Handlebars are an often overlooked aspect of bike fit. As the effective steering wheel of the bike, choosing the right width, rise and sweep will make for improved control, help you breathe better and leave you with fewer aches and pains at the end of your ride.
Scroll down to see a few of our favourite MTB handlebars.
What to look for when buying mountain bike 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 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 as progressed, bars 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 millimetres 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 aluminium and carbon fibre, though there are a few boutique titanium models out there too.
Aluminium 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 aluminium handlebars are your ticket.
Carbon bars are lightweight, stiff, and absorb lots of vibration, and they are also expensive. In many cases, carbon fibre 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.
Best mountain bike handlebars you can buy
PRO Tharsis XC Flat handlebar
Di2 friendly carbon bars
Widths: 700, 720, 740mm | Clamp diameter: 31.8mm | Material: Carbon
Sitting at the top of Shimano's inhouse components brand, PRO's range, the Tharsis XC comes in widths from 700mmn to 740mm and in flat or 15mm rise versions.
Made from unidirectional carbon fibre, 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 M6 MTB handlebar
Gold standard for carbon bars
Widths: 780mm | Clamp diameter: 31.8mm | Material: Carbon
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 MTB 31.8mm Aluminium handlebar
Burly alloy bars
Widths: 750mm trail, 800mm downhill | Clamp diameter: 31.8mm | Material: Aluminium
Thomson makes its 31.8mm aluminium 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.View Deal
One Up Carbon handlebar
Techy comfortable carbon bars
Widths: 800mm | Clamp diameter: 35mm | Material: Carbon
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 aluminium bars, they found a 21-per cent increase in vertical compliance with a 28-per cent increase in steering stiffness.View Deal
Race Face Next 35 handlebar
High end carbon bars
Widths: 760mm | Clamp diameter: 35mm | Material: Carbon
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.
Deity Skyline 787 handlebar
Light and stiff alloy bar
Widths: 787mm | Clamp diameter: 35mm | Material: Aluminium
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 aluminium 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, anodising and graphics make them some of the coolest looking bars you can buy.
Renthal Fatbar V2 handlebar
Pro gravity riders bar of choice
Widths: 800mm | Clamp diameter: 31.8mm, 35mm | Material: Aluminium
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 aluminium, 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 anodising, which not only looks cool but keeps abrasions at bay.
Spank Spike 800 Vibrocore handlebar
Dampened alloy bars
Widths: 800mm | Clamp diameter: 31.8mm | Material: Aluminium
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.