QUESTION: I’ve been looking at putting different bars on my titanium gravel bike, and I see that a lot of riders are using flared bars. Why flared bars for gravel riding? What’s the advantage? And is it ok for the road, because I also ride on the road with this bike fairly often. – Michael T
RBR REPLIES: Many road and gravel riders also own a mountain bike, and if you do, you’ve probably noticed that mountain bike handlebars have gotten wider and wider over the last several years. The reason for that is because the market has shifted to mostly large 29er wheels. Mountain bikers found that the wider bars give them more leverage and control.
But the downside to very wide handlebars is decreased aerodynamics. And on a very long gravel ride, aerodynamics can make a big cumulative difference. Additionally, most roadies ride on the brake hoods most of the time. So if your gravel bike has dramatically wider handlebars than your road bike, it can become uncomfortable to try and hold yourself up on the hoods for hours and hours in a different position that you’re used to.
But it turns out that there’s a way to have your cake and eat it too — by using flared handlebars. While you’re on your brake hoods, you get your regular road position which is also a narrower position that’s aerodynamic. But when you ride through the gnarly sections, you can drop down to the flared out drops to give you a wider grip for better control of the bike.
There are different degrees of flare, depending on how wide you’d like to go. Some of the wider flared bars point out at 24 degrees wider than the hoods. Others flare out as little as 4 degrees, making it barely noticeable when you look at the bike. Flared handlebars are also sometimes shallower than pure road handlebars. (The bottom part of the bar isn’t as far down toward the ground.) This makes it easier to grab the drops without bending down as far, and often more comfortable to ride in the drops for an extended period.
If you’re riding that gravel bike on the road in a tight pack with a bunch of competitive roadies, stay aware of that extra flare and leave room, so no one gets hooked. Especially if you go with the super wide flare.