Drop the dropbars!
March 28, 2014 10:56 PM   Subscribe

How to replace the hated handlebars on my bicycle?

I recently acquired a new bicycle (long story short: I crashed my other one, which I was considering replacing anyway).

While I understand it's a racing bike of a sort (my weakling self can pick it up with one hand), I hate* the drop handlebars on it and want to replace that with some more upright bars that still utilize the brake cable system. However, I don't understand how to tell what size I would need. What forums I've found on the topic are pretty damn know-it-all rude, like wandering into an "expert" photography forum, half of which propose solutions that don't actually address the issue, and I'm getting frustrated.

I'm really very determined to learn how to take apart and service my bicycle and have been watching a ton of YouTube videos (how to clean _____, how to take apart the rear derailleur, how to oil _____), but replacing the handlebars makes me nervous because I don't want to screw up the gears or the brakes. Halp?

Do you have some good sites to find handlebars online?

*I've tried to adjust my seat, and I've looked at pictures on how it's supposed to be, and I've messed with the dropbars angle quite a lot. I just can't stand them and know that I'm doubly unsafe attempting to use these; attempting to use them in a normal levers-angled-downward position is the equivalent of me riding a fixie because I can't stretch my small hands to hold them comfortably. Currently my setup is like so, but I just want some straight style bars so I'm neither sitting straight up like now, nor bending over in the dropbar position.
I can't stress enough how much these stress me out. I DO NOT want recommendations on how to learn to use drop handlebars. I really just want to replace them, and I'd rather not sell it as it's a nice bike at an extremely great deal. I've already fallen in love with the frame and the general way she rides. I just need to fix a few things! Thanks.
posted by DisreputableDog to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total)
Is that your picture? (Going to assume it is) You have a 1" threaded stem (that's the bit that sticks out of the frame) with a 26mm clamp (that's the bit that connects the stem to the bar)

Now, you have pretty much two options:

1. Get a gull-wing type bar, like the On One Mungo and a higher stem. This will let you use your existing brake levers. In this case, you would transfer your grip shifts to the ends of the bars
2. Get normal flat bars (or riser bars). This will require you to change your brake levers: you need to find flat bar levers with 'road pull' - Tektro makes a few including the FL750. There are others, but they must be 'road pull', 'calliper pull' or even 'long pull'. If you try to use normal mountain bike/v-brake style levers, they won't pull enough cable to actually stop your bike. Here you can mount your grip shifts as they were intended to be mounted.

Getting a replacement stem (to adjust your final fit) for your bike will be super cheap, as hundreds of millions of bikes with stems like that have been produced over the past 50 years and they don't break easily. Just look for a threaded 1" stem.

PS. There's a third solution which involves using something called a 'travel agent' to change the pull ratio on your brakes and MTB brakes but since those things cost about $10-15/each, it's cheaper just to get the right kinds of levers.

(Sorry about the eurocentric links, they're just here as examples. Buy locally, support your local bike shop!)
posted by jedrek at 11:49 PM on March 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Agree with most of what jedrek said above. I personally vouch for the Nitto Jitensha Studio bars and have had them on one of my bikes for years. They're super comfortable, but you will have to switch your brake levers and perhaps your shifters. Which is OK because mountain-style trigger shifters are much better than bar-end or grip shifters for many people.
posted by a halcyon day at 12:34 AM on March 29, 2014

That stem could easily be (and likely is) 25.4mm clamp diameter, not 26.0mm.

My advice is to take it to a local bike shop, and either buy the parts there where someone can measure the existing parts and sell you the right thing or do the work for you.

It's not uncommon to do exactly what you want to do with your bike. You'll most likely end up buying a handlebar, some grips, and flat bar style brake levers. Oh, and expect to buy some new brake cables too.
posted by Brooklyn_Jake at 8:15 AM on March 29, 2014

First off; if you can't reach the brakes, that bike is probably not fitted correctly to your size regardless of if you like the drops or not. You might want to evaluate if the bike is a good fit.

Another solution, in fact a very cheap solution would be to get inline cross top style levers and install them. I have a pair on mine and use them just as much, if not more than my regular brakes.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:16 AM on March 29, 2014

I'd start by taking off the white face plate to the stem and try to find your clamp diameter. That will dictate what size handlebar you need.

I love the idea of getting a gull wing bar or a north roads bar. Both of those will also add some height to the bar as they reach back to you. Either of those will allow you to use the twist shifters you have. I'd also get new brake levers since the ones you have never really feel great on other style bars. I'm liking furnace.heart's idea of going with cross top/interrupters. Super affordable and would be pretty solid on a north roads.
posted by advicepig at 8:31 AM on March 29, 2014

I agree with furnace - if the bike is that uncomfortable it's either too big for you or you need more time to get used to a proper riding position. Do not assume total upright comfort is the only way that is "safe" or "correct" - it's totally possible to sit upright with the saddle too low and wreck your knees over time. Get professionally fitted. If the bike is too big it's not a good deal no matter how cheap it was.

Like mentioned above, thing you have to get right purchasing a new bar is finding the diameter your stem is designed to take. You can't just pick any bar, some won't fit. There are two diameters commonly used and like Brooklyn Jake said you could have a 26mm clamp or 24.5mm, you want to make sure before you purchase anything. Look for markings on your current bar and stem, they may be in the clamp area so you would need to take them off to see.

Frankly I am surprised your grip shifters are on a drop bar bike because normally those are a diameter meant for mountain bikes and they wouldn't fit on a drop bar. If they are shimmed (something wedged in there to make them fit on a bar narrower than they were intended for) you will be better off with new shifters if that's in your budget. Grip shifters are not great, other types of shifters perform better in many cases.

Like jedrek said changing bars usually involves changing shifters or brake levers or both, it depends on the shape of the bar and if everything fits in the right position. Changing shifters means maybe changing other parts in your drivetrain, however, and that gets expensive really fast. Without seeing the rest of your bike I can't tell what's going on but I would be willing to bet $20 your shifting performance is crap because I bet those grip shifters don't really match whatever cassette and derailleur you have. I really admire your impulse to DIY this but for a total novice this is actually a fairly complicated mechanical operation that will probably require installing new brake and shifter cable and properly adjusting the cable tension. Do you own a cable puller tool and a set of allen keys? If not this is beyond your ability to DIY and I strongly suggest you take your bike to a shop and tell them what you want to do.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:37 AM on March 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it fits, this moustache bar is a super deal.
posted by advicepig at 8:41 AM on March 29, 2014

I have done exactly what you want to do on your bike, I bought a bike on craigslist that had drop handlebars and while I could ride on it, I really wanted a different style of handlebars. the first time I changed handlebar styles I brought my bike to a shop and had them do it for me. The second time I felt more comfortable so I went to a local bike shop that had a bike stand for people to do their own work on bikes and I did the work there and asked for help when I needed it. It's not as difficult as you imagine, but you will need to be able to take the brake levers off as well as the shifters. If I were you, not feeling comfortable with doing all the work on your own, I would find a good local bike shop and explain what you want to do and see if they can help you. If they say "no way that can never be done" I would bring it to a different bike shop and get a second opinion.
Just so you know your options, there are some of the many different types of handlebars you can put on your bike: Soma Handlebars. I have had these on my bike and I loved them. Currently I have some nitto drop bars that I cut in half to make bullhorn bars that are just fantastic.
posted by ruhroh at 8:57 AM on March 29, 2014

Word of warning: the style and components of that bike looks awfully similar to this one (and others from big-box stores) that I see around a lot. (Out-of-place grip shifters on drop bars, chunky alu frame, single pivot brakes, threaded stem.) If that's the case, getting those shifters off and then on a new set of handlebars may be more difficult than with standard parts, like you'd get on a bike from your LBS. If you take it to your LBS, it might seem like they're being snotty or up-selling you, but from personal experience helping acquaintances, I can tell you that it's tough to keep those bikes working well, and probably even tougher to swap out components.
posted by supercres at 10:52 AM on March 29, 2014

Swapping out handlebars is a few steps beyond basic bike care, because it can involve a new stem, new brakes, new bar, new brake cables, etc. I swapped out my handlebars in a similar situation a few years ago, but a friend pretty much did it for me -- answered all my questions, gave me a shopping list, and did the actual work.

As a bike owner and committed home bike mechanic, the most important thing you can do is cultivate a relationship with your local bike shop. I feel comfortable stopping by mine with questions like, "Is this something I can fix myself?" And they are great and are glad to give me advice. And I trust the work they do.

So, for this one, I say let the bike shop folks do this.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:57 AM on March 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would second supercres in noting that this looks like a (comparatively) cheap department store "road bike". It will be more challenging to work on than something with good components. That said, those shifters look decent if you like grip shifters. Know that you will probably need longer shifter cables and housing to reach the new bars.

Definitely find a good local bike shop (you may have to try several before finding a helpful one). Some mechanics get surly or supercilious with DIYers, but most are happy to advise, especially if you buy parts from them! Also see if there's a Bike Collective or similar diy-oriented shop in your vicinity.
posted by sibilatorix at 12:26 PM on March 29, 2014

I really like my moustache bars (I have the Nitto version rather than the Nashbar version linked above, but it probably doesn't make much difference). They use the same kind of brake levers as drop bars so there's a good chance you can just transfer them over. Looking at your setup, though, I don't think the grip shifters would fit because the moustache bars start curving almost immediately from the centre (I can barely put a light in that spot). I'm happy with my bar-end shifters, but this setup means I can't reach both the shifters and brakes at the same time. That took a little getting used to at first (I was accustomed to integrated shifters) but now is not a big deal.
posted by Emanuel at 1:54 PM on March 29, 2014

Bike mechanic here. Is that your bike? Are you actually able to use the brakes like that?

To answer your question, to change the bars, you're going to do the following:

Buy new handlebars. The important thing here is the diameter of the bars where they're clamped in the stem. It looks to me like you have a big honkin' shim in there. You probably have 25.4mm bars in a 31.8mm stem. If you brought it in my shop, I'd whip out the calipers and measure this.

Buy new brake levers.

Good news: it looks like you might have Revo shifters, which will work with flat bars.

Remove your brake cables. Remove your shift cables. Remove your shifters. Remove your bars.

Install the new bars (grease the 4 bolts of that stem plate, and tighten them equally).

Install your shifters. Install your brake levers. At my shop, when building a bike, we set the bars to neutral rise and the levers at 45 degrees. Then rotate the shifters until they're against the brake levers.

Install brake cables. Adjust brakes. Install shift cables. Adjust shifting.

Install grips. Ride.

I'd take this time to go ahead and replace the housing at the same time you're replacing the cables. This is not a quick job. This is something I'd honestly consider paying a mechanic for, if you're not sure on how to do this. Feel free to send me MeFi mail if you want.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:53 PM on March 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

What you want is definitely possible. Drop bars aren't for everyone. If I were fixing that bike for you, I would find a threaded 1" stem that's twice the height of what you've got. (Tall and stubby Nitto), clamped to a flat handlebar, using your existing shifters and some brake levers like these Tektros that can be set to whichever pull you need. This way, you'll have a chance to get your bars above your seat for a more upright ride. The tall stem might be the most expensive part. You can find a flat handlebar for very cheap at a used bike shop, maybe under $10.

I agree with the commenters above who recommend having a bike shop do it. Threading cable, cutting housing, and fine tuning brakes can be tricky if you haven't done it before. Plus, you'll need tools such as a cable cutter, cable puller, basic wrenches, small allen wrenches, and caliper for measuring the stem clamp opening and the handlebars you buy.

Another reason why you may not like the way your brakes work now, is that you've got sidepull caliper brakes. Get a pair of double-pivot Tektros and you'll certainly feel increased braking power.

Because I've been there before, and screwed up in nearly every way imaginable, I should also mention that some possible pitfalls include:
--Not being able to free the Revo shifters from the drop bars due to the curvature. Getting so frustrated, you take a hammer to it, and break the shifter.
--Cutting the wrong length of housing. Multiple trips back to the bike shop for more cables/housing.
--Unscrewing the stem bolt too far and losing the wedge down inside the steering tube. This isn't so bad, but scary if you don't understand how the wedge works.
--Trouble removing the existing bar tape enough to slide the shifters off.
--Not being able to get the shifter cable tension right with the new position of the shifters.
--Not having a proper cable cutter, and using a wirecutter instead, which frays the cable.

Good luck!
posted by oxisos at 4:42 PM on March 29, 2014

I just had another idea. How would you feel about getting another set of brake levers and getting them put on the top of the bar? Like this. This is not my picture, but I do have this setup on one of my bikes. It's around $30 for the levers and installation is something you could learn. If you had a shop install them, it might not cost all that much either.
posted by advicepig at 8:22 AM on March 30, 2014

Yes, a bike shop should do it so they can verify the fit and size for you. The way the handlebars are set in your photo looks very odd and unsafe to me.
posted by lathrop at 10:43 AM on March 30, 2014

« Older wanted: el erhabi   |   Help me build a fitness routine/ Vex my current... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.