Flat Bar on a cruiser?
March 21, 2006 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Bike handlebar questions...

I'm a poor college student with a used 1970s era Schwinn Surbaban that I use to get around campus. I've been very happy with it except for the handlebars when I go for extended rides (10-20 miles) on the trail. It starts to get very uncomfortable to ride completely upright holding the grips on the (very wide) handlebars that my bike came with.

I realize the ultimate solution would be to get a proper road bike, but that's not really an option for me right now, and besides the handlebars I think my current bike performs very valiantly on the trail and in the city.

Ideally I would like to get a new set of handlebars, preferably something like Forte Flat Bar. Which leads to a couple of questions, because I have no idea how bikes are put together.

Is it possible to put a flat handle bar on my particular bike? Is it something that I can do myself? (The part that looks confusing is getting the brakes off the old handlebar onto the new one.) Or is it something that I should get done at my local bike shop? If so, what should I expect to pay?
posted by puffin to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total)
well, i don't think the issue is whether you can do it as that part is probably not a problem. i am 99% sure that the new handlebar diameter will fit in the stem, but that is the only technical snag i see.
the brake position might be more akward for you. to go from the brakes being parallel to the frame to them being perpendicular may, with the current brakes levers, may also make them not work as well.
but you can move them quite easily, you just need a screwdriver or allen key to loosen them on the old handlebars, after taking the grips off, then slide the brake levers off.
then loosen the stem and slide the old bars out and slide the new one in.
slip the brake levers back on loosely, put the grips on and get a feel for where you want the levers to be then tighten them there.

the other issue i see is that you will be in a much more forward and lower hand position which will put more strain on your back. i am not sure what is uncomfortable for you on longer rides now but i doubt this will help anything much.
posted by annoyance at 12:36 PM on March 21, 2006

It is something you could do yourself, it's not that hard. I don't know the composition of your Suburban - are the brakes held on by screws/brackets, or some other method? If they're held on by screws, it should be a simple matter of unscrewing them and reattaching them to the new bar.

From the looks of the picture, getting the brakes off may cost you your handgrips, which would only be an issue if you ever wanted to put the original bar back on.

Anyhoo, it's really quite easy to swap out handlebars - there's probably an allen bolt on the underside of your stem, in the front; loosen this and the bar will slide out, no problem. Slide the new bar in, tighten, reattach the brakes, and away you go.

Some shops'll give you a little break on the install if you buy the bar from them - I don't know what the bar costs, but installation alone shouldn't be more than $30 or so, depending on complexity.
posted by pdb at 12:42 PM on March 21, 2006

I recommend checking the diameter first so you know the new bar will fit. If the new bar is slimmer than the old, you can shim it to fit with aluminum from an aluminum can. If you can get your hands on a syringe and needle, using them to squirt soapy water under the grips should help removal.
posted by exogenous at 12:58 PM on March 21, 2006

If you de-tension the brake cables by loosening the nut on the front brake (careful! it's probably aluminum, and super-east to round off!), you should be able to squeeze the lever and reveal screw in the gap. Loosening it will loosen the strap/clamp around the handlebars holding the lever in place. You may have to push the cable out of the way to get at it.
Sometimes a bit of solvent or hairspray will help ease off your grips, but don't use anything too nasty--CitraSolv works well and smells good.
posted by pullayup at 1:00 PM on March 21, 2006

The bars themselves could be a stickier issue, as not all handlebars are the same diameter. Mountain bikes and old Schwinns use a 1"/25.4mm diameter fit, though, so you should be fine with the bars you're considering. Bars intended for road bikes are 26.0 mm, but can be shimmed to fit with a strip of beer can.
posted by pullayup at 1:03 PM on March 21, 2006

IAAMechanic: Your bike has, since it's still got the original stem on it, a 25.4mm handlebar, which is the same size as a mountain bike's flat bar. It is recommended that you replace the brake levers- go to that shop- and get some comfy squishier grips to spread the pressure on your hands a bit. Keep in mind that you'll have more pressure on your hands with the flat bar than you do currently. I would replace those levers because a new set- even one for about $25- will be sturdier, safer, and provide more leverage on the brakes than your current set. You may want to have them raise your stem up just a little while you're there. You'll be out about $25 for levers, $10 for some good grips, and about $10 labor for them to do it all, if you go that route.
posted by wzcx at 1:09 PM on March 21, 2006

Is the bike a good fit otherwise? I find the kind of handlebars that you've got more comfortable than flat bars.
You also may want to replace the stem, which has a very, very short forward extension, and may be contributing to your discomfort. The stem is also probably 1" in diameter.
A stem with a longer forward extension would let you stretch out more, if that's the desired result.

Here's the obligatory Sheldon Brown link: a fascinating look a the unique process used to fabricate your bike.

I second the brake lever replacement. At least treat yourself to new brake cables and housing, if you haven't yt--it can make your brakes feel new.
posted by pullayup at 1:12 PM on March 21, 2006

the other issue i see is that you will be in a much more forward and lower hand position which will put more strain on your back. i am not sure what is uncomfortable for you on longer rides now but i doubt this will help anything much.

I guess my reasoning was that on longer rides it seems like it would be more comfortable to lean forward and not have your arms spread so far apart -- I thought that was why road bike handle bars are designed that way. But yeah, I would have to adjust to leaning forward more than I am now. My friend has also brought up the issue that my bike might not be properly proportioned to have handle bars that low. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? I am totally out of my depth, all I know is that it feels like my current handlebars were not designed to be comfortable on longer rides.
posted by puffin at 1:13 PM on March 21, 2006

Scratch that, I meant that you can shim mountain bike handlebars (25.4mm) to fit road bike stems (26.0mm), not vice versa. Sloppy editing!
posted by pullayup at 1:15 PM on March 21, 2006

Getting comfortable on a bike is a fairly personal matter--some people like being stretched out more than others, especially. Road bike handlebars, though, are not renowned for long-distance comfort, as they force you to hold your wrists cocked outward at a slightly unnatural angle--unless they're wide enough that your wrists are shoulder-width apart.
posted by pullayup at 1:21 PM on March 21, 2006

You may be able to get an adjustable stem that would let you adjust the height somewhat (my hybrid bike has one). I don't know if you have a threaded or threadless headset, but on the threadless headsets, if the fork tube has not been cut off, you can put spacers under the stem. If you buy a new fork it will most likely come way too long. I have used copper tubing to make spacers so I could try different heights (most bike shops only have 1/4" spacers, I wanted 1" and 2" spacers). I have also put 2 sets of handlebars on a bike, similtaneously. Instead of spacers, I used second stem. I had a flat bar for very steep off road hill climbing (where I wanted to avoid wheelieing) and a tall bmx bar for downhill and cruising around town (this one had the brake levers). But then, I'm a nut.
posted by 445supermag at 6:59 PM on March 21, 2006

Didn't see the '70s era part, you definitly have a threaded headset. You can actually adjust the handlebar height more easily on threaded style though.
posted by 445supermag at 7:09 PM on March 21, 2006

A friend of mine took a pair of nitto promenade bars, chopped em off at the end of the curve and put some big cushy grips on the end (this is a track bike, but ridden on the street so..)

They look awesome, and are insanely comfortable.

Replacing bars is a REALLY easy thing to do, you don't need a mechanic, just an allen wrench and a possibly a screwdriver.
posted by atom128 at 8:12 PM on March 21, 2006

I think the flat bar is going to cause way more problems than it will solve for you. This is not a bike designed for its rider to be in the kind of forward position that this bar will put you in. You're almost certain to find it uncomfortable, and, because the bar will be considerably narrower and your center of gravity farther forward, the bike's handling characteristics will change. My guess is it'll make it twitchier and generally more difficult to control.

This is not the kind of bike that was designed for long rides, it's meant as a cruiser for 10-minute jaunts to the store. If you want a bike for longer rides, you can always find decent used bikes on craigslist -- buy local and it'll barely cost you more than that bar plus shipping.
posted by dseaton at 8:20 PM on March 21, 2006

To quasi-ditto dseaton here, I'd like to see that nice vintage bike not undergo a handlebar and brake levers change, especially since the bars you think you'd want on it aren't designed for a bike like that. Cruise the thrift stores for bikes as well. You really can get a good bike cheap - I got my 1989 Schwinn World for free. Someone cleaned out their garage and put it and another bike on the curb with "free" signs on them. (I'm assuming you say another bike is not an option because of the price of new bikes - I feel ya there.)

As far as fitting on your bike, I think Sheldon Brown has some info on that on his site (previously linked). Your LBS may also do it for free - if not always, then at certain advertised times (like when they are trying to clear out stock). They'd almost certainly do it if you bought a bike from them, and probably even if you just had them work on one you already own.
posted by attercoppe at 9:54 PM on March 21, 2006

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