Whether you ride a road bike or prefer mountain bikes, one of the most annoying aspects of cycling is vibration. After hours on the road feeling every bump and ridge, you’re probably desperate for a less bumpy ride. Many forums recommend switching to a carbon handlebar for its vibration damping properties.
Do Carbon Handlebars Reduce Vibration?
Yes, it seems that carbon handlebars do reduce vibration. Many cyclists report fewer vibrations when riding bikes with carbon handlebars as opposed to alloy bars or an aluminum bar. But carbon handlebars are more expensive and, for some riders, the difference in rides is not worth the extra price. There are other methods for reducing vibrations without shelling out for new handlebars.
Here’s what you need to know about switching to carbon bars on your bike.
What’s the Difference Between Carbon Handlebars and Other Materials?
The difference between an aluminum bar and a carbon handlebar is in the material. Carbon handlebars are made of carbon fiber, a type of polymer. Aluminum bars, often called alloy bars, are made of a few different types of aluminum alloys (an aluminum alloy is a metal made by combining aluminum with small amounts of other metals, typically copper, magnesium, or another similar metal).
The difference in materials leads to different performances for the handlebars. Carbon fiber is a lighter material than aluminum, so the handlebars are also lighter. Another major benefit is that these handlebars have built-in flex patterns, which is part of the reason why some riders report lower vibrations when using carbon handlebars.
Carbon fiber’s flexibility means that manufacturers can mold it into more shapes than traditional metal handlebars, giving you more options to choose from to find handlebars that work for your riding style and have the right comfortable grip. This advantage and the material’s relative lightness are why many professionals prefer these handlebars.
How Do Carbon Handlebars Reduce Vibrations?
There are a few reasons why carbon handlebars reduce vibrations more than metal handlebars. The first is the flex patterns mentioned above. Since carbon fiber is a more flexible material, the handlebars move a bit with the shocks and bumps from the road. This redirects the shocks away from your hands better than metal handlebars, which are rigid.
The additional flexibility of carbon helps improve the handlebar’s vibration damping properties. Damping is the process of reducing the vibrations that travel through an object. You want to create your bike setup so that the vibration damping properties are as high as possible, particularly if you are going on a long ride and want to spare your hands.
Some riders swear by carbon handlebars so much that they even switch to a carbon stem for additional shock absorption in the seat. After a bumpy ride, most riders will try anything to reduce the vibrations, including switching to a mostly carbon setup.
Are Carbon Handlebars Really That Effective?
If one of the benefits to carbon handlebars is that they reduce vibration, why do people still use aluminum or alloy bars? Nobody likes sore hands and arms, after all.
Although carbon handlebars are designed to redistribute vibrations, and some riders do report drastic changes once they switch, the solution is not so simple. Many other riders report no change at all. Others report some improvement when switching to carbon parts, but not enough to justify the hassle of changing your handlebars or paying the price for carbon fiber materials.
There are a few other reasons why some cyclists think carbon bars are more trouble than they’re worth.
Carbon handlebars are much more expensive than aluminum or alloy bars, sometimes costing several hundreds of dollars more than their metal counterparts. The reason why carbon handlebars are so expensive is that the manufacturing process requires more specialized material and very skilled labor. Making light, flexible objects out of metal and polymers is a challenge.
While there is a good reason for the high price of carbon handlebars, many cyclists are skeptical of paying so much money on a solution that is not consistent.
Carbon handlebars are better than aluminum bars at absorbing and redirecting minor shocks. But when it comes to bigger shocks, such as a crash, carbon handlebars are not able to redistribute the vibrations. Instead, they are more likely to break under such force.
Carbon handlebars are also easier to damage during repairs and replacements. Just one clumsy movement with a torque wrench by an inexperienced mechanic at a bike shop and your expensive handlebars already need replacing.
If you put your bike under a lot of wear and tear, carbon handlebars may not be worth it. That being said, you will need to replace any handlebars after a few years, particularly if you put a lot of mileage on your machine. Carbon handlebars are more resistant to some forms of damage, such as rust and corrosion from moisture and sweat, compared to aluminum handlebars.
One problem with carbon handlebars is that they are more sensitive to mistakes during installation and repair than aluminum handlebars. Carbon handlebars need to be installed with precise torque, and even a small error in the tension can lead to damage down the road.
There are a few horror stories of cyclists whose carbon handlebars snapped or twisted out of position during a long ride. Many of these accidents happen due to installation issues.
Worse Directional Compliance
Bike handlebars need to have directional compliance, which means they need to be flexible in the direction of the rider’s weight (vertically). But many carbon handlebar manufacturers have not made their parts fully compliant, leading many riders to worry about safety.
What Other Ways Can You Reduce Vibration?
The reason why not all cyclists are unanimous in singing the praises of carbon handlebars is that there are many causes behind excessive road vibrations and, therefore, just as many solutions. There is no instant fix that will eliminate excess vibrations for everyone.
If you don’t want to shell out for carbon handlebars just yet, here are a few other fixes to help you reduce vibrations.
Many cyclists swear by taping their handlebars. Wrapping gel tape around the handlebars can give you a more comfortable grip and add an extra layer between you and the handlebars to minimize the impact of vibrations on your hands. You might notice the difference in vibration once you add handlebar tape.
There are a few other ways to insulate your hands from vibrations. Padded road gloves are another solution, or a mix of gloves and strategically placed tape.
This solution will only work if you are experiencing minor vibrations. If you’re having more serious problems with vibrations, absorbing padding by itself won’t work and you will need something that redistributes the vibrations altogether (such as carbon handlebars).
Change Your Riding Position
After long periods of riding, particularly on a road bike, your posture can contribute to the excess vibrations. A few adjustments to your riding style can help you protect your hands.
Many riders feel more vibrations because their bodies are too rigid while riding. Relax your torso, slightly bend your elbows, and keep a loose grip on the handlebars. Change your hand positioning frequently and stretch after about 10 kilometers.
You should be changing your posture on longer rides anyway to prevent injuries to your hands and arms.
Change Your Tires
Often, your tires are the main source of vibration issues as you ride. This makes sense since they’re the parts of the bike that are closest to the road. If your tires are not absorbing the shocks from the road properly, then those vibrations will travel through the rest of your bike.
Some cyclists recommend switching to 25 mm tires if you are riding on 23 mm tires. Your tires should have a high threads-per-inch ratio, particularly if you ride mountain bikes, to better absorb any dents or irregularities in the road. Make sure you know how to deflate a bike tire before you change your tires.
You can also try lowering the PSI (pounds per square inch, in relation to tire pressure) to see if that absorbs the shocks better.
Change the Size of Your Handlebars
Sometimes the issue isn’t with the material of the handlebars, but with the size. Make sure that your handlebars are the proper width and reach for your grip. Many cyclists neglect to measure for width. Holding onto bars that are too narrow or too wide only increases the discomfort from road vibrations.
When Is It Worth It To Invest in Carbon Handlebars?
Some riders report fewer problems with road vibrations after switching to carbon handlebars. The flexibility of the material helps the handlebars dampen vibrations and redistribute shocks.
Nonetheless, there is no consensus yet on the effectiveness of these handlebars. Other riders point to issues with their compliance, durability, and the pricing for results that are not guaranteed. And sometimes it just comes down to personal preference.
If you are struggling with vibrations as you ride, try some other solutions, such as adding grip tape, before switching to carbon handlebars. If you often ride on bumpy surfaces (such as when mountain biking), have already tried other solutions, and are willing to invest in a high-end bike part, then you should buy a carbon bar. See our post on the differences between carbon and aluminum mountain bikes.