If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 16 October 2010


One of the least interesting parts of a motorcycle is the handlebar. What can you say about it? It comes in ⅞" or 1" flavours, to suit normal bikes or Harley wannabes. If it's an off-road bike, or has off-road pretensions, it may have a brace to stiffen it. If you have a taste for biker-bling, you can order them in various garish anodised colours.

Apart from sundry oddities, like clip-ons, ape-hangers and Jota bars, that's about it. And yet the right handlebars are crucial to comfort on a bike, and make a big difference to how the bike feels, and consequently how the rider perceives the handling. High, pulled-back bars encourage a laid-back riding style; conversely, low bars which a long reach forward make the whole bike feel more racey and you ride accordingly. But between those extremes, even small adjustments make a big difference.

One of the things that made me buy the Bonneville was the position and angle of the handlebars. It is said that the method for getting the bars adjusted right is to sit on the bike with your eyes closed and put your hands where you think the bars ought to be. Get someone to measure the position of your hands, and adjust the bars to suit. I didn't need to do this with the Bonnie. From the moment I sat on it in the dealer's showroom, I knew that the bars were dead right. They made the whole bike feel tailor-made to my dimensions, and that was a big factor in persuading me that this was the bike for me.

But most men, me included, are never happy until we have had a fiddle about. Take that how you like. Yesterday I started to wonder if they might not be even better if they were a little lower and closer to me. I moved them a small amount backwards and downwards - possibly an inch at the bar ends, no more. Then I went for a ride.

For about half a mile, they felt great. But then I started to wonder if they were as good as all that. I felt a bit like a rider on one of those vintage machines, where the bars end somewhere near the rider's knees. The position they made me adopt, which was only a fraction different from the normal position, felt wrong - too relaxed, not 'on top of it'. And I was less able to hang onto the bars in the wind, which meant I could feel my back taking more of the strain of keeping me upright. With two miles, I was heading for home.

So I put them back to normal - or so I thought. In fact, this time I went too far the other way, even though they looked perfect. It took three or four attempts before I had them back to standard. I have just been for a ride into town to pick up some stuff for Anna, and they are perfect again. Phew.

For the record, I have never felt any desire to go as far as this:

A couple of safety notes if you are thinking of altering your handlebars (sorry if this is obvious, but ...)
  1. Make sure the bars are bolted up tight when you are done. And then check again.
  2. Swing the bars and make sure that they don't either hit the tank or trap your thumbs on full lock in either direction.
  3. Start the engine and swing the bars from side to side, listening to the engine note, to make sure that the throttle cable isn't under strain at any point.
  4. Finally, adjust levers and mirrors to suit the new position.
Sorry if this is an inconsequential and dull post. I haven't been writing anything about bikes for a while, and I wanted to get back to that. Politics and current affairs are all very well, but they're not important, if you know what I mean.


  1. Don't forget - not too tight, but so that you can just about move them with full strength. That way, if (whenn!) the bike topples or in a low-speed get-off, the bars'll turn and won't break the clamps or headstock. Same with the lever clamps.
    Nice machine, btw!

  2. Good point. Funnily enough, I was thinking this exact thought as I was tightening them up this morning.

    I always leave the bars slightly loose on my push-bikes (perhaps I fall off them more), and with the brake levers too. I have never done this on a motorbike, though. For one, I don't like the thought of anything coming loose at the rather higher speeds I do on the (motor)bike, and for another, I regard the bars as sacrificial in a spill. Better to have bent bars than a damaged frame or tank. Having a bit of 'give' in the levers is a good idea though.

    Thanks for visiting, and for the kind words.

  3. Ah. I'm still in the memory lane here having not succeeded this year in moving into any other lane. But the FJ1200 handlebars were the best I ever knew - robust enough to take out any car-door mirror should the justification arise.

    Strong ends - the bike landed on one once when some knob end shunted it in a car park. No engine bars required. Accelerator tended to stick a little in full-on for a while after that but no damage otherwise.

  4. I assume you liked it that way :) It's a great excuse: "Sorry, ossifer, someone knocked it over in a car park and ever since then I've had to go everywhere at full whack."

    As for 'robust' - I am coming more to that way of thinking myself. Something that can take a few knocks and still stand up at the end of the evening. Like a Ural combination.

  5. Beats "I just needed to do a plug chop" as an excuse any day...

    And that chopper with the extreme ape-hangers. Just...why would anybody? I can't imagine how miserable any journey longer than 6 yards must be.

    Chipping in on the advice front, under 3. "or the clutch cable" (been there: you'll notice when it starts slipping!) and 4. It's quite often enough to simply adjust the levers for a more comfortable riding position. Possibly best to try that first: it's a quick and easy mod.

    Interesting idea about not fully tightening the bars, but I have to say I've never had anything worse than a bent bar - they tend to give at the bends rather than transmit the shock as far as the clamps, in my experience. With levers, I'd rather notch the ends so they break off than leave them loose...

  6. Re the chopper: my worry would be the extreme likelihood of getting a wasp in your armpit. Oo-er. Yes, why would anyone? The triumph of form to the exclusion of any function. Bet his mates think he's hard, though.

    Agreed on the clutch cable, although it's less likely to cause a serious problem than having the engine rev its nuts off every time you try to turn in thne road :)

    I think the riding position thing is a function of age. When I was young, I experimented with wildly variable positions. I even had one bike with ace bars upside down for a while. Radical but impractical. These days I adjust finely, for slight improvements. Getting old, or summat.

  7. Aye, I should never have mucked about with the bars on my Le Mans. The official proddy racer "silencers" I fitted, however, were awesome. :)

  8. Would those be the Lafranconis? I think MG had an arrangement with them, a bit like Ducati and Termignoni. They should have been prosecuted under the Trades Descriptions Act for calling them silencers. A bit Guz with those on is an awesome sound. Loud, and yet ... loud.

  9. Richard.

    I think they were, now you mention it. Hold them up to the eye at the right angle and you could see daylight. Most impressive in Alpine tunnels. My mate on his Beemer couldn't hear the HGVs & coaches. Street legal though.

  10. Ah, open pipes! It's funny how different engine configurations and exhaust designs make different sounds. The pipes on my Bonnie are open straight through, but they must have a lot of absorbtion material in the 'swell' of the silencer, as they are by no means offensively loud. I rode next to a Harley on open pipes recently, and that was ear-shattering and not at all pleasant. However, both Moto Guzzi/Lanfranconi and Ducati/Termigioni seem to manage to make open pipes that are hard-edged and noisy, but in a *good* way.

    Tunnels are good as well. There's a railway bridge near me. Whatever bike I am on, I can't resist giving the throttle a blip as I pass underneath. This will end in tears, because it's just before a road juncttion and the surface is always damp. Heh.

  11. I used to have the T140V american style Bonnie, twas my second real bike after the Atlas. It had ape-hanger style handlebars over a peanut style tank and was tedious to hang on to above about 75. I changed them for clip on type bars which, although they looked somewhat stupid next to the tank and did somewhat cramp the turning circle, were far more comfortable at speed and stopped what was a case of weave over the 75mph. It would appear that leaning down produced less front wheel lift and so aided the stability.
    As for the sound of pipes I think if your in the right place at the right time and listening to the sound of bikes on-mass there is very little to compare. I went on a couple of the Unity rides through London and going through the Blackwall Tunnel was something else.:)

  12. Nice bike, the T140. And Blackwall Tunnel sounds good too. Must look up these Unity rides and see if I can make it over there.


Comment is free, according to C P Scott, so go for it. Word verification is turned off for the time being. Play nicely.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...