How To Choose the Right Handlebars

To find the right fit for my large 6’6” frame I had to try out everything, including different handlebar styles to see what worked best.

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To find the right fit for my large 6’6” frame I had to try out everything, including different handlebar styles to see what worked best. During my time riding a SOMA ES frame, I started with drop bars, the curved bars commonly seen on road and touring bikes, and then switched to upright bars, the swept-back bars that support an upright riding position, so I could find the style that worked best for me.

On the plus side, the drop bars offered flexibility in hand positioning and control. Those options can help with fatigue on longer rides and can allow you to change your body position when climbing or riding fast. Drop bars offered me precision and control when turning and allowed me to make small but precise adjustments to how I was riding.

So what are the benefits of upright bars? I found them to be great for comfort and leisure. Upright bars allowed me to straighten my spine and required less extension in my arms. In a city, this means increased visibility for cars. It was easy to take a hand off to signal or wave and the upright position gives a social feel to the ride.

There are some cons too. Drop bars often made me feel like my position was too aggressive. For leisure trips, like a casual ride with a friend, it felt too much like a race. Bent at the waist, my arms extended, and my head low didn’t make for a comfortable position to carry on a conversation.

The downside to the sweptback upright bars was that I would sometimes feel strain on my wrists, especially on long rides where it would be nice to switch up hand positions. My hands were positioned farther apart, so I lost precise control over turns and therefore acting fast wasn’t quite as graceful as I’d like.

Deciding what style worked best all came down to lifestyle. Since I most often ride in busy San Francisco on high trafficked roads, I liked the drop bars best. I can get a little lower for fast riding, and I used many hand placement options every day, especially when climbing hills. Those uprights aren’t all bad though; in addition to being fun I’ve never received so many enthusiastic stoplight compliments of, “Hey man, nice bike!”

Where do handlebars fit in on the hunt for the perfect bike fit? In my experience, handlebars can make or break your riding enjoyment. While bars are just one of many ways to dial in the perfect fit, they are an integral component to a good fit, no matter what size you are.


Chris Schroeder is the director of sales and marketing for Rickshaw Bagworks. He has lived in the Bay Area for 13 years and developed a passion for bikes, plants, coffee, print design, and bags – and spends time working with organizations that foster community development like PaperGirl SF, the SFGMC, and SFMade. @ReallyTallChris

3 Comments

  • Augsburg

    I’m tall too (6″4″) and ride in urban conditions. I’ve tried all kinds of bikes with all kinds of handle bars over the years. Dropped bars on road bikes, straight bars on mountain bikes. On my European-style city bike, I now prefer moderate upright bars with just a little sweep, and a little rise. I find a little more of an upright posture (not totally upright, in my case) makes it easier to see and be seen in congested urban conditions. My bars are also wide, for control when bouncing over potholes or trolley tracks.

  • Eric in Seattle

    Often bars with back sweep are more comfortable if the ends are pointed slightly downward. It looks a little strange–most folks set them up level. I’ve found that a slight downward angle puts the wrists in a more natural position

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