Here’s How To Swap Out Those Old Motorcycle Handlebars for New Ones
A new set of handlebars can change the look and feel of your bike completely.
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Aside from the seat, a motorcycle’s handlebars are the primary connection between human and machine. There’s a natural power that comes with extending your arms and gripping each side of the bar while conjuring memories of that first Big Wheels ride. “This is it,” you think. “This is real freedom.” You’re in control, you can go anywhere, you can do anything.
Once you make that connection with your two-wheeler, the mind starts to wander, and you wonder how you can personalize your chariot. It could be a new sprocket, underglow, a windscreen delete, or it could be a new set of that connection to the motorcycle: the handlebars. Few customizations to a motorcycle can make as significant a difference as a new set of handlebars.
Swapping in a new set of handlebars can change the aesthetics, ergonomics, and the steering feel and performance of the motorcycle all in one shot. It can be done in just a day in the garage, too, so DIYers with a little passion can switch things up fairly easily. To a degree, the job is as simple as taking things off and swapping bars, but there are some tips and tricks to know before diving in. Join us as the Guides & Gear editors explain how to swap motorcycle handlebars.
The Basics of Motorcycle Handlebar Installation
Estimated Time Needed: A few hours
Skill Level: Beginner to intermediate
Vehicle System: Steering
Motorcycle Wrenching Safety
Working on your motorcycle can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger and that you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless — hopefully.
Everything You’ll Need To Remove a Motorcycle Gas Tank
We’re not psychic nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage. Here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you what you need. You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street. We aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.
Handlebar Fitment Issues To Consider
Planning your swap is key to making it a smooth job, as with any DIY project. Take note of and plan for these aspects of your current and new handlebars to make sure everything will fit and work correctly.
- Width: Width refers to how wide the handlebars stretch and how wide the grip is. Make sure the new handlebars are wide enough to fit all of your attachments, and select the width based on the riding position you desire.
- Height: Height refers to how tall the actual handlebars are. The height of the handlebars will affect your seating position, how your shoulders are positioned, visibility, and steering feel, so make sure you test out the position before purchasing.
- Rise: Your motorcycle might have risers, the pieces that raise the handlebars up above the top bridge. Some handlebars have built-in risers, while others might feature separate parts or not have risers at all. Take note of where you’d like your handlebars to sit and adjust, add, or delete risers as you wish. Know that in doing this, it could affect the length of the cables and wires you need.
- Pullback/Sweep/Reach: Pullback is how much the handlebars bend back toward the rider. This can affect how the current setup sits and works on new handlebars.
- Diameter: Diameter refers to the exterior diameter of the handlebars. Some brackets might only accept specific diameters, so make sure yourse match up.
- Brake, Clutch, and Throttle Cables and Wiring: During the process of switching handlebars, you might also have to negotiate placement of your brackets, as well as the lengths and positions of the wiring as well as clutch, brake, and throttle cables. This could mean new cables for added length, shortening existing cables, changing brake lines, or rerouting wiring.
- Brake, Clutch, and Throttle Inputs: During the process of switching handlebars, you can also swap out your brake levers and clutch levers with lighter, heavier, adjustable, shorter, or longer levers. You can also change the throttle’s grip to something more to your liking.
Here’s How To Install New Handlebars on Your Motorcycle
For the purposes of this guide, we are assuming that your old handlebars and the new ones are relatively the same and can be directly swapped out. Many swaps will require extra work and customization to make things fit, however. Be aware of the changes between your current setup and the new handlebars you have selected.
We must also note that some motorcycles are set up differently, so the order of removing items might be slightly different than the one listed below. With that in mind, check out these steps for replacing your handlebars.
- Secure the motorcycle. Get your bike on sturdy ground, and make sure it’s not going to move. A kickstand should be fine in this case, but you can use front and rear motorcycle stands for increased safety and to create a level workspace. And don't forget to note your current handlebar setup. You might have stared at your handlebars hundreds of times, but once the gear is off, you still might forget what it looked like. Take a picture, and you’ll have the perfect reference guide. (Ed. note: I do this for every DIY project. It’ll save you countless headaches.)
- Take measurements and mock up the new handlebars. Before you start anything, you want to make sure this swap will actually work. Double check that all of your gear will fit in the provided space.
- Remove or cover the tank. Removing the gas tank is not an absolute necessity for most handlebar swaps, but it will drastically simplify certain jobs on certain bikes and it goes a long way in protecting the paint on your tank. If you choose not to remove the tank, cover it with a thick towel to make sure it doesn’t get dinged up by any tools or loose parts.
- Remove windscreen and fairings, if necessary. This will likely help accessibility to bolts and wires.
- Remove or tilt back the gauges and infotainment system, if necessary.
- Remove the bar ends/bar balancers.
- Remove turn signals, if necessary. Not all turn-signal indicators will be involved in the process of this job, but some sit in locations that require removal.
- Remove the mirrors.
- Disconnect any wires or electrical connections. Locate all electrical connections that intersect or interfere with removing the handlebars and disconnect them.
- Remove the brake handles and master cylinder. Be sure the master cylinder isn’t banging against the bike, and make sure brake fluid won’t leak out.
- Remove the switch consoles and control pads.
- Remove the throttle.
- Remove the grips, if necessary. If you’re getting new bars, you might as well get new grips, too. If you don’t, you’ll need to remove the ones you have for the transfer. Some grips might be glued on, so you’ll need to use some type of cleaner or solvent to help with the removal process.
- Remove any remaining brackets or connections and place them aside. Anything removed that is still connected to the motorcycle needs to be protected with a towel to ensure no paint or motorcycle parts are damaged.
- Undo the handlebar bracket and remove the handlebars. Most handlebar brackets will be connected to the top bridge.
- Run the wiring through new handlebars, if necessary.
- Attach new handlebars, check for clearance, and measure placement for the accessories. Do a test run with the new handlebars to make sure they fit and will give you the positioning and look you desire.
- During the test run, sit on the bike in position, center the bars, and swivel them into the position you desire.
- Bolt the handlebars into their final locked position.
- Reinstall the grips and throttle so that they’re flush with the bars.
- Reinstall the switchgear, mirrors, clutch, and brakes in their previously marked positions. Take note of the swivel direction during this process to make sure everything is reattached how it sat before removal.
- Reconnect any unplugged connections.
- Reattach the bar ends.
- Put fairings, gauge clusters, windscreens, tank, and seat back onto the bike.
- You’re done. Now go ride that sucker into the sunset.
Learn How To Swap Handlebars on a Harley-Davidson in this Detailed Video Explainer
Hill Country Custom Cycles from Texas shows the way in this helpful shop video.
FAQs About Installing Motorcycle Handlebars
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q: Which seating position is most comfortable?
A: Comfort is subjective to the rider based on seating position, seats, handlebars, and style of motorcycle. In general, motorcycles with a neutral upright position are considered to provide the most comfort for a majority of riders. This is also known as a standard riding position.
Q: Which handlebars are good for long rides?
A: As we mentioned, seating position and comfort will be different for each rider and each motorcycle. How riders position themselves can make a big difference in determining a comfortable long-distance ride and a miserable one. Your height will also play a significant factor in deciding which handlebars and position is best for you.
Q: What are clip-on handlebars?
A: Clip-on handlebars, a type commonly seen on cafe racers, sport bikes, and other low-profile-style builds, are composed of two tubular pieces rather than one long connecting bar. Each piece attaches to the fork legs below the uppermost bridge rather than above the top bridge.
Q: What are motorcycle beach bars?
A: Like the handlebars on cruiser bicycles seen along coastal shorelines, beach bars are large U-shaped handlebars with big pullback toward the rider. Because beach bars reach back, the rider doesn’t have to stress too much to hold on, which often makes for a relatively relaxed riding position.
Q: Are ape handlebars illegal?
A: Ape handlebars might not be legal in your state. Check local laws before buying a motorcycle with high handlebars or before installing ape-style bars.
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