Our favorite handlebars

REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR

Jeremy Till

Blue Heron Bikes' first employee, Sacramento resident and handlebar guru.

Here at Blue Heron Bikes, we love handlebars.  They’re the most important component on a bicycle.  Swapping handlebars to better fit the rider, or make the bike more suited for a particular type of riding, is one of the many services that we offer. 

If you haven’t already, come on in some time and take a gander at our handlebar tree, where most of our handlebar stock is displayed. We leave the handlebars out on the tree so people can see the differences between them and put their hands on them, to get a sense of how they might feel on their bike.  

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Browsing through our handlebar selection, you’ll notice that while there’s a big selection, that there’s a definite trend. We like swept-back handlebars, that bring the rider’s hands back and maybe up a little bit.  We have one of the biggest selections of swept-back handlebars around.  There are chromoly steel ones, aluminum ones, ones with no rise, ones with a few inches of rise, ones that are narrow and ones that are wide.  Most are silver, a few are black. 

Why the focus on swept-back handlebars?  Mostly because they are the most suited to achieving an upright riding position for the rider.  Sitting upright is great, for many reasons:

Sitting upright changes your weight distribution on the bike.  It shifts your weight back, so you carry more of your weight directly on the seat.  This can reduce the strain on your

     back, arms, and hands, and make the whole experience of riding more comfortable and enjoyable.

     A more comfortable bike also makes it easier to ride without cycling-specific clothing, so it helps make your bike more practical for commuting, running errands, and short rides around town.

     It makes it easier to see the path ahead, since you don’t have to pull your neck back to see far. Thus, you’re more likely to see potential obstacles.  Sitting upright also means that your visual profile is maximized, making it easier for drivers, pedestrians, and other cyclists to see you and avoid you.  Seeing better and being more visible makes riding safer.

So overall, swept back handlebars help you sit more upright on your bike, and sitting upright makes your bike more comfortable, more practical, and safer.  To put it another way, it makes your bicycle something you just want to hop on and ride, no matter the occasion. 

Sometimes, when people see a bike with upright handlebars or we suggest such a modification to their existing bike, they think it will make it harder to ride, for two reasons. 

     The first is aerodynamics.  It is true that sitting more upright presents a larger surface area to oncoming air, and can increase wind resistance.  However, in our experience, the aerodynamic disadvantage of upright riding is much less than you’d think, especially if you’re talking about stop-and-go urban riding, or rambling in the hills. 

     The second reason is power.  Many people think an upright position doesn’t allow your muscles to produce as much power as a hunched over, stretched out one.  Again, our experience shows that to the extent that this is true at all, the effect while riding is minimal.  If anything, being in a more relaxed position allows you to ride longer and easier, without your muscles fatiguing as quickly.  It’s a tradeoff many of us gladly make, especially since we’re not racing. 

Which gets to our final point: while we’ve made the case for swept back bars and upright riding mainly based on their advantages for short rides and everyday transportation, they can also work great for longer and more adventurous rides.  We ride our swept-back bars everywhere, doing long rides, checking out dirt roads in the East Bay or Marin hills, and even on multi-day tours up and down California.  Many of our bikes that previously had drop bars or flat bars for “serious” riding, are now outfitted with swept-back handlebars, and are more comfortable and more capable for it.  

photo: Manny Acosta

Come on in yourself and check out our selection of swept-back handlebars, or try one of the great bikes we have in stock that feature similar handlebars.