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How To Measure for the Right Motorcycle Handlebars

Apr 27, 2016

One of the more difficult challenges we face in our tech department here at J&P Cycles is the issue of handlebars. Often we hear this simple directive: “I just want to move my hands about two inches farther back.” But in order for our tech staff to help you in an efficient manner, we’d really like to have the dimensions of your existing bars. If that information isn’t readily available, then it’s important that you have an understanding about how things are measured.

First off, you should know that not every motorcycle handlebar manufacturer measures handlebars the same way. That means that when we see a manufacturer’s dimensions on paper, those measurements might be different in person. Manufacturers are reluctant to adopt a uniform measurement system, so we can’t always compare apples to apples.

The good news is this: We’ve created a system in the J&P catalog that will give fair results — as long as it’s done correctly. To measure a motorcycle handlebar, I use a table pushed up against a wall. I prop the handlebar in the corner where the table meets the wall, then I rotate it forward until the front of the handlebar touches the wall. In this case, rise is the distance from the table to the highest point on the bar, with pullback measured from the wall to the farthest point back.

Here are two other important dimensions: the width of the center section, and on T-bars, how far they rise before they bend back. A T-bar can have the same dimensions yet be very different in appearance. For example, a T-bar that bends two inches from the table will be very different from one that bends five inches from the table, but they can share the same overall dimensions.

Other Things to Consider When Ordering Motorcycle Handlebars

Center Width Handlebars for Springer Softails are different than bars for other bikes. The reason for this is the riser spacing is different. Common to all Harleys from 1977 on — except Springers — is a riser center-to-center of 3.5 inches. You Springer guys have a 4-inch riser center-to-center. On narrow glides the 3.5-inch measurement is good back to 1957. Why is this measurement important? Generally, bars have knurls (either a straight line or cross pattern) pressed into them to prevent them from slipping in the risers. If we use a set of standard bars on a Springer, these knurls would be visible and, in my opinion, unsightly.

Dimpled & Drilled We offer bars in two groupings by year of fitment — pre-1982 and later models. The differences are the result of a change of configuration in the switch housings. The 1972-81 models have a notch in the housings to pass the wires through. The 1982 and newer models don’t. Instead, the newer handlebars feature a dimple on the underside to allow room for wires. If you’re going to run the wires through the bars you should purchase bars that are drilled for internal wiring.

Tips for Measuring for Comfort

The bottom line for ordering handlebars should be comfort and avoiding fatigue while on the road — unless style trumps comfort when it comes to your motorcycle and you install ape hangers or drag bars. And the easiest way to find yourself a comfortable handlebar is to get some personal measurements.

This involves a friend and some minor tools. Loosen your stock handlebar in the risers and move them out of the way. Climb on your motorcycle, take it off the kickstand and sit it upright (a friend might be needed to keep the bike balanced). Hold your hands out and simulate driving down the road. Pay close attention to your body position and your wrist position. Once you feel comfortable, have a friend take some measurements, starting with rise, and then working to pullback and overall width. The easiest tool for this measurement is a carpenter’s square. All of these measurements are taken from the centerline of the risers straight up (rise), and straight back (pullback). Once you have your measurements, browse our catalog or website to check out our handlebar dimensions.

As always, if you have questions or need assistance picking out handlebars for your motorcycle, don’t hesitate to call J&P’s technical support staff at 1-800-318-4823