How To Choose Road Bike Handlebars: Explained By A Bike Fitter

Pro bike fitter and endurance racer Robbie Ferri explains everything you need to know about choosing drop handlebars for road bikes

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reviewed by Rory McAllister

The drop handlebars of a road bike are more than just a place to grip; they’re a critical interface between rider and machine.

Choosing the right handlebars can profoundly impact comfort, control, and performance on the road. In my career as a professional bike fitter, I have seen firsthand how factors such as drop, reach, flare, and more affect fit and performance in road bike handlebars.

Whether you’re a novice cyclist or a seasoned pro, mastering road bike handlebar selection is key to optimizing your riding experience. In this guide, we’ll be covering:

Integrated aero road bike handlebars.
Integrated aero handlebars on my road bike. © Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Why Is Having The Correct Road Bike Handlebars So Important?

There are many reasons why you need the right handlebars for your road bike. Here’s what you need to know!


The wrong handlebars or the wrong size will cause you discomfort. It might be in your hands, shoulders, or even your back. The correct size will keep you in a much nicer place and comfortable.


The wrong handlebars will heavily affect the way the bike handles. Bars too small will make it a little too agile, and bars too big will make it feel sloppy to ride. You might also consider flared bars, which are often used by professionals. 


It’s surprising just how much difference handlebars make in aerodynamics. The right handlebars on your road bike can save valuable Wattage and reduce your body’s aerodynamic drag on high-speed sections. 

6 Key Road Bike Handlebar Types

Although most people think drop bars only come in one style, they actually come in many different types. Here’s what you are going to find available.

1. Traditional Drop Handlebars

Traditional road bike drop handlebars.
Credit: Deda

Traditional drop bars are standard on road bikes. They are attached to a stem and bend around 180 degrees on themselves, dropping about five inches in total. Classic versions are available for older bikes, too. 

2. Compact Drop Handlebars

Black compact drop handlebars.
Credit: Brand-X

Then, we have compact drop bars. These are just like traditional bars, but instead of dropping five inches, they only drop around three inches. They are good if you find that traditional bars drop you too much and put you in a very aggressive position.

For many cyclists, compact drops can actually be more aerodynamic than traditional deeper drops, as they allow the rider to reduce their frontal cross-section.

3. Anatomic Drop Handlebars

Black anatomical drop handlebars.
Credit: Ritchey

Unlike the smooth curve of conventional drop handlebars, anatomical drops have a flat slanted section just below the hoods. This is for a more comfortable place on the drop where you have more grip and can use the gears and brakes.

The drop of anatomic handlebars tends to be similar to compact drops, and is less than traditional drops.

4. Riser Drop Handlebars

Black riser drop handlebars.
Credit: Prime

While regular drop handlebars extend outwards in line with the stem clamp, riser drop bars rise upwards slightly from the clamp area before the bar tops flatten out.

This makes the handlebar position slightly higher, regardless of whether you’re riding in the drops, the hoods, or the handlebar tops. The riding position is therefore a little more upright, which can be more comfortable for less flexible riders.

5. Flared Handlebars

Black flared drop handlebars.
Credit: Deda

Flared bars are typically found on gravel bikes but have also been used on road bikes, and lots of pros are using them.

Put simply, the bottoms of the drops are wider than the tops, making it easier to control when low down and providing extra stability over bumpy terrain or tight turns. 

6. Aero Drop Handlebars

Black aero drop handlebars for a road bike.
Credit: Prime

Not to be mistaken with time trial or triathlon aero bars, aero drop handlebars are essentially the same design as regular drop handlebars, but instead of being cylindrical, the tops are flattened to be more aerodynamic. These bars are made to slice through the wind.

Aero drop handlebars are almost always carbon fiber, partly because they tend to be found on performance road bikes, but also because carbon fiber is easier to mold into aerodynamic shapes.

How To Choose The Right Road Bike Handlebar Type

Picking the correct handlebars for you can be challenging. Here are the types I would recommend for the kind of road riding you might want to do. 

Road Racing

If you are planning on racing, then the best handlebars for you are your aero drop bars or some undersized flared bars. This is what many professionals use, and for speed, that’s generally the route most riders go down.

This is a great performance route because it helps with aerodynamics not just at the bars but also by putting the rider in the correct position. It’s nice and low and also very tucked up into the bike. 

Long Distance Cycling

When it comes to long-distance cycling, the key is to be comfortable. Many road bike riders will opt for a higher riding position on the hands for extra comfort and to release pressure from the lower back and off the shoulders and neck. 

I recommend riser bars or compact drop bars. Riser bars are great for offering a slightly higher position, which adds more comfort. Compact bars offer a high position on the drops, which adds an element of comfort when cycling.

All Round Riding

If you are looking for a mix of performance and comfort, then you will want to use either the traditional bars or the Anatomic bars. These offer good performance and a nice position, which is not just quick but also good with aerodynamics. 

I personally enjoy traditional bars as they are what I am used to. Anatomic bars feel great in the drop position and have extra support on the drops when braking and changing gears. Both will offer an all-round mixed experience.

Compact handlebars on a road bike.

How To Choose The Correct Road Bike Handlebar Size

You need to consider not only handlebar type but also handlebar size. Handlebars come in different sizes to suit different body shapes. When it comes to picking the correct bar size, this is how I recommend going about it.

Road bicycle handlebars typically measure between 36 cm and 46 cm and can be measured slightly differently depending on the manufacturer. 

You will need a tape measure to complete this task.

#1. Measure Your Shoulder Width

The first step is to measure your shoulder width. It’s measured from the furthest point where the shoulder bones sit from each other. It helps to have someone else there to measure and ensure you go horizontally across. 

If you need help with how to do this, contact a local bike fitter or head to your local bike shop. Someone there will be able to help you. It’s a simple measurement most good bike shops will happily do for you if there’s the potential to make a sale.

Traditional bike fitting advice is that your handlebars should be the same width as your shoulder width measurement.

In reality, this is just a start point, as cyclists all have their own preferences. It’s best to experiment with a few different sizes to find what’s right for you.

Typically, beginner cyclists might go for handlebars a little wider than their shoulder width for extra stability, while more experienced or competitive cyclists might opt for narrower handlebars to take advantage of the aerodynamic benefits.

#2. Think About The Type Of Bars You Want

Next, you will want to consider the type of bars you want. Thinking about the riding you want to do before anything is good. It’s worth referring to the section above to go for bars that suit the style you are going for. 

#3. Measure Your Next Handlebars

Next, you need to measure your handlebars or the handlebars you plan on buying. You can do this by measuring from the center of the bars where the shifter sits from one side to the other. I recommend measuring from the top, not from the front. 

If you’re buying bars online, it’s worth mentioning that some companies measure from the center of the bars like we have, and others measure from the outside, which is around a 4 mm difference. I wouldn’t overthink it, but if you’re concerned, check the manufacturer’s website. 

I recommend testing a friend’s bike or a bike at a shop with the correct size handlebars to ensure they feel right. I have always found the right bars always feel right.

Important Notice: Handlebar Sizing

Different types of bars from manufacturers often size differently, and they often have their own way of recommending bars for different shoulder widths. With any unique designs, it’s worth checking to be sure you will have the right size. 

Road bike handlebars on a blue background.

The Right Road Bike Handlebars For You

Picking the correct handlebars for your road bike is challenging, and the above is the best bet and the most logical route to choose. I also feel there’s a lot to be said about the way you feel riding different sizes. 

I have found that 44 cm is often recommended for some cyclists, but they much prefer a 42 cm bar. It’s the same for me. I prefer smaller bars as they feel much better. Although some pros might require 42 cm bars, they might be on 38 cm for the more aero position.

Although the logic is there, it does come down to personal preference, but the best place to start is by measuring and using what manufacturers recommend what road bicycle handlebars you should be using.

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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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