Butterfly handlebars are often thought to be the most comfortable for bicycle touring. After 15 years of cycle touring all over the world, I have my own opinions. Below, I compare the various types of bicycle touring handlebars available, and go over the pros and cons of each one.
Handlebars For Bicycle Touring
How well do butterfly handlebars stack up against other types of bicycle touring handlebars? After having used all the major types, I now have a favourite which I have put in my conclusion at the end. For now though, I will describe the different types of handlebars, and how they all have their uses.
This type of bicycle handlebar is most commonly found on what might be classed as road bikes. They are not just used exclusively by the racing fraternity though. The ability to get low over them, means that they have their uses for tourers, whether going downhill, pedalling into a headwind, or even drafting behind a cycling partner. I have used this type of bicycle handlebar when cycling from England to Cape Town, and also from Alaska to Argentina. During these long distance journeys, I cycled across a wide range of road conditions and I had no issues at all.
- Drop handlebars offer a variety of hand positions. This means that shoulder or neck ache can be alleviated by swapping the grip on them, whether just using the top, or using the actual drops themselves.
- Being relatively narrow, stability can be an issue when cycling over rough roads using drop handlebars.
- Any curved piece of metal is never going to be as strong as a straight one. Over time, cheaper versions will show their true colours by bending or flexing. In the most extreme circumstances they might break totally.
These are normally found on mountain bikes, and many expedition bicycles feature them in their set up. With the addition of sturdy end bars which can aid in steep uphill ascents. They are a natural choice for many bicycle tourers looking for a setup that is low key and low maintenance. I decided to opt for this style of bicycle touring handlebar when I cycled from Greece to England, as I find it suits my slightly upright riding style better.
- This style of handlebar is perfect for cycling along rough roads, as the width provides great stability for the cyclist.
- A straight handlebar, as long as it is of good quality, is practically indestructible, which is always a massive bonus to the cycling tourer.
- It promotes a more upright riding position, which means that you can actually see some of the countryside that you are riding through!
- A straight handlebar does not offer much variety when it comes to hand positions. This can be a bit irritating when cycling hour after hour on those long roads.
- It might promote a more upright riding position, but this means that it will be a lot harder work cycling through a headwind.
Also known as trekking bars, butterfly handlebars are most commonly seen on European touring bikes. They are also proving popular with people building their own expedition bicycles. In fact, when I was first considering building my own bike before purchasing a Thorn Nomad, I had included butterfly handlebars on my setup. After a year or so commuting with them, I eventually decided that they were not for me.
- Butterfly handlebars offer a wide variety of hand positions. This is obviously appealing for any tourer who is spending hours on end in the saddle day after day.
- They do look kind of cool.
- I have found that butterfly handlebars have a tendency to flex when a lot of strain is put on them. This is most notable when cycling tough uphill sections. Is this flexing a bad thing? I couldn't say for sure, but it can't be healthy for the bars in the long term, and I imagine that some energy is lost in this flexing.
- Again, lots of curved metal, which surely can't be a good thing and may break over time.
Which is the best type of Bicycle Touring Handlebars – Conclusion
I have actually spent more time on long distance bicycle tours using drop style handlebars than butterfly handlebars or any other. This wasn't through any sort of decision making process though. It just happened to be what handlebars were on the bikes I bought at the time! After a lot of thought and testing, I have chosen straight bars with bar ends for my next trip. I believe that overall this will offer the most comfort for me personally in both hand and riding position. If anyone is to ask me which type of handlebars they should get for toruings, I would say straight bars.
If you are planning a bicycle tour, you might also find these other bicycle touring articles useful.