Over the past several years, the popularity of cycling has led to many new products and options to enter the market; each is designed to help riders achieve both comfort and maximum performance. Whether one is interested in upgrading an existing bike or undertaking the immense challenge of building a custom cycle from the ground up, detailed knowledge of each component involved is essential. On road bikes, this includes specialised curved handlebars which are emblematic of road or race cycling.
Many of the issues surrounding handlebar purchases stem from the additional features offered by carbon fibre as the primary material of construction, as opposed to traditional aluminium. Over the years, carbon fibre has replaced aluminium as the premium material for the construction of all bike components. However, these additions have also led to a host of questions on the part of cyclists who are unsure which claims to believe and whether it is worth spending extra money on these premium options. For road bike handlebars, this means understanding the function of the handlebars themselves as well as the key differences, advantages, and disadvantages of each type of material.
Understanding Handlebar Theory
Before getting down to the specifics of road bike handlebars, it is important to take time to review the theory behind the use and construction of handlebars themselves. This theory can be broken down into three components: comfort, leverage, and lift.
When riding a bike, the further one bends over the handlebars, the more pressure and weight is exerted on the hands. For road bikes, the level of pressure exerted is relatively constant since riders are bent over for most of the time. Therefore, road bikes need to be able to accommodate a variety of different hand positions in order to help riders relieve that pressure as well as properly operate the gears and brakes of the bikes. This is why road bike handlebars are curved or designed in what is known as ergonomic styles.
From a strictly mechanical perspective, the purpose of handlebars on a bike is pretty easy to classify: They provide leverage for steering. Theoretically, wider handlebars act as longer levers and should give riders additional leverage. However, this thinking is flawed since the larger lever theory only works when the individual operating the lever works from a stable base, which a bike is decidedly not. Instead, widening the handlebars serves the function of spreading the arms, thus destabilising the base and causing the rider to lose leverage.
Therefore, the ideal position for handlebars is one that places the arms shoulder width apart once the rider leans over the bars. Though it is possible to widen or narrow the bars for comfort, any more than three to six centimetres of added or subtracted width negatively impacts leverage.
Although road bikes have little need for lift as compared to mountain bikes, there is still a lift component to the handlebars. Think about it: When riding a road bike, one's centre of gravity is low and cast forward. Because of this, there is very little room for the rider to pull back and lift the bike, which may be needed when climbing a hill. Professional road bikers tend to keep their hands on the top of the handlebars in these cases, which emphasises the need for curved bars, allowing for lift when needed.
Materials Used to Make Road Bike Handlebars
Once one understands the basic theory and function behind road bike handlebars and the components that are important to take into consideration when buying handlebars, the next step is reviewing the materials used to make them, namely carbon fibre and aluminium. Indeed, this is where more of the decision making comes into play in the road bike handlebar purchase. Understanding the differences between these handlebar types begins with the processes and materials used to make handlebars in the first place.
Using Carbon Fibre to Make Road Bike Handlebars
Carbon fibre is really a marvel of modern engineering and as such one of the most popular materials used in the production of modern machines ranging from car parts to sporting goods. Carbon fibre is extremely strong and five times as strong as steel, but also extremely lightweight.
Basically, carbon fibre is a series of strings of carbon atoms which are finer than a strand of human hair. These atoms are twisted together into something like yarn and then the 'yarn' is woven into a cloth which can be moulded into any shape imaginable, including handlebars of varying designs.
Using Aluminium to Make Road Bike Handlebars
Aluminium is durable, soft, lightweight, malleable, and well known to most people, as it is a chemical element known as atomic number 13. The aluminium used for bike parts is generated through an electrolytic extraction method of bauxite ore known as the Bayer process.
In the Bayer process, the aluminium hydrate in bauxite is separated from the other oxides such as iron, titanium, and silicon. Then, a calcination process is used to convert the aluminium hydrate into aluminium oxide, which is made of two aluminium atoms and three oxygen atoms. From there, aluminium oxide is melted in electric furnaces filled with sodium aluminium fluoride heated to between 940 and 980 degrees centigrade. The resulting aluminium alloy is siphoned off and then poured into moulds, such as handlebars. This process is extremely effective, but limited since the moulds can only be so curved before sacrificing the structural integrity of the aluminium alloy.
The basic descriptions of the process used to make road bike handlebars out of carbon fibre and aluminium reveal some of the startling differences between these two materials. These differences subsequently produce two very different types of handlebars, each with its own specific set of pros and cons. These pros and cons are listed in the table below.
Durable; cosmetically more appealing
Can provide a smoother ride, especially on an aluminium-framed bike
Lightweight and reliable
Less expensive than carbon fibre
Very rigid material which does not allow for ultra-ergonomic designs
Clearly, there are real advantages and disadvantages to choosing either carbon fibre or aluminium road bike handlebars. Carbon fibre is by far the more sleek looking of the two, but that look comes at a price. Road bike races have been won at the highest levels using both carbon fibre and aluminium, so there is no clear speed-related advantage to choosing one over the other. There are, however, a few key factors that a buyer may want to consider when looking for the perfect road bike handlebars.
Choosing the Right Handlebars
After understanding the key elements of handlebar construction as well as the important difference between the two primary materials used to make road bike handlebars, the next step is actually choosing the right handlebars. There are a few factors to consider in this final step.
Set a Budget to Decide
The biggest difference between carbon fibre and aluminium handlebars is the price. If carbon fibre handlebars are too expensive, the answer is already there. Also remember that in terms of weight, carbon fibre and aluminium are essentially equal.
Use Experience to Decide
Those who have already used carbon fibre generally stick with it since they do so in order to achieve the ultra-ergonomic design which is only able to be produced with carbon fibre. Also, those who have tried several aluminium handlebars to no avail may want to try carbon fibre instead. Looking at professional road bikers, it is easy to see that a good many of them choose each type of bars, carbon fibre and aluminium, further displaying the fact that it really comes down to personal preference in the end.
Buying Road Bike Handlebars on eBay
Once a buyer is confident that he or she knows the type of road bike handlebars he or she wants, the buying process can begin. While road bike handlebars are widely available for purchase through sporting goods stores and specialised bike retailers, many buyers can save money through buying them on eBay. The website offers both local sellers as well as those located throughout the world, giving the buyer the best of both worlds from the comfort of home.
How to Search eBay for Road Bike Handlebars
Searching eBay for road bike handlebars is as simple as using the main search bar at the top of the page and a few good search terms. Knowing the material you want helps in this regard, since "aluminium handlebars" produce fewer, more refined results than simply searching for "road bike handlebars" alone. In addition, searching for a specific size or brand of handlebars also produces more targeted results. A buyer may also choose to limit the general search by using the tools eBay provides, which allows for refinement according to brand, price, and materials.
With the popularity of road cycling only increasing, finding the best parts to make one's road bike the best it can be may seem tough. There are so many factors to consider; it is hard to even begin. However, the key to finding the best bike parts is understanding their function on the bike itself, as well as the different options available.
When it comes to road bike handlebars, the theory behind the equipment can be broken down into three components: comfort, leverage, and lift. From there, the two major materials used to make handlebars, carbon fibre and aluminium, each offer riders different benefits and drawbacks. Understanding the theory and processes behind the equipment itself as well as the materials used to make them along with some additional factors, such as budget and experience with handlebars, can help a buyer make an educated final decision.
Finally, when ready to purchase road bike handlebars, there are quite a few options ranging from traditional sporting goods stores to online websites. eBay offers the best of both worlds with localised sellers as well as international experts. Using a few key searching techniques can get a buyer the perfect handlebars at the perfect price from the comfort and convenience of his or her own home.