One of the very many benefits of bicycles is that most of the mechanical work can be done by you, the owner. And as DIY jobs go, swapping handlebars is pretty straight forward. Which is good, because Tamia realized early in her ownership of the Surly Long Haul Trucker that the stock bars didn’t fit her comfortably. In this article, she describes why she swapped the stock handlebars and shows you how it’s done.
by Tamia Nelson | November 15, 2017
Originally published in different form on June 8, 2008
How often do YOU think about handlebars? Not often, I’d wager. Unless you ride a bike a bicycle with handlebars that don’t fit. THEN you think about them a lot. Because the longer the ride, the more your body will suffer.
When I bought my stock-build Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike, it was outfitted with good basic bars, but they just didn’t suit me. They were narrower than I liked, which makes steering a tad nervous. I also couldn’t find a grip 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 were pinched by the bag, making them go numb.
After asking the opinions of more experienced cyclists and with a bit of shopping around I decided to swap out the stock handlebars with a pair of 44 cm-wide Nitto Noodle handlebars.
What Sold Me on Nittle Noodle Handlebars?
Carpel tunnel syndrome and too many episodes of frostbite have left my hands prone to numbness and nerve damage if I don’t move them frequently while on the bike. So a wide expanse of “real estate” seemed a good idea, which is one reason why I wanted wide handlebars. Not only that, but the Noodles have a geometry that would appear to lead to less strain and pain from neck right to the fingertips.
Nitto Noodle geometry seemed just what the doctor ordered. The upper grip region is level, extending from the clamp area in the center all the way along the ramps. A backward-sweep to either side of the clamp brings the Noodles’ grip closer to the rider — beneficial for cyclists with shorter arms or torsos. The slight flare of the drops — the lower part of the bar — make riding “in the drops” less stressful on shoulders and neck, too. Most of the time, I ride on the ramps and hoods — the rubber cover over the brake levers — and in this position, the ramp angle to the drops seemed just right for positioning my wrists to avoid strain and aggravating a flare-up of carpel tunnel pain. Additionally, the wider width of my new handlebars would permit me more “thumb room” between the bars and my bar bag, as well as better steering control. But the only way I could be sure the Noodles would suit me was to put them on the bike. So that’s what I did.
How to Swap Handlebars
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. It’s not hard, but it is a bit involved. First, and before buying new handlebars, determine the clamp diameter of your chosen bars. If they’re not the same size as the stem clamp on your bike, you may need a new stem, though some mechanics fit a shim if the ‘bar is narrower than the stem clamp.
The stock handlebar on my LHT had a smaller 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. So because the original stem fitted my reach perfectly, I bought a new stem with the same length and angle of rise as the original, yet with a different clamp diameter.
Is this sounding like a project? You’re right, and there’s more.
Brake levers have to be removed, too, but only after unwrapping the handlebar tape. And then the biggie was to remove the bar end shifters (“barcons”) from one bar to another. (Read how in “Bar-End Shifters: How to Remove and Install Them.”)
I made a list of the steps, then laid out my tools and new parts and went to work.
I unwrapped the bar tape and set it aside, being sure to keep left and right separated so they could be smoothly re-wrapped on the new bars. I removed the bar-end shifters from the bar ends and left them dangling on their cables and out of the way. The brake levers came off next, and then the handlebars were removed from the clamp, which was removed after that.
On went the new stem, then the Noodles were clamped snug but not tightly in the stem’s clamp. I fiddled with the bars by rotating them to get what seemed the right position, then clamped the stem faceplate snugly to prevent handlebar movement. Brake levers go on next, and then the bar-end shifters. Don’t put the bar-end shifters on first like I did originally, or you’ll realize your mistake in a hurry. I re-wrapped the bar tape last.
After two hours and a few wrong turns, the job was done. The old bars could be nested between the brake hoods on the new Noodles, indicating that I’d have plenty of room for my thumbs with the new set-up, but the proof would be in the, er, cycling.
A few test rides later, I professed myself happy. As you can see in the pictures below, I had plenty of room for getting a grip.I returned home from each ride without the tingly numbness and pain I’d become accustomed to.
The Bottom Line
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 from experienced cyclists and do some shopping. If you have basic tools, a place to work, and can get the components you need, consider doing the job yourself. DIY bike maintenance is satisfying, it saves you money, and educates you on how your bicycle goes together abd functions. But if you can’t tackle it yourself, ask a friend who is mechanically adept, or take it to a reliable bike shop. However you get the job done, your body will thank you for the improved fit, and you’ll enjoy longer rides again.
Questions? Comments? Then click here to send Tamia an e‑mail.