31 May Bicycle Touring with Straight (aka MTB) Handlebars
This is not going to be a topic about whether or not you should tour with drops bars, butterfly (trekking) bars, or flat bars. We are not trying to stir up the old and never ending debates on which handlebar is better for touring over the other, we’ll leave this for the bike tourists sitting at home. We have toured using all three mentioned above and each has their pros and cons. This topic will be about our current and most liked setup yet. Is this the type of setup you should tour with? That is something you will have to experiment with, as we did, until you find what is right for you.
During our last build we decided to go with straight handlebars as opposed to the standard (American) drop bar configuration and have not regretted it once. Our bikes were fitted with an oversized (31.8mm) low riser bar made by FSA (Full Speed Ahead). There are many handlebar makers and sizes out there, so pick your favorite.
We also fitted the bikes with GP5 BioKork grips from Ergon (Made in Germany). We went with the cork style for added comfort, but please note that their cork grips are not made to work with grip shift style shifters. You will have to cut about 1” to 1 ½” off the end to get them to fit correctly. This is not a big deal and I have done it with other Ergon cork grips as well by using a sharp razorblade. Remember to measure twice and cut once. However, if you are not comfortable cutting the grips, they do make a pair (not cork) that are precut to work with grip shift style shifters. The Ergon GP5 BioKork grips come with a large bar end for added hand positions. They are slightly padded for comfort; however, if you would like more padding, here is what we did. Buy some inexpensive foam bar tape, 1 pack will do two sets of bar ends, and double wrap each bar end. Start of the bottom and work your way towards the top, do not go to far, and then back down to the base. Finish off by using some standard electrical tape and you are set. We have found that the extra padding is just right, not to bulky and not too little.
We also added a Busch & Müller CycleStar bar end mirror to our configuration and we highly recommend a mirror, but this is your call. You will notice when you purchase your new Ergon GP5 grips that the end is solid and there is no hole for the mirror. Don’t sweat it! Take the left side bar end off and drill a hole through it. If my memory serves me right, it should be about ½” hole, but double check it just to be sure. The hole should not be any larger than your handle bar tube. I also used a small half round file to clean up the hole before inserting the mirror.
We also feel that grip shift style shifters are a great way to go when using a straight handlebar. They are believed to be less prone to mechanical failures and have less moving parts as your everyday trigger style shifters. If you are using a Shimano drivetrain (XTR, XT, LX…), do not fret it and no one will hold it against you (wink wink). SRAM makes grip shifters that work great with the Shimano drivetrain components as well as their own SRAM drivetrains. They are different, so if you are using Shimano, make sure you order the correct set. If you are considering a Rohloff as your next drivetrain, it comes complete with its own proprietary grip shifter.
Here are some things to consider when deciding on what size (standard or oversize) and style (flat or riser) handlebar to use. If you are small in stature or like to have your handlebars narrow you may want to consider getting the standard size handlebar; especially, if you are using grip shift style shifters. The reason for this is, because as you trim/cut your bar ends to fit you, you may run out of room for your controls if you are using an oversize (31.8) or even a riser bar. Whereas a standard (25.4) flat bar is the same diameter from one end to the other, allowing more room for the controls. If you need more of an explanation, please feel free to send us an email or talk with the folks at your local bike shop.
Why we like our setup? Most of the bike tourists sitting at home seem to think that drop bars give you the added advantage of having 4 different hand positions and the ability to get low in windy conditions by holding the bars at their lowest point, hence the word, drop bars. With our current setup we get just as many hand positions if not more and when coupled with the extra wide and comfortable Ergon grips our hands rarely, if ever, go numb; whereas, using drop bars this seemed to be a constant thing, even when double taped. As for the wind argument, let’s just say that it has been our experience when riding in windy conditions, getting a couple inches lower does nothing for you when you have a handlebar bag and front panniers. We both find it to be rather uncomfortable to be in the drops and have only been there a half dozen times, if that many, over the years. We also seem to find the bike more controllable using a straight bar; probably because it is a little wider than a drop bar and we have the added bar ends. Many bike tourists sitting at home will argue that you can not go for hours in the saddle using a straight bar. We tend to disagree with this argument and honestly it seems to be mostly an American thing, because most other cycle tourists we have met are not using drop bars. Also try telling this to the ultra-endurance MTBer crowd.
Our Setup Parts List:
FSA oversized low riser bar (Product Link)
Ergon GP5 BioKork (cork) grips (Product Link)
Busch & Müller CycleStar 901/3 mirror (Product Link)
1 package of inexpensive foam bar tape
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