Whether it's time for an upgrade, replacement, or you're just looking for a simple Sunday morning project, changing your handlebars is an easy way to dramatically change the look and feel of your bike. In this post, we'll walk through the steps it takes to swap those bars!
First up, we need to pull off the old handlebars, but to do that we'll need to remove any mounted components and accessories. Your bike likely has the same bits as the above photo; grips, brake levers, shifter, and bell (and if you're anything like me, lights, speaker, horn, etc...). We'll work our way from the outside in so everything slides off easily and we can keep it organized.
1. Removing the Grips
Bike grips keep your hands comfy and secure on the bars, but they can also really be tough to remove thanks to rubberized interiors (and because a bike grip that slips easily isn't a good grip at all). If you're going to be upgrading your grips or taping your new bars so you don't need the originals, the easiest thing to do is just to cut them off. A good pair of shop scissors will make easy work of most grips.
If, however, you plan on reusing your grips, you'll want to get them off in one piece. A little bit of tough love and a lot of wrist-wiggling should get those grips moving, but a handy shop-trick is to get a can of compressed air and use the straw to blast it underneath the grip to create a pocket between the rubber and the bars - then they just slip right off. Blasting air in the now exposed bar end should help you remove the opposite grip as well.
And they're off!
2. Removing the Shifter
With the grips out of the way, now we can slide the shifter off. Find the bolt securing the shifter to the bars, and get twistin'! It'll usually be a small hex bolt, in our case a 3mm wrench will be the perfect tool for the job.
This bolt will be a standard thread (lefty-loosey, righty-tighty), so a little counter-clockwise action is in order. You don't need to remove the bolt completely, just loosen the shifter enough that you can slide it easily off the end of the bars.
Once you've slid it off, feel free to just let the shifter hang by its cable and housing. There's no point in undoing those since we'll be installing them right back on the new bars.
3. Removing the Brake Lever
With the shifter out of the way, you can now pull the brake levers. Locate the bolt securing the lever to the bars, in our case it's a 5mm hex bolt (it will almost always be a small to medium hex bolt).
Standard threading again, so you want to go counter-clockwise and you just need to loosen it up enough to slide off the end of the bars.
Now, just find the bolt on the opposite lever and repeat! In the end, you'll be left with some (mostly) clean bars, and have two brake levers and a shifter dangling in front of your wheel. I say mostly clean because I left the bell on there. It'll be easier to remove once the bars are off.
4. Removing the Bars
And now it's time to get the bars off! Locate the bolt securing the handlebars to the stem, in our case it's a 6mm hex bolt located on the bottom-front of the stem.That's fairly common for quill stems, while threadless stems will typically hold the bars in place with a face-plate attached by 4 medium-sized hex bolts.
You know the drill by now, loosen that bolt (counter-clockwise) until there's enough leeway to slide the bars out.
Remember to give yourself some extra room to maneuver around the bends in the handlebars without scratching them up on the stem. Slide the bars all the way out and pop them onto your workbench to grab the bell.
5. Removing the Bell
The bell is held to the bars by a screw on the bottom, that's why we waited until we had the bars off so we can just flip them over and access it easily.
Loosen the bell (screwing counter-clockwise again) enough that you can slide it off. Now your bike should look like a dry county (no bars), your original handlebars should be free of components, and you can get your new bars installed!
6. Installing the New Bars
Since you've made it this far, the rest will be a breeze because it's basically everything you've already done - just reversed! Start by sliding the new bars into the stem. Once they're in, center the bars in the stem's clamp. Most bars will have a textured area for the clamp to grip which makes them easy to center as well because you can see when it's peeking out evenly on both sides.
Using your 6mm hex, tighten (clockwise) the stem bolt enough to just hold the bars, but loose enough that you can still fine tune their positioning. I like to start by leveling the bars, then straddling the bike and setting the bars' final position based on what feels the most comfortable. Once you're satisfied, tighten up the stem bolt the rest of the way so that the bars are locked in.
7. Reinstalling the Components
Starting to look like a bike again? Great! Now you just need to reinstall the bar components in the opposite order you removed them, so brake levers first. Slide the levers into place on the bar, grab your 5mm hex, and tighten their bolts (clockwise) until they're secure. Make sure the levers are in a convenient and comfortable place for you to reach with your hands on the new handlebars.
Next, slide the shifter back on, and use your 3mm hex to tighten (clockwise) it back into place.
Before you put the grips back on and finish up, double check that everything feels good and is exactly where you want it. A quick trip down the block should be enough to tell you if you have any tweaks left to make. Here's where my bits ended up on the bars.
And all that's left is the grips! Slide them back onto the bars using those beefy muscles, or pull out the compressed air again and use it to help you slip them on. Just don't use water, hairspray, or any other homeopathic lubricant to slick up the grips as it can make them slip when you're riding later and that's super dangerous.
And you're done!
All that's left to do is ride!