s Tourist bars are 57 mm wide, significantly wider that the drop bars on most road bikes. For smaller cyclists, I find that it’s best to cut down the bars to the desired width, which will also help prevent the bars from contacting your knees while turning at slow speeds. The above photos show this process for a Nitto City Bar, which has a slightly higher rise than its V-O counterpart. These bars are about 52 cm in width, with a long grip area. After determining my ideal width for these bars, I removed 3 cm of material off of each bar end. I score the bars to the desired length with my caliper gauge, then take a hack-saw to the bars, being careful to cut a straight section off of each end. I finish that off with a file and then de-burr the inside of the bar. The result should look clean and even, so that the grips will settle properly on each bar end. Many commuters do not have access to a vise and the other tools needed to accomplish this. However, any LBS will accommodate your request to cut down a set of bars to your specs.
The next question is stem choice. Generally, a shorter stem with longer reach will be needed if you are switching from drop bars to commuter bars. This Nitto Young stem, pictured above, is an ideal length (height of the stem) for this type of bar conversion. These stems come in a variety of reach lengths (distance from center of stem to clamp). Bars come in different clamp sizes, so they need to match the clamp size of the stem. The two most common clamp sizes are 25.4 and 26.0.
Bars also come in two different diameters – 22.2 and 23.8 are the most common sizes for city and road style handlebars. Switching from road bars to city bars means new brake levers, shifters, housing, cables, and grips. Velo-Orange products, shown above, are generally designed for 23.8 diameter bars, but come with shims so that you can also install them on 22.2 mm bars, which is the diameter of the bars shown above.
The number of handlebar options currently available is overwhelming. From my own experience, I’ve narrowed down my favorite suitable bars for commuting to three options: V-O’s Tourist Bars, Nitto’s City bars (B483), and Nitto’s Northroad bars (302AA). Other considerations include the length of your top tube. If you are riding on a too long top tube (something many smaller cyclists must endure), porteur bars are an option when used with a taller stem.
For this conversion, from drop bars, I used V-O’s Grand Cru levers and Shimano bar end shifters mounted to the bars using V-O’s thumb shifter mounts.
You’ll notice that I like to set up the shifters some distance away from the brake levers. This is so that I can create an extra hand position, shown above, in addition to the position on the grips. The cockpit area now looks very inviting!
And…here is the end result for the conversion of my 1990’s Georgena Terry road bike to upright handlebars.