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How To Put Flat Handlebars on a Road Bike

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Sometimes people want to put flat handlebars on a road bike because cycling with drop bars isn’t as comfy as it once was. It seems like the process should be simple—you take off the drop bars and put on the flat ones. How hard can it be to replace handlebars on a bike?

To put flat handlebars on a road bike, follow these steps:

  1. Measure the stem.
  2. Remove the tape, cables, brake, and shifter levers.
  3. Swap handlebars.
  4. Replace brake and shifting levers.
  5. Slide on the grips.
  6. Adjust and replace the cables.
  7. Make final adjustments.

If you don’t know what is required for a successful handlebar replacement, you’ll get tired of repeated trips to your bike shop. So read on for straightforward advice on how to replace the drop bars on your bike.

This video will give you an idea of the process you will need to go through to convert from drop bars to flat bars:

How to Convert Your Dropbars to Flat Bars

Can You Put Flat Handlebars on a Road Bike?

Cyclists often put flat handlebars on their road bikes, and it’s perfectly acceptable to do so. However, it is not as easy as taking off the old handlebars and putting on new ones. You will need to pay attention to some minor but essential details.

A common misconception for new cyclists is that most parts are interchangeable, and replacing handlebars is as simple as taking one of the drop bars and adding the new bars. But all bike parts must fit together, and in some instances, a few millimeters will make the difference between a good fit and another trip to the store.

What Kind of Tools Will I Need To Switch Handlebars?

Before you get started, let’s talk about tools.

To switch out the handlebars on your road bike, you’ll need a hex wrench set and cable cutters, along with a Phillips head screwdriver. Also, you will need to measure the diameter of your handlebars with either calipers or measuring tape.

Additionally, the handlebars won’t be the only thing you need to buy.

  • For starters, flat handlebars have cushioned rubber grips.  Although you can make grips by upcycling the tape on your current bars, you should get grips unless the tape is new.
  • When buying brake levers, get short-pull brake levers. Most flat bar levers are designed for V-brakes, but your road bike probably has caliper ones. So get the levers designed for your brakes.
  • You will also need a new shifter, and it needs to be compatible with the derailleur. Buy a shifter designed for flat handlebars. 
  • Buy some cable stops. If your bike has downtube shifters.
  • Finally, you should buy new housing and cables. Even if you don’t use them for this project, eventually, something will have to be replaced.

But DO NOT buy anything until you have completed step one! You’ll see why in a bit.

1. Measure the Stem

The first mistake some cyclists make is thinking that the stem size is the same for all handlebars. Stem size will often be one of the first questions you’ll get at the bike store. Then, if you don’t know, you’ll be headed back home to measure it.

This chart can give you some indication of what to expect for your handlebar diameter. It includes mountain bikes and BMX to show you the variety of handlebar diameters.

Bike TypeDiameter
Road BikeOlder styles use 26 mm (1.02 in), but newer oversized handlebars will measure 31.8 mm (1.25 in).
Commuter/CruiserHandlebar measurements vary significantly because of the variety in styles, but 25.4 or 31.8 mm (1 or 1.25 in) are most common.
Mountain Bikes
The most complicated bars because of the middle bulge and tapering off toward the brake levers.  Most mountain bike handlebars have a 25.4 mm or 31.8 mm (1 or 1.25 in) diameter.
BMX22.2 mm (0.87 in)
Bicycle Handlebar Diameter Chart
Road Bicycle Stem
It is important the new handlebar will be compatible with the stem. If the new handlebar is a smaller, you may be able to buy shims.

How Do I Measure the Diameter of Handlebars?

There are two ways to measure the diameter of the handlebars. The easy way is with calipers that you clip on the bars. Not only is this way easier, but calipers—especially digital ones—are highly accurate. If you don’t have calipers, you can use a measuring tape. 

The string will also work in a pinch. Wrap the measuring tape or string around the center (where the stem will clamp it in place) and on the end for the grips. For both, measure to get the circumference. Then divide by pi (? or 3.14) to find the diameter.

Many flat bars are tapered, so you will need to measure the center of the bar and the outer diameter. When you buy brake and gear shifters, they need to be compatible with those measurements.

Once you have your measurements, head to the store and buy the items mentioned above.

2. Remove the Tape, Cables, Brake, and Shifter Levers

Since both the shifter and brake levers are attached to the handlebars, you must remove them first. This is an excellent time to check the cables, housing, and what needs to be replaced.

The brake cables from your drop bars will be too short, so they will need to be replaced. 

  1. Remove the brake cables.
  2. Remove the grip tape. If it’s in good condition, you might want to save some should you want to make custom grips for your new handlebar.
  3. If you have an interrupter brake, take it off.
  4. Loosen the drop brakes with an Allen wrench.
  5. Pull out all cables so you can remove the handlebar.
  6. After everything has been disconnected, slide the bar off.

Older bikes have a quill stem that holds the handlebar in place. If that’s the case, the screw on the front needs to be loosened so that you can slide the bar off. However, it can be somewhat frustrating to get drop bars to slide off, so you might need to improvise a way to wedge the stem open.

On newer stems, a plate on the front holds the handlebars in place. Getting the bars off is much easier—loosen the screws, take off the plate, and remove it. You will be using the same stem, so don’t toss it.

3. Swap Handlebars

Sliding on the flat handlebar is a piece of cake compared to removing the drop bar. With the newer plate systems, put the bar in place and attach the plate. Tighten the screws in a crisscross or X pattern.

You could run into one problem—the handlebar is too large for the stem. If so, you’ll be headed off to the bike shop to buy a new stem or exchange the handlebar.

A bar that is too small is an easier fix since your bike shop should sell shims. 

Just another reason you shouldn’t skip step one.

4. Replace Brake and Shifting Levers

The shifters on the drop bar won’t work with flat handlebars, which is why you should have purchased flat bar levers. To attach them, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Place them in a position that will make braking easy. Wait until you have replaced the shift levers before you tighten down.

5. Slide on the Grips

To help the grips slide on, pour a little rubbing alcohol in them, rub it around, and slide the grip on. If they are tight, that’s good. You don’t want them sliding off as you are biking, do you?

6. Adjust and Replace the Cables

After brake and shifter levers and grips are in place, the real fun begins.

How much you replace depends on the condition of the cables and housing. When cutting cables and housing, keep in mind that you want some extra so that you can freely move your handlebar.

7. Make Final Adjustments

After all the cables have been reattached, check if the shifter moves smoothly between gears and the brakes are tight. Next, make sure the handlebar is centered and perpendicular to the wheel, and have the shifter comfortably positioned. Then tighten everything and ride!

How To Select a Handlebar

When selecting a handlebar, the correct handlebar width is essential for both comfort and riding stability. Narrow bars can result in neck and shoulder injuries. Longer bars give you less leverage when steering, decreasing the stability of your ride.

Select a handlebar that matches your shoulder width. Ideally, as you bend over your handles, your hands should be at shoulder width. Your hands can be slightly inward or outward but should not exceed 2 or 3 inches (50.8-76.2 mm) in either direction.

You may trim the ends down for a narrower grip on aluminum or Chromoly flat bars. Most bars will have markings on the ends, so you can shorten them if you discover it’s needed. However, you are stuck with the width you pick with carbon fiber flat bars.

As you select a handlebar, keep in mind that a flat bar is not entirely straight.

Different bar dimensions include:

  • Width: The distance from one end to the other.
  • Rise: The height from the center of the handle.
  • Upsweep or downsweep: The handle’s inward or outward angle.

Will the Flat Handlebars Change How I Ride My Bike?

Flat handlebars change how you ride a bike in two significant ways. First, your upper body will feel less stress due to the ergonomic advantages of sitting upright. Secondly, an upright ride affects speed and performance.

Some of the things you’ll notice on flat handlebars include:

  • Better steering control: Since flat bars are wider, they provide more leverage. They also make it easier to steer with more accuracy. This is especially crucial while going at modest speeds or navigating rugged off-road terrain. You can better steer your bike wherever you need to go. 
  • Brake levers are more accessible: In the event of an emergency, the brake levers are at your fingertips. There’s no need to move your hands. The brake lever location is also handy for city riding, where you’ll frequently be stopping.
  • Better visibility: Because flat handlebars place you in a far more upright riding position, you are always looking ahead of you rather than down or bending your neck to look ahead. An upright position lets you keep your eyes on the road before you, thus enhancing your safety.
  • More space for mounting: You can easily install a headlight, mirrors, GPS, a phone, bell, and other items on flat handlebars. Drop bars do not have enough room for all of this.

You will also appreciate that flat bar components are less expensive and have greater replacement parts availability.

However, flat handlebars will affect your performance.  Since the bars place you in an upright riding position, your body creates a lot of drag, which can slow you down. At low speeds, the resistance is barely noticeable.

However, once you hit 15-20 mph (24.14-32.19 kph), the drag severely slows you down. You may crouch down on flat bars and become more aerodynamic, but this is a challenging posture to maintain.

Also, because flat bars are wider than drop bars, a rider needs a bigger gap to get through tight spaces. Wider bars can be problematic in heavy traffic, and some riders shorten their bars. Of course, this means less room to mount accessories.

What if the Ride Is Still Not Comfortable?

If you change to flat handlebars and the ride is still uncomfortable, other modifications can provide additional comfort. These include a longer stem, wider tires, and sprung or other shock-absorbent saddles.

Adjusting the Stem

The height of your handlebars will determine your posture. Excessively low handlebars may make biking uncomfortable. Fortunately, adjusting your handlebars is simple if you know what you’re doing.

First, you should identify if your handlebars are threadless or threaded. Then, you loosen them with an Allen wrench and adjust their height.

Threadless handlebars have spacers above and below the stem of the handlebar. Some of the spacers above the bar need to be moved below the stem to raise the handlebars. It isn’t hard to move them.

  1. First, loosen the pinch bolts in the back of the bars.
  2. Then loosen and remove the top bolt.
  3. Lift the bar off the stem.
  4. Slide additional spacers onto the handlebar stem.
  5. Slide the bar back on the stem. 
  6. As you reattach the handlebar, keep an eye on the alignment—the center of the bar should line up with the wheel.

Threaded handlebars have a more straightforward, one-piece design. To raise threaded handlebars, use an Allen wrench to loosen the top bolt until you can easily slide the bar up and down. You might need to wiggle the bar loose to get it to the desired height.

Most items have a line that shows the maximum height. Don’t raise your bar any higher.  

Reminder:  When tightening the handlebar, make sure your handlebars are correctly lined up with the front wheel.

Get a Comfortable Seat

Sprung saddles (seats) were especially prevalent on bikes with a little more upright seating posture to reduce jarring in the lower spine. A sprung saddle features two coil springs that hold the rear of the saddle onto the cradle, with a pivot point near the front. More advanced models have a third spring in the front.

These saddles absorb a lot of road vibration, but the drawback is that the saddle can feel bouncy and sway from side to side. While this bounciness is acceptable at low speeds, it can be aggravating at faster speeds.

Note:  Purists often insist on calling a bike seat a saddle unless referring to a recumbent bicycle.

Watch for inspiration:

Bottom Line

Changing handlebars is the easiest way to get a new feel for your bike ride. The process for exchanging drops to flat bars is straightforward, as long as you know potential problems and buy parts that match flat handlebars. Buy the correct parts, and the only other trip to the bike shop will be to show off your new handlebars.

Other related articles:

Can A Road Bike Be Converted Into A Hybrid

Hybrid Bike vs. Road Bike: 8 Essential Differences

Sources:

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