Ride UK Tech Columns
(This article first appeared in Ride UK issue No.80 and is
reproduced here by kind permission of Ride UK.)
Handlebars, Bars, Steering wings. Call them what you like we all need
Personally I always find changing bars to be a bit of an ordeal. Not just
because I have to wrestle the grips on and not because I have to switch the
brake levers, and the cables are inevitably no longer the ideal length. Simply
because it changes the feel of the bike so much and I find it hard to adjust.
When I finally decided to cut my bars down to a more modern narrow width about
2 years ago it took me the longest time to get fully used to it.
There isn’t much anyone can write to help you acclimatise to the feel of
some new bars but hopefully the following blurb will help with everything
To minimise the acclimatisation it helps if you can get the new bars on
at the same angle as the old ones. To help with this, you can try to measure
the old bars before you take them off. Since what really matters is where
your hands are, I would suggest measuring from the seat post clamp to the
middle of each grip, this will give you an approximate target to aim for with
the new set. This is the sensible approach but it never occurs to me until
I have already taken the old pair off and am trying to adjust the new ones…
Once you have your new bars in place it is well worth marking a scratch
on the stem and the clamp tube so that if they move you can put them back
or if you want to adjust them you can tell where you started from. Obviously
when adjusting bars do not loosen the stem bolts all the way off, just do
it enough that you can tap the bars into the new position without them falling
If your bars are slipping then check the knurling on the bars first. This
is the most common cause. Although you might be able to see the knurling clearly
enough, a good powdercoat job will follow the troughs and ridges so well
that it could still be a very thick layer, and paint is pretty damn slippery.
So if your bars wont stay put you need to strip this paint off.
A common mistake with stems is to use the wrong size Allen Key. The Allen
Key should fit really well, if it wiggles by a tenth of a turn or so then
the chances are you are using the wrong sized Allen Key. Maybe you should
be using a ¼” (quarter inch) key (which is 6.35mm) but instead you
are trying to use a 6mm metric key, this will inevitably round out the heads
of the bolts long before the stem clamps properly.
The width of your bars will have a big influence on the feel of the bike.
Bars can be cut down but they cant be cut “up” (thank fuck I am here to point
out the bleeding obvious)... Because of this, bike co’s tend to make bars
a bit on the wide side of the average and leave it to you to cut them down.
So there is a good chance you will at some point want to cut your bars down.
Ideally you would use a pipe cutter for this. With its big hardened wheels
you whizz it round the tube like a pizza cutter tightening the pressure until
the end falls off. The problem with this is that most pipe cutters are made
for nice soft copper plumbing pipe or mild steel conduit, NOT heat treated
4130. A basic pipe cutter will probably die after one or two cuts, so most
of us will instead be looking at the hard-work-end of a Hacksaw.
Now by Hacksaw I mean a full sized hacksaw with a 12 inch blade with nice
sharp teeth, NOT a junior hacksaw! Remember GOOD tools are GOOD, and SHITE
tools are SHITE.
To stick with the cliché theme this month; measure at least twice
and cut once. To that you can add, cut carefully, cut straight and for fuck’s
sake don’t cut your fingers off…
Measuring can be tricky too. If you are judging your cut length by measuring
the old bars, then remember that the width will measure slightly narrower
at the side towards the rider then the leading edge. If you put your old bars
on top of the new ones and mark the ends you could well end up cutting too
much and leaving them too narrow.
To get a straight line to cut, simply take a piece of paper with a straight
edge and wrap it round the tube, if the ends of the straight side meet up
then the edge is nice and perpendicular to the axis. Mark it and cut along
Once you have cut the bars down take the extra 30 seconds to file the burrs
If anyone else out there is still using these quaint old things then you
might want to put them on before the grips, particularly if they don’t have
a hinged clamp (though thankfully the days of the non-hinged lever seem to
Where you run the levers will depend on the width of the bars and how far
from the grips you like them. But if your levers are going to be on or close
to the bend then you may hit some snags. You might well need to bend the “blades”
of the lever out to give you some decent space to pull them.
Thankfully this will have very little effect on how they work... Unless
you snap them off…
Most people bend their levers out with them still on the bike, and as long
as you just need a little tweak this is fine. Just slip a ring spanner over
and very slowly and gently bend them out to suit. Keep checking the feel and
if in doubt STOP. If you bend them too far then bending them back again is
often much riskier and this is when they fail…
If you need to put a really big or complicated bend into the lever then
a little bit of heat can be necessary to avoid snapping. But bear in mind
that most levers hinge on little plastic bushes that will melt long before
the blade is hot enough to help it bend. Brake levers are almost always aluminium
and aluminium takes a lot of energy to raise it’s temperature, (high specific
heat capacity) so if you are using a blow torch to warm your levers it will
take a surprisingly long time to have any effect.
Rather than ruin your plastic pivot bushes and maybe set-fire to your grips,
I suggest you take the blades of the levers out and do this in the bench vice.
The downside of this is that you cant easily keep checking the shape of the
bend without waiting for the levers to cool-down then re-fitting them to
the bike. Remember that high specific heat capacity will mean that they take
quite a while to cool down and the high conductivity means that they will
be hot all along the length and will burn you quite well!
If you do heat your levers to bend them then give the brakes a couple of
days to return to full strength. Aluminium “age-hardens” so (depending on
the exact alloy) it wont regain all its strength straight away.
There are no guarantees when bending your levers, it’s a risky job whether
you do it hot or cold, if you don’t do it very carefully, and even if you
do, it might suddenly snap with very little or no warning so don’t come crying
You can now buy several levers that are “pre-bent” so one of these might
save you a lot of hassle.
Grips are also a very personal choice, one mans faithful favourite is another
man’s bed of nails. I tried some new grips a while ago and they literally
tore my hands apart. Within just a few hours riding I had massive blisters
in places I hadn’t got calluses before because I had never really gripped
with that part of my hand before.
But whatever grip you choose chances are it will require a good deal of
wrestling to get on or off.
Grip wrestling is going to be an Olympic Demonstration Sport in 2008 at
Beijing; and by 2012 it is likely to be fully adopted. So there is half a
cat’s chance in hell that you could see Russians with huge fore-arms lining
up somewhere in dock-lands to put a brand new pair of ODI long-necks onto
an Olympic regulation pair of Gay Bars… OK so maybe that’s a bit far fetched…
London has no chance of getting the 2012 Olympics…
There are as many opinions on how best to fit and remove grips. Chris Radford
(he of the unlimited nose manual circa 1992) used to swear by the “dry” technique.
No lube for him, just a good half hour of fighting, which inevitably left
the grips not only firmly fitted and ready to ride immediately but perfectly
Dry is undoubtedly the ideal, but very few people have the shear bloody-minded-ness
to pull it off. If you have access to an air-compressor then it becomes an
effortless job. Simply work the grip on with a constant flow of high pressure
air from a suitable nozzle keeping the grip “inflated” round the bar. Removal
is equally simple, with a quick blast of air more than adequate to break it
free and float it off.
Surprisingly a lot of people think the purchase of a £100+ compressor
a trifle excessive for fitting a new pair of grips maybe twice a year, including
Leaving aside the dry or air-lubed options most of us reach for an aerosol.
I have heard of people using pretty much anything that comes in a pressurised
container with varying degrees of success.
WD-40 is, of course, king of the aerosols. It is the aerosol equivalent
of the urban rat, you are never more than 30 feet from a can of WD-40 though
you may never know it.
Not surprisingly therefore it is often pressed into service for fitting
grips. A job it was never designed for but can sometimes do pretty well.
With some grip compounds it slowly attacks the “rubber” and turns them into
a slightly gooier stickier compound that sticks pretty well, so it can lubricate
the fitting process and eventually “dry” to help hold them on. Unfortunately
it is way too easy to use too much and have a bad case of “revver grip”…
Another common choice is spray paint (well it is in a spray can). Allegedly
paint will glue the grips to the bars nicely but again you need to wait for
it to “set” and if you use too much that could be a long wait, it is also
worth remembering that paint overspray can look rather like some idiot has
been spraying paint about all over the shop, so probably not best to do it
in the living room…
The classic is of course, hairspray. I have a dented can of Harmony “extra
hold” that I picked up from those bargain “to clear” shelves of damaged goods
in Safeway about 10 years ago which is still half full and has only ever been
used on grips. It works great but dries fast so you need to be quick. It
also has the undesirable side effect of making your hands smell like a hairdressers
in wet weather.
Water also works but takes a very long time to dry.
The common error is washing up liquid… Seriously you do not want to use
it. At first it can seem fine, grips go on smooth, but expect permanent revver-grip
and if you ever get caught in the rain you will have kids running after the
trail of pretty bubbles that are emerging from your bars…
Once you have your bars cut to width, the angle set, your levers bent to
perfectly match your grip position, and your grips firmly installed; there
is one further job. FIT SOME BLOODY BAR ENDS!!!!
Bar-ends weigh next to nothing, cost very little and could seriously save
your life, or someone else’s. As a man who has had a peg punch a chunk out
of his hand trust me on this. An unplugged tube is more than capable of causing
you serious injury, and a bar-end, even those crappy plastic ones that come
free with nearly all grips, could be the difference between getting back up
off the floor to try again or rushing to the hospital to have your spleen
removed and a lifetime of medication to make up for its absence….
I have had a few e.mails on the subject of grip wrestling since the article
came out... This one struck me as being a particulalrly good idea:-
I got fed up with "Grip Wrestling" so came up with my own way of getting
grips on and thought it might help out other folks if you wish to publish
As the coefficient of friction between rubber and metal is high and the coefficient
of friction between metal and metal or plastic and metal is reasonably low,
you can slide 2-4 brake cables, zip ties etc through your grip before sliding
your grips easily onto the bars and then simply pulling out said brake cables,
zip ties. as long as both your grips and bars are pretty clean before hand
they stick like a treat.
Hope this can be shared
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then you can mail me direct by clicking HERE
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