My research tells me mountain bike bar ends have a history: they were popular, then went out of fashion, and now apparently they’re dorky. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t riding mountain bikes back when they went out of style ( * enjoys feeling young for a minute * ) and dorky is my middle name.
I have a pair of bar ends on my hardtail / bikepacking bike and can’t imagine life without them. Rarely does such a simple and affordable item provide so much benefit while riding. I find them indispensable for bikepacking, primarily for the comfy extra hand position. But I enjoy them on day rides too, especially tough ones with steep climbs where the extra leverage really helps.
So I’m here to sing the praises of bar ends for mountain bikes and explain why you might want to try them. I’ve been using mine (Cane Creek Ergo Control) for nearly 4000 miles, and I recommend them to anyone who rides long and climbs hard on a bike with flat handlebars.
In this post I’ll lay out the advantages (and a few disadvantages, one of which I learned about the hard way) of MTB bar ends in general, explain how they work, and suggest a few popular models to try.
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Advantages of MTB Bar Ends
Bar ends are a simple little item with surprisingly big benefits. You can’t use them all the time of course – they’re mutually exclusive with shifting and braking – so they’re generally used while climbing or cruising flats. Here’s how they help:
Ergonomic hand position: The internally rotated hand position forced by flat bars is not the most ergonomic. Bar ends offer a thumbs-up orientation that’s more natural for the arms and shoulders, similar to riding on the hoods or hooks with drop bars.
Additional hand position: For long rides, variety is key. Switching between two hand positions relieves pressure and tension in the hands and gives tired muscles a break (the ones in our upper body at least, if not the legs).
Width and leverage: We all know wider bars offer more stability, and bar ends extend the usable width of our bars by providing a strong, high-leverage grip at the very outer ends. When I’m grinding up a rough climb and don’t need to shift or brake, I automatically move my hands to the bar ends for a boost in stability.
Muscle recruitment: Bar ends essentially make us stronger by helping us recruit more muscle activity in key areas. When I grab the bar ends and push inward, generating compressive force from my shoulders, I feel my whole core light up. My shoulders feel more stable, my hips and legs feel stronger, and my pedal stroke grows more powerful. It’s like hitting a magic power-up button.
Forward weight shift: Because they project forward and offer a stable grip, bar ends help us shift weight extra-far forward over the bars when climbing. As a lightweight rider with very mediocre technical skills, this can help me clean a steep little climb that would otherwise end with my front wheel lifting off the ground.
Better hike-a-bike grip: If your idea of a great ride includes some time on foot, you’ll appreciate how bar ends offer a different grip and leverage for long hike-a-bikes.
Might protect your hands during a crash: Anecdotally there are reports of bar ends taking the impact or protecting hands from the ground when a bike goes down sideways.
Stable bike leaning: Maybe it’s a bikepacker thing – loaded bikes can be squirrely – but I love how my Cane Creek bar ends make my bike so stable when leaning against a wall, fence, or tree.
Disadvantages of MTB Bar Ends
Though bar ends are very handy, they do have a few drawbacks to be aware of. I’ve felt the first one very acutely!
Dangerous if snagged in trailside brush: The first time I rode a bikepacking race with bar ends, I snagged one on an overgrown trail and went down hard. The next day it very nearly happened again. While any wide bar is in danger of colliding with a tree that comes out of nowhere, bar ends are especially good at hooking in foliage. And once they hook, they don’t unhook; they will take you down.
Added weight: If you’re counting, a pair of bar ends adds roughly 120 – 180 grams to your setup.
Could possibly impale you or someone else in a crash: Bar ends are banned from some races and club rides, apparently due to the danger they pose to other riders in close quarters. Anecdotally there are reports of people falling on their own bar ends and causing organ injuries. Plenty of people use them with no issue and I don’t have enough data to comment, but personally this is why I like the Cane Creek style. Though I’m sure it could do damage at the wrong angle, at least it’s rubber and relatively short.
They look dorky, apparently? Well, dorky is in the eye of the beholder. I think mine look rather spiffy.
Types of Bar Ends
You’ll find bar ends in a number of shapes, styles, and materials. Here’s a roundup of the most popular options.
Ergon GP and GS
The popular Ergon series integrates the bar end together with a rubber grip. The grip and bar end are conveniently designed to work well together and many people find them comfortable, especially singe Ergon offers a whole range with different grip sizes and bar end lengths. The downside is you can’t fine-tune your grip and bar end separately if, for example, you want to use a foam grip instead.
Cane Creek Ergo Control
Cane Creek bar ends are aluminum covered in smooth rubber, more of a shaped grip than a length of metal tubing. They’re designed to be comfy on the hands and allow for some serious leverage and inward compression. Personally, I think they’re fantastic. The rubber surface is comfy and benign, yet very durable. I am constantly leaning my bike against rough things or laying it down in gravel, yet after nearly 4000 miles the grips are almost like new. The main downside to these bar ends: they’re shorter than most so don’t allow for as much of a forward shift.
Lots of Others
Many bar ends are standalone little “horns” made of aluminum alloy or carbon fiber with varying lengths and shapes. You’ll have to experiment to see which type feels best for your posture and hand size. Some are a bit long and bulky for my taste, and could potentially do damage if they ended up in the wrong place during a crash.
Installing Bar Ends
Bar ends are easy to install on your handlebars. Those with integrated grips require changing the whole grip, while separate bar ends just clamp onto the bar outboard of the existing grip. If installing a standalone bar end, you may want to trim the grip a bit to make room, or move the whole grip and control assembly inboard a smidge. If using the kind of grip with a lip on the outer end, you’ll need to trim that off.
Most people install bar ends so they’re pointing forward and a little bit up. The most comfortable angle will depend on the rest of your setup and how you like to ride. If your primary goal is leverage while climbing, you want them angled more forward. If your main goal is a more upright riding position, angle them more upward. Better yet, keep your multitool handy and adjust mid-ride to dial in the fit.
MTB bar ends are designed to fit standard mountain bike handlebar tubing, which is 22.2 mm (same as 7/8″). This is the diameter of the bar at the outer ends (as opposed to the middle of the bar where the stem clamps, which is often 31.8 mm).
My Story and Setup
I originally wanted bar ends because I do a lot of bikepacking, sometimes for weeks or months at a time, sometimes with very long days in the saddle. One of the challenges of flat handlebars for bikepacking: only one hand position, and not the most ergonomic one (internal rotation at the forearms). This can lead to fatigue, pain, and even nerve damage from spending so much time locked into one position.
Hand issues are no joke. At times (though due to a different ergonomics issue, with drop bars) I have lost nearly all function in my hands on intense rides. I once spent fifteen minutes trying to unbuckle my helmet – almost had to sleep in it!
Having also bikepacked significant distances on gravel-style drop bars, I like the variety of hand positions and neutral position of the thumb pointing upward. So when my amazing Chumba Stella (and her flat bars) came rolling into my life, I knew I wanted some way to improve ergonomics and increase the number of hand positions.
All this to say, I have a pair of Cane Creek Ergo Control bar ends on my SQlab 30X 16 degree bars. I’ve put nearly 4000 miles on this combo so far, mostly bikepacking and a bit of day riding on local trails. The bike runs as either fully rigid or a hardtail, most often the former but she’s in hardtail mode at the moment.
I love this setup and I recommend it to bikepackers especially, and to anyone who does a lot of climbing on their mountain bike. If you’re curious about bar ends, I hope you’ll go ahead and try a pair. Once you experience them, it’s hard to ride without them! Just watch out for trailside shrubbery…
More Bike Resources
If you found this helpful, you might also like these posts:
- Saddle Sores: Advice From Ultra-Distance Bikepack Racers
- Bike Repair and Maintenance Tasks Every Cyclist Should Know
- Bikepacking the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route
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