Why a new handlebar is the #1 upgrade for your road bike

Why a new handlebar is the #1 upgrade for your road bike

Why Upgrade your Handlebar?

Many people are asking "What is the first thing I should upgrade on my bike?" or "Whats the best value for money upgrade for a road bike?" There are several reasons why you'd want to upgrade your handlebar / cockpit on your road bike. Lets look at the most important ones.:

A handlebar being measured with a tape measure

Reason one: Bike Fit

This one is especially important if you've just purchased a new bike. These days almost all brands sell their complete bikes with no choice of the handlebar. Most mid-high end road bikes these days come with integrated handlebars with little to no adjustability. With a few centimetres of reach between sizes of bikes, it's very unlikely that the bike you got came with the perfect reach for you. If you're feeling a bit too stretched out on your bike, you may want to consider a shorter stem. Conversely; if you're feeling hunched up, or your knees are hitting your elbows, you may need a longer stem.

With the length sorted, what about the width? It's a long-established pattern that people with wider shoulders should have wider handlebars, and people with narrower shoulders should have narrower bars. Comfort is definitely king here, but let's not overlook the performance gains of narrower handlebars, which brings us onto reason number two:

An aero handlebar with dimples

Reason two: Aero Gains

The wind is the #1 enemy of road cyclists. As you ride along, most of the force slowing you down is the air as you try to ride through it. You may have heard people talking about minimizing their CdA or 'coefficient of aerodynamic drag.' The "A" in CdA stands for Area. So as a rule of thumb, if you can lower your frontal area, you can go faster. One way to do this, is by using narrower handlebars. There has been a huge trend for this in recent years all the way to the top level of the sport. Many World Tour teams and Tour de France riders are using narrower and narrower bars on their bikes. Years ago 40cm bars were considered narrow, now we have bars as narrow as 34cm being used in the pro peloton. Panda Podium is also at the forefront of this trend. We have bars as narrow as 34cm on our website. (Such as the Avian Canary integrated handlebar or the EXS R180 handlebar) So we definitely recommend going as narrow as is comfortable for you.

In addition to the aero gains from the new riding position, the bar itself may be more aero than your current bar. If you're using a traditional round-tubed handlebar, there are big gains to be made. The tops of your handlebar are one of the first things to hit the wind, therefore a small change makes a big difference. We have many aero optimized handlebars such as the wind tunnel tested EXS Aerover or the Farsports F1 Handlebar )

A carbon handlebar on a scale, the scale reads 246g

Reason three: Weight Doping

A traditional alloy bar may weigh around 300g, a traditional alloy stem around 170g. That's around 470g of cockpit weight. Our lightest handlebar is currently the Avian Canary Integrated Handlebar, which weighs an unbelievable 240g. That's almost half the weight of the traditional setup and a saving of over 200g. Saving 200g of weight on something like a frameset usually costs thousands of dollars (As you jump from the mid level layup to the top of the range layup) so being able to save 200g on a handlebar for just a few hundred dollars is a good weight to performance saving. While the Canary is a weight weenie bar, even something designed for the sprinters like the Farsports F1x is still a mere 280g, so there are significant gains to be had.

An Avian Canary integrated handlebar

Reason four: Aesthetics

Everyone wants a good looking bike. If your bike looks good, you feel good. If your bike looks good, you want to ride it more, etc. An integrated handlebar instantly makes a bike look faster and more high-end. Furthermore, switching to an integrated handlebar may allow you to run the cables of your bike internally giving a clean look to the bike, with no cables showing. This isn't an option for all bikes, so get in touch with us if you're not sure. Our team of experts will be able to get the best handlebar to transform the look of your bike. 

Even if you want to stick with a bar and stem setup, there are some great handlebars out there now that can be used with a traditional stem. The EXS R175 handlebar features most of the advantages of an integrated bar, but with the adjustability of a bar-and-stem setup.

How to Choose a New Handlebar?

So, the reasons above have convinced you and now you want to get a new handlebar. The question is... which one? There are hundreds of models on the market and you don't know which ones are safe, suitable, or fast.

Safety First

When choosing a new handlebar, safety should be the first consideration. We don't recommend untested or unbranded bars from the likes of AliExpress or eBay. There are many options out there at a whole range of prices, but as is often the case, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Testing, R&D and Quality Control all cost money, and the cheaper options of the market are no doubt cutting corners on these aspects.

The bottom line is: If your bar fails when riding your bike down a hill at speed the consequences will be severe, perhaps even fatal. Do not take unnecessary risks.

So, are Chinese handlebars safe? Well, most big brands also produce their handlebars here in China, and thankfully, all the bars we sell on Panda Podium have been tested to ISO 4210 or higher. Both impact testing and fatigue testing are done to minimise the risk to an already dangerous sport. 

An EXS Stem with an EXS R180 Handlebar
An EXS Aerover Integrated handlebar

Integrated or Separated?

The next decision is whether to go for a bar-and-stem setup or an integrated cockpit setup. Some of the decision is down to aesthetics, however there are a few advantages to a seperate bar and stem setup:

  • Easier angle adjustment: The bars can be rotated in the stem to find a more comfortable angle.
  • Easier reach adjustment: If you do decide to adjust the reach of your bike, it's a lot easier (and cheaper!) to change a stem than to change an entire handlebar.
  • Easier maintenance: In most (but not all) bar and stem setups, the cables travel externally. This makes it easier to both replace the cables and also perform other maintenance such as changing headset bearings.

Of course, there are also many advantages of an integrated setup:

  • Aerodynamics: Usually integrated bars free the designers to make more aerodynamically efficient shapes.
  • Weight: Without the hardware to attach the bar to the stem, integrated bars are usually lighter than traditional setups.
  • Aesthetics: Many people think integrated hanldebars look better, this is especially true if they're set up with fully internal cable routing.

Our best selling seperate bars are the EXS R175 Handlebars and the EXS R180 Handlebars.

Our best selling integrated bars are the Avian Canary Handlebars and the Farsports F1s Handlebars.

An Avian Canary integrated handlebar

Stiffer or Lighter?

Another good rule of thumb is that all other things being equal; a heavier bar will be a stiffer bar. Of course, rarely are 'all other things' equal, however it's a decent rule of thumb.

If you're a heavier rider, a super strong sprinter, or just enjoy the feeling of a stiff handlebar, we recommend bars such as the EXS Aerover or the Farsports F1s.

If you're a smaller rider and looking to save every gram you can then the 240g Avian Canary is probably your dream handlebar.

If you're somewhere in the middle, then the Avian Falcon II or the Farsports F1x may be the best options.

An Avian Canary handlebar being measured

Size & Compatibility

Will it fit your bike? That's what we mean when we talk about compatibility. In the bike industry there are generally two widths of steerer tubes (where the handlebar attaches to the fork of your bike.) OD1 and OD2.

OD1 is used by most bikes and is a 1 1/8th inch (28.6mm) steerer tube diameter. 
OD2 is used by mostly GIANT and Canyon (Though not on all of their models) It uses a 1 1/4 inch ( 31.8mm ) steerer tube.

Some handlebars will use an adapter to step down from OD2 to OD1, so almost all handlebars are compatible with OD1. Some bars however are not compatible with OD2, so check our product descriptions or ask us before ordering. 

Spacers. With modern aero bikes and aero integrated handlebars, gone are the days of everything just being a round tube. To get the optimum aesthetics for your bike, and to make sure it doesn't rub on the frame, you often need a special spacer or headset cover. The availability varies depending on the handlebar brand, but generally we'll list the available brands on the product page of the handlebars. As always, if you have any questions, just ask us.

Will it fit you? That's what we mean when we talk about size. We have a huge range of sizes as narrow as 34cm and as wide as 42cm. Stem lengths range from 80mm to 140mm. Check the individual product pages for sizing info.

A collection of custom handlebar spacers

How to Install a New Handlebar?

While it's not the most complicated job on a bike, the move to integration and fully internal cable routing has made the job of changing a handlebar more complicated. As the handlebar is a critical part of the bike, if you have any doubt, we recommend getting your local bike shop to help you with the installation. However, with a few tools and some patience, it's a simple job for most home mechanics.

The good folks over at GCN made a great video on how to change a handlebar.

Our Top Recommendations

After reading the above you may be left overwhelmed and thinking "Which handlebar should I buy?" or "Which is the best Chinese handlebar?" Well, fear not, our site has some of the best handlebars on the market, and the following are what we think are the best of the best:

Avian Canary: For the weight weenies

Starting from just 240g, the Avian Canary is a weight weenies dream. At just $299, it doesn't break the bank either. That price is no mean feat, as the bar utilises T1100 carbon fibre. Such high modulus fibres don't come cheap. The ergonomics of the bar are great and there's a wide range of compatible spacers. Definitely recommended.

FARSPORTS F1s: For Everyone

The FARSPORTS F1s is the second generation of FARSPORTS handlebar. The first generation was considered one of the best bars at the time, and even won an Olympic gold medal. The F1s improves on the original in all aspects. It's not as light as the Canary, but it's a mighty stiff bar and can take more of a beating. It's stiffness-to-weight ratio puts many big brands to shame. A great all-rounder.

EXS Aerover: For Nobody

The EXS Aerover is arguably the best Chinese handlebar on the market. However, it's almost always out of stock. Limited production combined with a thirsty domestic market means there's hardly ever stock. The price also reflects it's status, as one of the most expensive Chinese handlebars, you get what you pay for. A good alternative if the EXS Aerover is out of stock, is the top of the line FARSPORTS F1x.

What are you waiting for?

Check out our entire range of handlebars now. If you're still having trouble choosing, get in touch with us!

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