The Only Guide to Getting Your Handle on the Best Possible Ride

How to measure motorcycle handlebars?

You may think that measuring motorcycle handlebars is a straightforward thing. That would be the case if there were only one kind. Experience and the nuances between motorcycle manufacturers tell a different story. It’s not merely a matter of height and width. There are also angles and diameters of the components to consider when tricking out a ride to suit a particular individual.

Also, you’ll see variations depending on the model year. Again, you’ll find that the industry moves the goalposts, further complicating matters which vary with what is “in” at a particular time. The dimensions may vary by how different measurements are defined by the brand since there isn’t a  universal, be-all-end-all definition. They may depend on the type whether you’re taking sport bikes or cruisers.

Further complicating matters are federal regulations often hinging on safety that will vary on the international front too. Don’t get us started about imperial versus metric measurements. In the end, it usually means that you’ll need to contact the company to get the entire picture with a complete list of the specs.

Terms You Need to Know

You need to begin your journey with understanding how manufacturers approach this concept. The center width, for example, describes the flat base of the handlebars before they take off to the sides, upward, or downward. Consider this portion as your home base. The overall width covers the entire link of the handlebars from left to right.

A lot can happen in between these two points so that it’s really the end of the story without the juicy details that make the magic happen. The pullback provides an indication of the angle that the handlebars deviate from a 90-degree height. They may move toward or away from you. The sweep defines the angle at the end of the handlebar as if affects your wrist placement.

Then, you need to consider the rise or height of the handlebars. That can vary from a simple zero drag to serious ape hangers. The ends may also drop to give you your wrist angle. There is also the diameter of the bars. The materials play a role as well as how you will customize your ride and how comfortable you are on the road. They’ll also play a role in motorcycle values.

How Size Matters With Handlebars

The essential thing to remember is that less is more. Even a seemingly slight variation can make all the difference between a trip you enjoy and one that left you reaching for the ibuprofen. It’ll also affect your choice. You’ll find a lot to choose from with standard handlebars to wicked aftermarket models that you will set you back hundreds of dollars.

You don’t have to ride long before you realize the impact of your body. You’ll likely see tradeoffs with variations on all the dimensions of motorcycle handlebars. The style is only the beginning. You also need to consider the size of your bike, your skill level, and physical strength.

Types of Handlebars

You’ll find a plethora of handlebar styles, each suited to different riding styles and types of bikes. One of the most popular ones is the tracker. It’s similar to what you’d see on a bicycle with a short dip at the center width, giving it a short rise. You’ll often see them in track racing models. You can consider them a jack-of-all-trades since they’ll work on a variety of rides.

The zero drag takes the angle of the picture with a handlebar that is relatively flat. That shape puts the driver forward, which ramps up the speed and acceleration by reducing wind resistance and improving aerodynamics. You’ll also see some variations on this theme with low and high versions that add a center bar for support and increase the rise.

Clip-on handlebars are typical features on sports and drag bikes. As the name implies, you can adjust the width to suit your ride. Their placement also allows the driver to lean forward into the wind to increase speed. They have crossed over into different types of bikes such as bobbers. The advantage of this type is that the driver’s position often gives them more confidence on the road.

The Z-bar handlebar brings style and a short rise into the picture. It gets its name from the sharp angles going up from the center width that resemble the letter. Each side angles either up or toward the rider. The cruiser model is a direct contrast to this style with smoother angles that also go toward the back of the bike. The positioning is more relaxed, hence, the name.

The ape hanger is the classic chopper look with a curved handlebar and a rise of 12 inches or more. This type isn’t about handling or comfort. It’s all about looks and the vibe they create. You’ll see different riffs on this theme called mini apes or buckhorns. They have a shorter rise. The latter also has grips that are angled downward. They both provide a compromise to the challenge of the ape hanger style.

Matching the Size With Your Style of Riding

The best way to start is to home in on what works for you. That means trusting your instincts. Your goal at this point is to segue from getting used to a new position to find the one that you gravitate to naturally. Biking for long periods is challenging, especially if you’re not comfortable with the way your ride handles. The right position will minimize those pins-and-needle sensations.

Have a friend help you with the measuring part. First, find that instinctive position by holding your arms out in front of you. Move to the right, left, and back to the center. Then, have your buddy get the distance between your hands. Do it a couple of times more and average the figures. That will give you the overall width.

This dimension has a lot of impact on the maneuverability of your ride. The wider it is, the more demanding it’ll be to handle it and make sharp turns. It will also make you a bigger target for the wind coming at you on the ride. That can make a significant difference if you have a heavier bike. However, it will provide some added leverage for moving your ride.

Handlebar Measurements

You may see some different terms based on the manufacturer, especially with imports. If in doubt, go to the manufacturer’s website for details. However, three dimensions will point you in the direction of the right style for you no matter what they’re called. They include:

  • Rise
  • Overall width
  • Pullback

The rise can vary from anywhere from zero inches to over 17 inches on a mean-looking ape hanger. Unless that’s the look you’re after, you’ll likely find that anything higher than shoulder height will become uncomfortable with the restricted blood flow to your hands. On the other hand, the forward position of a low-rise bike puts the strain on your wrists.

The overall width goes from a modest 12 inches to over 24 inches. While you’ll pick up some leverage, you’ll lose some control on tighter curves. Bear in mind that it also factors into your comfort level. Wider ones will challenge your arm muscles on long rides by keeping them in a less natural position. That’s why you need to factor in your style of riding too.

You’ll see handlebars with an adjustable pullback or at fixed dimensions from zero to 12 inches or more. While a lot depends on your frame, a longer pullback will make you feel less cramped and can add to the comfort of your ride and help to prevent back pain. The tradeoff is aerodynamics. While you can sit more upright, you’ll also add to the wind resistance and demand on the bike.

Other dimensions you may find include diameter. It is more for matching the brand and model of your motorcycle. As a general rule of thumb, American bikes like Harley-Davison have one-inch handlebars, whereas imports lean toward seven-eighths. However, tracker models can push the limits to 1 ¾ inch across the center width and tapering to something more manageable toward the ends.

Pay attention to other features like the wrist angle too. It also affects blood flow to your hands and the comfort of your ride. If it works for your bike, handlebars with adjustable components are a godsend. They allow you to match the style with your bike. If you’re new to riding, you may find them a viable option until you get a handle on what feels best to you.

Other Style Factors

You’ll see a lot of variations on materials from aluminum alloys to titanium plating—and everything in between. You’ll find out the impact they have on pricing when you start crunching numbers with a motorcycle loan calculator.

You’ll also find handlebars that are knurled. The added texture in the clamp portion serves a functional purpose for the construction instead of the driver’s comfort. It can add a cool element too. Likewise, the terms, dimpled and drilled, let you know if you can swap out the wiring for internal or external setups if you’re customizing your handlebars.

The question of how to measure motorcycle handlebars doesn’t have a simple answer. Instead, you have to consider a lot of factors that may not seem evident. A lot depends on how you ride. You’ll likely prefer something different for long jaunts than a cruise through town. Remember that making drastic changes in the size means adjusting the wiring and cables too.

Whether you’re riding the latest Gold Wing or a vintage bike with a sidecar, the devil is in the details when it comes to how to measure motorcycle handlebars. Starting with the dimensions is easy. The hard part is deciding on which style you want with the dizzying array of choices you’ll find. Know what feels right for you will narrow the playing field.