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Trekking Handlebars and Other Comforts

by BluesCat

BluesCatBluesCat is a 60-year-old Phoenix, Arizona resident who originally returned to bicycling in 2002 in order to help his son get the Boy Scout Cycling merit badge. His bikes sat idle until the summer of 2008 when gas prices spiked at over $4.00 per gallon. Since then, he has become active cycling, day-touring, commuting by bike, blogging (azbluescat.blogspot.com) and giving grief to the forum editors in the on-line cycling community.


I like bikes. I love comfortable bikes. So it should surprise no one that my favorite bike is a recumbent.

It also should be no surprise that I try to make my diamond frame bikes as comfortable as possible.

BluesCat's Saddles

Specialized (L) and Brooks (R) Saddles

The bike saddles and handlebars on my Specialized Hardrock and Giant Yukon mountain bikes are the make or break components for making me a happy cyclist.

The original saddles on these two bikes were horrible, so I have replaced the Hardrock saddle with a Specialized Expedition Pro and the Yukon sports a Brooks Flyer.

The Expedition Pro (I believe it is now called the Expedition Plus in the Specialized catalog) has the classic twin rear springs, and the seating surface is supported by a web of several tension coil springs strung between the tongue and rear of the saddle frame.

Riding on this saddle is like riding on a pillow-top mattress. Broken-in Brooks saddles are legendary for their comfort. The Flyer adds a pair of rear springs for additional cushioning. The leather tops of Brooks saddles mold themselves to the contours of your sit bones as you ride. After a few hundred miles on a Brooks, pressure points disappear and the saddle fits your butt like a custom orthotic.

The stock handlebars on the Hardrock and Yukon aren’t much better than the saddles. They are both riser handlebars. The Hardrock bars are made of aluminum and the Yukon bars are steel.

Weight, however, isn’t the problem. My problem with riser handlebars, or flat bars, is that they do not offer many different, comfortable hand positions.

You either have your hands spread way apart on the grips (which leads to the feeling of being on an Inquisitor’s rack after about ten miles), or you bring them in towards the stem and grip the cold, hard, naked metal of the bar.

Trekking HandlebarsDrop handlebars offer a much better variety of hand positions, and winding bike tape all over them means I would never have to contend with subjecting my sensitive, artist’s hands to the brutality of cold metal.

However, I am not a fan of drop bars for a different reason.

Whenever you are down in the drops, you are supporting your entire upper body with the muscles of your arms and your shoulders. After a few miles, this is no better than the torture position of a riser bar. And never, ever lock your elbows, when you are in the drops or you may find yourself in additional pain when you hit that next pothole.

Trekking handlebars are best. These butterfly-shaped handlebars are hands-down (pun intended) the best design to date.

Although they look huge, they are actually slightly narrower than the typical riser bar.

Trekking bars weigh only slightly more than aluminum riser bars, and weigh far less than steel bars.

Trekking Handlebars

Width Comparison

Because of a curve in the bars, they can be put on the bike in a “riser” position–so the outside loops come up above the stem–or used in the “drop” position so the loops swoop down from the stem.

Experimentation has led me to put the bars in the riser position on the larger frame Hardrock and in the drop position on the Yukon.

You can put regular grips on the straight portions of the bar, or you can go through the trouble of winding on bar tape.

I don’t have the patience for bar tape, so I have found the perfect solution in the Sunlite Cruiser Foam Grip Set.

Sunlite Grip Set

Sunlite Cruiser Foam Grip Set

The kit comes with two lengths of foam tubing, two sculpted foam grips and two end plugs.

Once you get the old handlebar off and the Trekking bars on, you run some water through the inside of the foam tubing and slip it on all the way to within a few inches of the stem.

You then run some water through the inside of a foam grip and slip it on; leaving enough of the bar sticking out beyond the grip that you can slip the brake/shift lever on, lever first, and cinch it down.

I’ve got the whole process down to about twenty minutes from start to being on the road. The Trekking bar size is the standard 25.4mm mountain bike/hybrid stem.

If you want to put a set on your road bike, you may have to find a shim set for the stem clamp.

The only other problem you may have with Trekking bars is finding them!

Very few local bike shops stock them. Nashbar has their black Trekking bars on their site at various times during the year; right now they are there and available for $17.99 plus shipping.

Velo-Orange has a set of silver aluminum Trekking bars for $25.00. If you live across the Pond in Europe, I understand that Raleigh and BBB also make Trekking bars.

The upscale Italian manufacturer, Modolo, also makes a variey of Trekking bars. In addition to the standard type, which they call the Yuma Traveller, they make a slightly altered model called the Yuma Mohican, which looks like a flat bar with a pair of integral, curvy bar ends. They also make a totally adjustable set called the Dumbo. You can adjust the direction of the loops and the angle of the bar to any position you wish. I would love to try a set Dumbos, but they are quite expensive.

When you start riding with Trekking bars, you discover you have five distinctive hand positions: (1) on the “flats” (where I have the sculpted grips on mine), (2) on the side-rear curves, (3) on the front-outside curves (sort of a ten and two o’clock position), (4) on the front loops, and (5) in drop position.

The drop position is especially good for riding into a headwind; you hook your thumbs under the front loops and rest your forearms down on the flats; you are in a drop position almost as low as you get with a set of drop bars, and you are expending about as much energy as you are when you are leaning on a rail fence.

 
Burley nomad 229

11 Responses to “Trekking Handlebars and Other Comforts”

  1. Brian Ogilvie says:

    If your hands are supporting your upper body when you ride in the drops of drop handlebars, your saddle is probably too far forward. Try moving it back a little bit on the rails. Ideally you should be able to let go of the handlebars and have your weight supported by your core muscles.

    Many people with drop handlebars would find the drops more useful if they raise the bars. Unless you’re a racer, there’s no need to have the handlebars lower than the saddle. If you’re a casual or touring cyclist, or even a randonneur, it’s good to have the bars at saddle height or even higher.

    Trekking bars are a good solution for some people, but readers who have drop bars and are considering a switch might first consider changing their saddle position and bar height.

    As usual, the late Sheldon Brown had some good advice: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/handsup.html

  2. David says:

    I recently switched back to upright bikes from recumbents. I set my bike up with a sprung Brooks saddle and trekking bars in the riser position. I’m finding the ride almost as comfortable as a recumbent. Its hard to beat a recumbent for overall comfort.

  3. BluesCat says:

    Brian Ogilvie – I agree with you, with one caveat.

    Speaking only for myself, around the time I became eligible for the senior discounts on breakfast at Denny’s, those core muscles you mention (especially the abdominal and lower back muscles) began to show signs of wanting to increase the speed of my entire body’s trek towards retirement.

    As a result, when I am riding I have become more dependent on the strong, skeletal support structure created by the triangle between the hips, the shoulders and the hands on the handlebars.

    Bluntly: those core muscles can’t do the job they once were able to do, so my shoulders and hands have had to take up the slack whenever I’m leaning even slightly forward in the saddle.

    I say this only for myself, but I suspect that it applies to other, more … er … mature riders and that is one of the factors which lead us to gravitate towards recumbents.

    That, and another thing that comes with age: Wisdom.

  4. Emilio says:

    Interesting; do you use the same stem for the trekking bar as for drop bars ? It would be nice to give it a try, just wondering if I should get a new stem too.

  5. BluesCat says:

    Emilio – My understanding is that SOME of the newer road bike stems will accept the Trekking bars, but that MOST road bike stems have a larger handlebar clamp than 25.4mm. There are shim kits available, which vary in price from $5 to $10 and up, which will allow you to fit a flat bar, a riser bar or a trekking bar to one of these road bike stems.

    I’m sure the techs at your local bike shop will be familiar with this.

    A noteworthy aside is that the smaller frame on the Yukon made the regular riser handlebars just about right, maybe just a tad low when I had the seat height properly adjusted. When I originally tried the Trekking bars in the drop position they were way too low. I added a stem extension and now the Trekking bars in the drop position are absolutely perfect.

  6. Emilio says:

    Thanks BluesCat; I was also thinking ot the stem length, as the reach of trekking bars looks different. What is your experience there ?
    Thanks !

  7. BluesCat says:

    Emilio – Yeah, the “regular” reach (from handlebar to saddle nose) has definitely changed: it has gotten quite a bit shorter as a result of the grips moving back behind the stem clamp — on the trekking bar flats — rather than being in line with the clamp, out on the ends of the bar as they are with a flat bar.

    I’m no bike fitter, so it is inappropriate for me to get into a discussion of the art of making the myriad of adjustments to the bike for the optimum performance of a particular individual.

    I can, however, make subjective comments on how it has helped my personal comfort and performance. When my hands are on the flats, I am in an upright position almost as straight-up as on a beach cruiser. As I slide my hands around the outside of the bar towards the front loops, and stay seated, I gradually increase the reach distance and the forward angle of my body. I can “fine tune” the angle of my body and my reach for the exact configuration for feels most comfortable at that moment.

    That is something which is IMPOSSIBLE to do with a flat bar or a riser bar.

  8. MikeDinWP says:

    First question… what do you give up or compromise when using a seat with springs? Second, would you please post addition photos on the handle bars from the seated rider perspective?

  9. Alan says:

    I tried out a set of trekking bars on my Kona Ute but decided to go back to the stock Kona Handplant bar.

    I found that comfort was not increased and, for city riding, the temptation to put my hands somewhere other than where on the brakes creates an accident waiting to happen. I’m still looking for a perfect handlebar but mountain-spec bars seem few and far between…

    I too have a Brooks Flyer and, when ridden with cycling shorts, it’s a wonderful solution. Very, very nice. The springs are a cheap and simple suspension system and the only drawback I can imagine might be in very aggressive riding where the springs could launch you off the seat. Not likely, I suppose, and not an issue for me. It’s a great saddle.

  10. Nonotuck says:

    Just got back from Berlin, where there is a huge amount of urban biking, both short- and long-distance. I’d say almost half the bikes had these butterfly or trekking bars. People seem to love them. Also, Berlin has an interesting bike lane system: they build the lanes into the sidewalks rather than the road, using differently colored paving materials and small, bike level traffic lights at many intersections. The bottom line is that Berlin cyclists have to have hair-trigger braking reflexes, and these trekking bars don’t seem to be an impediment.

  11. BluesCat says:

    MikeDinWP – I apologize for being SO long in responding! I think the only thing you give up — for the comfort of a Flyer — is the weight. But I think the comfort of the Brooks FAR outweighs any weight advantage.

    Here’s a photo of the cockpit of my Giant Yukon from the rider’s perspective. I had a lot of accessories loaded on the bike when this photo was taken.

    Alan – When I’ve been riding my Batavus, I’ve always found moving from the stem area of the bars down and forward to the area where the brake levers are on the drop handlebars a MUCH more unnerving move than moving back from any position of the Trekking bars to where the brifters are. There have been a couple of times when I’ve missed hooking my thumb around the forward loop of the drop bars (because of a bump in the road or some other roadway variation) and almost banged my nose on the top of the stem. Some of this is, I know, because I simply do not ride the Batavus a lot, but it is REALLY hard to miss the brakes on the Trekking bars.

    Nonotuck – I have heard that Trekking bars are almost considered “normal” handlebars for certain parts of Europe.

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