All There Is To Know About Flat-Bar Conversions

Posted on March 24 2015

For various reasons, people sometimes want to change the handlebars of their road bike to be more upright. Often it's a much-loved road bike that isn't as comfortable as it used to be. This can be addressed by installing a higher stem, but it often doesn't solve the problem - to get the fairly upright position desired, what people really want is to change the handlebars from drop-bars to flat bars (as we did with Craig's road bike, shown below).

Fortunately, this is eminently possible, and the results can be fantastic. There are many incompatibilities between flat-bar and road components, but these can all be overcome by careful parts selection, as we outline below.

We've split this guide up by component, with a rough price guide at the bottom.

Handlebars

We have a huge range of aluminium alloy handlebars. They're light and comfortable. Many are from Velo Orange, who make a selection of swept-back bars in various shapes. We also have a selection of flat and riser bars.

Grips

There are lots of types of grips for flat handlebars. You can go for simple foam grips, hardy cork grips, deluxe Ergon grips, plush leather grips - whatever feels most comfortable is generally the best.

Stems

Most road handlebars have a clamp diameter of 26.0mm, while most flat bars have a clamp diameter of 25.4mm. That means you'll need to either use a shim for your existing stem, or replace the stem. Since the point of the exercise is often to lift the handlebars up, you might want to consider going with a taller stem anyway. If your bike has a threaded headset you can use a tall quill stem like the Soma Sutro, or this upright quill stem. If you have a threadless headset you can use a Heads-Up stem riser.

Brake levers

Most road bikes come with caliper brakes, but most flat-bar levers are made for V-brakes. This leads to the most common error with flat-bar conversions, and one which is made by an embarassing number of bike shops: using MTB levers with caliper brakes. The levers don't have enough mechanical advantage, and so you have to pull really hard to stop. The solution is to use flat-bar levers that have the right cable pull - short pull brake levers.

Shifters

Road front derailleurs have a different pull to MTB front derailleurs, so shifting will be best if you use dedicated road flat bar shifters. They come in 8- or 9-speed versions, depending on the number of gears you have on the back, and their compatible with double and triple front cranksets.

Cable stops

If your frame had downtube shifters, you'll need to fix some cable stops in their place.

Price guide

(This is a rough guide for a road bike that previously had integrated shift/brake levers, and on which the stem is acceptably tall. It does not include labour charges, which will vary from bike to bike.)

Velo Orange Handlebar Shim $10
Velo Orange Milan Handlebars $55
BBB Foamwave Grips $15
Shimano Short-Pull Brake Levers $40
Shimano Road Flat-Bar Shifters $150

TOTAL $270

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