Definitive Guide to Dirt Bike Handlebars
One of the most common upgrades done is a set of new dirt bike handlebars. As your skill level advances, you will want the bike to be more custom fit for your riding style and posture. Unfortunately, when you start looking for a new set of handlebars, it can get overwhelming with the various bends with crazy names, cross bar options, etc.
This guide will help you make sense of the handlebar selection process, how to measure your bars, what kind of bars to get and why it makes a difference.
What is the difference between 7/8” and 1-1/8” dirt bike handlebars?
This is one of the most common questions. As you will find out, dirt bike handlebars come in two different sizes, 7/8” or 1-1/8”. This causes a lot of confusion for buyers because they don’t know whether or not the newer 1-1/8” bar will work.
When I first started looking at replacing my handlebars from 7/8” to 1-1/8” I set out looking for grips and controls that would work on a 1-1/8” bar. I could find nothing. Finally, I did a little more research and found that all the controls move from 7/8” to 1-1/8”.
So let me break it down this way. Your controls will all switch over from 7/8 to 1-1/8” just fine. The 1-1/8” measurement is in the center of the handlebars (i.e. the part that actually connects with your bike). They taper down after that to the common 7/8” so that all grips and controls will work for both.
The reason that they work like this is because the strength of the 1-1/8 inch bar has more to do with the portion that is actually connected to your bike. It would take much more R&D effort, not to mention a lot different user feel if you had to buy them specific for the thicker size.
So, you can just bolt a 1-1/8” handlebar in place of a 7/8” handlebar right? Not quite.
You will need to get new bar mounts or bar mount adapters if you are moving from a 7/8” handlebar to a 1-1/8” handlebar. This is because the center of the 1-1/8” handlebars is going to be too wide for your current mount. If your mounts are cast into the triple clamp, you will need an adapter. Adapters are generally going to take up space (most often ¾” in height) so you will need to account for that when you are deciding on your handlebar bend. If you can unbolt the mounts (i.e. they are not cast into the top triple clamp), just get replacement mounts sized in the same size as your current mounts.
1-1/8” bars are just stronger. There are no two ways about that. This additional strength can come in handy if you are riding hard. Additionally, if you want to run without a crossbar (making the bars more flexible) you can with a 1-1/8” bar. You get both strength and flexibility.
Should I buy 1-1/8” dirt bike handlebars?
This is completely up to you. I personally run them because I feel that they give me a little beefier connection to my bike. They will be stronger than a 7/8” handlebar, but often times the 1-1/8” handlebars have options without a crossbar which gives some of the flex back that you are used to.
Some 1-1/8” dirt bike handlebars have cross members, which is going to reduce the flex. This can make for a little harsher ride, but might be necessary depending on the type of riding that you do. If you do trails you might want more flex, if you do lots of jumping on a motocross track, you might be better off with less flex and more strength in your dirt bike handlebars.
Is a new set of handlebars going to make you ride like Eli Tomac? No. But if you have bent your current handlebars or they are looking a little crusty, I would recommend going ahead and getting a set of 1-1/8” replacements. That seems to be where the market is heading so if it’s time for a new set, might as well get the bigger ones.
Aluminum or Steel?
Just go with Aluminum. Steel is a thing of the past and you will probably have a hard time finding them. Aluminum is lighter weight and doesn’t rust.
Most new handlebars are going to be made out of aluminum. There are lots of different kinds of aluminum. You will find handlebars made out of 2000 Aluminum, T6 7075 Aluminum, and other aluminum alloys. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some flex more than others, some are stronger than others. When it comes to the actual alloy, I think it is best to just find a brand that you trust, and trust that they have done their research in coming up with the most appropriate material.
Will I need new grips?
The short answer is yes. You can try to get your old grips off if you did not glue them down, but the chances are good that they are a little worse for the wear. Plus, new grips are pretty cheap and grip should be replaced from time to time anyway.
I was once able to successfully move grips from one set of handlebars to another. I did this because I had just put new grips on the old bar and didn’t want to buy another set. I won’t do this again. It was a real nightmare, especially since the old handlebars were knurled on the clutch side. It was just not worth the effort considering a new set of grips is 15 bucks.
What is Bend?
When you look at buying a set of dirt bike handlebars, you will have two options. Thickness (discussed about) and bend. I have no idea why this has to be as complicated as it is. Bends do not have normal names. They have the names of either motocross icons or generic model names. These names are meaningless and tell you nothing about the actual shape of the handlebar. I am sure there is a marketer somewhere that can give a good explanation on why a Travis Pastrana bend is a better name than something else, but I am at a loss.
Bend simply is a name for the set of measurements for a set of dirt bike handlebars. Names like CR High, Carmichael, etc are just names. If it says CR high for example, it will still work with a Yamaha. Unfortunately there is no clear definition of what “CR High” means, so it is up to you to make sure you are selecting the correct bend.
Don’t just say to yourself “I have a Yamaha, so I will get YZ High” bend bars. Take the time to figure out what is going to work for you. YZ bends work for all bikes, CR bends work for all bikes, and so forth. The key is to find a bend that works for you and will put your body in a position to most effectively ride the dirt bike.
What do all these dirt bike handlebar measurements mean?
There are six measurements on a dirt bike handlebar
- Clamp Area
- Control Length
Of these, the ones that you should really be concerned about are Width, Height, Rise, and Sweep. These are the measurements that tell you how the real shape of the bar and give you an idea of what bar will work for you. The other two are just things you can double check before you buy to make sure it’s going to work with your bike.
Most manufacturers provide a wide range of bends, so you should have your bar choice locked in and then find the bend for that bar choice, not find your bend and then pick your bar.
This is simply the width from bar end to bar end. These are going to be reported in millimeters, and are typically around 800. This is not the overall length of the handlebar, which can vary based on the other factors, this is just the total width.
Some manufacturers make narrow handle bars which have a width of 750ish. I would not recommend these unless you are riding in real tight trails. Even though 50mm (roughly 2 inches) does not sound like a lot, it will significantly change the way you hold the bike. They are not appropriate for track riding and should only be used in specialized cases.
This is the length from the clamp to the bar end if it is standing vertically. Lucky for you, there is some play here if you don’t get the exact measurement that you want as you can rotate the handlebars in the clamp backwards or forwards for additional fine tuning.
Most dirt bikes from the factory are set up to handle and average height male. So handlebar setups are targeted towards men about 5’10”. If you are significantly taller or shorter, take that into consideration when looking at the height measurement.
This is the measurement from the clamp area until the bar starts to straighten out. Again, taken vertically. Most bars will have a steep curve then a softer curve. You want to take the measurement from the start of the steep curve (going outside in) to the clamp if the bar is sitting on a table.
This is the measurement if you look at the handlebar from the size. It is how much it sweeps back. This is the measurement that is going to vary more depending on how you ride.
If you are a racer, less sweep will keep your body further forward, promoting solid attack position stance. The attack position is a neutral position on the bike giving you maximum control. If you are standing on the bike a lot (and you should be if you are racing) then less sweep will give you better control. If you are a trail rider and sit down a lot, you might want more sweep for more comfort so you don’t feel like you are reaching so far forward for the bars.
Clamp Area and Control Area
The last thing to double check is to make sure that your clamp are and control areas are long enough to fit on your current bike. Most of the time these are pretty standard, but before you go dropping money on a bar, just double check.
The way you measure the control area is to take a quick measurement from the bar end to where your inner most control is (on my bike this is the kill switch on the clutch side).
For the clamp area, just take a tape measurer from the outside of one clamp to the outside of the other and verify that the bar you are buying is longer in the control area measurement.
Again, these two are pretty standard across most bikes, so I would not anticipate you having to make your selection solely based on this. So, if you forget it’s not a big deal because it’s probably not going to matter.
How can I find my current dirt bike handlebars measurements?
Unfortunately your bar measurements are not going to be listed in the owner’s manual. You will either need to look it up online (can take some time and might not be very accurate) or measure them yourself (not as hard as you think).
To measure your current bars, the easiest way is take them off the bike.
For width, just take a measurement from bar end to bar end. Write the down (if it is in inches, multiple it by 25.4 to get mm)
For sweep, lay the bars on the table with the part that is normally forward laying directly on top of the table. Now measure from the table to the bar end. Write this down.
For height, place the crossbar clamp area on the table and rotate it around until the bar ends are at the highest point and take that measurement. Write that down.
For rise, leave the crossbar clamp area on the table and rotate the bars until the steepest bend section is vertical then measure from the bend to the table. Write that down.
I have my current handlebar measurements, now what?
A couple of things. First, are you switching from 7/8” to 1-1/8”? If so and you are using an adapter, find the rise of the adapter and subtract that from your height measurement. Since the adapter is going to take up space, if you don’t do this your bars are going to be really high. If you are not using an adapter, but rather swapping out your clamps, then make sure to take and difference in clamp length into account.
If you aren’t switching and will reuse your current clamps then just go ahead and proceed to find a bend that is closest to what you currently have if you are happy with your setup.
Take a minute to think about how you are currently set up. Are you happy with how things are? Do you wish your dirt bike handlebars were taller or sorter? Do you feel like your controls are too far forward or too far back?
If you are a taller rider, you can get more height. Ultimately the goal is to have handlebars that allow you to get into the proper riders attack position while leaving your controls easily usable. So if you are taller or shorter than average, moving the height up or down and help you get where you need to be.
Putting it together, real life example
That is a lot, can you walk me through what you did?
Sure, first I took my handlebars off and got the following measurements:
Width – 802mm
Sweep – 58mm
Height – 96mm
Rise – 45mm
I had figured out what bar I wanted to go with by this time. I selected a ProTaper Contour 1-1/8” handlebar. Since I was coming from a 7/8” bar, I needed an adapter. I got the ProTaper adapters, which had a ¾” rise. So, I took ¾” (19mm) off of my height measurement. My new height measurement was 77mm
Armed with this information, I went to the ProTaper website, clicked on Contour 1-1/8 and when to the Technical Information to find the bend specs. Comparing my numbers, I ended up selected the Carmichael bend because it was closest to what I already had. Then I went to Amazon, ordered the Carmichael bend and my adapters and was done.
Easy enough right?
What is the Best set of Dirt Bike Handlebars?
That is a loaded question since so much of it depends on how you ride. I personally like ProTaper, although Renthal and Mika are good brands as well. Here are a few to get you started with your search.
After doing quite a bit of research, I ultimately ended up going with ProTaper Contours. Lots of the forums had members that recommended them, and I think that the styling of ProTaper is great. I did not get a cross bar, because I feel that the 1-1/8” bar is going to give me enough strength for how I am riding. If I was riding supercross all the time or seemed to constantly be casing jumps, then I would have opted for the crossbar.
ProTaper invented the 1-1/8” no crossbar handlebar in 1991, so they have been in the game for a long time. The Contour line is one of their more affordable lines, which was important to me as well. They are made from 5mm wall aluminum alloy tubing. The control areas are knurled on the clutch side and I didn’t need to use glue when installing the grips.
It weighs in at 1.55lbs and includes a bar pad with the purchase. It comes in a few different colors as well to match the styling of your bike.
You can check the latest price on Amazon, but make sure you are looking at your correct bend!
Renthal Twinwalls have been around for quite a while. The name Twinwall comes from the bars being made from two tubes sleeves within one another. The newer Twinwalls come in 1-1/8 and have a crossbar, so if you are looking for a beefy crossbar tube this is a good option.
The Twinwall comes with two different aluminum alloys sleeved inside each other. Twinwalls have an outside tube is an alloy that is resistant from damage and the inner tube is made out of a different alloy that is designed for high strength.
Like the ProTaper Contours, these are extremely well reviewed and would be a great option if having a crossbar was important to you.
Renthal’s come in a wide range of colors, so you can easily match the color to your bike.
You can check the latest price on Amazon.
Mika Pro Series
Mika Metals is a relatively newer company that offers ancillary bike products (sprockets, chains, handlebars, etc). They have a few different handlebars, but their Pro Series seems to be the most popular. Their Pro Series is available in both 7/8” and 1-1/8” sizes and have a crossbar, giving you a decent amount of flexibility for fitment.
These come in a wide variety of bends and are constructed out of T6 7075 aluminum which make them as strong as any other bar on the market.
Mika also offers their Raw Series bar which does not have a crossbar if that is what you are going for.
Hopefully this has given you a good idea of how to decipher dirt bike handlebars. You know all there is to know about bars. Choosing the correct bar is up to you, but a good place to start is the size of your current bars. I think over-sized bars are worth the upgrade, providing more strength and less of a chance for destruction in a crash, but again, that is up to you.
If you take nothing else away from this article, remember to not just buy based on the name of the bend. There is quite a bit that goes into it, but a nice set of handlebars can improve your comfort while riding. The more comfortable you are, the better you will ride and the more you ride the better you will get. Stay safe!