best mountain bike handlebars

Best Mountain Bike Handlebars

by Joseph Wells - Last Updated: November 27, 2020

Besides the seat, handlebars are one of the most important ergonomic components of any bicycle. Since everyone is so different, choosing the best mountain bike handlebars can be difficult. In consideration of a modern ergonomic fit the Easton Haven handlebar is one of the best on the market and is a choice of many competitors and enthusiasts.

Top Pick: Easton Haven

In recent years, really with the advent of 29″ mountain bikes running 1 x 11 drivetrains, handlebar designs have changed. The Easton Haven is our top choice due to its design and overall width working well with modern bikes and riding styles.

In the infancy of mountain bikes, handlebars were made of steel, and sometimes quite narrow.  With such a wide range of gears via a 3 x 7 drivetrain, the need for torque from the bars was less. Newer bikes have fewer gears, but the ratios are further apart, and because of that fact, handlebar design has changed.

Width

The Haven normally comes in a 740 mm width.  The trend is to wider bars so that with modern drive trains you can get more leverage for pedaling up steep inclines.  I myself, prefer a narrower bar, so it is possible to cut these bars down with the proper tools.  There are other bars that may be slightly wider by a few mm, but for overall choice, these bars work quite well for almost every MTB.

Our best mountain bike handlebar top choice, the Easton Haven, features a 20 mm rise, an 8-degree sweep, and a 4 degree upward bend.  These ergonomics help with upper body fatigue and work well for most riders. If the bend and sweep are not well matched to your body and riding style, early fatigue and wrist issues can occur. There are other choices for sweep and upward bend.  As you try different bars, you may find slightly different numbers to help your body type specifically.

Also, the Haven is made of carbon fiber, so it will absorb shock while being both strong and lightweight.  Carbon bars from a reputable manufacturer such as Easton are to be easily trusted.  While there are some lesser-known brands that may have had troubles in the past, top-end manufacturers have truly pioneered carbon, especially Easton.

Other Choices

RaceFace Atlas

For the budget-minded, RaceFace makes excellent bars.  They have around a dozen different models.  Take a look at the RaceFace Atlas bar, it could easily be our low cost best mountain bike handlebars.  It features great ergonomics and quite a few cool color choices to freshen up your ride.

Control Tech CLS

Some riders prefer a flat handlebar for their riding style.  Control Tech has been making great bars for over 3 decades.  Check out the Control Tech CLS bar.  With a 760 mm width and great ergonomics, you can perfect a low position with a bar like this.

Ritchey Carbon Bullhorn

One of the coolest retro but functional bars on the market is the Ritchey Carbon Bullhorn bar.  This bar features great modern ergonomics in an old school look. If you have that cool bike from a few years ago but want a totally different bar that will draw conversation, look no further.

Origin 8 Urban

One of the biggest complaints I get in the shop is back pain.  One of the simplest things to do is to change your handlebars out to something with more rise to them.  Performance bars are either flat or perhaps up to 20 mm of rising upwards.  Look at the Origin 8 Urban bar.  If the bar will fit your stem, it will provide another 20+ mm of height which can improve your body position.

Ergonomics Are Very Important

All mountain bike performance bars should be bent back toward you.  They also should sweep upwards.  Think about how you hold your hands in front of you as if they were on a set of bars.  Your pinky fingers are behind your index fingers, and you have a tendency for the thumbs to be lower overall tilting your hands slightly. However, all of these measurements can be taken to an extreme.

There are bars that have 12 or more inches of rising. Rise is the amount the ends are above the stem clamp area. High rise bars are by no means performance-oriented.  Some sweep too much and put way too much pressure on your wrists.  In the opposite way, if the bar doesn’t angle toward you correctly, steering and control suffer.  Small adjustments mean a lot.

High rise handlebars are not performance-oriented.  Bars like these Sunlite High Rise MTB bar can be dangerous for off-road aggressive riding.  With too much rise, there is quite a bit of torque on the stem, which can damage it under certain conditions.  Additionally, the body position of the rider is too far back, and without proper weight balance on the bike, it will become unstable in corners. I would never choose a high rise model as the best mountain bike handlebars as they only work for a few people, and they lack technical performance.

What Fits My Bike?

One of the great things about bike handlebars, is the outside edges are always identical in size.  That means grips are interchangeable as well as shifters and brakes.  The only part you have to consider is the stem size on whether a given bar will fit your bike.  Most modern performance mountain bikes feature a 31.8 mm bar stem size.  There are several other sizes available though.

To get more technical in choices, there are various studies out there that contemplate ergonomics beyond just the basics.  MIT looked at various materials used to make handlebars.  Angles are just as important to the rider.  Remember, anywhere the rider makes contact with the bike is an area of concern for improvement.

In an amazing way, the best mountain bike handlebars, like the Easton Haven fit so many bikes.  Not only do they fit most mountain bikes, but they can work on Hybrids, road bikes, commuter bikes, and so many others.

Stuff You Will Need

Perhaps you have made a decision on a new set of handlebars.  Changing the bars can be simple or challenging.  Be prepared so that you know there is more than just the bars themselves needed for the change.

Grips! Yes, sometimes saving your old grips is impossible.  They get stuck to the bars or stretched out so they won’t work on the new bars.  Seriously consider getting new grips.

Cables are important.  With a big change like bars, it makes sense to change out your worn cables at the same time.  It will seem like a new bike, with better ergonomics, and shifting performance.

Criteria for Choosing the Best Mountain Bike Handlebars

My first expectation with any bar is how many bikes will it fit?  There are dozens of proprietary handlebars on the market, but if they only fit a few bikes, or work in certain situations, it is difficult to recommend them universally.

What features do the bars offer?  The number one is ergonomics.  Most customers seek to change how the bike fits and feels, and handlebars are really a key part of it.  When I looked at the Easton Haven, they have a tried and true set of measurements that make them a great choice.  I can easily put these bars on customers’ bikes and they will love them.

What are they made of?  I felt that the pricing of carbon fiber is so reasonable now, that anybody should include it as the main choice.  Years ago it was expensive to put carbon parts on your bike, now it is commonplace.  Besides, Easton is a pioneer in the carbon game.  They were the first company to employ carbon nanotubes in their layups.

How do they look?  Easily, most every stock bar is black in color, and usually a matte finish.  Totally boring.  Some of the best mountain bike handlebars offer a great look with striking colors and graphics.  Sometimes, you don’t even want to cover the graphics with your grips.

Conclusion – Best Mountain Bike Handlebars

One of the best things you can do is to check with an expert to verify what will fit your bike, then it is easy to shop around.  I chose the Easton Haven as the best mountain bike handlebars because they easily fit the majority of quality mountain bikes on the market today.  With good looks, excellent construction, and ergonomics that make sense, this bar should easily find its way on to your bike.

I love being a bit different.  So many bikes look the same on the market today.  The Ritchey Bullhorn bars are the right amount of attitude to help change your trail style.  Beyond style, these bars are just as functional as any modern bar and stem combination on the market today.

I would easily recommend changing to the best mountain bike handlebars as soon as you can.  We take the bars and stem for granted and never really change them.  There is a lot of performance and comfort to be gained in what is a simple change.

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