Best handlebar types for bike touring | Drops vs flats vs alternatives

Before heading out on a cycling adventure, it is important to get the bike setup sorted out. As you will spend the majority of the time holding the handlebars, having the right type for you is a key factor in making the trip a success.

When I was younger and went on cycling trips with my family, I rode a hybrid and only had flat handlebars. As I started going on longer rides I found I was limited in hand positions so added some bar ends. However, since I began road cycling and going on longer tours, I don’t think I can ride anything that doesn’t have drops on!

Flat handlebars


These are considered to be the most popular and standard handlebar type, seen on most hybrids, mountain bikes and city bikes. They are very simple, but don’t provide many different hand positions and can be less comfortable for example when climbing out of the saddle.

The good:

  • Ideal for beginners
  • Lots of control
  • Relaxed and upright position

The bad:

  • Limited hand positions
  • Limited body positions


Flat handlebars with bar ends

Bar ends:

Bar ends are a cheap and easy way to add another hand position for those keen on flat handlebars. As the name suggests, they attach onto the end of the bars, being useful to change position and out of the saddle climbing. One example are these BBB Classic bar ends from Wiggle.

The good:

  • A cheap addition
  • More hand position
  • Better for out of the saddle climbing

The bad:

  • Not a true substitute to drops
  • Not very aerodynamic



My trusty steed, with drops

Drop handlebars are common on road bikes and touring specific bikes and are my personal preference. They provide three main hand positions: on the hoods, the tops and on the drops. This means that they can be good for long tours, as they have a good choice of hand positions and are more aerodynamic! Drops can also work well with handlebar bags and other equipment that can be attached to the front of the bike. However, some people used to riding on flat bars might find it takes a while to get familiar with them. They are often narrower and lower so can feel different and wobbly the first time you ride with them! Some also find that they are too low, finding it harder to ride upright.

The good:

  • Different hand positions
  • More aerodynamic
  • Option of body angles

The bad:

  • Lack a true upright body position
  • Takes awhile to become familiar with them
  • May feel less stable
  • Bar tape can come undone or torn


Flared drop bars:

2017 Salsa Marrakesh Cowchipper flared handlebars

These have only recently started to emerge on more bikes, especially used in cyclo-cross, gravel and some touring. They are like drops but the bar ends are spread out, meaning they have more options for and positioning.

The good:

  • Lots of hand positions
  • Can offer more control
  • Less pressure on wrists

The bad:

  • Wide, harder to squeeze through traffic!
  • Take a while to get used to


Butterfly handlebars

Butterfly bars:

My parents first introduced me to butterfly bars a few years ago, but rarely see them on any other bikes. Some people find that they offer a wide range of different hand positions, without the restriction and being low on drops.







The good:

  • Good all-rounder
  • Lots of hand positions

The bad:

  • Might not feel as fast as drops
  • Climbing out of the saddle can lose stability



Since I changed to riding with drops I don’t think I could now ride anything else. They are comfortable and offer a good range of positions. However, it is really down to personal preference and what you enjoy riding with. One point which is important to mention is to make sure you have ridden with your handlebars before you leave, to ensure you feel comfortable and that any attachments fit on, especially if you have a handlebar bag or GPS mount.

Which handlebars do you use and recommend for bike touring? Comment down below

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About Ceri

Hi, My name is Ceri! I started this blog to share my love of cycling. This comes in all sorts from solo tours to race report! Keep pedalling!
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