Are there really any differences between the best handlebars for gravel riding and for road cycling?
Flared handlebars have become the norm on new gravel bikes recently, where the drops give a wider position than on the hoods. If you’re looking to upgrade to flared bars for your off-road endeavours or something a little different, we’ve got a few suggestions for you.
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- Check out the best gravel bikes on the market – and all ridden and reviewed
- Best budget gravel bikes under £1000
Our pick of the best handlebars for gravel riding
Here’s our pick of the best handlebars for gravel riding that are on the market right now. Read on to the end for more tips on what to look for when choosing the best handlebars for you, including notes on flared bars and why you might want to consider them.
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Specialized Hover Alloy Handlebars
- RRP: £50
- Review score: 9/10
- Pros: very comfortable; great value; extended fit options
- Cons: slightly odd-looking
- Sizes: 38-46
- Flare: 12° flare and 15mm rise
Their looks might divide opinion, but these hover bars from Specialized certainly impressed on long term review. Besides their excellent value, thanks to the 15mm rise they offer a great range of fit, among other benefits. The rise gives you more space on the bars for your hands when running a handlebar bag, and for smaller riders this extra 15mm above the tyre can make a big difference to handlebar bag compatibility. There’s a subtle 12 degree flare on the drops too, so you’ll find yourself in a sturdier position for descending and techy riding than traditional road bars.
Read more: Specialized Hover Alloy Handlebar review
PRO Discover Flared Bars
- RRP: £44.99
- Sizes: 40,42,44 (medium), 42 or 44 (big)
- Flare: 12° (medium) or 30° (big)
Shimano’s component brand PRO have released a whole suite of gravel-centric finishing kit to complement the GRX groupset and wheels in their Discover range, designed for gravel, adventure and bikepacking. The Discover bars are available in medium flare and big flare, at 12 and 30 degrees, respectively. These bars are sleek, simple and reasonably priced. There’s a slight widening across the tops of the bars too to make them more ergonomic, perfect for long gravel rides.
Easton EA70 AX Alloy Gravel Flared Bars
- RRP: £79.99
- Sizes: 40-46
- Flare: 16°
The EA70 AX bars from American brand Easton are one of two flared options in our list, with the EC70 AX referring to the carbon fibre equivalent (RRP £180). These feature a moderate flare of 16 degrees, meaning you’ll benefit from a sturdier descending position, while retaining the same position for your shifters up top. In the drops, this level of flare adds an extra 68mm. These bars also feature some handy measurement marks which help you to fit the shifters equally and get the bars central on the stem clamp.
Salsa Cowchipper Flared Bars
- RRP: £45
- Sizes: 38-52
- Flare: 24°
One of the first players in the flared bars game, Salsa’s Cowchipper bars are somewhat of an icon in gravel riding circles. These feature a ‘radical’ 24 degree flare that alters not only the drop width, but also the angle of the shifters up top. For a really extreme position, or range of hand positions, opt for the mega 52cm width option.
FSA Adventure Compact Road Bar
- RRP: £40
- Sizes: 40-44
- Flare: 12°
Retailing at a really reasonable £40 and often available at even less, the Adventure Compact Road Bar is a great budget choice from FSA. This alloy bar is available in the most popular sizes from 40-22, and with a moderate flare of 12 degrees it’s a great starting point for anyone who’s curious to try flared drop bars, without having to commit too much cash.
Farr Aero Gravel Alloy bars
- RRP: £99.99
- Sizes: 42-46
- Flare: 25°
With a huge 25 degree flare and an out-front extension, these Aero Gravel Alloy bars from Australian endurance specialists Farr are one of a kind. After seeing how popular their aero bolt-on device was with gravel riders and racers, they made this integrated alloy bar to allow more hand position options – incredibly useful when it comes to long distance riding. Besides the aero bar out front, these bars also have a hefty 25 degree flare, which makes fitting a larger handlebar bag that bit easier.
Spank Flare 25 Vibrocore Drop Bar
- RRP: £99.99
- Sizes: 42-52
- Flare: 25°
With a mighty 25 degree flare, the 25 Vibrocore bars from Spank are a popular choice for riders that like their bars served wide. They even go up to a 52cm size, so there’ll be a huge amount of space for a handlebar bag and a really wide, stable position for riders that err on the MTB side of gravel bike terrain. A Vibrocore foam insert is claimed to help reduce vibrations from rough terrain and to strengthen the handlebars.
Coefficient Cycling AR Carbon Bar
- RRP: £319
- Sizes: 38-44
- Flare: 4°
Developed in the USA, the Coefficient Cycling AR (All Road) bar is probably the strangest looking handlebar you’ve ever seen. Also referred to as the wave bar, this carbon fibre design has been optimised with multiple hand positions and comfort in mind for road, cyclocross and gravel riding. A combination of slope and sweep across the tops of the bars gives them their unique shape that permits a more a neutral alignment for your shoulders and wrists. The thumb notches on the drops give strong anchoring points for descending, riding over rough terrain and sprinting.
Lauf Smoothie Carbon Bars
- RRP: £220
- Sizes: 40-44
- Flare: 16°
The carbon Smoothie bars from Icelandic brand Lauf were the choice of senior Tech writer James Bracey for his Dream Gravel Build. Constructed of a moderate flare at 16 degrees – so with a 44cm bar – they measure 51cm in the drops. These carbon fibre bars – like other products in Lauf’s portfolio – have been designed to take the harshest feedback of gravel riding out of the ride. The carbon fibre is mixed with glass fibre to give varying stiffness and flex in different regions of the bars to optimise comfort. There’s also a three degree backsweep across the top of the bar. At around 250g, they’re certainly a lightweight option, although that does come with a larger price tag.
Stooge Moto Bars
- RRP: £64.99
- Sizes: 80cm wide
- Sweep: 17°
Yes, really: flat bars for gravel riding are a thing! The key here isn’t flare, but sweep; i.e. how much the bars bend back towards the rider to put the wrists in a more neutral position. With a generous 17 degrees of sweep, these are a great choice for gravel riders that prefer flat bars to drops. A more upright position is a natural consequence thanks to a 38mm rise from the stem, a feature that also gives and can give greater clearance over the front tyre for smaller riders. Stooge is better know for its incredible MTB frames, but in this case, they’re on to a winner with these bars.
Why flared bars for gravel riding?
There’s no denying that flared bars are all the rage for off-road drop bar biking, aka gravel riding. But why are they so popular? If you’re anything like us, and are a bit cynical about this quite subtle change, let us tell you: seeing really is believing when it comes to trying out some flared handlebars for yourself.
Ranging from mild flares in the low teens to 25 or even 30 degrees, these bars all alter your position when you’re in the drops. This position tends to be more stable for descending off-road, widening your stance and giving you more control. As an added bonus, with more space between the drops, there’s also a bit more room for handlebar bags if you’re going bikepacking or endurance racing.
Most of the mild flares up to around 15 degrees won’t alter the position of your hands when you’re on the hoods, but beyond this you’ll find that the shifters also change position. This can be supremely comfortable for some and simply uncomfortable for others. We’d recommend starting with a mild flare at first, and then if you’re still curious, moving up to these more extreme bar shapes.
What about flat bars for gravel riding?
Flat bar gravel bikes could be the next big thing. Specialized’s 2021 Diverge launch featured two straight bar models, Ribble offer some of their CGR models with flat bars too, and there’s an increasing number of custom gravel built up with straight bars too.
When it comes to putting straight bars on gravel bikes, there might be a bit more to it than simply fitting some old MTB flat bars. As the type of riding is often a bit different to modern mountain biking, you’ll need to consider how you can make these comfortable, for example, for longer rides where you spend more time in the same position.
You can use two different things to alter how comfortable this is for your hands and wrists: the sweep of the bar (Jones bars being the extreme example) or the grips that you use. Try a set of grips with more wrist support, for example the Ergon GA3 grips.
If you’re into bikepacking, you might find that flat bars work better for you, as there’s less of a limit when it comes to handlebar bag size.
What’s the best handlebar material for gravel riding?
Although most gravel-specific handlebars are aluminium alloy, you’ll also find some carbon fibre models aimed towards the racier end of the spectrum.
Alloy makes for a great handlebar material as it’s strong and robust, which is especially useful when it comes to gravel bikes and the kind of treatment they go through over rough terrain or on multi-day bikepacking trips.
Carbon fibre handlebars tend to be lighter, which might be of use if you’re a more competitive gravel racer, or help to reduce rough road feedback a little. They’ll certainly be more expensive though, and bear in mind that although carbon fibre bars are strong, they can break more catastrophically on impact, such as if you end up tumbling over the bars.