Butterfly Bars: Should You Be Using Trekking Handlebars for Bikepacking?

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Bikes are a very personal form of transport.

With so many parts being interchangeable, you have many setup options and can ride something completely unique compared to anyone else. 

We get asked some great questions by our amazing subscribers, and one that comes up all the time is: “Should I use butterfly bars for bikepacking?”

In my experience both as a casual bikepacker and racing in international endurance events, there are many advantages and disadvantages when it comes to butterfly bars and bikepacking.

In this article, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about butterfly bars and bikepacking. We’ll be covering:

  • What Are Butterfly Bars?
  • Understanding Bikepacking Vs Bike Touring
  • What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Butterfly Bars?
  • What Can You Expect From Using Butterfly Bars When Bikepacking?
  • Should You Go Bikepacking With Butterfly Bars?

Let’s dive in!

Butterfly Bars: Should You Be Using Trekking Handlebars for Bikepacking? (Title Image)
Credit: CordaCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Edited from the original.

What Are Butterfly Bars?

Handlebars for bikes come in all different shapes and sizes.

You have drop bars on road bikes, flat bars on mountain bikes, aero bars on time trial bikes, and on some touring bikes, you have what they call “butterfly bars” or “trekking bars”. 

Butterfly bars are also known as trekking bars. They are a flat-style handlebar that wraps into two squares or loops on either side. They very much resemble butterfly wings, hence the name butterfly bars.

Butterfly bars offer a very upright riding position and multiple hand positions to ensure the rider can always stay comfortable and in control. They also offer huge space for accessories and are very easy to install.

What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Butterfly Bars When Bikepacking?

Butterfly bars might seem perfect for bikepacking and offer some amazing advantages, but they do come with disadvantages that could put you off using them.

Here’s what you need to know:

The Advantages of Butterfly Bars

Let’s start with all the good stuff you can expect from using butterfly bars when bikepacking. 

#1. Multiple Flat Bar Hand Positions

The first big advantage you will get from using butterfly bars while bikepacking is the fact you get multiple hand positions.

It means you can move your hands around the front more, taking pressure off one single point.

You might find yourself very glad to have that option on long bikepacking trips!

#2. Upright Riding Positions

Butterfly bars offer a very comfortable, upright riding position.

Not only do they generally bring the handlebars closer to you, but many of the positions are much higher and can take a lot of pressure off the lower back. 

#3. Great For Control

Butterfly bars offer a mountain bike flat bar and wide vertical position, which is excellent for control.

This means if you’re planning on off-road bikepacking, you have the ability to go on more technical sections and have a lot more stability in the bike.

#4. Excellent For Accessories 

Accessory mounting is common practice when it comes to bikepacking.

You need a place for lighting, a navigation system, a bell, and even feed bags if you want. Butterfly bars offer a lot of different spaces for all these great accessories and open you to many more bike cockpit options.

The Disadvantages of Trekking Handlebars

Now for the not-so-good parts about butterfly bars when bikepacking.

#1. They Can Change The Geometry

When changing handlebars on a bike, unless you are swapping like for like, you can expect some changes in the position you ride.

Using butterfly bars can give you a more upright riding position, but this can also affect where you sit on the saddle and the angle of the hips and knees. 

The shift in weight can also alter how the bike performs and handles, as its geometry may not have been designed with butterfly bars in mind.

#2. They Ruin Aerodynamics

Although butterfly bars give some great comfortable upright riding positions, they do take away from aerodynamics.

Compared to a drop bar bikepacking bike, you have a much wider stance and sit much higher, generating much more drag and slowing you down.

#3. Compatibility With Components

When converting a bike to butterfly bars, if you have a mountain bike, the process is very simple, and you don’t generally need any extra components as the ones you have are already designed for flat bars.

Coming from a road or gravel bike, you must change both shifters and brakes too, which can be costly and take time. 

#4. Often incompatible with Aero bars

Aero bars are a great way to get an extra position on the bike to take the pressure off the hands and battle the headwinds.

Butterfly bars, in general, struggle to fit aero bars on them because of how they are designed, which can be limiting for bikepackers. 

#5. Heavier

If you are bikepacking and trying to save as much weight as possible on the bike, then butterfly bars might not be the best way to go for you.

They are quite heavy handlebars and not designed for weight saving compared to bars such as drop handlebars.

What Can You Expect From Using Butterfly Bars When Bikepacking?

Well, as someone who has been lucky enough to do a lot of bikepacking and has experience with butterfly handlebars, here’s my opinion on what to expect using them when bikepacking.

It’s Going To Be Very Comfortable

Butterfly bars offer a level of comfort that typical gravel bike or road bike handlebars can’t.

The upright riding position will take so much pressure off your body. It will be easy riding on your hands and does wonders for your neck and back comfort.

When it comes to long-distance riding, comfort often takes priority. If you plan on going very far, spending a lot of time in the saddle, and not in too much of a rush, then butterfly bars are ideal for bikepacking. 

Many long-distance cyclists go over to butterfly bars because they offer the rider so much more ability when it comes to staying in the saddle for much longer periods of time.

Marc Beaumont, the Fastest Cyclist Around The World on his first trip, used butterfly bars on his ride after all!

It’s Probably Won’t Be Fast

Changing your bars to trekking bars can have either a positive or negative effect on your bike fit. When riding butterfly bars, it did increase comfort for me, but my aerodynamics suffered in return. Which, when in a bikepacking race, isn’t an ideal situation.

Headwinds felt much more challenging not having a more aggressive position which drop bars or aero bars would typically offer. With butterfly bars, you are always very upright. 

If you are looking to cover big distances and want to do them quickly, then butterfly bars could hold you back from going as quickly as you want to. Aerodynamics is a very big part of cycling, and to test the theory, try cycling while leaning forward, and you will notice a difference in your speed. 

It’s Expensive If You’re Adding Them To A Road Or Gravel Bike

Many riders add butterfly bars to mountain, hybrid, and touring bikes which generally is a very easy conversion as the shifters and brakes go straight across. It can be done in less than an hour and doesn’t require special tools.

When it comes to converting a gravel bike or road bike which has drop bars, then, it starts to get expensive. You will need new levers for your gears and brakes, which can be very expensive, especially when working with hydraulic lines.

You Won’t Run Out Of handlebar Real Estate

Something I really liked about using butterfly bars is the amount of handlebar real estate that you get. You have plenty of room for anything you might need on your bars, from lighting, navigation, bells, grips, feed pouches, and much more.

Should You Go Bikepacking With Butterfly Bars?

In my opinion, it comes down to what kind of bikepacking you plan on doing and the bike to which you are adding the butterfly handlebars. 

If you plan on going into ultra-endurance and bikepacking races, I recommend avoiding them, as they can slow you down. On the other side, they are an ideal handlebar option if you are going for a more relaxed style of bikepacking or touring.

If you are adding butterfly handlebars to a road or gravel bike, then I wouldn’t recommend using them. It changes the geometry too much, and the cost of converting from drop bars is expensive.

If you are adding them to a mountain bike or hybrid bike and it is a direct swap, then it’s ideal!

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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