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Holding the Handlebars

Safety Corner logo


by Eli Post, John Allen, and Bob Zogg



We had a crash on a recent CRW ride. The rider was signaling a left-hand turn while on a downhill and hit a pothole with only one hand on the handlebars. We might venture that he went down because his weight shifted forward when he hit the pothole and his one hand pushed one side of his handlebars forward, throwing him off balance when the wheel turned. Lesson learned—keep both hands on the bars on an uneven road, or anytime that you need two hands for comfort or stability. Under these circumstances, use verbal signals rather than hand signals to indicate your intentions.

There are two opinions about how to hold the handlebars while riding with one hand (when giving a hand signal, drinking from a water bottle, etc.). One approach is to place your hand near the center of the handlebars so that a sudden jar is less likely to twist the handlebars. The second approach is to place your hand on the curve of the bar behind the brake lever, while leaning the upper body slightly to the opposite side. With drop bars and a reasonably long handlebar stem, this position tends to stabilize the bicycle because your hand is pushing away from the steering axis. It is even possible to brake lightly in this position, but hard braking may twist the bars as your weight is thrown forward and cause a crash. If you are riding with one hand on the bars and you suddenly need full control, don’t hesitate to drop the water bottle to get both hands on the bars!

There are also varying views on how tightly one should grip the handlebars. Some claim that a tight grip is safer because your hands are less likely to be jarred away from the bars on rough pavement. We, however, would argue that a tight grip is probably not the safest under most riding conditions. Not only is a tight grip fatiguing, but tension in your hands tends to encourage tension in the rest of your body. A tense body is less able to absorb road shocks, leading to a less stable ride. As long as your fingers generally wrap around the bars, you should be able to maintain contact with the bars even on rough roads. In fact, allowing the bars to bounce around a bit while encircled by your fingers can absorb a lot of road shock when riding over bumpy roads or grooved pavement.

New England provides some of the best biking in the US, but the streets are laden with potholes and debris. Holding the handlebars correctly helps prepare you for the unavoidable bumps.

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