Jun 20 2008

Swapping Handlebars

How often do YOU think about handlebars? Not often, I’d wager. Unless you ride a bike with bars that don’t fit. THEN you think about them a lot. A few months ago I bought a new bike which came with good basic bars, but they just didn’t suit me. They were narrower than I liked, and made steering a tad nervous. But the worst problems of all were that I could find no position which was comfortable for more than a few minutes at a time. And another thing was wrong. I like a handlebar bag, and the one I like best was a tight fit. My thumbs caught on the side pockets or were crushed against the bag’s side, making them go numb. So after some shopping and getting the opinions of other cyclists, I decided to swap out the stock handlebars with a pair of 44 cm Nitto Noodle handlebars.

What sold me on the Noodles? Their geometry seemed just what the doctor ordered — literally. I get tingly hands and occasionally have a flair-up of carpal tunnel syndrome. The relatively flat upper portion of the Noodles extend from the clamp area in the center all the way along the ramps. The slight flare of the drops — the lower part of the bar — would make riding “in the drops” easier. But most of the time, I ride on the ramps and hoods — the rubber cover over the brake levers. And the width would permit me more “thumb room” between the bars and my bar bag.

The exchange was a success. Here are comparative photos:


The Stock Bars and Bar Bag Clearance

In the pair of pictures above you can see how little room there is between the handlebar and my bar bag. My thumb rubs against the pockets on the left side of the bag.


The Nitto Bars and Bar Bag Clearance

In the next set of photos, see how much more room there is for my thumbs. Four centimeters more width gives me more real estate for changing hand positions, and permits the mounting of necessities without cramping my riding style. The photo on the left above shows the old bar resting on the bar bag bracket with the new Nitto bars mounted. See the difference?

Unless you’ve done this job yourself before, there’s more to mounting new handlebars than you might imagine. The original handlebar had a different clamp diameter than the Noodles. That meant that the stem (the “neck” which extends forward to clamp the handlebar) had to be replaced with one which would clamp tightly to the Noodles. Is this sounding like a project? You’re right, and there’s more. The brake levers had to be removed, too, but only after unwrapping the handlebar tape. And then the biggie was to move the bar end shifters (“barcons”) from one bar to another. Read how in “Bar-End Shifters: How to Remove and Install Them.”

Here’s where it helps to get the advice of others who know more than you do. After asking for assistance on the Surly Long Haul Trucker and Cross Check group online, I felt confident that the swap would be well within my abilities. After two hours and a few wrong turns, the job was done. After a few test rides, I profess myself happy.

If riding your bike causes pain, numbness, or tingling in your hands, arms, or shoulders, maybe swapping handlebars and/or the stem could make riding more enjoyable. Get some advice, and if you have basic tools, a place to work, and can get the components you need, consider doing the job yourself. It’s satisfying, and it saves you money. But if you can’t tackle it yourself, ask a friend who is mechanically adept, or take it to a reliable bike shop and get them to give you some help. Your hands will thank you.

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