Best road handlebars: How to pick the right option for your needs

best road handlebars
(Image credit: Future / Will Jones)
Best road bike handlebars

Road bike handlebars all do the same thing when you drill down into it. They all offer multiple hand positions, attach via a stem to your fork's steerer, and have your shifters mounted to them. Beyond that, they are a good way to make more subtle changes to the ergonomics of your bike, and I've found can have more of an impact than you might expect, especially with a swap to some of the best bar tape too. Differences in drop, reach, bend shape, and flare can have big implications for comfort, especially on longer rides, and given the bars are one of the key leading edges on a bike there are significant aero gains to be won, too. What's more, swapping from alloy to carbon can save you grams as well, if you're that way inclined. 

There are uncountable options available on the market, and given that ergonomics are a very personal thing I've steered clear of suggesting one bar is 'better' than another. Instead, I've picked some out that I've enjoyed using to illustrate distinct categories within the market, as well as some alternatives. If none of them floats your boat then we've also got a guide to the best gravel handlebars too that have options with more flare, more cushioning, and a greater emphasis on ergonomics. It can be a confusing landscape, so at the bottom of the page I've put together an explainer on reach, curve and drop, plus answered some common questions that crop up when discussing handlebars.

Quick list

There is every chance that you've gone over the products in the quick list and still aren't totally sure what you're after. I get it, there are so many options, and it's tricky to work out what you're after. My advice is to really hone in on what you like and don't like about your current setup and go from there. 

If you have a set of alloy ergo bars and just want to make your bike lighter then think about swapping to carbon. If you're not fussed about weight but want some aero improvements then an alloy aero bar is the section to look at. If you want to be able to get a little lower then look up the drop figure for your bars and find something in the same market segment with a similar shape but a larger drop. A bit of forethought up front will stop you from feeling bemused when faced with such an array of options. 

Because there isn't really a perfect handlebar I've also curated a few more options for each category below, to save you scrolling endlessly through online retailers. 

Alloy Aero

From a price-performance ratio, this is probably the most cost-effective of all the categories. You get the added benefit of increased aerodynamics, without the burdensome cost of carbon. Sure, there will be a weight penalty, but above a relatively sedate 15kph aerodynamics trumps weight, and as the relationship between speed and air resistance isn't linear, but a square, the faster you go the benefits multiply.

If the Vision Trimax Aero doesn't float your boat then you could look at the Prime Doyenne Aero, which is relatively cheap, has internal cable routing, a pronounced wing top section, and the drops extend rearwards further than many. If you don't want such a wing shape, the PLT Compact Ergo from Pro is more of a traditional ergo drop, but with a more subtle flattening of the tops that's halfway between an aero bar and something ergonomically instigated. It doesn't have internal routing, but smaller riders may like this as it comes in a 36cm width. If you want a bit of a flare to the drops then the Bontrager Elite Aero VR-CF could be up your street. It's got a 4-degree outward sweep and semi-internal cable routing if you want to keep the front end a little neater.

Alloy Budget

If price is your number one priority then it's really hard to look past the budget options from Brand X. Not just the model above, but the compact version with ergonomic shaping on the tops. They'll be totally functional, pass all required safety tests, and may be a little heavy. If you want something affordable but from a more well-known brand then there are plenty of options out there, though they may be a little more expensive than the truly budget Brand X offerings.

Deda has the Zero RHM, a classic ergo drop that comes in under £30 at full price, and at the time of writing is discounted, though getting narrower widths will be tricky. Similarly, you could go for the Comp Curve from Ritchey, which is similarly priced but comes in a 38cm option, or the Compact Vero from FSA which is a hair deeper and has more reach than the Ritchey option, but only by a few millimetres. 

Alloy Classic Curve

Are you building up a classic bike? Want traditional round drop bars but don't fancy the Deda Zero100 Deep? Well, I can't say I blame you necessarily, as they are extremely deep. You could try the Zero100 Shallow, which is basically the same but, you guessed it, shallower, and probably better suited to more riders.

Failing that there's the perennial Ritchey Classic Neoclassic, which has the advantage of coming in silver for those of you who've been hoarding vintage campagnolo groupsets, or there's the Zipp Service Course SL-88 which has a 3-degree outward sweep to the drops for those who prefer a little bit of flare. Finally, you could also try the Energy Traditional bar from FSA which has a 2-degree outsweep down below. 

Alloy Compact

I suspect this is going to be the main event for many of you, especially if you're putting together a bike from the ground up. It's where there are the most options out there, and consequently where there is the most potential for confusion. I will allay any fears though; having tried a tonne of compact drops over the years they are all extremely similar. Unless you go for something from the fringes with a lot of flare, a lot of reach, or a larger drop they will all feel relatively similar, so you can focus more on things like weight, or which brand logo you want peeping out either side of your stem.

The Prime Doyenne Lightweight Alloy bar is especially useful for smaller riders as it comes in a 36cm width, which isn't always easy to find, and has a reasonable price tag too. The similarly priced Short Reach Bars from Specialized will also work for most applications and come in an all-matte finish, in contrast to the glossy mid-section of the prime. 

If you want something a little more radical then take a look at the WCS Skyline from Ritchey. The tops are ovalised and backswept, which I've always enjoyed on other Ritchey handlebars. The main point of difference though is the drops, which feature a much more angled shape, giving you a long, flat section in the hook of the drops if that's where you like to spend a lot of time riding.

Carbon Aero

While alloy aero bars may offer performance advantages at a lower price point, for those with deeper pockets or a greater obsession with weight carbon aero bars are the way to go, if you're not going all in on an integrated cockpit.

If the Pro Vibe option isn't to your tastes then you could cosplay at being Wount Van Aert with a set of Vision Metron 4D bars. There's a 'Flat' version with flat, wing-shaped hoods, or an ergo version where there is a slight rise after the clamp area, leaving the wings to slope downwards. To my mind the flat version makes more sense, as if you're buying aero bars you're not planning on spending a great deal of time on the tops anyway, so making them more ergonomic is a little daft. Also be aware the drops kink outwards near their terminus at the base of the curve, putting the base of the drops wider for descending control, but keeping the frontal area more narrow. 

Prime has the Primavera bar, which is noticeably cheaper than most other options, has internal routing and comes in a greater range of widths (down to 36cm). Given that opting for a narrower bar will probably save you more watts than swapping from a round to an aero top section, this could be the best bang for your buck of any carbon bar. The only downside is the drops truncate rapidly after the curve, so you'll be riding more in the hook of the bar than on the bottom section unless you opt for some bar extenders (a useful upgrade if you want to ride more on the flat section).

Finally, you could opt for the EC70 bar from Easton. It doesn't do anything that the others don't, but it is another option that's more competitively priced than options from the likes of Pro and Vision. You can't get narrower than 40cm, but you do get a giant "EASTON" logo across the whole winged section so everyone will know which brand you're riding. 

Carbon Budget

In all honesty, there isn't really anything that matches the Brand X option for budget carbon. The next closest thing would be the Prime Primavera X-Light, which is a great option but double the price. It is similar in shape, on the curve at least, to the WCS Skyline from Ritchey, with a much more angular profile, which may appeal to some.

Carbon Classic Curve

Bad news, sports fans... From my extensive searching if you want a classic drop bar made from carbon you're limited to the Ritchey WCS Carbon Neoclassic.

Carbon Compact

In a similar way to the alloy compact segment, this is where most carbon bars fall on the bell curve, so there are more options to choose from, and also as with the alloy bars, they will all to some degree feel relatively similar. 

If you need a jumping-off point the Ritchey Carbon Evocurve is as good a place as any. I really enjoy the Evocurve shape, and it's especially good if you spend a lot of time on the tops. It has internal routing, though on carbon bars nowadays this is basically ubiquitous. 

The S-Works Shallow Bend bar is just a carbon copy (pun intended) of the alloy version mentioned above. It's a very bread-and-butter shape with a straight top section and a pretty impressive weight at 200g for a 42cm wide bar. 

The Enve Compact Road bar has a more pronounced flattening of its upper section, though not to the same degree as any of the aero offerings, but unlike many others it's flared, and has a curve that extends rearwards for a lot longer. If you like spending time at the end of your drops rather than inside the curve then these may well be the choice for you.

Superlight

These are definitely going to be the bling-est upgrades you can make to your bike, but unless you're building a bike with low weight being the absolute priority (I'm thinking hill climb bikes here), you will likely get a greater performance advantage from going aero instead.

While the Darimo option is bonkers light, Schmolke has several options that are almost as feathery, but in a wider array of shapes. Ironically, Lightweight makes the heaviest of the superlight, sub 200g bars with its KOMPAKTBÜGEL (yes, it is all capitalised for some reason). 

Any of these will be sure to raise some eyebrows at the cafe, and all will put a dent in your wallet.

Fully Integrated

There's every chance that if you have an integrated cockpit it's because it came on your new bike. Given how many of these systems are proprietary or at least semi-proprietary if you're looking to replace it the best place to start is probably with the original component manufacturer. 

If you want to add a one-piece system to your bike and it has a separate bar and stem combo on it at the moment then you're more free to choose from any options. The Vision option listed above is one of many, but instead of that, you could easily go for the incredibly space-age-looking Pro Vibe Evo, which gets used in the pro peloton, or the new Roval Rapide cockpit, also now a mainstay on the bikes of Specialized sponsored teams. 

While most integrated cockpits prioritise low drag, the Roval Alpinist is an integrated bar and stem combo with the look of more traditional round profile bars, but weighs in at 220g for a 42cm x 110mm set, which is lighter than many standalone bars!