SF Cyclotouring

Ride reports and other ramblings from a San Francisco cyclist.


MTB Handlebars -- Why Risers?!?

Something that's been bugging me for awhile and finally rattled to the front of my brain today...

Admittedly I'm mostly out of touch with modern MTB goings-on, but WHEN and WHY did riser bars on MTBs become the current fashion?

Look on any XC racing machine or singletrack sled from the mid 1990s and they all had straight handlebars that were generally as wide as the shoulders of the bike's rider, and nearly ALWAYS had some sort of bar-ends for a strong climbing position.

Fast forward to modern times, and -- ignoring for a moment all the "freeride/all-mountain/hucking" categories -- bikes that are still marketed as XC machines have wide riser bars, and more often than not, a sit-up-and-beg rider position. I know that iBOB & Riv kin generally espouse a handlebars-up rider position, but even this must be a bit too much -- these are XC mountainbikes, not vintage English three-speeds!

And bar-ends seem to have fallen out of fashion. I don't understand why?!

The "oldskool" bar setup seems to be a better overall choice:
+multiple hand positions
+good climbing position
+narrower bars are better for navigating through tight trees
+bars at or slightly below the saddle level balances the rider's weight more evenly over the bike
+straight bars are inherently lighter and stronger than riser bars

Plus I just think they look better! Every time I see riser bars on an MTB I think they look like wanna-be motocross levers borrowed from an older-brother's Kawasaki.

Next we'll be seeing one-piece carbon-fiber bullmoose bars ala the earliest Stumpjumper & Ritchey bikes. You just wait...


Blogger Gino Zahnd said...

For me, I ditched the bar ends, and wrote them off as the worst invention ever. Why? Might as well ride bulls, if you want to get stabbed with horns. Go over the bars a few times at speed to experience that joy. :-)

My ultralight Schwinn Homegrown factory racing machine had East Monkeylite carbon riser bars, but I still maintained an aggressive riding position. They had a slight bend toward the rider that I liked. They were about as wide as my shoulders.

I actually like the looks of slight riser bars, but I haven't looked at a MTB in probably two years, so I'm outta touch! (...and I've sold the Schwinn).

Boy, you're grumpy today. Haha.

3:38 PM  
Blogger cyclofiend said...

I think the popularity of riser bars had a lot to do with the comfort gained from the "sweep" or rearward angle. Original bullmoose bars had a pretty significant sweep, but as the position lowered into the late 80's/early 90's the bars narrowed and flattened, and most the pre-riser bar models had little sweep.

Rise bars also can give you better bar width, which makes 'em perfect for singlespeeds.

I do like bar ends still, though they remain on the bike I ride least often. When they first came out, we ran 'em on our bullmoose bars... ;^)

10:28 PM  
Blogger Jim G said...

Thanks for the comments & info thus far...but one question remains: WHEN did riser bars become popular -- was there some singular bike or event that brought them into the light? Which was the first riser bar, and when was it introduced?

11:23 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

I can't give you a specific date, but I think it has to do with the disappearance of utility bicycles in the 90s. Once shops stopped carrying any sort of bicycle that makes sense for people who aren't racing or off-roading the "mountain bike" filled the gap. I can't say how many of the "sidewalk riders" are on old hard-tails. It's amusing now to see grandmas and such on those cut rate xMart full suspension jobbies that seem to be all you can buy now.

The fact remains that a lot of people still need bicycles as their only transportation and those people would rather sit upright and have bars that make sense. Think of those you see riding on and old road bicycle with the drops turned upwards. After getting asked to change the bars a lot they probably worked their way into the market.

12:07 PM  
Blogger cyclofiend said...

In the early (pre-90) period, the quickest way to tell a cr*ppy bike was a "wiggle bar". The good ones had bullmoose or variants.

They were an anomolie around the greater bay area until ~'96/97, IIRC. All the bikes we were selling came with flat bars and we sold tons of bar ends.

I recall first reading about them in MBA's that were out in the shops, and sorta think it was a so-cal/throttle-twister thing at first.

Then about '98, we started seeing "north shore" bikes that were rigged that way and some of the "freeride" hype bikes were like that. We started getting seriously backed up on bar ends within the year.

- J "just another trip down spotty memory lane..."

4:57 PM  
Blogger cyclofiend said...

I think the first had-to-have-it rise bar was the Easton Monkeylite.

4:59 PM  
Blogger meade said...

risers and bars ends, the best of both worlds...and risers because the folks didn't do extended head tubes or stems that gave additional height...I hate riding around with my hands way below my saddle..

7:25 PM  
Blogger Arnold said...

In my opinion.. if you're looking to bring the handlebars closer for a more comfortable ride, I would choose a riser bar over getting a shorter stem.

The shorter stem makes steering more sensitive which might be more challenging for steep trail areas or aggressive riding.

Also, riser bars can be easily adjusted for height and backward sweep.

As for the bar ends.. those things can easily snag on rough terrain (vines, tall grass, branches)..

so yeah... that's my 2 cents.

12:03 PM  

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