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BMW motorcycle handlebars, low or high, Euro or US, an opinion

by Duane Ausherman


Why you should try low bars? The subject of the two styles of bars is, to me, complicated and has far reaching implications.  Here I go.  The principle difference between low and high bars is riding style.  Low bars are typical of European motorcycle bars for sport riding, and high bars typical of the American easy chair style.  Low bars (LB) are my preference by a huge margin.  I will try to give you my reasons.  

I prefer to ride alone, quickly and with maximum control.  Riding with LB is fun.  How is this accomplished with comfort? Riding with LB puts one in a slightly bent forwards position.  At low town speeds a bit of weight is on the arms and this decreases as the speed goes up.  At some speed a balance is reached and in my case it is at about 60 mph.  Above that, the wind begins to pull on my upper torso.  I solve this by using a type of fairing, a tank bag.  The Harro bag (made in Europe) is specifically designed to be a fairing, chest rest and storage.  For me, a tank bag is first for support.  I have often stuffed the bag to the proper "full" just for the supporting effect I want.  Now the LB really comes into their own.  I can shift weight onto my chest, my feet or to my butt.  This variety of weight shift is super important in LONG distance travel.  The wind profile is smaller, the center of gravity is forwards and lower, both "good" things.  

To reduce the wind buffeting, I fill in the area behind me with a sleeping bag on the rear of the seat.  Then this tails off to soft luggage on the rack.  It is always best to have no empty holes in the side profile.  An empty space can be a contributing factor in wobbles.  Only with LB will you be happy with the stock seat.  It allows one to move forwards and backwards.  I usually ride distance with Hippo hands and this is the "fairing" for my hands.  I only ride with a full face helmet.  The total protection with this scheme is pretty good, even in rain.     

U.S.  bars or high bars (HB) allows one to ride in a way that looks "dignified." This HB style is most common for "two up." The USA slash 5s were provided with HB as stock.  The position is nearly upright and the air begins to pull at the rider even at low speeds. 

A rider, with his first BMW, would come back in and want to be out of the wind and want to reduce arm fatigue.  A fairing is great in reducing these complaints.  Above 50 mph, without a fairing, the wind pull makes one "hold on." Maybe now a solution has been found for one of the real drawbacks of a fairing, buffeting.  The wind has been split by the fairing and must get back together someplace.  It does this in a most uncomfortable way.  The moving air (wind) recombines behind the rider in a non laminar way.  It oscillates and we call this buffeting, or being whipped.  Put a rider of about the same height behind and the problem has been shifted to that person.  Maybe she won't complain.     

A new problem comes up now.  With the wind removed, the rider complains about "leaning" on the bars.  Now "bar backs" are needed.  Bar backs, as they are called, are items that shift the bar back a few inches, allowing the rider to sit upright.  The center of gravity is higher and farther back.  Bumps in the road are translated directly into a vertical component to ones spine that is now vertical also.  This means backache and aggravation for many types of pre-existing back conditions.  The only way for weight to be taken off of the spine is for the rider to pull on the bars and that will shift weight to the feet.  Feet also get tired and the rider now wants "highway pegs" and the most common way to mount them is to "crash bars." With feet sticking straight out in front, now all the weight is on the spine and butt.  Now this rider needs one of the "wide ass" seats to spread the weight.     

Often a customer came in and said, "Today I removed the fairing for maintenance and took it for a ride "naked" and it was fun." Now we start on a new line of buying accessories.  Oh boy, another trip to the bank with more of his/her money.  A bike with low bars is bare, solo, fast, nimble, sporty and fun.  The /5 was specifically designed for this style of riding.  The bike with U.S.  bars tends to be two up, touring, loaded and a truck.  To make the bike suitable for this style, one must make lots of changes and accept compromises.   

I can flatly say that the SWB /5 just wasn't designed to be a loaded touring bike.  The LWB is much better for that.  Cost of ownership might be a consideration for some riders.  From a service standpoint the LB style costs much less to own and maintain, even with the harder riding that is inherent.  The rider is more in tune with the "feel" and notices problems quicker.  Less accessories are in the way for the mechanic to remove, so it costs less to do any one job.   

This is a mixture of my opinion and experience as a BMW rider and dealer. 

Flander's bars

An old firm named Flanders supplies 22 mm handlebars for BMW in many sizes.  My shop did business with them in the late 60s and early 70s with satisfaction.  They were once the West coast importer for BMW.

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This page was last edited: 12/28/2006 - copyright Duane Ausherman
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