Bicycle Bar Ends: Why You Should or Shouldn’t Use Them

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The debate over whether to use bicycle bar ends is one that has been ongoing for years. Some riders swear by them, while others wouldn’t dream of putting them on their bike. So, what’s the deal with bar ends? Should you use them or not? As a cycling enthusiast with over 10 years of biking experience, I’m here to break it down for you.

But first, let’s start with the basics. Bicycle bar ends are extensions that attach to the ends of your handlebars, providing an additional hand position. They come in various shapes and sizes, including straight, curved, L-shaped, and more. The main functions of bar ends are to offer extra leverage when climbing, provide a more comfortable hand position, and give you a wider grip for better control.

Now that we have a clear understanding of what bar ends are, let’s dive into their history and evolution.

The History and Evolution of Bicycle Bar Ends

Bar ends were first invented in the late 1980s by mountain bikers who wanted more hand positions and climbing leverage. They quickly gained popularity in the 1990s and became a standard accessory for mountain bikes. Bar ends also found their way onto hybrid and touring bikes, offering riders more versatility.

However, as with any cycling accessory, trends and technologies evolve. In the 2000s, bar ends started to decline in popularity due to the emergence of wider handlebars, shorter stems, ergonomic grips, and suspension forks. These advancements provided more hand positions and improved comfort, making bar ends less necessary for many riders.

But just because bar ends aren’t as popular as they once were doesn’t mean they’re completely obsolete. There are still riders who swear by them for various reasons. Let’s explore the pros and cons of using bar ends to help you decide whether they’re right for you.

Benefits of Using Bicycle Bar Ends

1. Improved Riding Comfort

One of the key advantages of using bar ends is the ability to vary your hand positions. This can alleviate discomfort and reduce pressure on your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. By changing your grip on the bar ends, you can shift your weight and relieve stress on specific areas, such as when climbing or on long-distance rides.

Endurance riders often find bar ends beneficial for maintaining comfort during extended periods in the saddle. By changing hand positions, they can avoid fatigue and pain, allowing them to ride longer and with greater enjoyment.

2. Enhanced Climbing Performance

When tackling steep climbs, bar ends can provide an advantage by allowing you to leverage more power from your upper body. By pulling on the bar ends, you can engage your back and arm muscles, enabling you to shift your weight forward and generate more force. This can be particularly beneficial for off-road or mountain biking, where steep ascents are common.

Mountain bikers who incorporate bar ends into their setup find that they can better distribute their effort between their lower and upper body, resulting in improved climbing performance and reduced fatigue.

3. Increased Steering Control and Stability

Bar ends can also enhance your steering control and stability, especially on rough terrain. By gripping the bar ends, you have additional leverage and control over your bike, allowing you to navigate through obstacles with greater ease. This can be particularly useful when riding off-road or on technical trails.

Touring cyclists often encounter varying road conditions, from smooth pavement to rugged gravel. By using bar ends, they gain extra stability and control, making their rides safer and more enjoyable.

Drawbacks of Using Bicycle Bar Ends

1. Added Weight and Bulk

Bar ends do come with a trade-off, and that is the added weight and bulk they bring to your bike. While this may not be a concern for casual riders, competitive cyclists or those focused on speed and aerodynamics might find the additional weight a drawback.

2. Interference with Shifting and Braking

Poorly positioned or overly long bar ends can interfere with your shifting and braking. It’s important to ensure that your bar ends don’t hinder your ability to operate your bike’s controls effectively. Proper positioning and regular adjustments are necessary to avoid any potential issues.

3. Safety Risks

Bar ends can pose safety risks if not used properly. They can catch on trees, rocks, or other obstacles, potentially causing a crash. Additionally, in the event of a fall, bar ends can increase the risk of injury to yourself or others. It’s crucial to be mindful of your surroundings and ride responsibly when using bar ends.

Racers who use bar ends need to be cautious, as the added protrusion can increase the likelihood of crashes or accidents during high-speed events. Commuters and casual cyclists should also consider the potential risks of using bar ends in urban environments.

The Types of Bicycle Bar Ends

Here are some common types of bicycle bar ends:

1. Straight Bar Ends

Straight bar ends are the most common type of bar ends and are a straightforward extension that attaches perpendicular to the handlebars. They are easy to install and use, making them a popular choice among cyclists. With straight bar ends, you get a basic alternative hand position, which can help alleviate hand and wrist fatigue on long rides. They are also suitable for most bikes and riders. However, straight bar ends have their limitations. They are limited in adjustability and ergonomics, which means they may not provide the most comfortable hand position for all riders. Additionally, they can be uncomfortable or awkward for some riders and may interfere with shifters or brakes.

2. Curved Bar Ends

Similar to straight bar ends, curved bar ends provide an extension to the handlebars, but with a slight curve or bend at the end. This curve allows for a more natural hand position, which can improve comfort and grip. Curved bar ends offer better leverage and a more ergonomic design compared to straight bar ends. They are compatible with most bikes and riders. However, they may be slightly more difficult to install and adjust than straight bar ends. Like their straight counterparts, curved bar ends may still interfere with shifters or brakes. Additionally, some riders may find that they don’t offer enough variation in hand positions.

3. Ergonomic Bar Ends

For maximum comfort and support, ergonomic bar ends are the way to go. These bar ends have a contoured shape that matches the palm of your hand, reducing pressure and fatigue on the hands, wrists, and arms. Ergonomic bar ends offer multiple hand positions, making them ideal for long rides or rough terrain. They are designed to provide the utmost comfort and are a great choice for riders who prioritize ergonomics. However, ergonomic bar ends tend to be more expensive and bulkier than other types of bar ends. They require more installation and adjustment time and may not be compatible with some handlebars, grips, shifters, or brakes.

4. Integrated Bar Ends

Unlike the previous types of bar ends, integrated bar ends, also known as “horns” or “bullhorns,” are part of the handlebar itself rather than separate extensions. They offer a sleek and aerodynamic look to your bike and do not add extra weight or bulkiness. Integrated bar ends provide a stable and secure hand position without interfering with shifters or brakes. However, they are less versatile and customizable compared to other bar ends. They may not provide enough comfort or variation in hand positions, which could be a drawback for some riders. Additionally, they may not be suitable for certain bikes or riders.

bicycle with bar ends outside

The Different Materials and Finishes of Bicycle Bar Ends

Bar ends are made from different materials and can have various finishes. Here, we’ll explore the common materials and finishes of bar ends, their properties and advantages.

Materials of Bar Ends

1. Aluminum: Aluminum bar ends are a common choice among cyclists due to their lightweight nature, durability, and affordability. They offer a good balance between weight and strength, making them suitable for both road and mountain biking. Aluminum bar ends are resistant to corrosion and provide a solid grip, enhancing control during rides.

2. Carbon: For riders looking for even lighter and stiffer bar ends, carbon is the material of choice. Carbon bar ends are known for their exceptional strength-to-weight ratio, making them ideal for riders who prioritize performance. They absorb road vibrations effectively, providing a more comfortable ride. However, it’s important to note that carbon bar ends are more expensive than aluminum options.

3. Titanium: If you’re looking for the ultimate in lightweight and strength, titanium bar ends are the way to go. Titanium is renowned for its high strength-to-weight ratio, making it the lightest and strongest material for bar ends. However, this durability and performance come at a price, as titanium bar ends tend to be the most expensive option on the market.

Finishes of Bar Ends

1. Polished: Polished bar ends have a shiny and smooth surface, adding a touch of elegance to your bike. This finish is achieved through polishing the material to a high sheen. While polished bar ends may not offer the same level of grip as other finishes, they are visually appealing and can complement the overall aesthetics of your bike.

2. Anodized: Anodized bar ends are coated with a layer of colored oxide, providing both visual appeal and corrosion resistance. This finish is achieved through an electrochemical process that creates a durable and vibrant surface. Anodized bar ends come in a wide range of colors, allowing you to match them with your bike or add a pop of color to your handlebars.

3. Rubberized: Rubberized bar ends feature a layer of rubber or silicone material on the outer surface. This finish provides a soft and comfortable grip, reducing hand fatigue and improving overall comfort during rides. Rubberized bar ends are particularly popular among mountain bikers who encounter rough terrains and require extra cushioning.

The Compatibility and Adjustment of Bicycle Bar Ends with Different Types of Handlebars, Grips, and Shifters

Most handlebars have a standard diameter of 22.2 mm, which allows for easy installation of bar ends. These handlebars are commonly found on mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, and some flat-bar road bikes. The straightforward installation process involves sliding the bar ends onto the handlebars and securing them with a clamp or set screws.

However, it’s worth noting that bar ends may not fit on handlebars with a different diameter or shape. For example, drop bars typically have a diameter of 23.8 mm, while bullhorn bars have a diameter of 25.4 mm. Bar ends designed for standard handlebars may not have the correct diameter to fit securely on these types of bars. It’s important to check the specifications of the bar ends and your handlebars to ensure compatibility.

Additionally, bar ends may not be compatible with carbon handlebars due to the risk of cracking or damaging the material. Carbon handlebars are lightweight and designed for specific types of riding, and adding bar ends could compromise their structural integrity. Always consult the manufacturer’s recommendations and guidelines before installing bar ends on carbon handlebars.

You can also use a caliper or a simple ruler to determine the diameter of your handlebars. Measure the diameter at the point where you plan to install the bar ends, which is typically near the grips. This measurement will help you choose bar ends that are compatible with your handlebars.

Some Alternatives and Innovations of Bicycle Bar Ends

In recent years, alternative options and innovative designs of bar ends have emerged that offer similar benefits, along with their own unique features. Here are some alternative and innovation options:

Alternatives to Bar Ends

1. Ergonomic Grips

Ergonomic grips have gained popularity among riders looking for comfort and hand position variety. These grips are designed to provide support and alleviate pressure on the hands, reducing fatigue and discomfort on long rides. They often feature contoured shapes that promote a more natural wrist angle, enhancing comfort and reducing the risk of hand numbness. Ergonomic grips can be a great alternative to bar ends, especially for riders who prioritize comfort during their rides.

2. Flared Bars

Flared handlebars, also known as flared drop bars, have traditionally been associated with road cycling. However, they have gained attention in the mountain biking community as an alternative to bar ends. These handlebars feature a wider flare at the drops, providing a wider hand position and increasing leverage. The wider hand position offers greater control on technical descents and improves stability on rough terrain. Flared bars can be a suitable option for riders who prefer a more natural hand position without the need for additional extensions.

3. Integrated Bar Ends

Integrated bar ends are another alternative to traditional bar ends. These bar ends are built into the design of the handlebars, offering a seamless and integrated solution. They provide additional hand positions, similar to traditional bar ends, but without the need for separate attachments. Integrated bar ends can be a good choice for riders who want the benefits of bar ends without the hassle of installing and adjusting separate components.

Advantages and Drawbacks of Alternatives

While the alternatives mentioned above offer similar benefits to traditional bar ends, they also come with their own set of advantages and drawbacks.

Advantages:

  • More hand positions: Ergonomic grips, flared bars, and integrated bar ends all provide additional hand positions, allowing riders to vary their grip and alleviate fatigue.
  • Comfort: Ergonomic grips are specifically designed to provide comfort and reduce hand numbness.
  • Leverage: Flared bars and integrated bar ends offer increased leverage, improving control and stability on challenging terrains.

Drawbacks:

  • Limited adjustability: Unlike traditional bar ends, some alternatives may have limited adjustability options, making it harder to find the perfect hand position.
  • Compatibility: Integrating alternative options may require specific handlebars or components, limiting compatibility with existing setups.
  • Availability: Depending on your location, finding the specific alternative option you desire may prove challenging.

Innovations of Bar Ends

Beyond the alternatives, there have also been innovations in the design of traditional bar ends. These innovations aim to address specific needs and preferences of riders.

1. Mini Bar Ends

Mini bar ends are shorter versions of traditional bar ends. They provide a compact and lightweight option for riders who want the benefits of bar ends without the added weight or bulk. Mini bar ends are particularly popular among weight-conscious riders or those who prioritize a sleek and minimalist look.

2. Angled Bar Ends

Angled bar ends feature a unique design where the extension is angled upward or downward. This design allows riders to customize their hand position and find a more ergonomic angle that suits their individual needs. Angled bar ends can be a great option for riders who want precise adjustability and a tailored fit.

3. Loop Bar Ends

Loop bar ends, also known as hook bar ends, feature a loop-shaped extension that provides additional hand positions. This design offers a secure grip and prevents the hands from slipping off the ends during long rides or intense maneuvers. Loop bar ends can enhance control and provide extra security for riders who want a reliable hand placement.

Innovations such as mini bar ends, angled bar ends, and loop bar ends offer unique advantages that differentiate them from traditional bar ends:

  • Less weight: Mini bar ends provide the benefits of bar ends without adding significant weight to the bike.
  • More clearance: Angled bar ends can be adjusted to provide more clearance for riders with wider handlebars or those who prefer a specific hand position.
  • Increased protection: Loop bar ends offer added protection by preventing the hands from slipping off the ends, providing a secure grip and reducing the risk of accidents.

How to Install Bicycle Bar Ends Correctly and Safely

Tools You’ll Need:

  • Hex wrenches (usually 4mm or 5mm)
  • Torque wrench (optional)
  • Grease (optional)
  • Tape measure (optional)
  • Marker (optional)

Step 1: Remove the end caps or plugs from your handlebars

To install bar ends, you’ll first need to remove the end caps or plugs from your handlebars. You can do this by prying them off with a flat screwdriver or a knife. Be careful not to damage the handlebars or yourself in the process.

Step 2: Create space for the bar ends

If your shifters or brakes are too close to the end of the handlebars, you’ll need to create some space for the bar ends. Loosen the bolts on your shifters or brakes and slide them inward. This will give you enough room to install the bar ends without interfering with your controls.

Step 3: Apply grease to the inside of the bar ends

To prevent corrosion and make it easier to slide the bar ends on, apply some grease to the inside of the bar ends. This will also help with future removal if needed.

Step 4: Align the bar ends with the handlebars

Before sliding the bar ends onto the handlebars, make sure they are aligned properly. They should be parallel to each other and perpendicular to the ground. This will ensure a comfortable hand position while riding.

Step 5: Mark the position of the bar ends (optional)

If you want to be precise with the positioning of the bar ends, you can use a tape measure and a marker to mark the desired position on the handlebars. This will help you achieve consistency and symmetry.

Step 6: Slide the bar ends onto the handlebars

Now it’s time to slide the bar ends onto the handlebars. Hold the bar ends and push them onto the handlebars until they reach the desired position. Leave a small gap between the bar ends and the shifters or brakes to prevent interference.

Step 7: Tighten the bolts on the bar ends

Using a hex wrench, tighten the bolts on the bar ends. Make sure they are secure, but be careful not to over-tighten them, as it could damage the handlebars. If you have a torque wrench, you can check the recommended torque for your specific bar ends, usually between 4Nm and 6Nm.

Step 8: Re-adjust your shifters or brakes if needed

After installing the bar ends, re-adjust your shifters or brakes if necessary. Make sure they are aligned with the bar ends and comfortable for your hands. It’s important to have a comfortable and ergonomic riding position.

Step 9: Replace the end caps or plugs on your handlebars

To finish the installation, replace the end caps or plugs on your handlebars. You can push them back in with your fingers or gently tap them in place with a hammer. This will give your handlebars a clean and finished look.

And there you have it! You’ve successfully installed bicycle bar ends correctly and safely. Now you can enjoy the added comfort and control they provide while riding. Remember to always check your bar ends for tightness and secure them if needed.

Note:

  1. The information provided in this article is based on personal experience and general knowledge of bicycle maintenance. Always refer to the specific instructions provided by the manufacturer of your bar ends and consult a professional if you have any doubts or concerns. 
  2. When installing bar ends, it’s important to consider the positioning of your grips and shifters to avoid interference. The bar ends should not impede your ability to comfortably grip the handlebars or reach the shifters. One option is to slide the grips and shifters inward, closer to the stem, to create space for the bar ends. Alternatively, you can rotate the grips and shifters slightly to allow for clearance. Experiment with different positions until you find a setup that works for you.
bicycle with bar ends

How to Use Bicycle Bar Ends Effectively and Comfortably

Here in this section, we’ll explore different riding situations and purposes and discuss how to use bicycle bar ends to maximize your performance and comfort.

1. Climbing

When faced with challenging climbs, bicycle bar ends can provide you with the leverage and power you need to conquer those steep hills or mountains. Here’s how to effectively use them:

1. Shift your body weight forward: To engage your bar ends effectively, shift your body weight forward on the bike. This position allows you to generate more power and leverage.

2. Grip the bar ends with your palms facing down: Position your hands on the bar ends with your palms facing down. This grip provides stability and control while climbing.

3. Pull back on the bar ends as you pedal up: As you pedal up the hill, use your arms as well as your legs to generate force. Pulling back on the bar ends will help you engage your upper body muscles and distribute the effort.

4. Keep your elbows slightly bent: It’s important to maintain a slight bend in your elbows to avoid locking your arms or shoulders. This will help you maintain a comfortable and efficient climbing position.

5. Switch hand positions: To avoid fatigue or cramps, switch between different hand positions on the bar ends. This will help you distribute the pressure and engage different muscle groups.

2. Descending

When descending fast or navigating technical terrain, bicycle bar ends can provide you with the stability and control you need. Here’s how to effectively use them:

1. Shift your body weight backward: To maintain stability and control, shift your body weight backward on the bike. This position helps you maintain balance and control during descents.

2. Grip the bar ends with your palms facing or sideways: Choose a grip position that feels comfortable and secure. You can grip the bar ends with your palms facing or sideways, depending on your preference.

3. Keep your fingers close to the brake levers: While gripping the bar ends, make sure to keep your fingers close to the brake levers. This allows you to quickly and easily access your brakes when needed.

4. Lean your bike into turns: Use the bar ends to steer and balance your bike while leaning into turns. This will help you maintain control and navigate the terrain smoothly.

5. Relax your arms and shoulders: To absorb bumps and vibrations, it’s important to keep your arms and shoulders relaxed. This will help you maintain a stable and comfortable position while descending.

3. Sprinting

When it’s time to unleash your speed and power on flat or smooth terrain, bicycle bar ends can help you gain that extra edge. Here’s how to effectively use them:

1. Shift your body weight forward: To optimize your aerodynamics and power transfer, shift your body weight forward on the bike. This position allows you to engage your bar ends effectively.

2. Grip the bar ends with your palms facing down or sideways: Choose a grip position that feels comfortable and allows you to maintain control. You can grip the bar ends with your palms facing down or sideways, depending on your preference.

3. Lower your head and torso: To reduce wind resistance, lower your head and torso while gripping the bar ends. This streamlined position will help you cut through the air more efficiently.

4. Tuck your elbows in: Keep your elbows tucked in close to your body to further reduce wind resistance. This position will help you maintain a compact and powerful sprinting posture.

5. Switch hand positions: Just like in other riding situations, it’s important to switch between different hand positions on the bar ends to avoid fatigue or cramps. This will help you maintain comfort and efficiency during your sprint efforts.

4. Cruising

When you’re out for a leisurely ride or exploring mixed terrain, bicycle bar ends can provide you with added comfort and variation. Here’s how to effectively use them:

1. Shift your body weight according to the terrain: Adjust your body weight and position on the bike based on the terrain and your preference. This will help you maintain balance and control.

2. Grip the bar ends with any palm orientation that feels comfortable: Choose a grip position that feels natural and comfortable for you. Experiment with different palm orientations to find what works best.

3. Change hand positions frequently: To relieve pressure and tension on your hands, wrists, and arms, switch between gripping the handlebars and the bar ends. This will help prevent numbness or pain during longer rides.

4. Adjust your posture and breathing: Utilizing different hand positions on the bar ends can help you adjust your posture and breathing. This will prevent stiffness or soreness in your back, neck, or chest.

5. Experiment with angles and distances: Every rider is unique, so don’t be afraid to experiment with the angles and distances of the bar ends. Find the setup that feels most comfortable and suits your riding style.

How to Maintain Bicycle Bar Ends Properly and Regularly

To ensure their performance and durability, it’s essential to maintain your bicycle bar ends properly and regularly. Here are the steps that you can follow to keep your bar ends in tip-top condition.

1. Clean the Bar Ends Regularly

One of the first steps in maintaining your bicycle bar ends is to clean them regularly. Over time, dirt, dust, grease, or sweat can accumulate on the surface, affecting their performance and appearance. To clean your bar ends, simply use a damp cloth or a soft brush to remove any debris. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials that may damage the surface or coating of the bar ends. Once you’ve removed the dirt, make sure to dry the bar ends thoroughly using a dry cloth or a hair dryer to prevent moisture buildup.

2. Check and Tighten the Bolts

Periodically checking the bolts on your bar ends is crucial to ensure they are securely fastened. Loose bolts can compromise your safety and may cause the bar ends to shift or come off while riding. To check the bolts, use a hex wrench or a torque wrench to ensure they are tightened properly. However, be cautious not to over-tighten the bolts, as this may cause stress or cracks on the bar ends or the handlebars. It’s a good idea to use a small amount of grease or thread locker on the bolts to prevent corrosion or loosening over time.

3. Inspect for Wear and Damage

Another important aspect of maintenance is inspecting your bar ends for any signs of wear, tear, damage, or deformation. Look for scratches, dents, bends, cracks, or breaks on the bar ends. These issues can affect both the performance and safety of your ride. If you notice any of these signs, it’s best to replace the bar ends as soon as possible. Don’t attempt to repair or modify them yourself, as this may void their warranty or cause further damage.

Over to You

As you see, the bicycle bar ends have both pros and cons for cyclists.

So are you going to try them on your bicycle now? Or have you ever used them before? What is your idea on it based on your experience of using this bicycle accessory?

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

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AUTHOR

Randy Joycelyn

Randy is the founder and editor of Cycling Soigneur. He has been passionate about cycling since he was a kid. He has been riding bikes for over 10 years. Cycling has just become a part of life.

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