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One piece of bicycle-buying advice

June 21, 2012

Do not buy a bike with “mountain bike” handlebars. Those are the ones that are essentially a straight piece of metal tubing, maybe with a little bend. If the bike store you are buying from attempts to tell you that these are good for anything, find another bike store.

The specific problems with these handlebars are:

  1. For riding in traffic, they are too wide.
  2. They provide only one hand position; notice all the aftermarket nonsense to help add positions?
  3. That one position that they provide is pessimal, especially if you are older, especially if you have had problems with your wrists (e.g., carpal tunnel) in the past.
  4. They don’t work well with baskets.
  5. When you go to replace them, either because your hands hurt or are going numb, or because you want to use a basket, you’ll discover that the one-piece brake+shifter lumps do not play well with the new handlebars, and you’ll need to replace that, too.
  6. Even if you don’t replace them, that one-piece brake+shifter lump will go bad; the shifter on one side or the other will start to not reach all the gears. The guys at my local bike shop said: “spray it with lots of WD-40 and work it back and forth, and it might get better, otherwise, there’s no point trying to fix it”.

Some positive advice: for retrofitting a mountain bike for civilized use, I recommend replacing the bars with Velo-Orange Left-bank or Porteur bars (22.2mm lever diameter), an appropriate shifter (Falcon thumb-shift is cost-effective, though not indexed; SRAM twist 7, Shimano 7, or Shimano 6), and Tektro brake levers. There are 8-speed options at Amazon. The Velo-Orange cork blend grips are comfortable, durable, cheap, and black (which goes with everything and does not show dirt). To install them, be sure that there is room on the bar to push them all the way on, get their insides wet, and push them on quickly. If they fit loose, a little bit of tape on the bar that runs the length of the grip area and curves around into the end will help (if it doesn’t curl around the end into the inside, it can get pulled loose and bunch up as the grip slides on). Spurcycle grip rings, when available, are another nice choice (I bought some on Kickstarter, and they work quite nicely, especially when trapped at both ends by a lever and end-cap).

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