Bike History For Dummies: The Death of Bar-ends

from Rookie’s keyboard,

Hello, friends

Today’s post is a bike history lesson that goes back in time to unveil a forgotten phenomenon in the biking industry. 

Do you know what it is? 

A little product known as bar-ends (BEs) Yes, that’s right.

Short Summary

Bar-ends are an iconic retro MTB accessory dating back to the 80s (ask your dad).

For more than 10 years, they enjoyed great fame in the MTB world, but eventually, they fell out of fashion.

What happened? 

Riser handlebars “joined the chat. 

The boosted width and height of risers gave riders additional leverage and reduced the incentive to rely on bar-ends.

The main advantages of BEs are felt during climbing and sprinting. However, when BEs were popular people were relying on much narrower bars e.g., 540-600mm. 

Modern risers are much wider, sometimes reaching 800mm. And as you know, the longer the lever, the greater the mechanical advantage. 

When you add the upward sweep that risers have, the utility of bar-ends becomes even lower. 

And let’s be real – many people consider BEs non-aesthetically pleasing – one more nail in the coffin of BEs. 

But I am not done yet. 

Another hit would be the safety factor – BEs could be a big liability. They can catch a branch or hurt another rider. 

The“why” behind bar-ends

The early mountain bikes came with very long stems and very short handlebars by today’s standards. 

540-560mm wide bars were the norm. Ironically, those numbers were considered wide at the time because road drop bars usually go up to 440mm in length.

But mountain bikes didn’t rely on drop bars for long because flat bars provide better control on technical terrain.

Short flat bars have undeniable downsides:

  • One hand placement
  • Lower efficiency when climbing due to the lack of leverage.

Bar-ends entered the scene to eliminate those issues.  They offer one extra hand position and make climbing easier via the following adjustments:

  • The rider can lean and shift more of their bodyweight on the front wheel and thus unweigh the rear wheel. (That makes spinning easier.)
  • Decreasing the distance between the rider and the handlebars.
  • The wrists can assume a neutral position which is anatomically stronger when pulling because the brachialis and the biceps can contribute more than they do when relying on a pronated (regular) grip.

(This is precisely why lifters can usually row more weight with a neutral than a regular grip.)

1990 Classic Bar-ends

Two Extra Benefits

BEs have two extra benefits that aren’t part of the official list. Those would be:

Hand protection. BEs could act as a car bull bar for your hands.

Comfort during emergency repairs. When put your bicycle upside down to remove a wheel, the bar-ends protect the handlebars, the grips, the shifters, and the handlebar accessories from contamination and scratches.

Mixing Bar-ends and Risers = Bad Practice

Technically, the police won’t raid your house if you combine BEs and riser bars, but it’s considered against the protocol. 

First, it’s somewhat unsightly. Second, it’s redundant. Third, risers are much longer and increase the chances for the BEs to hit something and mess up your steering. 

Keep in mind that when BEs were reigning supreme, MTB riding was not nearly as extreme as it is today. 

Modern MTBs are significantly more aggressive than the machines on which bar ends were born. Retro MTBs are essentially gravel bikes by today’s standards. 

The changes are found within the geometry (slacker head tube angles) and the suspension (a lot more travel).

The difficult technical terrain that up-to-date MTBs can cover increases the chances of catching a tree or another obstacle with a bar end.

Also, bar ends are useless for mountain bikes made primarily for descending and freestyle since the extra position doesn’t matter for those disciplines.


Bar-ends are often banned in races. I wouldn’t even think of going to a serious competition with bar ends. Why? Organizations consider them dangerous during collisions as they may pierce a rider.

Gravel Bikes = Drop Bars = No Need For Bar-ends

Flared Drop Bars

Gravel bicycles are probably the newest bike type on the scene (at least at the point of writing this article).

Hate them or love them, (I am neutral) they are essentially retro MTB killers as they can cover very similar terrain and come with flared drop bars. 

Flared DBs offer many hand placements as well as leverage when sprinting and climbing thanks to the hoods. 

In other words, gravel bikes are “recruiting” people who may otherwise choose a retro MTB and bar-ends. And thus, the incentive for manufacturers to keep making BEs gets even smaller.

Bar-ends Won’t Fade Away, Though

Let’s be real. Bar-ends are never coming back to modern mountain biking because the sport neither wants them nor needs them. But they can still be useful as shown by the variety of models available even today.

The most likely buyers are cyclists who want to quickly add another hand position to their existing bars. Hence the modern demographic of BEs are riders with a calmer cycling style. 

The popularity of ergonomic handlebar grips with built-in bar ends (e.g., Ergon grips) backs that observation.

Ergon Bar-ends GS2

Additional Info Nuggets

  • Many BEs have a curved end to prevent them from hooking onto something. This style of BEs offers one extra hand placement.
  • You can wrap drop bar tape around your BEs to increase comfort – especially useful during the winter as it acts as insulation too. BEs are metal and thus excellent conductors of heat and cold. So, an extra layer doesn’t hurt.
  • Some people put their BEs inside the grips. This style sucks. Seriously. Yes, you still get one more hand position, but you don’t benefit from the additional leverage that BEs are meant to provide.
  • A major downside of BEs is that you can’t use the brakes and shifters when holding them. Drop bars and bullhorns fix that issue.

Personal Take

My main bike is a retro road monster with bullhorns. The horns are essentially built-in bar-ends. I like them for climbing and sprinting. 

That said, I wouldn’t put BEs on my hardtail ever. They just don’t have a place there as I am running 720mm risers. 

Honestly, I think BEs work best on the bikes they were born – retro MTBs. 

Until next time,







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