Handlebars are the connection point to your bike. Their design and position affect ergonomics and handling, as well as having a distinct impact on the appearance of the motorcycle. Swapping out the stock handlebars on a vintage Japanese motorcycle can update the bike’s styling, and it often goes part-and-parcel with a restoration or custom build. Here are a few things to consider before tackling this common job.
Word on the street is handlebars have a little something to do with steering.
There are 3 basic descriptors for how a motorcycle handles in curves. Over-steering is when the front end outpaces the rear tire in a curve, causing a snappy lean from just a slight input on the bars. The opposite effect is under-steering, which is when the front end turns sluggishly compared to the rear. Under-steering makes a motorcycle feel reluctant to turn, requiring a heavy hand to push the handlebar. Finally, when a bike feels as though it turns equally in the front and rear, it is said to have neutral steering.
Several factors affect a motorcycle’s steering geometry. Rake and trail have profound effects on a bike’s tendency to dive or sit up in a corner. These characteristics are built into the bike during its design, and they are quite difficult to alter. Tire profile is another determining factor. A change in handlebars may have a dramatic effect on perceived handling, or it may have little-to-none at all. Much depends on the difference between your choice of handlebars versus what was there before.
Every once in a blue moon, you sit on a bike and everything just feels right. The pegs are positioned so that you sit comfortably, and the reach to the controls is in the “butter zone”. More often than not, some adjustments will be required. If you have to reach out for the grips, the resulting forward lean can wreak havoc on your wrists and back. A cramped cockpit can be equally as uncomfortable. You can try loosening the clamp and rolling the handlebar forward or back to adjust the reach, but this will have only a modest effect.
MikesXS 7/8 inch Black Daytona Touring Handlebars
A handlebar swap is one of the easiest ways to eliminate fatigue in your wrists, back, neck, elbows and more. The variety of handlebar options available are endless. A simple change in bars will virtually cure your ills while also transforming the appearance of your motorcycle and its rider. A short reach can give you the appearance of a bear on a tricycle, while a long reach can make you look too small for your ride. When it comes to handlebars, comfortable is cool.
Once you have decided on the style of handlebar you prefer, it is time to consider how the change will impact the positioning of your controls and accessories. Assuming the new bar is the same diameter as the old one, you will likely be able to continue using your old switchblocks, mirrors and turn signals. However, now that everything is stripped off your old handlebars, you should seriously consider whether you would like to make any changes. There is no better time to make an alteration to the controls than when they are already removed from the bike.
MikesXS Handlebar Switch 1979 – 1984 XS650 North American models
A handlebar swap is the perfect time for updating the master cylinder, which will degrade over time and allow contaminants into the brake fluid. This is also a job that tends to identify when old plastic components have dry rotted. If the handlebar switches seem brittle when you remove it, consider renewing them now. Check the condition of the throttle tube, and be sure to install brand new grips so that your bike feels as good as it looks when you’ve finished the job.
Cable and Hose Lengths
Swapping out those old ape hangers for a clubman bar is guaranteed to necessitate a change in throttle cable, clutch cable, and brake hoses. The same goes if you’re switching out stock bars for clip-ons. Compare the measurements of your original handlebar to the one you are considering. Rise, width and pullback will all affect the length of the hoses and cables required.
MikesXS 41mm Chrome Clip-Ons
A handlebar change is also the perfect time to renew those old rubber brake hoses. Stainless steel brake lines perform better, because they resist the bulging that causes brakes to feel mushy. More of your input goes into your brakes, resulting in shorter stopping distances. They last longer and look better. At MikesXS, we offer many different lengths of brake lines to simplify your upgrade. We also carry a variety of connectors and wiring solutions for these types of alterations.
Handlebars and technology have come a long way since the stock tires on your classic Yamaha first spun down the open road. Modern bars can now hide wires, accept turn signals or mirrors on the ends, and support many other accessories. In many ways, the limitations on what you can do exist only in your imagination.
Depending on the style of bike you are going for, certain alterations may make more sense. Bar-end mirrors, for example, can make a café racer build look the part, and many of them also eliminate the rearward blind spot. Alternatively, bar end turn signals clean up the lines on your bike’s profile, while also putting your flashers farther out where they will get more attention. Whatever your take on handlebar customization, MikesXS has it in stock.
Think about it…
If you find your bike lacking in comfort or handling, or if you just don’t love the look of it, a handlebar alteration may be just the fix you need. While not always as simple as we might like, a handlebar change can bring about a completely different appearance to your beloved 2-wheeler. When building a chopper, bobber, café racer or any other custom bike, the stock bars simply will not suffice. If you have any questions on this common – yet sometimes complicated – modification, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re always here to help.
Until next time,