ride with low bars

BMW motorcycle handlebars, low or high, Euro or US

by Duane Ausherman

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

Why should you try low bars?  To me, the subject of the two styles of bars is complicated and has far-reaching implications.  The principle difference between low and high bars is riding style.  Low bars are typical of European motorcycle bars for sports riding, and high bars are typical of the American easy chair style.  Low bars (LB) are my preference by a huge margin.  I will 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 forward position.  At low town speeds, a bit of weight is on the arms, which decreases as the speed increases.  At some speed, a balance is reached; 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 tank bag as a type of fairing.  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 just for the supporting effect I want.  Now, this is where the LB really comes into its own.  I can shift weight onto my chest, my feet, or my butt.  This variety of weight shift is super important for LONG distance travel.  The wind profile is smaller, and the center of gravity is forward 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.  Viewing the side profile is always best to have no empty spaces.  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 forward and backward.  I usually ride with Hippo Hands by Vetter, 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.  Hippo Hands are now made by a variety of people. Try using Google.

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 pulling at the rider at low speeds.

With his first BMW, a rider would come back in and want to be out of the wind and reduce arm fatigue.  A fairing is great in reducing these complaints.  Above 50 mph, without a fairing, the wind pull requires one to “hold on.” Maybe now a solution has been found for one of the real drawbacks of a fairing, buffeting.  The fairing has split the wind 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.  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.  The rider complains about “leaning” on the bars with the wind removed.  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 and to one’s spine, which is now vertical.  This means a backache and aggravation for many types of pre-existing back conditions.  The only way for weight to be taken off the spine is for the rider to pull on the bars, which 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, all the weight is now on the spine and butt.  Now, this rider needs one of the “wide-ass” seats to spread the load.

Often a customer would come in and say, “Today, I removed the fairing for maintenance and took it for a ride “naked,” and it was fun.”  We would start selling a new line of accessories.

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.

The SWB /5 just wasn’t designed to be a loaded touring bike.  The LWB is much better for that.  From a service standpoint, the LB style costs much less to own and maintain, even with the inherent harder riding.  The rider is more in tune with the “feel” and notices problems quicker.  Fewer accessories are in the way for the mechanic to remove, so maintenance costs less.

Flander’s bars

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

Updated 30 March 2023