Choosing a motocross handlebar to suit your style of riding can be very difficult. There's a bunch of different styles, bends, heights, widths, sweeps, etc, so how do you know which one is for you? Well the short answer is: there is no way of knowing, until you try them! But there are a few things that you can use to point you toward the right set.
In this post we'll help you decide which handlebar is for you, and we'll look at what all of these dimensions mean. We'll also look at the top 5 bars the best riders are using, and we'll find out a few more cool handlebar facts that every rider should know!
What do motocross handlebar bends mean?
The bend of a handlebar isn't just determined by a single dimension, but by four:
Width: the width of the handlebar is the measurement from left to right in a straight line. The width will usually be around 800 mm, but this can vary either way by up to 40 mm. If you would prefer a narrower bar than is currently available, for things like trail riding between trees, and squeezing through narrow paths, it is possible to trim the ends down.
Height: the height is measured from the centre of the bar at the clamping area, to the centre of the bar at its highest point.
Rise: handlebar rise is the measurement from the centre of the bar at the clamping area, to the centre of the bar at the first bend.
Sweep: looking down on the bar from above, sweep is the measurement from the centre of the bar at the clamping area, to the centre of the bar at its furthest point back toward the rider.
Most manufacturers will list the measurements for each dimension, but a quick reference is given by using a riders name. For example: ProTaper use the names Pastrana bend, and Carmichael bend, but this is just a reference, you shouldn't pick these bars just because you're a fan of Travis Pastrana or Ricky Carmichael. You may also see CR high, or YZ high, but this doesn't mean they will only fit Honda or Yamaha dirt bikes; again, it's just a quick reference.
Which bend will I prefer?
To figure out which bar will suit you best, you can think about your style of riding. Are you a racer? Are you in to trails and enduro riding? Or do you spend most of your time jumping or practising freestyle?
Racers will usually prefer a lower bar with less sweep, this keeps their body weight further forward, helping with cornering and hard acceleration. Trail riders are stood up on the bike for longer periods, and they need to get through tight spaces, so a medium height narrow bar (or trimmed down an inch or so) may be better. And freestyle riders will prefer a higher bar with no crossbar, making it easier to get feet through during barhops, saran-wraps, etc.
Something else that may determine what handlebar you choose is your height. This isn't always the case, but many, and maybe even the majority of taller guys are running higher bars. I've personally been through lots of bars before settling with pro taper CR high, I'm 5'11" and more into jumping than racing, but these handlebars also feel better when I'm on the track.
Lastly, think about the height of your current bars. Do they feel too high or too low? Too far forward or too far back? As soon as I sit on a bike with low bend Renthal bars, I instantly know that they are too low for myself. You can also sit on the bike and hold your hands above and below the grips, and see where your arms feel the most natural. It's obviously different when you ride, but this does give you a good idea.
Crossbar or no crossbar?
Motocross handlebars are predominantly found in two sizes ⅞ inch and 1⅛ inch. Unfortunately, ⅞ inch handlebars aren't strong enough to handle the forces placed on them while riding, so a crossbar is included to add strength. This crossbar will be clamped on to the handlebar, because welding would further weaken the aluminium.
1⅛ inch handlebars are much stronger, and they can be used without a crossbar. But to install 1⅛ inch handlebars onto your dirt bike, you'll also need to use oversized bar clamps. These can be found to fit all models, and are also available as a universal fit.
Although 1⅛ inch diameter bars are bigger at the clamping area, they are the same size (⅞") at the control area. This is achieved by swaging the tube during the manufacturing process, so that the standard grips, levers, and the throttle assembly will still fit. 1⅛ inch bars can also be supplied with a crossbar, this makes them the stiffest and strongest bars available.
If you choose a handlebar with a crossbar, you will also be able to fit a standard cylindrical type bar pad. If you choose 1⅛ inch tapered bars without a crossbar, you will still be able to fit a bar pad, as it fits around the clamps, and is kept in place with velcro.
You should never ride without fitting a bar pad, it's there to save your face, teeth, chest, in the event of a hard landing. I know somebody that lost a few teeth after face planting their handlebars with no pad, so I never ride without one (unless I'm doing bar tricks, because I always end up kicking it off).
Handlebars are strong, but what if they do bend?
If you crash and bend your handlebars, you should replace them immediately, and never try to bend them back. Once the handlebars have been bent, they will weaken as the outer skin is stretched, and the inner skin is compressed. Tiny cracks will appear which will slowly get bigger as more stress is placed on them, until the point where the handlebar snaps while landing from a jump.
One more thing to note is that scratches can also turn to cracks on aluminium handlebars. There are very few motocross handlebars that are made from steel, so be wary of deep scratches on all bars. A motocross handlebar is obviously made to handle a fair bit of abuse, but any scratch will most definitely weaken the bar to a certain degree.
There are very few steel handlebars on the market, so you'll likely be buying an aluminium handlebar, but this doesn't mean they'll be weaker. The 2000 series is the most popular, and are alloyed with copper to give strengths comparable to steel.
Many manufacturers are now using 7000 series of aluminium for a even higher fracture strength. 7000 series are alloyed with zinc, to produce the highest strengths of any aluminium alloy.
The top motocross handlebar choices
Here are the most popular bars that the top riders are using, in no particular order:
1. ProTaper SE ⅞ inch motocross handlebar
Check the current price on Amazon here > Pro Taper SE
This is the original, and very popular ProTaper standard bar, that give riders the traditional crossbar look and feel. Being ⅞ inch diameter, they will fit straight onto your standard clamps, and are meant as a direct replacement for the original bars.
The ProTaper SE is made from 5 mm 2000 series T6 aluminium alloy, which makes them lightweight (820 grams), but also gives them a super high tensile and yield strength. During product testing, SE handlebars are put through a series of tests including 70,000 fatigue cycles of 400 lb. load. They have also passed 1,000,000 Cycles at this load without failure, so you know you're getting an incredibly strong handlebar.
They come with a bar pad, and are available in a massive 30 different bends so you're sure to find the right one for you. They're finished in both shot-peened, and anodised black, blue, platinum, red, and silver.
2. Renthal 971 ⅞ inch motocross handlebar
Check the current price on Amazon here > Renthal 971
The Renthal 971 is the most popular handlebar amongst all bends, also known as the RC bend it was popularised by Ricky Carmichael during his time with Kawasaki and Honda. It fits almost perfectly in the middle range of bends, and will suit most riding styles.
The 971 handlebar is manufactured from a specially developed 7010 T6 aluminium. This makes the handlebar lightweight, but also gives it high impact strength, and excellent vibration dampening. During the manufacturing of the 971, each handlebar goes through 58 separate quality checks to ensure quality.
They come with a crossbar and bar pad, and are available in a 13 different colours including the popular titanium. They are either anodised or shot-peened to prevent corrosion, and the positioning grid is laser marked to prevent it from peeling or wearing away.
3. ProTaper contour 1⅛ inch oversized motocross handlebar
Check the current price on Amazon here > Pro Taper Contour
ProTaper were the inventors of the oversized 1⅛" handlebar, way back in 1991, and the contour is their most popular choice of handlebar amongst riders. As we've already discussed, to fit these handlebars to your dirt bike you'll need to get yourself a set of oversized 1⅛ replacement bar clamps.
The contour handlebar is made from the same 5 mm 2000 series T6 aluminium alloy as the SE bars, but although they are oversized and stronger, they are actually lighter at only 720 grams. These bars offer superior strength, but the lack of a crossbar gives them a very desirable impact-absorbing flex.
They come with a square bar pad that attaches to the bar clamps, and come in a wide range of different bends. These are my personal favourite, and I've been using the CR high bend since 2009. I've had some big crashes, and the bars have remained straight, so I've got to give credit to their strength.
Something really cool to note, is that these handlebars have plastic plugs pushed into the ends. This keeps water and dirt out of the bar to prevent corrosion deep inside where it would be invisible, and where the anodising isn't likely to reach. ProTaper use these same plugs on all of their bars.
4. Neken radical design oversized motocross handlebars
Check the current price on Amazon here > Neken Radical Design
French motocross handlebar manufacturers Neken have made a big impact in the scene recently, with nitro circus rider Remi Bizouard being a big supporter. They have a massive range of colours and designs to suit your dirt bike, and are suitable for 28.6 mm clamping area, which converts to 1⅛ inch.
The bar is made from 7010 T6 aerospace quality aluminium, this is the same material used by Renthal, and which Renthal claim to have exclusive rights to. I guess they're no so exclusive anymore! This material makes the bars super strong, but also very lightweight at around 40% lighter and stronger than a classic handlebar.
There is no crossbar, so you'll get a nice impact absorbing flex, and with the huge range of bends you're sure to find one that suits you. A very nice looking handlebar, that also comes with a bar pad; but remember you will need to purchase oversized replacement clamps if you would like to fit these bars to your dirt bike.
5. Renthal Fatbar 1⅛ motocross handlebar
Check the current price on Amazon here > Renthal Fatbar
This is Renthal's braceless handlebar featuring a tapered wall construction to fit oversized 1⅛ inch bar clamps. It uses the Renthal standard 7010 T6 aluminium for superior strength, and the braceless design gives riders a very comfortable level of flexibility.
The positioning grid is laser etched to prevent peeling, and to provide the rider with an easy setup. They come in a wide range of bends to suit racer through to FMX riders, and are available in 6 different colours to match your dirt bike. And as with all Renthal handlebars, the Fatbar also has a knurled control area on the clutch side, to stop your grip sliding off.
You can choose between a shot-peened, or anodised finish which will protect the bar from corrosion. And when you buy them you'll also receive a Fatbar pad to protect you from hard landings, and to give your bike a really cool look.
Now you know everything there is to know about motocross handlebars, you'll be able to choose a set that will suit your style, and improve your riding experience. The type of bar you choose will come down to your personal preference, but an oversized bar will offer more strength, and from my own experience are less likely to bend during a crash.