A Mini Guide to Adding Alt Hand Positions to Flat Bars
Although many of us are completely sold on bikepacking with flat bars, they have one major drawback compared to their curvy counterparts: a lack of alternative hand positions. Find our mini guide to popular solutions to this problem here, including reviews of top-rated bar ends, thumb grips, and inner bar ends…
Drop bars or flat bars for bikepacking? It’s a question that haunts bikepackers all over the world but unfortunately has no clear answer. It all comes down to personal preference, especially on mixed-terrain routes, and there are many reasons to choose one over the other. In most cases, folks prefer drop bars because of the various hand positions they offer right out of the box. There’s no need for ergonomic grips or add-ons, and having the ability to change your hand position and pressure points can help alleviate numbness and discomfort on long rides.
For those of us who spend the majority of our time riding more traditional flat bars, there are other ways to mix things up. Over the last few months, I’ve been experimenting with a few of the most popular handlebar accessories. From traditional bar ends to the latest in inner bar ends and thumb grips, each component is designed to change up your hand position and is well-suited to bikepacking and long rides. Find a breakdown of the three categories below, followed by several mini reviews of some of the add-ons I tested.
Bar Ends (Inner and Outer)
Not just reserved for 90s mountain bikes, bar ends are extensions that can be mounted on either side of the grips and positioned perpendicular to the bar. While traditional bar ends were almost always metal and chunky, brands like Ergon, Cane Creek, and SQlab have changed the game with modern, rubberized options that provide an alternative riding position, can help shift your weight forward on long climbs, aren’t obstructive while trail riding, and sometimes offer an aerodynamic advantage.
Aero Bars and Grips
For bikepacking routes that follow smooth dirt roads or sections of pavement, adding an aero bar setup or aero grip is a great way to make a big change to your riding position, often taking the weight off of your hands altogether. While I’ve never had the need to run traditional aero bars, which are mostly reserved for smooth roads and ultra-endurance racing, I have been able to test out a number of Farr’s aero grips that fall somewhere in between a true aero bar setup and an inner bar end.
While the UCI may have banned them for racing, thumb grips or TOGS sit just inside your grip to provide a hook for your thumb while resting it over the bar. The idea is that they provide leverage on climbs, allow you to change up your hand position slightly on long rides, and add very little weight or bulk to your cockpit.
If you’ve ever searched for inner bar ends, you’ve likely come across Germany-based SQlab. Specializing in handlers, saddles, and grips, their bar ends regularly make their way onto bikepacking rigs showcased on this site. They move the hands inward on the bar, allowing your elbows to rest against your torso and stretch the body slightly more forward. SQlab says this small change in position provides both an aerodynamic and bio-mechanical advantage—relaxing the neck muscles and changing the load zone on your hands, and they even went as far as recording the power savings at high speeds (36km/h), which was on average 5%.
After using the Innerbarends 411 R Carbon for several months now, I’m starting to appreciate their popularity. SQlab has done a great job of molding the shape to cup the space between the pointer finger and thumb, cradling your hands and relieving certain pressure points. Even the more minimal carbon version provided a comfortable and natural hand position that I’ve found myself trying to replicate by shifting my hands around on my grips for years. With the bar ends mounted right beside my grips, I was able to shift and brake, still had plenty of leverage to maintain control of the bike, and the resulting position is by no means a fully tucked aero position—which is not normally what I’m after.
- Material (as tested): Carbon
- Weight: 40 grams
- Place of Manufacture: TBD
- Price: $45-150 USD
- Manufacturer’s Details: SQlab-USA.com
Farr Aero Bolt-On
The first iteration of Farr’s Aero Bolt-On was released back in 2020, and since then, the Australia-based brand has been busy releasing updated versions and an assortment of other components and accessories. Currently, there are two Aero Bolt-On options in their lineup, the alloy version and a slick carbon version, both of which I’ve tested. The idea behind the Aero Bolt-On is that it provides an alternative hand position, improved aerodynamics, and a place to mount a GPS device or light. It’s like a mini aero bar for those who don’t want to go full-on aero.
While I never had the chance to blaze down a race course using the Aero Bolt-On, it didn’t take long to identify its usefulness. The simple bolt-on design is easy to install, adjust, and rarely resulted in compatibility issues. The ergonomic shape of both the allow and carbon version are thoughtfully designed and comfortable. And most importantly, they provide a hand position that is radically different than standard grips.
- Material: Alloy or Carbon
- Weight: 98-113g
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Price: $99-165 USD
- Manufacturer’s Details: RideFarr.com
TOGS: Thumb Over Grip System
When my hands get tired, one of the first things I do is flip my thumb up on top of my grips, and I’m always seeing other riders do the same thing. Unfortunately, on standard flat bar grips, this is an exposed position that doesn’t offer a lot of control or proper grip. That’s where TOGS come in. TOGS are tiny thumb grips that clamp directly onto the bar, providing a spot for your thumb to hook onto while riding “on top” of the bars. According to TOGS, they “offer superior control, comfort and climbing leverage.”
While they might not offer as drastic of a change as some of the other options in this list, the subtle change in hand position is noticeable. They provide a comfortable hook for your thumb, providing enough leverage pull against while climbing or just to mix up your normal hand position. They take up minimal space on your bar and the Flex MTB Togs don’t require the removal of your grips to install, so they are easy to pop on and off when needed. They weigh just 18g per set, so they’re the lightest option in this roundup as well.
It’s worth noting that TOGS recommends using shorter length grips so you can simply pivot your thumb rather than moving your entire hand. They have custom-length ESI grips available on their website and have also had good experiences trimming down Ergon GP1 and Ergon GA3 (twist shift version) grips.
- Material: Plastic, Carbon, and Rubber
- Weight: 18 grams
- Place of Manufacture: Utah, USA
- Price: $20-25 USD
- Manufacturer’s Details: TOGS.com
Cane Creek Ergo Control Bar Ends
The Cane Creek Ergo Control Bar Ends are among the most popular bar ends, often showing up here on the site. They feature a comfortable rubber finish, ergonomic shape, and lock-on design that works on any 22.2mm bars. I purchased my set over three years ago, and they’ve bounced around between bikes when I’ve needed extra hand positions. The rubber finish has proven to be exceptionally durable and their size and shape hit a sweet spot for bikepacking and trail riding.
It’s common to spot the Ergo Control Bar Ends on rigs tackling challenging events like the Colorado Trail Race, and I noticed 2022 Tour Divide singlespeed winner Andrew Strempke and second-place finisher Katie Strempke have both been using them. The only downside to bar ends like these is that they don’t pair well with certain grips, including Ergon, that have an internal lip to prevent them from sliding down the handlebar. I’ve gotten around this by trimming the lip on the grip away with a sharp knife.
- Material: Rubber and Aluminum
- Weight: 138 grams
- Place of Manufacture: TBD
- Price: $30 USD
- Manufacturer’s Details: CaneCreek.com
I’m a big fan of Ergon grips, specifically the GA3, which I run on almost all of the bikes I test out. I find the mini wing on the GA3 offers enough support without sacrificing control on technical terrain and is the ideal grip for singletrack-heavy bikepacking routes. It’s no surprise that Ergon also offers a full range of grips with bar ends integrated into the design. From the touring-friendly GP series all the way down to their more mountain-bike specific GS series, Ergon offers several styles of bar ends to suit your needs.
I’ve been using the GS2 grips for some time now, and while they are chunkier than my beloved GA3 grips, I find they offer a lot more support and hand positions without feeling like overkill on technical trails. I appreciated them during my initial scouting trip on the Tree to Sea Loop last fall, and they’ve recently found a home on a rigid mountain bike I’ve been testing. The integrated bar end can be angled separately from the grip, curves in sightly toward the inside for a natural hand position, and if you’re looking for a longer extension, they also make the GS3. Both models are offered in two sizes, small and large, depending on your hand size and preferences.
- Material: Rubber and Fiberglass Composite
- Weight: 220 grams (large)
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Price: $55 USD
- Manufacturer’s Details: ErgonBike.com
I shared some of the most popular products used to add alt positions to flat bars above, but there are many other options available that are also worth checking out. Find a few of them below, and let us know in the Conversation section if you have a favorite you’d like added.
Adding hand positions to your favourite handlebar can be done affordably and with hardly any weight penalty. Although some of the options above might not be as radical as changing to a true comfort MTB bar, they all provide subtle shifts in hand position and weight distribution that could mean the difference between numb fingers and multi-day comfort.
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