PHOTOS: Finding the Right Handlebars

I’ve gone through several handlebar setups on my bike recently, trying to find the positioning I really like. It hasn’t been easy.

When I bought my current bike, a 1992 Bridgestone XO-2, late last season, the previous owner had put some straight mountain bike bars on it. They were aesthetically and functionally displeasing to me, so I replaced them with the Origin-8 Tiki handlebar, a lightweight aluminum mustache bar and a low cost alternative to the Nitto brand ‘stache bars. These were okay, although they didn’t sweep back as much as I would have liked. Being aluminum, I found out, meant also that they picked up a lot of road vibration, leading at least in part to some frustrating hand numbness.

The first handlebar setup I had featured the Origin-8 Tiki bar. It was okay, but not quite there.

I looked for other solutions, just not in the right places. Rather than look for a different bar, I decided that my stem was the problem. This led me to Analog Cycles 30mm w(Right) stem. I thought the extra two centimeters it would provide over my Nitto stem would somehow make all the difference in the world, solve my reach problem and turn all the rivers into cool, cool, lemonade streams.

Strangely, it did not.

What it did do, however, was add about 35 pounds to the front of my bike and stick out like a giant, Cyborgian thumb. The modern, removable face plate and the prominence of the screws looked awful a bike that predated such things by decades. Not only did it look bad, but it still did not solve my reach problem.

The bars would have to go. I put on some Portola bars from SOMA that I had from a previous bike, figuring at least I’d get a comfortable two positions from the tops and hoods. I just got numb instead. After all this, I managed to give myself a handlebar with zero good hand positions, somehow.

Nothing against either component, but even with the w(Right) stem, the SOMA Portola bars did not work for me.
Just too big.

Back to the drawing board. I looked around for what I thought would solve this problem: a mustache bar that swept back a little farther, with maybe less curve in front of the stem. I considered the Albatross bars from Rivendell, but Jesus, those are so serious. Wide as the Hoover Dam and sit you back on your seat so far you’d think it was a 1700s church pew.

So, no to those.

That’s when I found several good reviews for Nitto’s North Road bars. Mounted upside down, they’re basically mustache bars that put the bulk of the steering behind the stem. You still get a 60mm drop, the extra hand position in the crooks to stretch out, and they bring the bulk of the steering behind the stem. Perfect.

I got them in the mail the next week and paired them with my 50mm Nitto Technomic stem. This allowed me to pack up that Analog stem for a return.

I’m happy to report that the North Road is now my handlebar. Fits my bar end shifters, gives me some nice hand positions and is just plain comfortable. I did have to switch out my brake leavers for some mountain-types, but that only gave me an excuse to replace my 30-year-old cantilevers for V-brakes, which I also did.

Nitto North Road, mounted upside down. Wide without being too wide and puts the steering behind the stem. Very comfortable.

Now, instead of having to search for an ever-shorter stem to compensate for my stubby arms, I had to order a slightly longer stem because the North Roads put me a little too far back, even for me. Longer stems, however, are in abundance, and cheap.

The bike as I ride it today. Comfy and functional.

Not a simple process. Nor cheap, really. But a bike that fits right is more fun to ride, so despite the frustration and expense, I’m happy to have finally found a handlebar I like.

Ride on!

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