Choosing the best MTB handlebars is an often overlooked aspect of bike fit. As the effective steering wheel of the bike and a dynamic weight bearing contact point, the shape and construction of a handlebar can have a significant influence on the way a bike rides. Most riders who buy off-the-shelf bikes will likely just ride the handlebar that is specced on the bike however it's worth experimenting with different setups to find the best MTB handlebar for your riding and determine preferences and potential performance gains.
Figuring out the right width, rise and sweep for your body and riding style will improve your cornering and control on technical terrain, help you breathe better on climbs and leave you with fewer aches and pains at the end of your ride.
Scroll down to see a few of our favorite MTB handlebars or skip to the bottom to find out.
Best MTB handlebars
This 780mm long handlebar from PNW Components was designed by professional mountain biker Kyle Warner, and a portion of the profits go towards the NICA high school race program in the US.
It's only available in one size and one clamp diameter, but our tester found that they offer a smooth and compliant ride on long, aggressive descents. The 10-degree back sweep also creates a comfortable wrist position for all-day riding. If the size fits, then this is a solid bar for hard-charging enduro riders.
The GussetS2 is an oversized handlebar for aggressive riders. This is a super-stiff bar, which means it'll provide lots of trail feedback at slower speeds, smooth trails, and short runs. However, it may be too much for longer runs with tons of roughness to soak up.
The big aluminum bar is offered only in an 800mm width, but there's the option for 10, 20, or 38mm rise. In addition to a 35mm clamping diameter, the bar features a 5-degree upsweep and 8-degree backsweep. For riders that are looking for a 31.8mm handlebar, Gusset sells the Slade which is also a little more forgiving.
At 233g for the full 800mm width, it sits mid-pack in terms of tough carbon-fibre bars but saves 70-100g over an alloy equivalent. Available in 760mm and 800mm, both risers only come in 20mm rise and 35mm stem size but there is a 20g lighter 780mm flat bar in 31.8mm diameter. They’re all covered by the same no-questions lifetime warranty as Santa Cruz's carbon frames and wheels, which is a real bonus for regular wreckers and offsets the steep cost over time.
Typically, for Santa Cruz, these carbon bars aren’t cheap but they’re a classic comfortable shape, with an excellent well-controlled, comfortable ride feel backed up by an exceptional lifetime warranty.
Sitting at the top of Shimano's in-house components brand, PRO's range, the Tharsis XC comes in widths from 700mmn to 740mm and in flat or rise versions.
Made from unidirectional carbon fiber, the 9-degree backsweep and 4-degrees of upsweep are ideal for an aggressive climbing position.
The Tharsis trades board-like stiffness for tremendous vibration-damping but does not introduce enough flex to create adverse steering characteristics. Coming from Shimano's sister brand, it's also no surprise to see the bars with provisions for internally routed Di2 wires.
ENVE makes a range of carbon bars, each tuned with a different layup for a unique riding application; from the XC-oriented M5 up to a burly DH-ready M9. The M6 falls right about in the middle of the range and is aimed at trail riding.
With a 31.8mm clamp, the bars come in a 780mm width, and feature cut guidelines down to 740mm — ENVE doesn't recommend going narrower as it will make the bars overly stiff, and they are already plenty rigid.
Available with a traditional 25.5m rise or low 7.5mm rise the bars sweep 9-degrees back and 5-degrees up. If you can afford them, they are some of the best trail bars you can buy.
Thomson makes its 31.8mm aluminum bar in two varieties, an 800mm downhill version with 9-degrees of backsweep and 5-degrees upsweep and the 750mm trail bars which sweep 8-degrees back and 5-degrees up. Both are made with 7050 Aluminium and have a 31.8mm clamp diameter.
The Downhill bar has a 65mm wide clamping area to accommodate direct mount stems while the trail bar has a more standard 50mm clamping surface for a more compliant ride quality.
Made with an advanced hydraulic press forming manufacturing process, the bars come out clean with no need for hand grinding or finishing. The bars are butted throughout however the ends thicken to 1.4mm in the Trail bar and 1.6mm in the DH version to prolong life and resist crash damage.
One Up Components is best known for thinking outside the square, and their carbon bars are the embodiment of this ethos. The clamping surface measures 35mm, and the bar turns egg-shaped with the horizontal plane maintaining 35mm for a few centimeters, while the vertical plane quickly thins out to 22.2mm.
Forming the carbon into this oval shape has allowed One Up to tune in vertical flex for comfort while keeping the horizontal plane robust for accurate steering.
According to One Up, tested against other carbon bars and foam-filled aluminum bars, they found a 21 percent increase in vertical compliance with a 28 percent increase in steering stiffness.
Sharing a similar geometry and price tag to the Race Face Next R and SixC bars, the Next 35 are a lighter narrower XC or light trail version still with a 35mm clamp diameter. According to RaceFace, by jumping to a 35mm clamping surface, they have been able to get rid of material through the rest of the bar without sacrificing stiffness or strength.
Available in a 760mm width the 8-degree back and 5-degree upsweep puts your hands and wrists in a comfortable position, and the carbon does well to eat up noise coming through the front of the bike, helping to keep fatigue at bay.
Geared towards all-mountain and enduro riders, the Deity Skyline 787 bars are lightweight and gluttons for punishment. Measuring 787mm uncut, the bars are made from 7075 T73 gradient butted aluminum and feature a 9-degree backsweep and 5-degree upsweep.
Alloy bars always run the risk of being too stiff and transmitting harsh vibrations through your hands, but using clever butting, the Skyline finds the right balance between stiffness for steering control and comfort.
Plus, anodizing and graphics make them some of the coolest-looking bars you can buy.
Now available in an 800mm width, the Fatbar is loved for its flatter feel with a 7-degree backsweep and 5-degrees up. Available with 31.8mm, and 35mm stem interface, the bar is made from 7050 T6 aluminum, and one of the hallmark features of the Fatbar is the variable wall thickness which creates the ride feel which has attracted a fervent following of pro gravity riders.
Renthal put quite a bit of work into making the wider V2 Fatbar feel like its predecessor while shedding about 50g. Renthal also offers the Fat bar in 10-40mm of rise.
And of course, there is the gold anodizing, which not only looks cool but keeps abrasions at bay.
Moto X riders have been using foam-filled bars for years to combat the vibrations from the engine, so it’s no surprise to see such a simple technology find its way to MTB cockpits.
Spank hasn’t just stuffed a bunch of packing peanuts into the Spike bars, they use a specific open cell foam with a density just right for silencing trail buzz. While it may sound like a gimmick, the difference between the foam-filled bars and a standard set is noticeable. Are they as good as carbon, it's hard to say, but they aren't far off.
They are slightly cheaper than a set of carbon bars and there is a slight weight penalty, but the Spike 800's are a robust handlebar that won't vibrate your hands into oblivion.
Chromag's OSX handlebars are somewhat of a classic, gracing the cockpit of dirt jumpers to downhill rigs alike for years now. The OSX bar is one of the brand's best-selling products and helped legitimize the Canadian company among the MTB industry.
The bars are only available in 800mm with a standard 31.8mm clamping diameter. They feature 8-degrees of bend and 5-degrees of upsweep. Chromag says they've increased the fatigue life of the bars by over 50 percent, so the latest iteration is strong enough for any type of riding.
Another plus is the plethora of color options, whether you want to contrast or match your frame and riding kit, there's something for everyone.
What to look for when buying the best MTB handlebars?
Sweep refers to the angle of the grips and comes in two dimensions, backsweep and upsweep. As the name suggests backsweep is the angle at which the bars bend back towards the rider, and usually range from 0-degrees to about 12-degrees; however, some radical designs will have up to 45-degrees of backsweep.
Upsweep refers to the vertical angle of the bars and is a separate measure to the rise — more on that later. Not all bars will define an upsweep, but most measure between four and 6-degrees.
The rise of handlebars is the height difference between the grips and the clamp area. Most MTB handlebars have a positive rise from zero up to 50mm, however, there are a few negative rise bars out there for cross-country riders with aggressive bike fits. Usually, bikes with a gravity focus will be specced with bars with more rise, and bikes tilted towards cross-country use will have a flatter bar.
As time has progressed, the best MTB handlebars have gotten wider because it slows down the handling characteristics and opens your chest, helping you to breathe more deeply. However, the specific width that's best for you will be determined by your body and riding style, and bars are available in widths ranging from about 600mm up to well over 800mm.
If you are looking to upgrade or replace your bars, we'd recommend buying something slightly wider than you'd expect, because you can always lop a few millimeters off the end — just make sure you measure twice.
4. Clamp diameter
The bike industry is full of standards that are anything but standard, and mountain bike handlebars are no exception. The most common is 31.8mm however, an increasing number of brands are branching into 35mm. No matter the clamp diameter, they all taper down to 22.2mm and the ends, meaning any grip will work with any bar.
The larger 35mm bars tend to be stronger and stiffer, and with an increased surface area don't need as much clamping force to prevent slipping.
Your stem will determine the diameter of the bar you can run, so if you want to switch from 31.8 to 35, you'll need to budget a bit extra for a compatible stem.
For the most part, handlebars are made from aluminum and carbon fiber, though there are a few boutique titanium models out there too.
Aluminum bars are cheap and robust; however, they can be a bit harsh in terms of vibration dampening. If you're a downhiller, or just crash a lot, hardy aluminum handlebars are your ticket.
Carbon bars are lightweight, stiff, and absorb lots of vibration, and they are also expensive. In many cases, carbon fiber bars are stronger than their metal counterparts, but aggressive riders tend to shy away because they don't fail in a predictable manner. Instead of bending or denting, carbon bars just snap - and not always at the point of impact, which can result in a later accident.