The handlebars are one of the most fundamental components of a motorcycle. It's central to the steering mechanism, and it's where you can find essential controls, including the throttle, clutch, brake, horn, and other switches. Manufacturers do their best to equip their models with handlebars that look good and fit the bikes as well as possible.
That's swell, but sometimes, riders can't help but want to switch things up. For the most part, handlebars are interchangeable components. There are several different types, and each serves a distinct purpose, be it for aesthetics or performance. Two of the most common aftermarket options out there are clip-on handlebars and wide handlebars. These garner praise for providing a unique look and rider-centric ergonomics.
While you can generally equip most types of handlebars to most types of motorcycles, there are a few unwritten rules to follow. For example, clip-on handlebars typically look and work best in sportbikes like the Ducati Panigale V4 and MV Agusta Superveloce 800. On the other hand, you'll see wide-style handlebars fit better on standard bikes like the Ducati Scrambler Icon and cruisers like the Harley-Davidson Iron 1200.
What are wide handlebars?
As the name implies, wide-style handlebars extend to the sides more than most stock handlebars. With wider handlebars on your motorcycle, you can expect to gain a significant amount of leverage. More leverage means steering will require much less input, and low-speed maneuvers will be relatively less challenging.
Another thing that can affect leverage is the pullback. You can check this by measuring the horizontal width of the front to the rearmost point of the handlebar. With more pullback, you generally don't have to lean forward as much as you would otherwise. The downside is, more pullback means you may lose a bit of leverage on the motorcycle.
There are also several other factors other than width that determine the sub-type of a wide handlebar. For example, handlebars that rise high above the clamps are known as ape-hangers, while clubman bars tend to drop a few inches below the dashboard. Drag bars are wide-style handlebars that run straight across from end to end.
There are many more handlebar types out there, each with a distinct style and performance pros and cons, so you'll have to weigh those properly to find the best match for you.
When buying aftermarket handlebars, you always have to consider a few crucial points. The first thing you have to do is measure the control length. Where do your controls begin and end? You want to get a handlebar that can fit all your switches and toggles comfortably. You also have to consider the fit. Some handlebars are knurled or textured for better clamping ability. These bars can stay in place much better than regular, smooth handlebars, but they tend to be more expensive.
When done thoughtfully, most wide-style handlebars can ultimately give you more control over your bike. What's the catch? Well, wide handlebars are generally less aerodynamic than narrower types, so they're not the best for spirited riding. As we'll touch on next, professional racers use clip-on handlebars to get the most out of their motorcycles.
What are clip-on handlebars?
Clip-on handlebars are composed of two separate handles that are clamped directly to the front forks. This handlebar style is best for racing or general track riding. If you're going to be doing a lot of high-speed cornering, clip-ons can be your best friend.
While you'll love them on the track, clip-ons can be unwieldy for daily riding and during low-speed maneuvering. However, they can still be a viable choice if you're an intermediate or advanced rider.
If you're installing clip-ons on a bike that didn't have it as stock, keep in mind the clearance between the forks and the gas tank. Some conversions will inevitably have a problem with the handlebars hitting the tank when moved from side to side at full extension. You don't want to put in all the effort of installing clip-ons only to end up with a dented gas tank.
Like with wide handlebars, you also have to consider the control length to fit all your switches and toggles. So, make sure you measure everything thoroughly before you commit to installing clip-ons on your motorcycle. Lastly, keep in mind that clip-on handlebars can be more complex to install than other types. It would involve removing the triple clamp to reach the front fork tubes. In some cases, you may even have to remove the front wheel.
Which is better?
Wide-style handlebars cover an entire subset of handlebar types. Whether you get an ape-hanger, clubman bar, or a drag bar, you will generally find a leverage gain at the expense of sportiness. With clip-on handlebars, these are best for racing or track use.
One isn't inherently better than the other. Only you can determine which type would work best for your particular motorcycle and use case. While you're free to choose anything you want, you always have to consider what you're gaining and losing.
Whichever type of aftermarket handlebars you decide to buy, make sure you choose a reputable brand with a documented history of selling high-quality products. When in doubt, reach out to a trusted mechanic or motorcycle expert to help determine the best course of action.