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Handlebars are the main control interface for your bike, so it only makes sense as to why they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Each bar is made to put the rider in a slightly different position depending on their needs. Mountain bikers usually ride more erect, so they require flat bars and riser bars, while the rigors of triathlon racing require a much more streamline profile.

When looking for a handlebar, try to visualize where you want your hands to go in front of your bike. Do you want a wide bar for improved handling, or something with deep drops so you can tuck into an aero position?

Materials are also important, while aluminum tends to be the most crisp, carbon fiber absorbs a lot of the high frequency vibrations that would normally bother the rider.

Ultimately, handlebars, like a saddle, are a very personal expression of your needs and riding style.
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Mountain Biking
Unlike road biking, mountain biking doesn't have the vast array of different bars available to it. Almost more critical than the shape of the bar, is the length. Longer bars provide for better handling on technical terrain, but they don't do as well weaving in between trees. So, mountain bike riders often buy purposefully long bars with the idea that they will cut them down later with a hacksaw.
Flat or Riser
"Flat" or "riser" bars are the standard handlebars equipped on mountain bikes, and recently on fixed gear bicycles. Flat bars are comprised of a nearly-straight tube, slightly bent toward the rider. Risers are a variation in which the outer sections of the bars rise from the center clamp area. Flat and riser bars may be appended with bar ends, providing more hand positions.

Road Biking

Drop handlebars, as used on road or track bicycles, may have a shallow or deep drop. Drop bars may have one or two longitudinal indents so that the brake and shift cables protrude less when they are wrapped under the bar tape. They may also have a flattened (ovalized) top section to provide more comfortable support for the hands. This may also be described as "aero".

Track drop bars are a variation of drop bars designed for the typical riding positions of track bicycle racers. Track drops are characterized by large, sweeping ramps, effectively precluding the top and brake hood hand positions, but promoting the rider's use of the ends, or "hooks". Track bars are designed for use without brake levers, but recently experienced a surge in popularity on use with fixed gear bikes, and as such they have been adapted to fit levers and hand positions.

Ergo or Anatomic
The shape of the drop may be a simple, traditional curve, or it can have a flat spot (straight section) which some riders find to be more comfortable for their hands. These bars may be described as ergo or anatomic.

At one time, manufacturers and racers experimented with drop-in bars that had an additional extension in toward the head tube at the rear end of the drops. This was intended to offer an even more aerodynamic position due to the low and narrow placement of the hands, rather than just the drops, while still remaining legal for mass-start races. Their popularity has since waned.

Triathlon or Aero
Triathlon bars or aerobars include various styles of aerodynamic handlebars for racing bicycles and particularly time trial bicycles. Included are narrow, bolt-on extensions that draw the body forward into a tucked position, bullhorn bars (see below) that spread the arms of the rider but drops the torso into a slightly lower position, and integrated units that combine elements of both designs.

Triathlon bars are commonly used in triathlons and time trial events on road and track. However, they are illegal in most mass start road races or any other event where drafting is permitted because, while aerodynamically advantageous, they tend to draw the hands away from brakes, make the rider slightly more unstable on the bike, and can be dangerous in the event of an accident. Further, they are not useful in sprints or shorter climbs where power is of greater importance than aerodynamics.

Specialized brake and shift levers (known as bar-end shifters) do exist that can be placed on triathlon bars such that they can be reached without moving the hands from the aerodynamic position.

Triathlon bars are a recent addition to road racing time trials, with Greg LeMond first using them in the 1989 Tour de France. In a controversial time trial on the final day, LeMond used them to beat yellow jersey wearer Laurent Fignon by 58 seconds, changing a 50 second deficit into an 8 second lead. Fignon protested at the use of these bars but was unsuccessful. LeMond won the Tour de France by 8 seconds over Fignon, with another 3 minutes and 26 seconds over Pedro Delgado in third place.

Fitting to a Stem
Care is needed when choosing a handlebar to match a stem, or vice-versa, as there are several standards. The ISO standard for the clamping area of a handlebar is 25.4 mm (1"), which is used on the majority of mountain bikes and many Japanese-made road handlebars. However, the Italian unofficial standard is 26.0 mm, which is the most common clamp size for road bars. There are also intermediate sizes such as 25.8 mm to try and achieve compatibility with either an ISO or Italian stem, and the old Cinelli-specific size of 26.4 mm. In practice, many modern stems with removable faceplates are quite accommodating of slight differences in handlebar clamp size, but the older type of stem with a single pinch bolt must be accurately matched. In the days of quill stems, a road stem was clearly identifiable from its "7" shape, but nowadays it can be hard to tell the difference between a "road" (26.0 mm) and "MTB" (25.4 mm) stem. Manufacturers frequently omit the clamp size from advertising or packaging.

A new emerging standard is an oversize 31.8 mm (1.25") clamp for both MTB and road bars. This is rapidly taking over from the previous mix of sizes, although other accessories such as computers and brake levers also need to be designed with the thicker bars in mind. Shims are available to fit a 31.8mm stem to either a 25.4mm or 26.0mm bar, so it is likely that most new stems will be made oversize-only.

Bar Ends
Bar ends attach to both ends of the handlebars. Bar ends are commonly used on flat handlebars, but rarely used on riser bars. Bar ends provide leverage when climbing. They are most commonly seen on flat bar road bikes and cruisers, as it is a bit of a faux pas to put them on a mountain bike.

Bar ends were very popular until the late 1990's when "riser bars" came into fashion, and the combination of riser bars and bar ends is rarely used. Some handlebars have bar ends welded onto them, but most are clamped to the end of the bar. They are available in many shapes and sizes, such as stubby models that are around 100mm in length to ones that curve around so as to provide even more hand positions.
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