Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Mountain Bike Handlebars

Photo: Jenna Ammerman
Tuesday March 9, 2021
  • Share this article:
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
Searching for the best mountain bike handlebar? We examined more than 25 of the best aftermarket models before buying 11 for side-by-side testing and comparison. The handlebar is one of just two control-related contact points on your mountain bike, and a simple upgrade can help to improve handling and performance as well as your comfort out on the trail. Handlebars come in varying materials, widths, geometries, and clamp diameters with different levels of stiffness, compliance, and vibration absorption. We tested each model for hundreds of real-world miles while focusing on their key performance characteristics to help you find your next handlebar.


1

Best Overall Carbon Handlebar


Deity Components Speedway 35 Carbon Riser


Weight: 245-grams | Clamp Diameter: 35mm
Great vibration dampening
Competitive weight
Modern and well thought out geometry
High-end finish and style
Expensive
Only one rise option

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 810mm width gives it excellent control and precise handling in all situations. Not only is the Speedway Carbon precise, but it's also quite comfortable. Fortunately, Deity has also engineered the bar to provide some forgiveness and vibration dampening without sacrificing anything in the control department. It has a 9mm backsweep, 5mm upsweep, and only comes in a 35mm clamp, 30mm rise, and 810mm width. The Speedway comes in matte black carbon with 9 logo color options to suit your preferences or match other Deity components.

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 other options. It also only comes in the 30mm rise we tested, which may not be ideal for everyone. 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.

The Speedway is an excellent aftermarket handlebar that will almost...
The Speedway is an excellent aftermarket handlebar that will almost definitely be an upgrade to your bike's cockpit.

2

Best Bang for the Buck Carbon Handlebar


OneUp Components Carbon Handlebar


Weight: 223-grams | Clamp Diameter: 35mm
Lightweight
Reasonable price for carbon
Balanced ride feel
Great vibration dampening
35mm clamp only

OneUp Components is well known for making reasonably priced and high-quality mountain bike components, and their Carbon Handlebar is a fine example of that. Sure, it's more expensive than an aluminum bar, but it costs notably less than any other carbon model we tested. While the names of OneUp's products are often quite simple, we assure you that the Carbon Handlebar is anything but. OneUp has created an impressive product that provides excellent control with a beefy 35mm clamp diameter, 800mm width, and comfortable 8-degree backsweep and 5-degree upsweep. Unlike most handlebars, OneUp has ovalized theirs in the transition/taper zone to increase vertical compliance and enhance its vibration absorbing properties. The result is one of the most comfortable bars we've ever tested. It truly works as advertised, and our hands felt fresher with no noticeable decrease in responsiveness or control. We tested a 20mm rise bar that weighs a feather-light 223-grams, but it also comes in a 35mm rise that weighs only a few grams more. The black carbon bar is stealthy with subtle logos, and OneUp sells decal kits ($5.50) in a huge range of colors so you can get all matchy-matchy if you choose.

The Carbon Handlebar only comes in an 800mm width, but it has hash marks on both ends so you can trim it down to your desired width. A 35mm clamp diameter is the only option, so you may need to purchase a 35mm clamp stem to go with it if you have a 31.8mm. Beyond that, we think the OneUp Carbon Handlebar is one of the best we've ever tested, and an affordable way to drop some grams while improving control and comfort.

Not only is it a good value, but the OneUp Carbon Handlebar proved...
Not only is it a good value, but the OneUp Carbon Handlebar proved to be a tester favorite with an excellent blend of comfort and control, plus it looks great.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

3

Best Overall Aluminum Handlebar


Renthal Fatbar 35


Weight: 311-grams | Clamp Diameter: 35mm
Reasonably priced
Tried and true design
Durable
Heavier than carbon
Vibration dampening not on par with carbon

The Renthal Fatbar 35 is a classic aluminum mountain bike handlebar. Renthal made waves in the moto world and worked the same magic to conform to the mountain bike industry. The Fatbar we tested 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 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. Renthal offers the Fatbar in both 35mm and 31.8mm clamp diameters, and 10mm, 20mm, 30mm, and 40mm rise options.

The Fatbar is 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 carbon models. Despite that, we feel the Fatbar is still a performance upgrade to most rider's cockpits, and an affordable one at that.

The Renthal FatBar was out favorite aluminum model from a control...
The Renthal FatBar was out favorite aluminum model from a control standpoint. Beefy enough for responsive handling, but forgiving enough to dampen some vibration too.

4

Best on a Super Tight Budget


Funn Full-On


Weight: 335-grams | Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm
Very affordable
Available in 5 colors
Comes in 31.8mm and 35mm clamp diameters
Heavier weight
Somewhat loud graphics
Less forgiving than more expensive competition

If you don't have much to spend and you need to replace or upgrade your stock handlebar, look no further than the Funn Full-On. Crafted from strong, lightweight 6061 aluminum, these bars are an outrageous value and will likely be a performance upgrade over stock aluminum handlebars found on many complete bike builds. The Full-On is plenty stiff, and that translates into great control while still doing a respectable job of muting some trail feedback. Our test bar had a relatively standard 5.5mm upsweep and 8mm backsweep that felt agreeable and comfortable. It comes in both 31.8mm(tested) and 35mm clamp diameters in 785mm and 810mm(31.8mm only) widths with 30mm, 15mm(tested), and 7mm rise options available. Those looking to add a little bling to their bike will also be pleased to know that it comes in 5 anodized colors; Black, Silver, Orange, Red, and Blue.

With such an impressively affordable price, we found it hard to knock the Full-On bars for their minor faults. Being an aluminum model, they are a fair amount heavier than their carbon competition with a measured weight of 335-grams for our 785mm wide, 15mm rise test bar. While the bar we tested does a decent job of absorbing some vibration, it can't quite compete with the higher-end aluminum and carbon models in this regard. We like the color options available, but the logo graphics are a bit loud and may not suit everyone's tastes. Beyond those concerns, we feel you'd be very hard-pressed to find a better handlebar for less money.

The Funn Full-On costs a fraction of any other bar we tested, yet...
The Funn Full-On costs a fraction of any other bar we tested, yet they still perform admirably on the trail.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

5

A Close Second


Santa Cruz Bicycles Carbon 800 Riser


Weight: 240-grams | Clamp Diameter: 35mm
Excellent balance of stiffness and compliance
Lightweight
Well-designed
Expensive
Santa Cruz branding may reduce "style" value

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 with 9mm of backsweep, 5mm of upsweep, a 20mm rise, and all the stiffness we could ask for in hard-hitting terrain. The bar is also tuned with just enough compliance and vibration dampening to keep our hands comfortable all day long. The Carbon Riser is available in two widths, 800mm (tested) and 760mm.

Like most carbon handlebars, some people might balk at the price, though these are on par with the carbon competition. While subtle, some people could be dismayed by the Santa Cruz branding, which may not meet some rider's expectations for their dream build. They are also limited to one rise option, 20mm, so some riders might not find the perfect fit here. 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.

The Santa Cruz Carbon Riser is an excellent handlebar that is...
The Santa Cruz Carbon Riser is an excellent handlebar that is lightweight with a balanced ride feel.
Photo: Laura Casner

6

Best for Extra Backsweep


SQlab 30X 12-Degree Carbon


Weight: 235-grams | Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm
Lightweight
Available in 12mm or 16mm backsweep
Intended to reduce discomfort through improved ergonomics
Carbon and aluminum options available
Expensive
Increased backsweep may be too much for many users
Rise measurements aren't consistent with other brands

SQlab takes a very scientific approach to sports ergonomics. They may be best known for their bike saddles, but they also make a modest line of mountain bike handlebars aimed at addressing rider discomfort through improved ergonomics. While most manufacturers have settled in the 8-10mm range of backsweep for their bars, SQlab makes their 30X Carbon bars with either 12mm(tested) or 16mm of backsweep. They claim that the increased backsweep "provides a more natural transition from the lower arm to the hand when in a more upright riding position". Visually, the 12-degree version we tested takes a little getting used to. While testing, we found that the additional sweep felt a little different for a very short period, but otherwise went virtually unnoticed on the trail. Performance-wise, the 30X is relatively stiff and sturdy with precise control, yet the 31.8mm clamp diameter and carbon construction give it forgiving vertical compliance and vibration absorbing properties. The 780mm width should be adequate for most users, and it comes in 15mm, 30mm, and 45mm rise options.

The 30X Carbon is quite expensive, but SQlab also makes an aluminum version that comes in the same sweep and rise options and costs less than half the price. We also found that their rise measurements are quite different from other brands. The 45mm rise bar looks closer to 20-25mm of rise when compared to other models we tested. It probably goes without saying, but the greater angles of backsweep of the 30X bars will likely not be for everyone. We feel it is a niche product that may provide a greater level of comfort for some riders. If you don't experience discomfort with your more traditionally swept bars, these are probably unnecessary. That said, if you've been struggling with wrist or other discomfort while you ride, these may be the solution you've been looking for.

If you experience wrist discomfort with regular bars, the 12 or...
If you experience wrist discomfort with regular bars, the 12 or 16-degree sweep of the SQlab 30X may prove to be a more ergonomically friendly option.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

7

Best for Lightweight


Race Face Next R 35 Carbon


Weight: 215-grams | Clamp Diameter: 35mm
Lightweight
Stiff and responsive
Come in 3 rise options and 6 different colors
Expensive
Doesn't absorb as much vibration as some

Race Face is one of the biggest names in the bike components world, and their Next R 35 is an impressive carbon handlebar that topped our charts for its light weight. At 215-grams, it's the lightest bar we tested and a surefire way to save some weight on your bike. Despite its feather weight, the 35mm bore size makes for a stiff clamp interface, and the Next R provides excellent leverage and control. It also does a respectable job of muting some high-frequency vibration to keep your hands feeling fresh. It is crafted with a uni-directional carbon layup and comes in an 800mm width with 8-degrees of backsweep and 5-degrees of upsweep. Race Face offers it in 10mm, 20mm, and 35mm rise options so you can get the perfect bike fit. The matte clear coat looks classy, and it comes in six logo color options to add a little flair to your ride.

While we loved the Next R handlebar, its vibration absorption is close, but can't quite match our top-rated bars. It's also one of the most expensive handlebars we tested, and its light weight and high performance come at a premium price. That said, if you're looking to lighten up your bike while maintaining a high level of control, the Next R is a great way to do it.

The Next R is a lightweight carbon handlebar that is a great option...
The Next R is a lightweight carbon handlebar that is a great option for any type of riding or bike.
Photo: Amity Rockwell

8

Best for Adjustability


Ibis Carbon Adjustable Width


Weight: 254-grams | Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm
Adjustable width
Lightweight
Comfortable
Expensive
Not as stiff as carbon competition

The Ibis Carbon Adjustable Width 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 feel a touch less stiff than the other carbon bars in this test. The difference is subtle, but we feel they don'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 a 35mm clamp stem. Otherwise, there was little not to like about this lightweight, comfortable, and innovative adjustable handlebar.

The unique design of the Adjustable Width bars makes them adjustable...
The unique design of the Adjustable Width bars makes them adjustable between 750 and 800mm and the inserts can be trimmed to your desired width anywhere in between.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

9

Best for Stiffness


ENVE M7


Weight: 241-grams | Clamp Diameter: 35mm
Lightweight
Stiff and precise
Made in the USA
Expensive
May be too stiff for some
Less forgiving than other carbon models

ENVE Composites is a high-end bike components manufacturer, and one of only a few major cycling brands producing carbon fiber products in the USA. They are well known for their wheels, and they make a full line of cockpit components for road, gravel, and mountain bikes. The M7 is their "35mm bar for the most aggressive and demanding riders." If you're an aggressive trail, enduro, or downhill rider looking for a lightweight and uncompromisingly stiff handlebar, the M7 might be the perfect match. This carbon handlebar provides ultra-precise steering and handling and instant response to rider input. It has an agreeable 8mm backsweep and 4mm upsweep, and it comes in 10mm, 25mm, and 40mm rise options to suit your preference. It has the impeccable finish and build quality that ENVE is known for, plus it comes with a decal sheet to match the logos with your ENVE wheels or other parts.

The M7 is one of the stiffest bars we've ever tested, and while it provides exceptional control, it can't compete with the vibration damping qualities of our top-rated models. Testers found the bar to feel less compliant and a bit harsh, occasionally resulting in hand fatigue at the end of long descents. That said, if you prioritize a bar's stiffness and control above all else, the M7 has you covered.

The M7 is a burly carbon handlebar made to be super stiff for...
The M7 is a burly carbon handlebar made to be super stiff for precise control at high speeds and in demanding situations under strong pilots.
Photo: Amity Rockwell

10

Best Alloy Handlebar for Vibration Dampening


Spank Oozy Trail 780 Vibrocore


Weight: 278-grams | Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm
Lightweight for alloy
Vibrocore vibration dampening
Comes in five color options
A little pricey for alloy
Not the sharpest control

Spank Industries is a component manufacturer that makes everything from wheels and hubs to pedals and handlebars. The Oozy Trail 780 Vibrocore is a lightweight aluminum model that features their unique Vibrocore technology. The handlebar is essentially filled with foam with the goal of increasing rider comfort by reducing high-frequency vibrations and trail feedback to the hands. Even with the addition of the Vibrocore foam, the Oozy Trail is the lightest weight aluminum handlebar we tested at a measured weight of 278-grams in a 25mm rise. The 780mm width should work for most trail riding applications, and the bar has hash marks and can easily be trimmed to suit your needs or preferences. It has 5-degrees of upsweep, a somewhat conservative 7-degrees of backsweep, and comes in a 15mm rise in addition to the 25mm rise version we tested. The bar is shot-peened for durability and has a black anodized finish with 5 logo color options to choose from.

While we quickly grew to appreciate the Oozy Trail 780 Vibrocore for its comfort, we found its compliance to sacrifice a little in the control department. That's not to say its handling feels sloppy, it just doesn't feel quite as razor-sharp as stiffer, more precise models. It's also a bit more expensive than other aluminum options but still costs a fair amount less than carbon. That said, riders who may experience hand fatigue or numbness may find the Oozy handlebar to provide the vibration dampening they need at a less-than-carbon price.

The Vibrocore foam is clearly visible inside the Oozy Trail...
The Vibrocore foam is clearly visible inside the Oozy Trail handlebar. It runs nearly the whole length of the bar.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

11

Best Burly Aluminum Handlebar


Deity Components Blacklabel 800


Weight: 340-grams | Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm
Very stiff and responsive
Reasonable price
Slick looks
Heavy
May be too stiff for some
Limited vibration dampening

The Deity Blacklabel is a stiff aluminum handlebar made for aggressive downhill riding. This bar has seen lots of action and proven itself on professional rider's bikes on WorldCup DH tracks, Crankworx, and even Redbull Rampage. When we say stiff, we mean it, even in a 31.8mm bore size, this stout handlebar was one of the burliest in the entire test. Steering and handling were razor-sharp with the Blacklabel, and it provided an instant response to rider input. There was no lack of leverage in the 800mm width when going mach speed or aggressively stuffing the bike into corners. The 9-degree backsweep and 5-degree upsweep are comfortably neutral, and it is offered in 15mm, 25mm, and 38mm rise options. It comes in a black anodized finish with 8 logo color options to choose from.

Due to its uncompromising stiffness, the Blacklabel was one of the least forgiving handlebars we tested. Testers found their hands were more fatigued while riding with this bar than most, but perhaps we just aren't strong enough to handle it. With a measured weight of 340-grams, it was also the heaviest handlebar we tested. That weight likely isn't a problem for the heavy-hitting gravity crowd, but we'd be hesitant to mount it up on our trail bikes. That said, if you're a hard-charger who loves a super stiff and responsive handlebar, the Blacklabel was made for you.

No matter your style of riding, upgrading your handlebar can improve...
No matter your style of riding, upgrading your handlebar can improve your bike's performance. We tested 11 different models.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

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 bikes at a professional level. 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 was joined by Jeremy Benson, OutdoorGearLab's Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor, for this handlebar test. Benson is a full-time mountain bike reviewer with decades of product testing experience in both the ski and mountain bike industries. An obsessive rider and racer, Benson is tough on gear and acutely aware of the often subtle differences in the performance of the equipment he uses.

Benson and Osleger eat, sleep, and breathe mountain biking, and they spent days researching the best aftermarket mountain bike handlebar models before purchasing 11 to test for this review. All of these mountain bike handlebars were tested on our tester's personal bikes for consistency and familiarity. We rode hundreds of miles with each handlebar while focusing on stiffness, vibration dampening, control, and the design/geometry of each model.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Value


You just bought an expensive new bike, or maybe you are upgrading an old expensive bike, either way, your two-wheeled pedal machine with no motor is likely worth as much as a used car. Taking that into consideration, it goes without saying that an upgrade such as handlebars can be a cost-effective way to improve your comfort and your bike's performance and handling characteristics. The handlebars we tested come at a very wide range of prices with aluminum models costing significantly less than their carbon fiber counterparts. That said, we were very impressed with the performance of the OneUp Carbon Handlebar, especially considering its affordability for carbon. We were also pleasantly surprised by the Funn Full-On which costs a fraction of the price of any other bar we tested and still gets the job done.

The handlebar is an often overlooked component on a mountain bike...
The handlebar is an often overlooked component on a mountain bike. Getting the right one can improve your comfort and control on the bike.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Why Upgrade Your Mountain Bike Handlebar?


When purchasing a new bicycle either online or from a shop, consumers are generally most concerned with the frame and the quality of the suspension. Mountain bikes and their performance are the sum of their parts, however, although many of those parts are often overlooked by both the manufacturer and the consumer alike. It is likely that the handlebar provided on your new bike, whether a $2000 budget build or a $6000 machine, is perfectly functional but relatively basic. The majority of OE (Original Equipment) handlebars spec'd on complete bikes come from either the frame manufacturer's house-brand or an affiliate, which most companies have done as a cost-reducing maneuver for years.

Many people don't realize that handlebars come in different shapes, sizes, sweeps, and materials resulting in varying levels of control, comfort, and on-trail performance. While your bike's frame may fit you, it is possible that your comfort can be further improved by finding the handlebar with the right geometry, rise, and sweep. Sure, you can control your bike, but perhaps you can increase your control with a different bar width or clamp diameter. Likewise, different materials and constructions produce varying levels of vibration dampening, stiffness, and compliance that can reduce hand fatigue while also enhancing control. While most handlebars will get the job done, you can personalize and customize your setup to get the fit, comfort, and performance that you seek.

Handlebar Considerations


There are a number of factors to consider when upgrading or replacing the handlebar on your mountain bike. We will lay out some important elements of handlebar performance, shape, size, and construction so that you can make a more informed purchase decision.

In recent years, handlebars have trended wider to work with modern...
In recent years, handlebars have trended wider to work with modern bike geometry and aggressive riding styles.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Width


Handlebar width suggestions and preferences have changed often as bike geometry evolves. As bike geometry continues to change and bikes become longer, slacker, and more capable, handlebar width has increased in kind. Wider handlebars have become popular because they provide more leverage and control than the narrower bars of yesteryear. This is partly due to the fact that it encourages the rider to have a more forward, "attacking" position. This position encourages riders to shift their weight forward, which keeps longer/slacker bikes more stable in corners, jumps, or steep bits of trail. A wider handlebar also increases your leverage which aids in manipulating the front end of the bike by reducing the amount of force needed to tip the bike side to side, fore and aft, and when steering. Wider isn't automatically always better, however, and it is important to consider your body size and match your handlebar width appropriately. A handlebar that is too wide can have adverse effects on one's comfort and control on the bike.

Handlebar width is a personal preference. Most modern trail and...
Handlebar width is a personal preference. Most modern trail and all-mountain bikes come spec'd with a 780-800mm bar these days. Most bars can be trimmed to your desired width.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

To make an honest decision on bar width, grab a pair of grips, and while standing in front of a flat surface, close your eyes and place your hands naturally in front of you, imagining you are riding. Now measure the distance between the grip ends and see how far off that is from your current bar width. One thing is for sure, if your current handlebar feels too narrow or too wide then it probably is. While you can't add width to a narrow bar, you can trim a wide bar down to the size that's right for you. Generally speaking, DH and enduro riders tend to ride between 780-800mm for men and 740-780mm for women, while trail and cross-country riders trend a little narrower in the 750-780mm range.

Handlebars come in all shapes and sizes, they are offered in...
Handlebars come in all shapes and sizes, they are offered in different widths, upsweep, back sweep, rise, and clamp diameters.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Geometry


The geometry of handlebars comes down to the rise of the bar over the stem and the sweep (both up and back) of the bar. Upsweep takes care of a little bit of rise to provide a more neutral wrist position while riding. Back sweep angles the ends of the bars towards the rider which also aids in wrist position and comfort. The majority of handlebars come with between 8 and 10-degrees of backsweep and 4 to 6-degrees of upsweep with a few exceptions. The SQlab 30X handlebar is available in either 12 or 16-degrees of backsweep and is intended to provide better ergonomics for some riders who may experience discomfort with more traditionally swept bars. The sweep, up and back, that is best for you is based on personal preference that is typically decided based on comfort. If your current handlebar is comfortable in terms of its sweep, then that is typically a good starting point when searching for a new one.

Rise is often a personal preference but has its roots in a rider's body position during different disciplines of riding. Higher rise bars (20 to 40mm) are often found on trail, enduro, and DH bikes as they help keep the rider in a slightly more upright position with weight centered on the bike. Some people prefer a more upright body position, and adding rise to your handlebar can help you achieve that. Flat or short-rise bars tend to encourage a more forward or aggressive body position with more weight over the front wheel, as seen on XC bikes and light trail bikes. Again, the rise that works best for you will typically be determined by your riding style and preferences.

Mountain bike handlebars generally come in either carbon fiber or...
Mountain bike handlebars generally come in either carbon fiber or aluminum. The different materials have different performance characteristics, weights, and prices.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Materials


Aluminum vs carbon fiber is a debate that will never end in the bike industry, but to be honest, modern races have been won on both materials, whether frame or components, making the whole point seem rather moot when it is truly the rider that makes the difference in terms of speed. There are significant differences in the weight, feel, and price of carbon fiber, however, when compared to their aluminum counterparts.

Carbon Fiber


Carbon is more expensive than aluminum, and a quality carbon handlebar will typically cost around double the price of an aluminum model. The premium price of carbon fiber typically buys you a significant reduction in weight, with some carbon models weighing 50-100 grams less than comparable size/shape aluminum bars. If you are looking to shave some grams from your bike, a carbon handlebar is a good way to do it. In terms of feel, the vibration reduction and increased stiffness afforded by carbon handlebars are also notable. Design engineers can get creative with the shape and layups of carbon fiber to achieve desired performance characteristics.

Aluminum


Aluminum, or alloy, is a less expensive material that is easy to manipulate with lower production costs than carbon fiber. Aluminum handlebars typically cost around half the price of their carbon counterparts, a reduction in price that usually comes with a weight penalty. Aluminum handlebars come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, although engineers have a little less flexibility in design due to the nature of the material. Alloy handlebars can be made quite stiff, although it is typically more difficult to balance stiffness and vibration dampening to be on par with carbon.

the larger 35mm clamp diameter creates a stiffer stem/bar interface...
the larger 35mm clamp diameter creates a stiffer stem/bar interface. There are advantages to each bore size/clamp diameter.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Clamp Diameter


The clamp diameter or bore size is the width of the handlebar bar where it clamps to the stem, from which it gradually tapers to the end where grips are attached. Several years ago, the majority of handlebars came in the "standard" clamp diameter of 31.8mm. Some DH bikes were sold with 35mm bar bores, as the thicker tube circumference afforded more stiffness at the handlebar/stem interface. The past few years of ingenuity have afforded us many new 35mm handlebar options for trail and enduro riding that are not DH levels of stiff, but are as light as the old 31.8mm standard, with increased durability and variable performance characteristics.

There is no entirely correct choice with regards to bore size, but these days many modern trail to enduro bikes are sold with 35mm stems and bars, while many XC and trail bikes are sold with 31.8mm. If you are looking for a more aggressive, stiffer riding handlebar, consider 35mm to be the evolution of the bike industry in your favor. People seeking a little more compliance and comfort may be more interested in the narrower 31.8mm clamp diameter. It is important to note the clamp diameter that is currently on your bike, as switching to a different size will necessitate the purchase of a stem in the same clamp diameter.

Most manufacturers put measurement lines on the ends of the...
Most manufacturers put measurement lines on the ends of the handlebar to help in the trimming process. The Ibis bar has blue aluminum inserts to adjust between 750 and 800mm, and the insert can be trimmed to the desired length in between.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Adjustability


All handlebars are adjustable in their width by trimming them down from both ends to reduce their width. Adjusting one's handlebars is a one-way scenario, however, as you can't make them wider once you have trimmed off material. Most handlebars have hash marks on their ends in 10mm increments to help in the trimming process. Sure, it's ideal to find the exact width that suits you, but you can always buy a wider bar and trim it down to your exact preferences.

Ibis is one brand that has made an Adjustable Width Carbon handlebar. This carbon fiber handlebar has threaded aluminum inserts in both ends that can be removed. This allows the user to choose between 800mm with the inserts or 750mm without, and you can go back and forth between those widths without having to cut your expensive handlebar. The inserts can also be trimmed to length to achieve a width that falls between the 750-800mm range. This is a niche product that likely won't appeal to a lot of riders, but people traveling to races or those looking to experiment with bar width may find it appealing.

Heavy-hitting terrain requires precise handling and enough...
Heavy-hitting terrain requires precise handling and enough forgiveness that your hands don't go numb. The best handlebars provide a combination of both.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Stiffness, Compliance, & Control


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.

The Deity Speedway 35 Carbon, OneUp Carbon and Santa Cruz Carbon Riser were the clear winners in this category, with an excellent balance of stiffness and compliance. The bars mentioned above could effectively 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 Race Face Next R was very close behind.

The Santa Cruz Carbon Riser was one of our favorite models for its...
The Santa Cruz Carbon Riser was one of our favorite models for its excellent blend of stiffness and compliance.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

The Renthal Fatbar 35, SQlab 30X Carbon, and the Ibis Adjustable Width scored in the middle of the pack. With a 31.8mm clamp diameter, the Ibis and SQlab bars offer a relatively high degree of compliance for carbon, 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. 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 less stiff. While the Oozy absorbed lots of vibration, their reduced stiffness made it feel less responsive to steering input, especially as speeds increased.

Depending how you ride you may or may not be concerned with the...
Depending how you ride you may or may not be concerned with the weight of your handlebar, but it is an easy place to shave some weight from the bike while also improving performance.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Weight


In the sport of mountain biking, all other things being equal, lighter is generally considered better. The weight of a bike is the sum of all its parts, and the handlebar is one place where you can save a surprising amount of weight. All of the carbon handlebars we tested weighed less than their aluminum counterparts, in some cases as much as 100-grams less, which is pretty significant. Carbon fiber is also more expensive than aluminum, so it comes as no surprise that weight savings will cost you.

The RaceFace Next R was the lightest handlebar we tested at 215-grams. Despite being the least expensive carbon model in the test, the OneUp Carbon was the next lightest model at 223-grams. The Santa Cruz Carbon Riser slid right into the third spot at 227-grams, with the Enve M7, Deity Speedway, and SQlab 30X Carbon close behind. The Ibis Adjustable weighed 254g with the inserts at 800mm, and 236 without the inserts at 750mm wide.

All of the aluminum models we tested weigh more than their carbon counterparts. The lightest of the aluminum bars was the Spank Oozy Vibrocore 780 at just 278g, which is impressive considering the addition of the Vibrocore foam inside the bar. The Renthal Fatbar tipped the scales at 311g, while the ultra-stiff downhill-oriented Deity Blacklabel was the heaviest by far at 340g. Despite the super low price tag, the Funn Full-On snuck in just a hair lighter at 335-grams.

Style is a personal preference, of course, and most handlebars look...
Style is a personal preference, of course, and most handlebars look relatively similar. We generally prefer stealthy, subtle looks like the SQlab 30X pictured here.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Style & Design


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 performed well 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 OneUp Carbon Handlebar gets a nod for its clean styling and unique ovalized design that helps give it such impressive comfort for a 35mm carbon model.

A new handlebar is a component upgrade that can take the comfort and...
A new handlebar is a component upgrade that can take the comfort and performance of your bike to a new level. There are loads of great options to choose from to suit varying needs and riding styles.
Photo: Laura Casner

Conclusion


A handlebar might not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering upgrading your bike's comfort and performance, but choosing the right one can make a world of difference. There are many factors to consider, but hopefully, the information presented here will help you make a more informed decision in your search for the perfect new mountain bike handlebar.

Dillon Osleger, Jeremy Benson