Finding the best road handlebars for your bike can make a huge difference to your ride. By changing the width, you can improve your bike fit while also having a significant effect on the handling characteristics and stability of your bike. Upgrading to carbon can yield improvements in aerodynamics, reduced weight, and depending on your preferences, can either dampen more vibration before it makes its way to your hands or increase stiffness to maximise the precision of your handling. Even the best road bikes will benefit from an upgraded cockpit.
When paired with the best bar tape, an upgrade to your road bike handlebars can offer significant comfort enhancements, however, despite all the potential benefits, many people will simply make do with the handlebars that come on their road bike.
If you’ve not done it before, choosing the best road bike handlebars for your bike can feel like a big step into the unknown. There are various widths to choose from, different reach and drop measurements, a choice of shapes and varying degrees of flare and back-sweep to consider. You also need to ensure you have the correct clamping diameter for your stem, your bike might use integrated cables, and there are one-piece bar-stem combos to consider too.
Luckily, we’re here to help. Skip to road handlebars explained for a detailed overview of everything you need to know or scroll down to view our pick of the best road handlebars available today.
Best road handlebars: Carbon fibre
An evolution of the Ergonova, 3T’s SuperErgo bars are all new except for the tops, which the brand says customers and sponsored pros alike pleaded with them not to change. With an oval profile, it nicely distributes pressure in your hands when you sit up.
Made from unidirectional carbon, the bars have a tight bend and a gradual drop which will suit a wide range of hand sizes. Near the hoods, there is a new corner grip designed to better distribute the pressure on your palms all the way along the bar.
The underside of the bar has provisions to run cables inside, but coaxing cables and housing through can be expletive-inducing.
Handlebars with aero tops are nothing new, and many brands realised long ago that you could save a few watts buy optimising yet another leading edge on the bike — but it’s not the frame, it’s the components that create the majority of the bike’s drag.
However, it’s the rider’s body which creates the bulk of the overall wind resistance, and we’ve learned riding in the hoods with your elbows bent is the most efficient position. ENVE’s SES aero bars are 5cm narrower at the hoods than they are at the drops, forcing you to tuck your elbows and shoulders in, while the extra width down below adds control for sprinting and descending.
In typical ENVE form, the SES Aero road bar is made from unidirectional carbon and has routing for internal cables and a junction box in the bar end. While the ENVE bars themselves may not quite match an integrated setup in the wind tunnel, if you want to change your stem, you don’t have to change your bars too or re-cable your bike.
With a short reach, FSA’s SL-K bars are made from a mix of carbon and kevlar moulded in a monocoque. The SL-K is one of FSA’s more budget-friendly carbon bars, and they offer a short reach and shallow drop.
The shape offers a variety of potential hand positions, and the carbon and kevlar layup quells vibrations that would otherwise fatigue your hands.
They are still not cheaply priced, but for those looking for a compact shape and added damping, the price tag is easier to swallow than quite a lot of carbon options.
According to Vision, the Metron 5D bar is the stiffest and most aero bar you can buy. With a flat top, the bar sees a slight rise and 10-degree forward sweep to match the natural angle of your hands and allows you to really lay down on the bars as you reach for the hoods.
Beyond the aero shaping, the inside of the Vision bars can guide cables from the levers directly into the frame without ever seeing the wind. The transition to the integrated minus-six-degree stem is beefy and eliminates some of the sharp angles which complicate internal routing. Given it’s all a single piece of carbon, good luck getting it to flex.
While the Metron 5D creates a super clean front end, the trouble with integrated cockpits is if you don’t like the stem length, angle or bar shape, you’re looking at an expensive bill to replace it.
Made from unidirectional carbon fibre, Ritchey’s WCS (World Championship Series) NeoClassic bars feature a traditional bend that will accommodate low hoods, but see a shorter drop and reach, likely to please the old school rider who just isn’t quite as flexible as they used to be.
Available in three sizes, the bars have 128mm of drop, 73mm of reach and are compatible with Shimano’s bar-end Di2 junction box.
The clamping areas are textured to prevent slippage, and as you’d expect of any product that’s labelled World Championship Series, they are top performers weighing 260g (size 42) and are plenty stiff.
Best road handlebars: Aluminium
When you think of Zipp, alloy isn’t the first word that comes to mind but its Service Course SL bars are nearly as light as some carbon options and don’t sacrifice any strength or stiffness.
Made from 7050 aluminium, the bars tip the scale at about 250g depending on the size – the shape allows for a neutral wrist position in the drops and a flat-brake hood transition. Named for its 80mm reach (they also come in 70mm reach), the bars see a 125mm drop which keeps the levers within grasp and the drops comfortable for those that don’t have yoga levels of flexibility.
With a rounded top, the Zipp SLs are also compatible with clip-on aero bars if that’s your speed.
The classic drop is becoming a rarity as many brands have shifted toward more compact shapes. However, for those that prefer the angular bumpy bend, the Deda Zero 100 Anatomic combines several different shapes.
The bend creates two distinct hand positions in the drops and with an 86mm reach and 142mm drop they create an aggressive position on the bike.
Deda only makes them as narrow as 40cm, and they are claimed to weigh about 260g depending on the size.
Not every handlebar needs to be expensive, and if you’re just looking to try a new bend or width, a cheaper alloy bar is a good place to start.
Ritchey’s Comp Curve compact road bar is available in sizes 38cm to 44cm and features a 73mm reach and 128mm drop. That said, Ritchey makes the Comp level bar in several different shapes and sizes, and with a relatively low price tag, there are plenty of options for experimentation without needing to remortgage.
FSA’s Energy bars are available in both a compact and ergo shape. While the classic drop might come with a certain aesthetic panache, riders and bike fitters alike have been quick to profess their adoration for the shape and bend of the more modern, compact drop.
With 125mm of drop, 80mm of reach and a few degrees of flare, your hands settle into a comfortable position where you can still reach the levers, while the flattened tops allow a more upright position.
The bars themselves are made from double-butted and tapered 7050 Aluminium and feature a 120mm clamping area, so there is plenty of room for clip-on aero bars, lights and mounts for cycling computers.
With its polished silver finish, the Ritchey NeoClassic is a great looking handlebar that pairs a round profile with a traditional drop, but with a slightly shorter reach and shallower drop.
Ritchey keeps things simple here, foregoing any degrees of backsweep or flare, and thought it’s not the lightest at circa 300 grams, it’s drilled for compatibility with a Di2 bar end junction box. It’s available in 40, 42 or 44cm wide, and the centre clamping area is the commonly-found 31.8mm.
The only downside is that the UK RRP is disproportionately high compared to Europe and the USA, but it’s often available with a discount which should ease that blow.
These alloy handlebars might not be aero in design, made from carbon fibre or come with newfangled cable integration, and at 340 grams they’re far from light, but hear us out.
One of the most common reasons people choose to change their handlebars is for a different width. If you’re considering trialling narrower or wider handlebars for the first time, you probably aren’t completely confident you’ll like your new position, let alone the different handling characteristics. That’s where these handlebars come into their own. With sizes 40, 42 and 44cm available at such a low price, if you choose to switch back to your former position, you haven’t wasted a tonne of cash on some carbon bars that you now need to try and sell on eBay. If you later decide you are happy with the position and want to upgrade to something with a little more performance in mind, you can proceed with confidence that the position is right for you.
Additionally, for many people, a handlebar upgrade comes out of necessity after an accident. If this is you and you simply want the best value for money, then you can’t go far wrong at this price.
Road handlebars explained
Traditionally, handlebar width has been determined based on the width of your shoulders, and the general rule of thumb in finding the correct size bars is to measure the distance between your AC joints (the bone that sticks out of the top of your shoulder.)
However, this is just a starting point, and from there, you’ll need to take into account what you’re looking to achieve with this new set of bars. Narrow bars will help you tuck your elbows in for a more aero position, but they will also quicken the handling characteristics of your bike. On the other hand, wider bars will offer more stability and may even open up your chest a bit to help you breathe.
Of course, everything in moderation, if your shoulders measure 40mm, a 48mm bar or a 32mm bar will probably leave you uncomfortable, but a couple of centimetres either way likely won’t leave you in pain.
When it doubt, consult a bike fitter for advice.
Reach and drop
Reach is the distance from the horizontal part of the handlebar to the furthest edge of the drops and determines how far away the levers will be placed. Bigger riders will need a more extended reach while shorter riders will be more comfortable with a smaller figure.
Drop refers to the distance from your tops to your drops. Most people are better suited to a shorter drop because it doesn’t require quite as much flexibility, but a lower front end should theoretically result in a smaller frontal area, which in turn requires fewer watts for faster speeds. All in moderation though, as saving 10 aero watts won’t benefit you if you lose 20 due to discomfort.
The shape of the drops varies from brand to brand, but they are roughly divided into three categories. Compact, traditional and ergo.
Traditional bars are what you expect to see on old school road bikes with a long gentle curve which creates a deep drop and a low position. Compact bars are a bit straighter and put the hoods flatly in inline with the tops; the bend into the drops is tighter, meaning it’s also higher. Ergo bars seem to fall somewhere in the middle and feature a flat spot part of the way down the drop.
Bar shape is highly personal, and you want to look for bars which create the least amount of bend in your wrist when you grab the drops — how you like to position your hoods will also come into play.
The age-old question when it comes to bike components is alloy or carbon. Carbon bars are typically lighter, dampen more vibration than alloy, and can be moulded into an aero or ergonomic shape. However, they are seen to be more fragile – they don’t bend or dent before they break, and are susceptible to being crushed by over-tightened stem bolts.
Alloy bars are typically a bit heavier and will provide a harsher feel than carbon bars, but don’t see any less performance — in fact, you will find alloy bars widely used in the pro peloton thanks to their durability and impact-resistance.
The clamping diameter references the diameter of the bar at the centre, where the stem clamps it in place. Nowadays, most road handlebars come with ‘oversized’ diameter, which is widely accepted as 31.8mm. Older bikes (up to circa late ’90s) will usually come with 25.4mm width.
The only thing you need to do here is to ensure your stem and handlebars use the same clamping diameter.
Mounts for lights, computers, cameras etc
If you’re riding with a cycling computer, lights, a GoPro or more, you may need to consider the available real estate for mounting this tech. Especially if changing the width to narrower bars, or opting for aerodynamically shaped options.
Most aftermarket clamps will be designed for round bars with a 31.8mm diameter, so if opting for aero bars, consider how much round bar you’re getting before the transition to a flatter more aero profile. Alternatively, more and more companies are offering neater stem-mounted options that forego this concern. If you choose a one-piece bar-stem combo, the manufacturer has typically considered this and it will often come with an out-front mounting option, or at the very least, will come with provision for aftermarket mounts.
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