The Best Mountain Bike Handlebars
Best Overall Mountain Bike Handlebar
Deity Components Speedway 35 Carbon Riser
It isn't often that our testers bolt a new handlebar to their bike and immediately feel comfortable, but the Deity Speedway felt natural right away. With modern geometry, design characteristics, and visual appearance, all with a lightweight but burly feel, this bar was clearly the favorite of the test. We found it hard to find flaws with this high-performance handlebar. The beefy 35mm clamp size combined with a uni-directional carbon layup and modern width gives it a great blend of stiffness and vibration damping, providing a comfortable bar feel and excellent control in all situations.
Like all of the carbon fiber models we tested, the Speedway is a bit expensive, especially when compared to the aluminum competition. While it is quite lightweight, it was not the lightest we tested, so the truly weight-conscious riders out there may be inclined to look at lighter weight options. Otherwise, we loved everything about the Speedway Carbon, and we feel it is an excellent option for disciplines ranging from DH and enduro to everyday trail riding.
Read review: Deity Components Speedway 35 Carbon Riser
Best Bang for the Buck
Renthal Fatbar 35
The Renthal Fatbar 35 is a classic aluminum mountain bike handlebar and the winner of our Best Buy Award. Renthal made waves in the moto world and worked the same magic to conform to the mountain bike industry. This aluminum model has a modern 35mm clamp diameter and is a sturdy and responsive addition to the front end of any bike. While it is stiff, the Fatbar does a pretty good job of reducing vibration for an aluminum handlebar. This reasonably priced model also strikes a price to performance ratio that none of the other bars we tested can touch. Renthal has also recently added a black colorway to this handlebar to appease the crowd that wanted a toned-down version of their classic super-flashy bronze bars.
The Fatbar is a reasonably lightweight for an aluminum handlebar, but not surprisingly, it's still a fair bit heavier than the carbon competition. While it is comfortable for aluminum, it doesn't have quite the vibration dampening capabilities of our top-rated models. Despite that, we feel the Fatbar is still a performance upgrade to most rider's cockpits, and an affordable one at that.
Read review: Renthal Fatbar 35
Best for Innovation
Ibis Carbon Adjustable Width
The Ibis Adjustable Width Carbon has a unique and innovative design that allows the user to adjust the width of the handlebar for experimentation or varying needs. By adding threaded aluminum inserts to the ends of the carbon handlebar, Ibis created the option to add or subtract width between 750 and 800mm. Additionally, the aluminum inserts can be trimmed to find your perfect width anywhere in between those measurements, and new inserts can be purchased for just $15 should your width experimentation go awry. Beyond the adjustability of the Ibis bars, they are competitively lightweight and provide good control and a comfortable well-damped ride feel.
While the Adjustable Width bars provide a good level of control in most situations, they are a little less stiff than the other carbon bars in this test. We felt they didn't provide as sharp of control in heavy-hitting terrain. They are also only offered in a 31.8mm clamp diameter, which may require the purchase of a new stem if your bike already has the modern 35mm "standard." Otherwise, there was little not to like about this lightweight, comfortable, and innovative adjustable handlebar.
Read review: Ibis Carbon Adjustable Width
A Close Second
Santa Cruz Bicycles Carbon 800 Riser
The Santa Cruz Carbon Riser surprised us, as we didn't expect a major bike brand's house-branded components to be of as high quality as components made by a company focused on that realm. Fortunately, Santa Cruz has years of practice and expertise working with carbon fiber to produce some of the highest quality frames and wheels in the business. Much like their frames and rims, their handlebars appear to be very well designed and durable. They spec their carbon bars on complete high-end bikes and sell them as an aftermarket option. We found these lightweight and stealthy looking bars to have an agreeable geometry and all the stiffness we could ask for in hard-hitting terrain with just enough compliance and vibration dampening to keep our hands comfortable all day long.
Like most carbon handlebars, some people might balk at the price, though these are on par with the carbon competition. Others may be dismayed by the Santa Cruz logo, which may not meet some rider's expectations for their dream build. That said, we feel the Carbon Riser brings a top-rated combination of lightweight, control, and vibration damping to the table, making them a great upgrade to any trail bike.
Read review: Santa Cruz Bicycles Carbon 800 Riser
Why You Should Trust Us
Dillon Osleger has been riding bicycles his entire life, with over a decade of experience traveling to foreign destinations with his mountain bikes in search of new trail, as well as several years racing cross country, enduro, and gravel bike at a professional level. Between racing, riding, training, and adventure, Dillon spends over 250 days and 2000 hours on mountain bikes each year. He has ridden mountain bikes throughout countless industry standard and geometry changes, always working to find ideal bike fit and handling characteristics. That much time on the bike has made Dillon acutely aware of the nuanced performance differences of the components he uses, and he has a knack for identifying the subtleties.
Dillon eats sleeps and breathes mountain biking, and he spent days researching the best aftermarket mountain bike handlebar models before selecting 8 to test for this review. All of these mountain bike handlebars were tested on bikes of different modern geometry (XC and Trail/Enduro) to determine whether varying bar characteristics benefited differing styles of riding. We rode hundreds of miles with each handlebar while focusing on stiffness, vibration dampening, control, and the design/geometry of each model.
Analysis and Test Results
For this review, we tested bars of varying geometry, materials, and clamp diameters in order to experience the range of performance characteristics that modern bars provide. We rode each of the bars in this test for hundreds of miles on a variety of bikes and trail conditions throughout northern California. We analyzed and tested these bars and rated them on their stiffness/compliance, control, weight, and style/design.
The bike industry tends to make carbon parts "sexier" than their aluminum counterparts, with more R&D money put towards graphics and styling, assuming that the consumer will relate appearance with value. While carbon fiber does allow for unique bar geometry unattainable with aluminum manufacturing processes, as well as an increased stiffness and vibration absorption, it is not necessarily the correct choice for every individual, with cheaper aluminum models providing different benefits that some may seek. Our Best Buy Award winner, the aluminum Renthal Fatbar 35, has the highest price to performance ratio and costs roughly half the price of its carbon fiber counterparts.
Stiffness & Compliance
Stiffness and compliance are often seen as two ends of a spectrum, where compliance is related to the elasticity of a material (essentially how much deformation takes place under force). In contrast, stiffness is the ability of a material to resist deformation under force. Mountain bike handlebars are intentionally tapered from the center to their ends in order to separate the bars into sections with differing stiffness and compliance characteristics. These individual sections coalesce to determine the bar's overall ability to absorb chatter, flex at the ends under force, and stay stiff in the center to maintain steering accuracy and leverage. Some riders prefer a very stiff bar to maximize their control and steering input on the bike, while others prefer a more compliant bar that absorbs trail feedback and reduces hand fatigue. We feel the best bars offer the best of both worlds.
We evaluated each bar's stiffness and compliance through a simple garage lab flex-test combined with our impressions during on-trail use. We mounted each model to a stem that was secured in a clamp and applied full body weight while recording with the slow-motion video. We quantified deformation by placing a millimeter ruler next to the bars in the video. We used this simple test to supplement our real-world testing. During on-trail testing, we analyzed how well each handlebar dampened vibration and trail chatter, muted feedback, or flexed noticeably under impact or steering, or reduced/increased hand fatigue.
The Deity Speedway 35 Carbon and Santa Cruz Carbon Riser were the clear winners in this category, with an excellent balance of stiffness and compliance. Both of the bars mentioned above could absorb trail chatter and reduce hand fatigue while maintaining steering accuracy and cornering leverage. These bars all had similar rises of 20 to 30mm and 35mm clamp diameters, which are commonly associated with better downhill control. The Renthal FatBar 35 was a surprise to our testers, with an excellent blend of stiffness and compliance nearly on par with our top-rated carbon models.
The Ibis Adjustable uses a 31.8 mm clamp diameter, and despite being crafted from carbon fiber, these bars are more forgiving than many carbon models on the market. While we loved their compliance, their reduced stiffness brought them down ever so slightly in this metric. The Race Face Next R carbon bar has a 35mm clamp diameter and stiffness/compliance on par with the Ibis bar. We feel it is suitable for a vast range of disciplines, though it didn't provide quite the same level of stiffness as our top-rated models.
Despite having a 31.8mm clamp diameter, the Diety Speedway 800 is one of the stiffest bars we tested. The Speedway is stiff enough for professional downhill racers, though our testers found them to be a bit unforgiving and caused hand fatigue during prolonged downhills. The Enve M7 is also unrelentingly stiff, and while they offer razor-sharp handling, they tended to wear out our wrists and hands during rides.
Control is determined by both the horizontal and vertical leverage of a bar. Width is often the defining variable of this metric, in that the wider a bar is, the less force is required to adjust the direction of the front wheel. Both vertical leverage and control in rough terrain can be dependent on the material, geometry, and manufacturing design of a handlebar. When riding through rough terrain, say a rock garden, each rock deflects the front tire of a bicycle, requiring some correction on the part of the rider. The more a bar's geometry is aimed at lateral leverage, the easier it is for the rider to save energy in riding the rough section of trail. Geometry also plays a large part in vertical leverage, which is critical in cornering well. Beyond geometry and width, the layup and material of a bar can alter vibration dampening characteristics, which can determine overall control in a variety of situations.
Since all the bars we tested were compared at widths between 800 and 780mm, all determinations of control and leverage should be with respect to geometry and unique material characteristics.
We felt the RaceFace Next R, Deity Speedway 35, and Santa Cruz Carbon Riser present the highest degree of control under varying conditions. Each of these bars uses the foremost technology in carbon layup and engineering, resulting in a forgiving front end that doesn't put your hands to sleep while still responding well to rider input thanks to their sturdy 35mm clamp diameters. If aggressive cornering is common in your style of riding, these bars should be at the top of your list.
Both the Renthal Fatbar 35 and the Ibis Adjustable Width scored in the middle of the pack in terms of control. The Ibis bar offers a relatively high degree of compliance for a carbon handlebar, and they don't feel quite as stout as the 35mm clamp competition when the going gets rough and super rowdy. The Fatbar also generally felt good from a control standpoint, although they couldn't match the damping or precise steering feel of the top-rated carbon competition.
Very stiff options, like the Deity Blacklabel 800 and the Enve M7, offer incredibly precise handling. However, the hand fatigue caused by their lack of compliance and vibration damping reduces their control score. Once you can barely feel your hands, it becomes less easy to control your bike. On the other end of the spectrum, the Spank Oozy Vibrocore felt especially compliant and low on stiffness. This reduced stiffness made this bar feel less responsive to steering input, especially as speeds increased.
Weight would appear to be a reasonably straightforward metric; however, weight distribution along a bar can be significant with regards to balance as well as leverage. As such, competitors were weighted most heavily on their overall weight in this category, with weight distribution playing a larger role in determining the control metric. The RaceFace Next R took the lead in this metric even after 10cm were cut off of the Diety Speedway Carbon bars to reduce them from a stock 810mm to 800mm, so they were more comparable with the rest of the test selection. It should be worth noting that the carbon bars in this test all came in at weights within 50g of each other, resulting in a scoring metric skewed towards higher scores. Due to this clustering of higher scores, the weight metric is weighted less than stiffness, style/design, and control metrics.
The RaceFace Next R, the Santa Cruz Carbon Riser, and the Enve M7 all came in at the lightest end of the spectrum of all bars tested, which should be expected from high-end carbon bar manufacturers. The Next R took the cake as the lightest model we tested at 215g. The Santa Cruz Carbon Riser surprised us by tipping the scales lighter than their claimed weight at just 227g. The Enve M7 wasn't far behind at a featherweight 241g. The Ibis Adjustable weighed 254g with the inserts at 800mm, and 236 without the inserts at 750mm wide. If one were to trim the inserts to a narrower width, it stands to reason that your handlebar would fall somewhere within that range, which is impressively lightweight considering the unique adjustment capabilities.
All of the aluminum models we tested weigh more than their carbon counterparts. The lightest of the aluminum bars were the Spank Ozy Vibrocore 780 at just 278g, impressive considering the addition of the Vibrocore foam inside the bar. Our Best Buy winning Renthal Fatbar tipped the scales at 311g, while the ultra-stiff downhill-oriented Deity Blacklabel was the heaviest by far at 340g.
Style & Design
Similar to weight, the style and design of the bars in this test was weighted less than the control and stiffness/compliance metrics. That said, if you are spending money to make your bike fit and perform better than stock, you may as well consider the fit and finish of the product you're paying for. This metric is less about subjective looks, but instead focuses on the quality of a product, the attention to small features, unique technology, and the variety of choices available for geometry and colors.
The Ibis Adjustable Width was the clear winner in this category, tackling one of the larger issues many consumers have with fitting and customizing a bicycle. The innovative adjustable width bar allows consumers to change the width back and forth with threaded aluminum inserts. The Spank Oozy Vibrocore gets strong marks for attempting to make carbon level chatter reduction in an affordable aluminum bar through foam inserts. The Deity Speedway Carbon gets a nod for incredible attention to design and detail in an industry where many components end up looking the same.
While none of the bars tested will automatically make you an EWS charger or a KOM smasher, they will take your stock bike to a new level with regards to bike fit and performance, which may lead to the above. We spent many hours putting out blood, sweat, and tears testing some of the most highly regarded models on the market to make sure you can spend your money on the one with your desired characteristics.
Before jamming a bunch of spacers underneath your stem or sizing up to a larger frame because you feel like you can't get the desired reach, look through our review and see if the solution may be an upgrade to your cockpit.
— Dillon Osleger