When it comes to upgrading the components on your mountain bike, we are lucky to have so many different options to choose from. With handlebars, the most common question we hear is if you should ride carbon or aluminum. Carbon and aluminum handlebars do behave differently on the trail and that's what we're here to breakdown today. We will also throw out some of our favorite handlebars in both carbon and aluminum. Here are some different things to consider when upgrading the handlebars on your bike: material, compliance, stiffness, durability, cost, looks, and brand loyalty.
+ Damping Performance. So what do carbon handlebars offer over aluminum bars? For starters, without being overbuilt, carbon bars can offer more damping performance than most alloy bars. So what does that actually mean out on the trail? Is damping just another buzzword? When you are riding through rough chattery sections of trail, carbon is able to absorb those vibrations a bit differently than alloy does. Instead of feeling each and every vibration, carbon handlebars can help absorb and damp that chatter. When you are out on a long ride, that might make the difference in more comfort for your hands.
+ Flex Pattern. Another characteristic unique to carbon is that when the uni directional carbon is being laid inside the mold, you are able to methodically place each and every piece of carbon. What this does is it allows you to effectively control the flex pattern without sacrificing overall strength. Of course there is a science to this process and each manufacturer has their own approach. This is similar in a sense to butted aluminum, where you can change the wall thickness of the material along the length of the aluminum tube, but on another level. At the end of the day, with carbon handlebars manufacturers can tune the flex and compliance characteristics of the handlebars much more effectively.
+ Lightweight. One of the most obvious benefits to carbon handlebars is just how lightweight they are. Carbon handlebars can be just as strong as aluminum bars and weight much less. Some of the handlebars below weigh almost half as much as the aluminum bars they compete against. If you are weight weenie, carbon bars might be a good option.
- Cost. One of the drawbacks to carbon handlebars is that they are just flat out more expensive, sometimes twice as expensive of some aluminum handlebars. Similar to carbon and aluminum rims, carbon is more expensive to manufacture.
- Durability. Another negative to carbon bars is that they are not as durable. Scratches and cuts in the carbon can jeopardize the structural integrity of the bar. If you do have a big crash on your bike, it's important to go through and inspect your carbon handlebars to see if they are damaged at all. When it comes down to it, if your carbon bars do break, they will break catastrophically. Where an aluminum bar might bend, generally a carbon handlebar will just break.
Now keep in mind this is just a generalization. There are certainly some carbon handlebars that are over built and have you feeling like you are holding on to a jack hammer. The same could also be said for some aluminum bars as well. Some carbon handlebars weigh the same or more as other aluminum handlebars. Take a look at three of our favorite carbon handlebars below.
The RaceFace Next 35 bar is RaceFace's premium XC/Trail lightweight carbon handlebar. Weighing only 180grams, this carbon handlebar weighs half as much as some aluminum bars on the market. If weight its your primary focus, the RaceFace Next bar might be a good choice for you. RaceFace claims that the uni-directional carbon layup is optimized to flex and remain compliant over small bumps. The Next 35 bar utilizes a 35mm clamp diameter, a 760mm width, and is offered in 10 and 20mm rise. RaceFace is also one of the few manufacturers that offers a 5° upsweep 8° backsweep bend.
|Material: Uni-Directional Carbon||5° Upsweep, 8° Backsweep|
|Clamp Diameter: 35mm||Colors: Raw Carbon with Black, Turquoise, Green, Blue, Orange, Red, and Stealth Graphics|
|Width: 760mm||Matte Clearcoat Finish|
|Rise: 10 and 20mm||
The Renthal Fatbar Lite carbon handlebar is intended for the trail/enduro category and is littered with performance features that are aimed to balance control and comfort. Renthal does a great job with all of their handlebars supplying bump compliance without feeling like you are holding on to a pool noodle. Finding that sweet-spot between stiffness, durability, and comfort is what Renthal has aimed for with the Fatbar Lite Carbon. This handlebar is offered in a variety of different configurations with a 31.8mm or 35mm clamp diameter with either 10, 20, 30, or 40mm rise.
|Material: Uni-Directional Carbon||5° Upsweep, 7° Backsweep|
|Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm and 35mm||Colors: Raw Carbon with AluGold Graphics|
|Width: 740mm (31.8), 760mm (35mm)||Surpasses EN BMW Drop Test Standard|
|Rise: 10, 20, 30 or 40mm||
The Deity Skywire handlebar is Deity's premium carbon offering for the trail and enduro category. In 2019, Deity launched a full lineup of 35mm clamp diameter handlebars after years of research and development. The Skywire is plenty stiff to give you the control and precision over your front end, but Deity's primary focus with this bar is all about comfort. The Skywire uses a textured clamping surface for both the stem and the ends of the grips. This bar of course uses a 35mm bore, is offered in a 15 and 25mm rise, a 800mm width, and 5° by 9° bend. To learn more about this bar check out our Deity Skywire Handlebar Review.
|Material: Uni-Directional Carbon||5° Upsweep, 9° Backsweep|
|Clamp Diameter: 35mm||
Colors: Matte Unidirectional Black Carbon with Stealth, Chrome, White, Red, Green, Blue, Orange, Turquoise and Bronze Graphics
2 year Limited Warranty and a Lifetime Crash Replacement Plan
|Rise: 15 and 25mm||
+ Durability. The biggest advantage to aluminum handlebars is the extra durability they bring along. When you do crash your bike, aluminum stands up to scrapes and scratches a little bit better than carbon. All carbon bars use a painted finish while a majority of aluminum bars use a shot peened and anodized finish that is much more durable.
+ Low Cost. While carbon handlebars are very expensive, aluminum bars will cost you much less. You could buy two sets of alloy handlebars for the cost of one carbon bar. If carbon is out of your budget, there are still plenty of great aluminum handlebars to choose from.
- Added Weight. Aluminum handlebars are most of the time heavier than carbon and so if weight is the most important thing, you might not want to go with aluminum. With that in mind, there are still some very lightweight aluminum handlebars out there.
- 35mm Clamp Can Be Overbuilt. This doesn't necessarily only go for aluminum handlebars, but if done wrong, 35mm bore bars can sometimes be overbuilt. Some 35mm handlebars are much too stiff and that goes for aluminum and carbon. That's why we have gone through and picked out some of our favorite aluminum handlebars below.
PNW is a small components company run by passionate cyclists. The PNW Range handlebar is their first handlebar offering and it has certainly caught our attention. The Range bar hits all the right marks on paper and out on the trail it's a performer. With a 31.8mm clamp diameter, the Range bar features a 30mm rise and a unique 5° by 10° bend. PNW is also offering a 3 year warranty! To learn more, check out our PNW Range Handlebar KW Edition product overview.
|Material: 2014-T73 Heat Treated Allow||5° Upsweep, 10° Backsweep|
|Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm||Colors: Safety Orange, Seafoam Teal, Cement Gray|
|Width: 780mm||3 Year Warranty|
Renthal expanded in to the mountain bike game after a storied history in the motocross world. Renthal is known for their ultimate durability, especially with the shot peened anodized finish on their aluminum handlebars. The Renthal Fatbar is offered in a variety in rise options in both 31.8 and 35mm clamp diameter. At 800mm wide, the Fatbar can be fitted on anything from a trail bike to a downhill bike.
|Material: 7 series Aluminum Alloy||5° Upsweep, 7° Backsweep|
|Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm and 35mm||Colors: AluGold, Black|
|Width: 800mm||Shot Peened Anodized Finish|
|Rise: 10, 20, 30 or 40mm||
The Deity Skyline handlebar is Deity's aluminum trail offering with a 31.8mm clamp diameter. The Skyline is Deity's lightest aluminum handlebar weighing only 290 grams. Coming in at 787mm wide, offered with either a 15 or 25mm rise, and using a 5° by 9° bend, the Skyline is another solid aluminum handlebar. To learn more about this bar, read through our Deity Skyline Handlebar Review.
|Material: Custom Gradient Butted 7075 T73 aluminum||5° Upsweep, 9° Backsweep|
|Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm||Colors: Black ano finish with bronze, stealth, white, red, green, blue, turq, or orange graphics, and platinum ano finish with phantom graphics|
Two Tone Bead Blast and Polished Ano Finish
|Rise: 15 and 25mm||
Hopefully this has helped you navigate the endless world of different cycling components. With some many different brands bringing something different to the table, finding your ideal handlebar is on a bit of a case by case basis. Thankfully brands like RaceFace, Renthal, Deity, and Truvativ offer a variety of options in both carbon and aluminum, because all of us have our favorite brands. Think about about what type of riding you enjoy and what kind of bike you are riding so you can make the best decision about whether you should ride carbon or aluminum.