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Bicycle Touring with Straight (aka MTB) Handlebars

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

If you decide this is something for you, then please continue reading. We always encourage shopping and supporting your local Mom & Pop store first; however, if you are keen on shopping through Amazon, please use the link provided below or the one located in the footer section of the blog. We get a small kickback and all proceeds will go towards maintaining our blog. Thank you![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

  • Tom
    Posted at 20:14h, 19 December Reply

    How do I determine the “right” width for my bars?

    • Ron
      Posted at 03:13h, 20 December Reply

      Hello Tom, the general rule of thumb is to have your handlebars or hands about shoulder width, but they do not have to be. Some cyclists prefer their bars to be a little wider and some like for them to be very narrow. I would suggest start out with them a little on the long side and do a few rides. If you feel like your hands are too far apart, do not rush home and cut your bars just yet! Try bringing your hands in a little, maybe placing them over your shifters and see if that location feels ok and work from there. When cutting your bars, try and only cut a small (about 1/2″) section from each end at a time. Remember you can always cut more off, but you can not add it back. 😉 You should notice small measurement lines at the ends of your new bars. If you are not comfortable doing this yourself, ask a friend to help or go to your local bike shop. If you have a riser bar, take into account that you are only going to be able to bring your shifters and brake levers in so far before they hit the bend, so make sure you have enough room left over for your grips to fit. Thank you for your question and I hope all this makes sense, if not let me know. ron

  • johnny-j
    Posted at 18:56h, 04 July Reply

    I think the part number for the grips should be gc5 not gc3. Gc3 are smaller bar end. Great and helpful article…I will be copying it. Thks. Press

    • Ron
      Posted at 01:18h, 05 July Reply

      Hello Johnny-j, it took me a minute to figure out what you meant because in the article I have GP5 listed. Yeah it looks like Amazon is a little confused with their article numbers and pictures. Thank you for pointing this out and I’ll see if I can update the product link with the correct grip. Hope you like the setup and that it serves you well. We now have over 8000 miles with ours and it seems to be working for us. Take care and safe travels.

  • Petteri
    Posted at 03:13h, 08 August Reply

    I found this article via google when I was thinking about my setup for my first touring bike and found it very useful. I changed my decision about ordering drop bars and I did finally order FSA riser bar (620mm 9º) and GP5 BioKork grip. I’m so exited now waiting for my bike parts to arrive so that I can start assembling my first “real” bicycle and of course the touring itself 🙂 Enjoy your journeys and thanks for helpful article!

    • Petteri
      Posted at 03:20h, 08 August Reply

      Now I browsed more of your website and realised that you’re touring in Lapland Finland at right this time! I’m Finnish myself and had my first Lapland-hike last autumn. It’s so amazingly beautiful out there, enjoy yourselves! I’m gonna read your stories later for sure 🙂

      • Ron
        Posted at 07:46h, 08 August Reply

        Ha! Our blog is a few weeks behind, so we are no longer in Finland. We really liked Lapland and yes it is very beautiful up there, but we could have done without the mosquitoes and biting flies! 😉 Having 24 hours of daylight made for very long cycling days and was neat experience that we will probably never forget. Thank you for checking out our blog and we hope to get a few new stories posted in the next couple days.

        • Petteri
          Posted at 12:41h, 08 August Reply

          Hahah yeah I realized when I actually did read your posts that you probably ain’t there anymore 🙂 I can only imagine how much pain in the ass those insects can be. That’s why we went after first night freezes had killed them and still it was +15-20 ºC at days plus the nature is even more beautiful at autumn in my opinion. We were awfully luck though that we got such a nice weather 🙂 Oh it must be so nice to make such a long cycling days in such an environment. I think Lapland will be one of my first cycling destinations.

          • Ron
            Posted at 09:42h, 09 August

            Hmmm…. we didn’t want to wait around for the 1st freeze. 😉

    • Ron
      Posted at 07:43h, 08 August Reply

      Awesome and thank you for leaving a comment. We now have over 9000 miles with this setup and like it very much. Although there are times I would a bar with more sweep, but overall we are much happier with this setup than our former drop bar setups. Hope you enjoy it too and happy touring.

  • Allan and Italia
    Posted at 08:56h, 11 July Reply

    Just finished making essentially this same change to our own Co-Pilot Pangeas. Thanks for the inspiration!

    I originally just did my own bike after experiencing numbness with my drop bars. But after seeing my setup (and after trying to control her bike with drop bars on a steep descent on a gravel road in Chile), my wife decided she wanted to make the change as well.

    Instead of the trigger shifters, I used Microshift BS-T10 bar-end shifters mounted on Paul Component Thumbies ( I like the simplicity of the bar-end shifters, and these particular ones have a friction mode that might come in handy if a derailleur fails in the middle of nowhere.

    • Ron
      Posted at 13:13h, 12 July Reply

      Hello Allan and Italia, thank you for the comment. Yes we are both very pleased having flat bars instead of the drop bar setup. I have not heard of those shifters, so I’ll have to check them out. How was Chile and are you still on the road?

  • Rich
    Posted at 18:31h, 30 January Reply


    Do you know roughly the width (length?) of your bars?

    I’d like to get a lowriser but most available seem to be in the high 600s to 700+ mm.

    I feel like this is probably a bit too wide for me, I had been thinking 600mm would probably be more appropriate.


    • Ron
      Posted at 22:59h, 30 January Reply

      Hello Rich and thank you for your question. At the moment I am unable to measure my bars, but I can tell that I cut both of our handlebars down from the original length to fit us. Most bars are going to be too long unless you have very wide shoulders or just like having very wide handlebars. However this comes down to your personal preference as well, so you may want to start out leaving your handlebars uncut for a few rides and see how they feel. Then you can cut a little off each end and try riding like that for another few rides and if you need to cut them again. Please remember though measure twice, but only cut once. 😉

      I will measure my bars tomorrow when I get home and let you know what they are, so you have something to go on.


  • Bill I.
    Posted at 11:56h, 13 May Reply

    I found this very helpful. Thanks

  • Michael M
    Posted at 21:50h, 19 June Reply

    This afternoon, I stumbled upon this excellent article, and also stumbled upon the Ergon GC5 grips yesterday during my first venture into an REI store in over 5 years.. I felt them and I knew this would be the ticket for my current favorite bike, a flat bar (with bar ends) circa 2000 Cannondale T2000. Recently, I’ve been contemplating building a newer bike and was stumped between the bar types as I also enjoy riding my drop bar bikes. However, for some reason, I always felt more confident at speed, and on rough terrain while aboard my flat bar craft.

    Perhaps, it was my early childhood experiences with “up” bars on my BMX bikes and my Schwinn Manta Ray? Or maybe my turning the drop bars upside down on my dad’s Schwinn Varsity to make it possible to ride wheelies? Or perhaps, it was my exhilarating mountain biking experiences in the early 1980s aboard my Mongoose IBOC Pro?

    Nevertheless, in my past three weeks of riding, I’ve been experimenting, both physically and mentally, about my hand positions and comfort during my rides. Comfort was a toss up. After reading this article from an experienced trekker who obviously has an understanding of objective methodology, I feel confident that my decision to go flat bar! Thanks!

    • Petra
      Posted at 14:17h, 23 July Reply

      Thank you Michael for the comment. We have zero regret going with our flat bar setup and have thousands of miles/kilometers to prove it. I need to get busy and do an update to this article after having much more time cycle touring with flat bars. Thank you again.

  • Bruno John
    Posted at 20:41h, 18 January Reply

    Just recently bought a mountain bike and found it to be quite uncomfortable with the flat handlebar. After riding for a short while, both my back and hands were uncomfortable. Fornately after changing the handlebar I feel comfortable. No need for me to break my back getting around. This was high enough to allow me to bike upright.

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