Skip to main content

Best gravel handlebars 2022: Drop bars for all your all-road and off-road needs

Best gravel handlebar header image
(Image credit: Josh Ross)

If you are looking for the best gravel handlebars, it might be good to start by asking 'what is gravel cycling?' Depending on how you define it, gravel cycling is as old as bikes themselves, or a discipline that's grown to prominence in the past decade. Either way, it's not a totally new phenomenon and yet, there's no clear consensus about what it is. For some people, gravel cycling is under-biking single track while for others it's road cycling that starts on the pavement and keeps going when the pavement ends. There's also a growing understanding that the best gravel bikes are great all-around bikes, and they represent bikes that take people to and from work all year. 

Even with such a wide definition of gravel cycling, there is a consensus of a core concept. Gravel cycling is here to stay and gravel riders have different needs than road cyclists. In the past, anyone who wanted to upgrade their handlebars would have found themselves checking out our lists of the best road bike handlebars. These days, brands have begun introducing gravel-specific handlebars to cater to the variety of needs of their customers. 

The needs of the modern gravel cyclist are wide but we've got options for you. Whether you are looking for aluminium or carbon, ultra-light, or ultra-comfortable, keep reading. We've put together a list of our favourite options covering gravel-specific handlebars for racing, commuting, or adventuring.

The best gravel handlebars on the market today

3t Aeroghiaia

The best gravel handlebar if you are building an aero optimised gravel racer

Specifications

Available Colour Options: 400mm, 420mm, 440mm
Drop: 110mm
Reach: 78mm
Flare: Multi-angle
Weight: 232 grams in 42cm
Material: Carbon

Reasons to buy

+
Controls mount vertically
+
Internal cable routing
+
Aero-optimised

Reasons to avoid

-
No way to mount clip on aerobars or lights

Almost every modern road bike is aero optimised. When it comes to gravel bikes there has been less focus on aerodynamics but that's starting to change. As long gravel races gain in popularity, and as the differences between an all-road bike and a road bike shrink, aero optimisation becomes more important. Not only that but the winged shape of an aero handlebar inherently makes a lot of sense off-road. While it’s not the specific focus in this bar from 3T, there’s always more vertical compliance in a bar of this shape. 

Bottom line, the advantages are there for a bar of this style but also, there are very few options. The 3T Aeroghiaia takes the shape of a road-specific aero handlebar and adapts it with a flare on the drops. The controls remain vertical and the cable routing is internal, but after the initial curve of the drops the bars angle out. The angle continues through a short 110mm drop before coming back to parallel with the bike before the bars end. These are a complex shape made possible only by the possibilities of carbon construction and they offer a very specific solution that might match a specific set of needs. 

Ritchey WCS VentureMax Carbon Handlebar

The best gravel handlebar if you spend a lot of time on the drops

Specifications

Available Width Options: 400mm, 420mm, 440mm, 460mm
Drop: 110mm
Reach: 76mm
Flare: 24°
Weight: 232 grams in 42cm
Material: Carbon or aluminium

Reasons to buy

+
Small backsweep reduces reach
+
Internal cable routing
+
Aero-optimised

Reasons to avoid

-
Not enough space for clip on aerobars or lights

Ritchey offers the WCS VentureMax handle bar in a carbon or alloy version. There are two main differences between the two. The Carbon fibre option adds partial internal routing and saves 42 grams of weight compared to the triple-butted aluminium alloy. Aside from those differences, there are some small differences in specifications but all the broad strokes remain the same. In both cases the flats remain ovalized and the flare remains a generous-but-not-exaggerated 24 degrees. You'll also find a subtle backsweep on the flats although the carbon version is a little straighter with only four degrees. The defining bio bump in the drops is there whatever material you decide on. 

Overall, these bars represent a balance between an all-out aero option like that from 3T and a round bar option. You get an ovalized top that’s comfortable for the hands, provides some vertical compliance, and some aero optimization but you also get a lot of focus on comfort for the drops position. 

One challenge with any handlebar that uses an ovalised top section is that it can limit the space for mounting accessories. The Ritchey WCS VentureMax isn’t actually the worst offender as they go a bit wider on the clamp area than some, but it’s still an issue that may come up if you're trying to mount multiple accessories. If it does come up for you, then Ritchey offers the Universal Stem mount which solves the challenge by adding clamping space out in front of the stem. 

Pro Discover

The best gravel handlebar for those who want a very specific fit

Specifications

Available Width Options: 400mm, 420mm, 440mm
Drop: 150mm
Reach: 65mm, 73mm, 75mm
Flare: 12°, 20°, 30°
Weight: 265 grams in 40cm aluminium
Material: Carbon or aluminium

Reasons to buy

+
Small backsweep reduces reach
+
Tons of space for accessories
+
End of the drops is parallel to the bike

Reasons to avoid

-
Only one flare option with carbon construction

There’s nothing that says you have to run a Shimano groupset with the Shimano-owned Pro handlebars but the brand does say the two complement each other, and we don't disagree. Shimano was the first to recognise that gravel cycling had needs that a specific groupset could solve. It only makes sense that its Pro brand of accessories created a handlebar to compliment the design of the groupset. 

Overall though what you get with the Shimano Pro Discover lineup is an incredible amount of choice. We had hands-on with the alloy version in a 40mm width and a 20-degree flare but that’s just one of many. Shimano has options for 12, 20, and 30 degrees of flare ranging from just a little to truly wild. If 20 degrees is a good number for you then the carbon fibre version saves 55 grams as well as adds a little extra shelf space at the corner of the tops. That little extra space is a perfect spot to rest your palm during a long day of riding.   

Bontrager GR Elite

The best gravel handlebar for comfort on a budget

Specifications

Available Width Options: 380mm, 400mm, 420mm, 440mm
Drop: 128mm
Reach: 75mm
Flare: 13°
Weight: 322 grams in 42cm
Material: Aluminium

Reasons to buy

+
Inexpensive
+
Very similar to a road bike handlebar shape
+
Integrated foam padding reduces buzz

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy

With only a small 13-degree flare, the Bontrager GR Elite Road handlebars won't look out of place no matter what bike you pair them with. They’ve also got a bigger drop than a lot of gravel-specific handlebars making for a very all-road style handlebar. We’ve listed that as a plus because that’s the point but your preferences might actually mean that becomes a negative, if say, you want a shallower, more flared option. 

The important detail though is the focus on padding and vibration reduction. There's nothing that makes for a comfortable ride like padding on your bars. To that end, there are options for adding padding after the fact but that can mean bars with weird lumps after wrapping. Bontrager makes space for the pads and then pairs that with pads perfectly fitted to the space provided. Once you wrap the bars the traditional round shape is all you see and the padding remains your secret.  

Zipp Service Course SL 70 XPLR

The best gravel handlebar if you want a hoods-first design with plenty of clamping area

Specifications

Available Width Options: 400mm, 420mm, 440mm, 460mm
Drop: 115mm
Reach: 70mm
Flare: 11° of outsweep and 5° flare puts the drops position 6cm wider than hoods
Weight: 284 grams in 42cm
Material: Aluminium

Reasons to buy

+
Lots of clamping area for accessories
+
Controls stay mostly vertical
+
Short reach and a slight backsweep

Reasons to avoid

-
Premium aluminum means a more costly product

Modern bike design dictates that resting on the hoods is most people's primary riding position. Zipp has responded by making the Service Course SL 70 XPLR a hoods-first design. There's a small three-degree backsweep from the clamping area and five degrees of flare. That small flare keeps the controls mostly vertical with just a little angle that helps wrist position. To get the drops wider for more control there's an 11-degree outsweep instead of lots of flare. In the end, the result is similar but the path to get there is different. 

If the design sounds great but you don't mind trading a little extra weight for more affordability, Zipp also offers the Service Course 70 XPLR with the same design. Overall, this option from Zipp and the Pro Discover handlebars from Shimano are very similar, but there are a couple of differences worth noting. One of the biggest is the difference in the drop which is part of the already-mentioned hoods-first design. Zipp also keeps the controls much more vertical in its design and the ends of the drop point away from the bike in the Zipp design while Shimano keeps the ends of the drops parallel to the bike.  

Surly Truck Stop

The best gravel bike handlebars to minimise spacers and stem angle

Specifications

Available Width Options: 420mm, 450mm, 480mm
Drop: 99mm
Reach: 74mm
Flare: 12°
Weight: 339 grams in 42cm
Material: Aluminium

Reasons to buy

+
30mm of rise from the clamping area
+
Controls stay mostly vertical
+
Enough clamping room for accessories

Reasons to avoid

-
No sizes for small riders

Surly never uses the hoods-first language in its marketing, but that doesn't mean it's not the thought process. The Surly Truck Stop Bar is a completely-opposite hoods-first design to what Zipp has available. Instead of a backsweep, there's a slight forward sweep and the biggest feature is a 30mm rise from the clamping area to the flats. You could use this to adjust geometry on a bike without much rise but it also opens up possibilities in hand positions. If you bring the hoods up by 30mm you gain a more upright position for cruising but it also brings the drops up 30mm. With an already short drop number that makes the flared drops nearly as high as the tops of some road bars and the drops are a whole lot more accessible. 

Cadex AR Handlebar

The best gravel handlebar if weight is your most important metric

Specifications

Available Width Options: 400mm, 420mm, 440mm, 460mm
Drop: 115mm
Reach: 70mm
Flare:
Weight: 190 grams in 42cm
Material: Carbon

Reasons to buy

+
One piece construction is ultralight and stiff
+
Lots of clamping room
+
Small backsweep is very comfortable

Reasons to avoid

-
Very low flare

Carbon fibre handlebars aren't typically built as a single piece. The exact construction will vary a bit between manufacturers but brands combine different pieces in the same way that carbon bike frames have different pieces. It's a system that saves money and produces a quality product but it does mean a slightly heavier end result. If you want to make handlebars as light as possible then that means as little material as possible. A single-piece construction uses less resin and while it's more expensive to produce it is lighter. 

There's an open question as to how important a few grams are but, if you are trying to optimise every piece of a bike, the Cadex AR handlebar is the lightest option on our list. It's also an option that's one of the closest to a standard road bike handlebar. If you are looking for an adventure bar for rough riding then you'll want to look elsewhere. If you'd rather add something light to a mixed surface race bike then Cadex makes an excellent option. 

The best gravel handlebar if you love holding the top of the hoods

Specifications

Available Width Options: 420mm, 440mm, 460mm, 480mm
Drop: 110mm
Reach: 80mm
Flare: 12cm of flare from the hood to the drop
Weight: 246 grams in 42cm
Material: carbon

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to rest your forearms for a TT-style position
+
Clever bar plug design
+
Lots of room for both accessories and hands on the tops

Reasons to avoid

-
Controls are heavily angled

The Enve Gravel Handlebar shoots for the gravel racer but that also makes it an excellent mixed surface option. The most distinctive feature is the tight bend radius at the end of the flats. Very little space gets lost to the bend. If you clamp aero bars or lights near the stem there's plenty of room for hands and bags along the tops. That tight bend also makes for a straight run to the controls which creates a supported area for draping your forearms on long straight miles. If you decide to move down to the drops there is tons of room for your hands and arms to stay out of the way as you pedal. If you are the kind of person who spends a lot of time with your forearms parallel to the ground while you hold the very top of the controls then the Enve Gravel handlebar is incredibly comfortable.  

Whiskey Spano handlebar

The best gravel handlebar for those concerned with comfort on the tops

Specifications

Available Width Options: 400mm, 420mm, 440mm, 460mm, 480mm
Drop: 100mm
Reach: 68mm
Flare: 12 degrees at the hoods and 20 degrees through the drops
Weight: 243 grams in 43cm
Material: Carbon

Reasons to buy

+
Low reach
+
Short drop
+
Comfortable tops

Reasons to avoid

-
No internal routing

Every company has their own take on the problem the handlebars they make can solve. The Whiskey Spano has a couple of unique details that represent its take on making a comfortable bar. For the tops, the Whiskey Spano is flat on the upper surface. This helps with vertical flex and makes for a comfortable place to rest your hands. Then on the underside of the tops, there’s a triangular shape that perfectly fits the way your fingers wrap. Beyond that, the Whiskey Spano has the shortest reach on our list plus it almost matches the Surly Truckstop for drop but does so with a more traditional shape. It’s easy to move between the top, the hoods, and the drops. This is a bar for those who really want to move their hands to all the positions drop bar handlebars offer.  

How to choose the best gravel handlebar for you

When it comes to choosing the best handlebars for your gravel bike, you need to consider what style of gravel riding you're doing, what budget you have in mind, and what geometric and positional qualities you'll need from the bar. 

The questions below go into each of these sections in more detail, but if you are planning to ride rough gravel terrain that's probably better suited to a mountain bike, then something wider, with more flare, and increased vibration absorption will likely provide a better ride than a narrow, bar that could just as easily be found on a road bike. Conversely, if going fast on mixed surface riding is your need, then a wide round bar will probably be less suitable than something narrower with aerodynamic consideration. 

On the subject of budget, carbon fibre will in most cases provide a better ride quality, but it will also cost more, so if you're on a tighter budget, stick with aluminium. You'll also find aluminium is more impact resistant than carbon fibre, so might be a better choice for those who spend more time on the ground than on the bike. 

The mention of geometric and positional qualities refers to the shape of the bar. Again, these balance against the type of riding you'll do, but if you have a bike with a really aggressive geometry (long reach with a short head tube), a handlebar with some rise can help adjust your position to a more comfortable upright one for longer rides. In the same vein, bars with a longer reach can help you stretch out more, which helps with bikes that might be a little too short. 

What makes a gravel handlebar different?

The defining feature of a gravel specific handlebar is flare. Sometimes that actually means sweep and different companies define those two terms differently. What's important to understand though is that no matter what terms you use the drops are wider than the controls. 

The idea behind this concept is stability. Keeping control of a bike on loose surfaces means you want all the control you can get. That, in turn, means a wider hand position. At the same time, drop bar bikes gobble up long miles and an ultra-wide hand position would be uncomfortable as the hours ticked away. To satisfy both needs gravel focused handlebars keep the tops where bike fit dictates they should be. The drops being wider allows for a second position only when you need it. 

Can I use gravel handlebars on my road bike?

Inherent in the decision to leave the controls at a standard width and drops wider is a recognition that most people don't use the drops most of the time. That's true beyond gravel bikes and applies equally to road bikes. Gravel handlebars also tend to have shorter drop and less reach than road handlebars. 

All those characteristics that make gravel handlebars what they are have the effect of making a really comfortable handlebar for most people. For the youngest and most flexible riders there might be a slightly faster position possible. For everyone else a comfort focused handlebar makes a lot of sense on a road bike. 

More and more bikes are bikes and you only need one bike for road and off-road riding. In those cases, gravel handlebars are an obvious choice as they handle whatever you want to do. Even if you've got a dedicated road bike the extra comfort of a gravel handlebar design makes a lot of sense for a lot of people. Don't worry about labels and rules. If you want to run a gravel handlebar on a road bike do what makes the ride best for you. 

Do I want carbon fibre or aluminium handlebars?

Carbon fibre has a couple of advantages. The most obvious is lower weight. If you are wanting to save 40-50 grams, carbon handlebars will do it. The other often quoted advantage of carbon is vibration reduction. Road vibration travels easily through aluminium and switching to carbon does reduce the buzz that gets to your hands. 

Like with carbon fibre bike frames weight and vibration aren't the only advantages, just the most obvious. There are other, more subtle advantages. Carbon fibre lends itself to complex shapes and allows tuning of flex very specifically. Even if you don't care that much about weight it's worth considering carbon fibre. 

While advantages to carbon fibre are real that doesn't mean it's the only thing worth considering. Aluminium handlebars are inexpensive and work great. If you can make the financial leap to carbon that's great. If you'd rather save money, don't worry, you will still have high quality options available. 

How much flare is best?

The answer to this depends on your riding habits. The bigger the flare, the wider your hands will be when riding in the drops, which will mean greater and more finite leverage over the front wheel, and thus, more control. However, the tradeoff is that the wider position will be less comfortable for extended periods.

If your gravel riding commonly includes short gnarly descents, then wider bars will probably add to your ride experience. However, if your riding is more about 'lite-gravel' and high average speeds with long descents, then a smaller flare will help you remain comfortable - and probably more aerodynamic - so you can spend more time in the drops. 

What width handlebars should I get?

A common school of thought with the best road handlebars over the years has been to choose a width that most closely matches the width of your shoulders, so for gravel riders who are predominantly riding on the road or smoother gravel, this is a good starting point for the width of the hoods, opting for the preferred amount of flare from there. 

However, since wider handlebars will generally mean an increase in control, there's plenty of room for interpretation here. If you tend to ride rough gravel and want increased leverage on your front wheel, then the only trade-offs when going wider are aerodynamics and comfort.  

Of course, bear in mind that as you go wider, the distance - or reach - to the handlebar is increasing, which you might want to offset by shortening the stem. This in turn will affect the handling, so there's a bit of a balance to find. 

How do we test the best gravel handlebars?

Those of us here at Cyclingnews are avid riders. We love spending time on bikes of all kinds but particularly drop bar bikes and just like you, our tastes have shifted over the years. Gravel cycling is firmly part of the modern cycling experience and we spend our time riding drop bar bikes over all types of surfaces. For some, that's American style gravel roads while for others that means rough singletrack. We've pulled together a group of drop bars that we know from experience represent the best available options for a wide range of riding styles and budgets.  

Josh Ross
Josh Ross

Josh hails from the Pacific Northwest of the United States but would prefer riding through the desert than the rain. He will happily talk for hours about the minutia of cycling tech but also has an understanding that most people just want things to work. He is a road cyclist at heart and doesn't care much if those roads are paved, dirt, or digital. Although he rarely races, if you ask him to ride from sunrise to sunset the answer will be yes.
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 137 lb.
Rides: Orbea Orca Aero, Cannondale Topstone Lefty, Cannondale CAAD9, Trek Checkpoint, Priority Continuum Onyx