Here's How To Swap Out Those Old Motorcycle Handlebars for New Ones06/07/2021
Aside from the seat, a motorcycle’s handlebars are the primary connection between human and machine. There’s a natural power that comes with extending your arms and gripping each side of the bar while conjuring memories of that first Big Wheels ride. “This is it,” you think. “This is real freedom.” You’re in control, you can go anywhere, you can do anything.
Once you make that connection with your two-wheeler, the mind starts to wander, and you wonder how you can personalize your chariot. It could be a new sprocket, underglow, a windscreen delete, or it could be a new set of that connection to the motorcycle: the handlebars. Few customizations to a motorcycle can make as significant a difference as a new set of handlebars.
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Swapping in a new set of handlebars can change the aesthetics, ergonomics, and the steering feel and performance of the motorcycle all in one shot. It can be done in just a day in the garage, too, so DIYers with a little passion can switch things up fairly easily. To a degree, the job is as simple as taking things off and swapping bars, but there are some tips and tricks to know before diving in. Join us as the Guides & Gear editors explain how to swap motorcycle handlebars.
The Basics of Motorcycle Handlebar Installation
Estimated Time Needed: A few hours
Skill Level: Beginner to intermediate
Vehicle System: Steering
Motorcycle Wrenching Safety
Working on your motorcycle can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger and that you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless — hopefully.
- Safety glasses
- Mechanic gloves
- Gas can, if necessary
Some motorcycles feature turn signals attached to the handlebars.
Everything You’ll Need To Remove a Motorcycle Gas Tank
We’re not psychic nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage. Here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.
- Power drill
- Drill bits, if necessary
- Allen wrench set
- Torx bits, if necessary
- Wrench and socket set
- Screwdriver set
- Shop rags and/or towels
- Siphon pump
- Wire cutters, if necessary
- Needle-nose pliers
- Adhesive dissolver
- New handlebars
- New grips, if necessary
- New wiring and/or cables, if necessary
- New mirrors, if necessary
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you what you need. You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street. We aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.
Many handlebars bolt right on top of the fork tree.
Handlebar Fitment Issues To Consider
Planning your swap is key to making it a smooth job, as with any DIY project. Take note of and plan for these aspects of your current and new handlebars to make sure everything will fit and work correctly.
- Width: Width refers to how wide the handlebars stretch and how wide the grip is. Make sure the new handlebars are wide enough to fit all of your attachments, and select the width based on the riding position you desire.
- Height: Height refers to how tall the actual handlebars are. The height of the handlebars will affect your seating position, how your shoulders are positioned, visibility, and steering feel, so make sure you test out the position before purchasing.
- Rise: Your motorcycle might have risers, the pieces that raise the handlebars up above the top bridge. Some handlebars have built-in risers, while others might feature separate parts or not have risers at all. Take note of where you’d like your handlebars to sit and adjust, add, or delete risers as you wish. Know that in doing this, it could affect the length of the cables and wires you need.
- Pullback/Sweep/Reach: Pullback is how much the handlebars bend back toward the rider. This can affect how the current setup sits and works on new handlebars.
- Diameter: Diameter refers to the exterior diameter of the handlebars. Some brackets might only accept specific diameters, so make sure yourse match up.
- Brake, Clutch, and Throttle Cables and Wiring: During the process of switching handlebars, you might also have to negotiate placement of your brackets, as well as the lengths and positions of the wiring as well as clutch, brake, and throttle cables. This could mean new cables for added length, shortening existing cables, changing brake lines, or rerouting wiring.
- Brake, Clutch, and Throttle Inputs: During the process of switching handlebars, you can also swap out your brake levers and clutch levers with lighter, heavier, adjustable, shorter, or longer levers. You can also change the throttle’s grip to something more to your liking.
Different motorcycles use different mounting gear, as well.
Here’s How To Install New Handlebars on Your Motorcycle
For the purposes of this guide, we are assuming that your old handlebars and the new ones are relatively the same and can be directly swapped out. Many swaps will require extra work and customization to make things fit, however. Be aware of the changes between your current setup and the new handlebars you have selected.
We must also note that some motorcycles are set up differently, so the order of removing items might be slightly different than the one listed below. With that in mind, check out these steps for replacing your handlebars.
Learn How To Swap Handlebars on a Harley-Davidson in this Detailed Video Explainer
Hill Country Custom Cycles from Texas shows the way in this helpful shop video.
FAQs About Installing Motorcycle Handlebars
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q: Which seating position is most comfortable?
A: Comfort is subjective to the rider based on seating position, seats, handlebars, and style of motorcycle. In general, motorcycles with a neutral upright position are considered to provide the most comfort for a majority of riders. This is also known as a standard riding position.
Q: Which handlebars are good for long rides?
A: As we mentioned, seating position and comfort will be different for each rider and each motorcycle. How riders position themselves can make a big difference in determining a comfortable long-distance ride and a miserable one. Your height will also play a significant factor in deciding which handlebars and position is best for you.
Q: What are clip-on handlebars?
A: Clip-on handlebars, a type commonly seen on cafe racers, sport bikes, and other low-profile-style builds, are composed of two tubular pieces rather than one long connecting bar. Each piece attaches to the fork legs below the uppermost bridge rather than above the top bridge.
Q: What are motorcycle beach bars?
A: Like the handlebars on cruiser bicycles seen along coastal shorelines, beach bars are large U-shaped handlebars with big pullback toward the rider. Because beach bars reach back, the rider doesn’t have to stress too much to hold on, which often makes for a relatively relaxed riding position.
Q: Are ape handlebars illegal?
A: Ape handlebars might not be legal in your state. Check local laws before buying a motorcycle with high handlebars or before installing ape-style bars.
Handlebars greatly affect the comfort of long rides.
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