Why Do Some Motorcycles Have High Handlebars? (Explained!)


Custom-built choppers with huge raked front ends and high-rise handlebars were a thing and still are since the 60s. That has led to manufacturers and riders taking a liking for high handlebars.

And as for why do some motorcycles have high handlebars? Few motorcycles have or get modified to high handlebars due to a mix of aesthetics, cultural phenomenon, and to provide comfort for the riders – especially those who find their stance and posture not satisfactory in typical motorcycles.

To understand what this cultural phenomenon as well as the discomfort of few riders leading to high-rise handlebars, let’s dive in.

Why Do Some Motorcycles Have High-rise Handlebars?

It goes without saying that motorcycles and the world of cinema have had a longstanding relationship and continue to do so. 

When it comes to motorcycling nostalgia for some of us, we as veterans fondly remember Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper), the two Harley-Davidson riding hippies who travel cross-country in search of spiritual truth in the 1969 Hollywood flick Easy Rider.

In a similar vein, you had Hells Angels on Wheels, another American biker film starring Adam Roarke, Jack Nicholson, and Sabrina Scharf. Many successful films have been made revolving around bikes like Run, Angel Run, The Wild Angels, Devil’s Angels, Wild Hogs, Marlon Brando’s The Wild One among many others.

Apart from the entertainment values offered by these cult films, they also represented a unique genre of motorcycle revolution that was taking place in the late 60s. 

It was the beginning of an era when stock motorcycles began to appear in a never before avatar. Custom-built choppers with huge raked front ends and high-rise handlebars seemed to be the order of the day.

This aspect of motorcycling also confirms the fact that high rise handlebars on a motorcycle isn’t a new phenomenon.

Most street legal motorcycles are designed with average rider measurements that include height, arm and leg length. 

Some riders may find the stance of their rides perfect to their satisfaction and some may not. For that latter, in theory, there’s a good chance that the rider has to strain his posture to get a comfortable feel for the controls. 

Helpful read: Adjusting motorcycle seat height

Then, if it is a custom creation, one may assume, these aspects have been factored in already.

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the world for riders who can look at some readily available solutions in the world of motorcycles. 

As it happens, high-rise handlebars continue to fascinate motorcycle aficionados for more than one reason. 

Among the available factory or aftermarket options, changing handlebars is quite popular.

Naturally, with so much fanfare there are sure to be some questions in the minds of enthusiasts.

Several questions pop into mind: Is it for aesthetics only?

Does it really offer a functional value? 

Is it a safe option for the rider? 

What type of motorcycles are best suited?

Does it affect handling of the motorcycle?

Is it legal at all?

To answer these questions and more we need to examine a few parameters that are associated with high-rise handlebar conversions.

By definition, most handlebars in street legal production motorcycles differ from those found in custom-built or high end cruiser-style motorcycles. 

In a street-biased production motorcycle, handlebars are usually not absolutely flat and from the T-plate or anchor point can rise from 1.5-inches up to 9-inches and are between 24-inches to 30-inches in width.

Anything above this range height and width-wise is considered as high-rise handlebars. 

High-rise handlebars are also known as ape bars or ape hangers in some countries due to its design and appearance.

In some countries, by law, high-rise handlebars that are more than six inches above the rider’s shoulders when sitting on a motorcycle are not permitted. 

The reason for this is not that the authorities don’t like it. Actually, it is more of a safety precaution. 

Scientifically and ergonomically, it has been proven that over the top high-rise handlebars can impact the riders’ blood circulation adversely. 

If they (the handle bars) are excessively high, blood can drain out the riders’ arms and hands go numb quickly as a result. 

Hence, these type of handlebars are not recommended for day-to-day use, especially for those riders who go on long distance rides. 

Extreme and wacky super high handle bars have been spotted in motorcycle shows or at display rides with or without a purpose!

In stock form, high rise handlebars mostly come on cruiser-style motorcycles. Cruiser motorcycle rides are usually laid back and the rider maintains straight upright posture when commanding the machine. 

Neck of the rider also remains straight optimising the line of vision. Thus, one need not change them just for the heck of it!

Big brands like Harley-Davidson, Royal Enfield have a whole range of OEM ape or high-rise handlebars that have been designed for the various models in their line-up.

Considerations Before Going For A High-rise Handlebar

When opting for a high-rise handlebar for a motorcycle there are a few important considerations since it’s not just about cosmetic enhancements.

To begin with, the architecture of the motorcycle and height of the rider are among the crucial variables that will have an overall impact on comfort, aerodynamics, ergonomics, practicality, handling and safety.

Tried and tested fact is that tall handlebars do make the ride comfortable by helping in shifting the weight balance. 

For many riders, this is a boon, especially shorter riders who have medium to large displacement cruiser machines.

Larger the bike, the heavier it becomes and managing it safely could be a chore for the shorter rider who may also find its handling difficult too. 

In some cases shorter riders may not have the confidence due to the inconvenient riding posture or heavy handling of the machine.

Obviously, the rider needs to feel relaxed at the end of the ride.

As looks aren’t the only consideration, the overall goal is to ride a motorcycle with straight back and neck. Having a straight back and neck ensures fatigue-free riding.

When To Go For High-rise Handlebar Conversion? 

If the idea is to feel comfortable and get a hassle-free riding experience which isn’t available in the stock machine then a bit of shopping around does help. Look for a service point that stocks handlebars and expert technicians who can offer a live demonstration.

Is High Handlebar A Simple DIY Job Or Does It Need Specialized Skills?

The handlebar swap is not a difficult job, but fixing correctly the accompanying hardware will require a set of skills.

Handlebar conversion kits that come with all the goodies (throttle cables, brake hoses or brake cable) makes life a bit easier. 

Custom or bespoke jobs carried for the handlebars, cables and hoses could take more time and in general are more expensive.

Where To Begin If You Are In The Market For A Handlebar Rise?

It would be worthwhile to check with the retailer who supplied the machine as many brands these days offer custom fit accessories as OEM. These products would fit perfectly with minimum hassles. 

Aftermarket products are also available for enthusiasts, but one has to be careful about their quality and other aspects. 

How To Begin The Exercise?

Experts in high-rise handlebar conversions will first ask the rider to sit on his motorcycle or a similar one and ascertain the best possible product combination. 

During this demonstration process, if the rider is leaning forward or down too much with hunched shoulders, it is a sure shot sign that the rider will get uncomfortable riding with that posture even for short distances. 

Since the set-up offers a good amount of flexibility, it allows the rider to change the location of the handlebars. In this situation, the rider will definitely benefit from fitment of risers and a new set of handlebars.

Dos And Don’ts Of High Handlebar Conversion

First guideline is avoid overdoing it as it may jeopardise safety of the rider in the long run. With them it is possible to raise them up, pull them towards the rider or both. From an ergonomic perspective, it is better that the handlebars reach the rider instead of the rider stretching out towards them. The rider should not feel the strain on his arms and neck when riding.

Are There Limitations As To How High One Should Go?

The overall high-rise handlebar height range for consideration can be from 5-inches to 20-inches with or without spacers or in-between risers.

The height of the risers begin from 1.2-inch and go up. Good results can be obtained from 3.0-inch risers with an appropriate high rise handlebar. It’s the overall height that needs to be correct. 

Why Are Risers So Important?

Spacers or risers come in various shapes and sizes and complement the handlebar set-up besides being flexible when perfect ergonomics is the key consideration.

They are the anchor points for the handlebars. Some are designed straight and some are curved. It doesn’t matter which design is chosen as long as it is the right fit for the rider.

What Else Should You Know During A Handlebar Swap?

It will depend on what kit has been supplied with the stock machine.

For starters, if it’s an older machine then it either has a drum or disc brake up front. In either set-up, the hose and cable will have to be replaced. The same concept also applies to the throttle cables

Related Questions

Why do motorcycle handlebars shake? The reasons why motorcycle handlebars shake are – wheel misalignment in the motorcycle, flat tire or low pressure in the tire, uneven loading, accelerating at a very fast rate, and suspension and bearing problems.

Why do there is a difference in the motorcycle wheel sizes? Front wheels are bigger and have skinnier tyres to provide easier steering and maneuverability. Rear wheels are smaller and have wide tyres since they have better traction, stability, heat dissipation, and load carrying capacity.