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Going Ape – Specking handlebars that fit you!


The simple science behind handlebar selection comes down to comfort, function and looks, we take a look at the pros and cons of different styles, learn how to measure bars from an expert and road test the new Bandit Bar from Rollies Speed Shop.  

It is often said that a change is as good as a holiday; conversely that same analogy could be applied to your bike, in this case simply fitting a new set of handlebars.

Personally, I’m not comfortable leaning forward when riding any sort of long distance, it’s fine for a quick blast up over the mountain to the pub in the next valley. But as I nudge far closer to obtaining a senior’s card than I’d like, easing the strain on my back, shoulders, arms and wrists really puts the joy back in long distance riding.

For the most part, stock handlebars are somewhat of compromise, sure they’ll get you down the road and point the forks and front wheel where it needs to go. But they’re essentially designed to suit a large spectrum of riders in various sizes and shapes while preserving a conservative look. The problem with the one size fits all is that some people have longer torsos while others have longer arms or vice versa. It’s not uncommon to hear people complaining about a dulling pain or numbness in the arms and hands after short rides with stock bars.

With this in mind, when I ordered my Fatboy-Lo a few years ago the standard H-D low-profile 31.7mm (1.25-inch) diameter bars were ditched before the bike was delivered. In their place sat the H-D Street-Slammer drag bar with the 178mm (7-inch) integrated risers all in black. These bars consequently reduced the reach and stretch compared to the standard bar.

Those Street-Slammer bars were ok and the bike looked cool. However, disappointingly the shinny black finish faded to a powder grey over time, which meant a decision was needed on whether to get the old bars re-powder coated or take the opportunity to get new bars that would provide the level of comfort I was after on the long rides and still retain the cool look of the bike.

So the search began.

Mark Proietti is Parts Manager at Richardson’s Harley-Davidson in Launceston and an ideal first point of call to get the low-down on what bars would work best.

“We often get asked, what sort of bars would suit my bike as I just want to move my hands back 50mm,” Mark began. “That’s the obvious outcome they’re looking for, but in order to achieve that, we first need to know the dimensions of the existing bars.”  

Not every handlebar manufacturer measures bars the same way and nor is there a uniform measurement system for handlebars.

But Mark says it’s not all bad news. “There a few measurements required which make up the overall dimensions a handlebar,” Mark informed. “The ‘Rise’ is the overall height of the handlebar, so from the bottom to the top. The pull back is measured from the front of the bar the to the rear of the handlebar grip. The best way to measure this is slide a table or bench up against a wall to give a 90-degree angle. Then sit the bars on the table, as they’d be mounted on the bike and hold the front of the bar up against the wall. Now measure straight back to the furthest point of the bar to get the pullback measurement.”

“If you’re handlebars are mounted in separate risers it pays to include the measurement of the riser in the overall handlebar dimensions,” Mark added.

Measuring for Comfort

“The easiest way to find a comfortable handlebar is to take a few personal measurements,” Mark informed. “If you’re doing it at home in most cases you’ll need the assistance of a couple of mates, one to hold the bike upright and another to take a few measurements. With the bike in the upright position hold your hands out to simulate your preferred riding position down the road. It’s important to pay attention to the body’s position, including your back, shoulders, arms and wrists. When you’re comfortable with your position, remain still holding your arms in the simulated riding position and get your mate to take some measurements.”

Mark advises to start with the rise. “A carpenter’s square is an ideal tool for these measurements,” Mark revealed. “Measure from the top of the triple tree vertically up to the height of the hands to get the rise. Then measure from the center of the top of the triple tree back to the hands to get the pullback measurement. Finally measure how far apart the hands are to get the handlebar width. By the way we’ll happily do these measurements if you want to drop into our dealership,” Mark added. 

Handlebar Styles

Buckhorn handlebars have been the common stock style bar on most Harley-Davidson models at one time or another dating back to the 1952 K-Model, which was the predecessor to Sportser model introduced five years later in 1957. Buckhorn bars feature a short rise like that found on a mini-ape, however the difference is in the hand position with the ends of the Buckhorn bar dip downwards and are angled in towards the rider which brings the rider’s elbows in.

Drag Bars are another style that we’re seeing more of as a standard inclusion on some new Harley-Davidsons, such as the Breakout and Fatbob. These bars have little or no rise with only a slight angled pullback. They get the rider leaning forward like a drag way racer for a more aggressive riding position.

T-Bars are essentially similar to drag bars except their risers are welded at 90 degrees to the main bar giving the ‘T’-like look. The height of these bars typically varies from 4 to 9 inches and they can incorporate various forms of pullback. Early examples of T-Bars can found as far back as the Billy Bike in the Easy Rider mover. 

Ape Hangers are certainly the embodiment of chopper styling and arguably the most popular handlebars for any custom cruiser motorcycle. They are easily identified by their height and while traditionally they bend with a generous radius from the mounting point at the riser extending upwards with a long straight shaft before bending outwards to for the grip location. Modern variations of Ape Hangers now include hard chisel edges with gussets to wild looking ‘Z’ styling at both the bottom and top joints.

Style & Look

Once I’d determined the dimensions of the new handlebars to suit my riding comfort requirements, I needed to ensure that the style and look would suit my Fatboy-Lo. My older FXR has T-Bars and they really suit that bike, however they’re really suited to that aggressive riding I mentioned earlier. But when I’m cruising on the Fatboy-Lo I’d like the forward vision to be clean and not have to peer over a horizontal bar. Don’t get me wrong, T-Bar’s have their place and when that throttle is wound right around, a clear vision of scenic landscape isn’t high on the priority list and my old T-Bars are perfect for that application.

Rollies Speed Shop in Brisbane are distributors for the Bandit Bar range of handlebars, which includes Drag T-Bars, Ape Hangers and Mega Apes all in a fat 1.5-inch (38.1mm) diameter. All three models come drilled for internal wiring and designed for use on 1996 and later style hand controls. They are made in California, USA to the highest standards and come in show chrome or powder coated gloss black. The matching risers are made of high strength alloy in either gloss black or chrome.

The Bandit Bar Mega Ape style leapt out as the prime contender to mount on top of the Fatboy-Lo’s triple tree for a few reasons. Firstly, the inch and half diameter gave them a chunky look that matches the wide front presence of the Fatboy-Lo. Secondly the 9-inch (228.6mm) center width paired nicely with the bike’s fork width so when you look at the bike front on they look like they were custom made for that bike.

They feature a gentle swept outward curve as the vertical tubes extend upwards which opens out the forward vision exceptionally well. The sharp near 90-degree join at the top gives the Mega Ape a stylish no nonsense look. Meanwhile the hand grips bend down and backwards at a slight almost 20-degree angle which makes for an extremely comfortable riding position. Bike control is exceptional even on the tightest Tasmanian corners.

I opted for the 12-inch (305mm) Mega Ape and when combined with the riser put the grips in the perfect spot for me. At 32-inches (812mm) wide they’re at a comfortable width to ensure positive responsive control. Bandit Bars make the Mega Ape in 10”, 12”, 14” and 17” heights. 

What about cables?

Aidan Rouhan is a custom specialist at Rollies Speed Shop with a long history in suppling parts for some of the coolest custom bikes in the country. When Aidan starts giving you advice, its more than worth your while to get your pen and paper out so you don’t forget anything he tells you.

“When you extend the height of the bars 75 mm (3-inches) like you’re doing on your Fatboy-Lo you’ll probably need to include a longer throttle cable, clutch cable and internal wiring kit so don’t forget that when you’re adding up your budget,” Aiden revealed. “We also recommend installing new Arlen Ness heavy duty polyurethane riser rubbers when fitting these Mega Apes too. To finish off the brake system add some black banjo bolts in the new brake line as they will really make it class job. We do have chrome banjo bolts if you’re doing a chrome option too,” Aidan added.

“It’s worth investing in Magnum’s Black Pearl matching braid control cables and brakes lines,” Aiden said. “They’re a real quality product with non-yellowing, crystal clear outer jacket over jet black braided wire, rather than a smoked outer jacket over stainless wire, which results in a deeper, truer black appearance. Apart from the good looks the brake lines are a superior performing component with high-strength Kevlar fibre braid, compared to stainless steel braided over PTFE tubing found in common brake lines.”

Nathan Richmond is the Service Manager at Richardson’s Harley-Davidson and when it comes to the nuts and bolts side of motorcycles, there’s not too many he hasn’t had a spanner on at one time or another.

“Internally wiring any handlebar is rather time-consuming job,” Nathan began. “Then we need to remove the tank to fit the new throttle cables and the exhaust pipes to change the clutch cable. Meantime, the transmission gasket and oil needs to be replaced so we’ll need the bike for at least the full day.”

It may have been a length exercise in the planning, but when it can time to fit the new Bandit bars, that planning and advice along the way really paid off as the install went without a hitch, thanks to the efforts of Richardson’s H-D Technician Max Phelps. 

On the Road

The new Bandit Bar 12-inch Mega Apes are significantly more comfortable than the bars they replace and allow for precise bike control even through the tightest turns Tasmania can dish up. On the endurance side, the riding position is far more relaxing on my back, shoulders and wrists.

Another positive aspect is the mirrors are located up higher enabling clear vision in both mirrors at the same time, rather than being obscured by my shoulder as they were with the old bars depending on which turn I was entering.

Their good looks have certainly attracted more than their fair share of positive comments at most of the stops I’ve encountered on a lap of Tasmania.

The new Bandit Bars have certainly given my Fatboy-Lo a new lease of life, it’s almost as good as getting a new bike, Almost!



March 18, 2018

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