Bikes > Cycle

Have a chill ride with swept-back handlebars

It can be life-changing in your cycling journey

Swept-back handlebars are perfect for a leisurely ride in UP Diliman. PHOTO BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT

Biking isn’t only a sport. It is also a form of leisure and transport with activities such as social rides, coffee runs, bike-commuting, and bike-touring. That’s why alternative bars (or alt bars) exist in the cycling community.

The best way to describe these is that alt bars are handlebars that prioritize comfort over performance. You don’t put a pair on your bike because you want to go fast, but because you just want to relax and enjoy the ride.

Alt bars come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. PHOTOS FROM VELO ORANGE

They come in unorthodox shapes and tend to have a pronounced rise and/or back sweep. Unlike traditional flat bars, they can offer multiple hand positions to reduce fatigue on long rides. Yet, they will never be as aerodynamic as drop bars.

I used to think that drop bars were the best—like how some car owners slap a rear wing on their vehicle to make it look cool. However, that notion was challenged after I tried a friend’s bike with swept-back handlebars.

Swapping the drop bars for alt bars drastically changed the riding experience. PHOTOS BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT

I enjoyed it so much that I got the same handlebars, the Traction B00, and put it on my Bridgestone Eurasia (a classic touring bicycle that doesn’t have much business being fast and aggressive).

My disdain for flat bars comes from my experience with mountain bikes, which had wide flat bars. I would lean slightly forward with my arms spread out, almost as if I were doing a push-up. This is fine on the trail where leverage and control are needed. But on the pavement, it isn’t any more comfortable than riding on drop bars.

Unlike that, I am completely relaxed with Traction’s alt bars. The 62° back sweep and the 43mm rise mean I don’t have to lean forward or stretch out my arms. My position is as natural as it gets on a bicycle, and I have a better view of my surroundings.

There's plentiful space in front for cargo.
The Traction B00 has the old-style clamping diameter of 25.4mm.
The bar-end shifters are easier to reach.
The silver Dia-Compe SS-6 brake levers match the classic aesthetic. PHOTOS BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT

There are additional benefits aside from the improved posture. The stainlesssteel handlebar provides cushioning when it flexes like a springboard. The bars don’t drop downward, so there’s more clearance for a bag or a basket.

Brake levers for flat bars offer better leverage than those for drop bars. This makes slowing down easier. If there’s a headwind, I can grip the forward bend to tuck myself into a more aerodynamic position.

While my experience has been mostly positive, there are some compromises. Squeezing into tight spaces is more difficult with the 570mm width. And since the back sweep brings the bar-ends closer, there is the risk of hitting my knees or the bike’s top tube during tight turns.

The author was surprised with how much he enjoyed the swept-back handlebars. PHOTO FROM JOSHUA COSICO

This isn’t exactly new. Swept-back handlebars are commonly seen on mamacharis and beach cruisers, the antithesis of race bikes. It’s a shame that more bicycles—especially those for commuting—don’t come with these.

Aside from the ergonomics, what I enjoy about alt bars is that they dispel the idea that I must be sporty or fast on my bicycle. I’m not jostling for position in a peloton.

There’s no harm in moving slowly. And contrary to what one might think, it won’t severely affect your travel time in the city. Rushing is pointless when you’ll have to stop at the traffic light anyway.

Cycling doesn’t always have to be a race, but it can be a journey to be enjoyed leisurely.

Leandro Mangubat

Leandro is our staff writer. Although having a background in mechanical engineering, he enjoys photography and writing more.