It was late-2017 and I was in the final stages of planning my 3-year bike adventure from Argentina to Alaska. I was chatting to Aloys from KOGA who was interested in what the ultimate touring handlebar would look like to me. I told him they’d have to be optimized around the three most important characteristics for touring: bike control, comfort and speed – but we left it at that.
With lots of ideas buzzing around my head, I started sketching. I was notably inspired by the Velo Orange Crazy Bars that I’d been using for the two years prior to this trip – in particular, I liked the combination of the drop bar and flat bar features. I was sure this design was on the right track, but the angles and widths didn’t quite gel with me. The 45° rearward bar sweep put my hands diagonally across the grips, which resulted in hand numbness if I didn’t wear my gel-padded gloves. And the bullhorns worked out to be too long for comfort and not optimized in terms of ergonomics.
After a few weeks of thinking about and testing various handlebar styles, I was ready to unleash the ultimate handlebar design. I submitted my drawings to KOGA and waited for them to do their magic…
The KOGA Denham Bars
• 34° sweep at the grips
• 15° inward bend at the bullhorns
• 8° sweep at the bar tops
• 711mm width
• 25.4mm stem diameter
• Barend shifter compatible
• Black colourway
• 400-450 grams
• $80 / €70 / £65 RRP
Creating The Perfect Handlebar
Steering Leverage & Optimal Bike Control
Fitting a wide handlebar to my touring bikes is the most important modification I’ve ever made. That’s because wide bars increase the steering leverage up front, which allows you to maintain a light steering feel, even with a front load. As a result, you can expect better bike control at high speeds (thanks to the quicker steering inputs) and low speeds (thanks to the micro adjustments you can make to help with your balance). This is most noticeable when you’re climbing slowly up a hill, or when you need to quickly avoid something on the road while travelling at speed. Oh, and the bar width I’ve chosen suits smaller riders too – for comparison, standard bars fitted to extra-small women’s mountain bikes are actually a touch wider (720mm).
If you’ve been following this site for a while, you’ll know I have a keen interest in aerodynamics. In fact, I once spent a whole day riding around a velodrome to determine the precise speed differences between various luggage setups. The key aero feature of the Denham Bars is the 40cm wide ‘bullhorn’ section which mimics the brake hoods of a road handlebar (see pic below). When using this position your elbows will naturally tuck in to reduce your body’s frontal area, granting you the ability to go faster with the same pedalling effort. In fact, my experience is that the ‘bar tops’ are more aerodynamic than the bullhorns as this narrow/sweptback section allows you to naturally lean further forward! I haven’t measured the actual speed difference between the hand positions on the Denham Bars, but given your body is a big wind sail – the difference is certainly noticeable. And even if you don’t intend to cycle anywhere fast, by putting your body in a more aerodynamic position you’ll be able to better tackle those pesky headwinds.
These handlebars not only increase your bike control and aerodynamics, but they’re also supremely comfortable for a few reasons. Firstly, there are three distinct hand positions that give you the opportunity to change the pressure points on your hands. As the positions are quite varied, you will also make use of different muscles in your arms, back and neck with each position change – resulting in less muscle loading throughout the day. The 34° rearward sweep at the grips is perfect for any bike setup where the handlebars are approximately level with the saddle or higher. My handlebars are actually about 8cm lower than my saddle, which I would consider the limit for this amount of sweep – any lower and you’ll be better off with a bar in the 20-30º sweep range (perhaps I’ll design a ‘performance’ version of this bar in the future). In addition, the bullhorns are super short and have been angled inwards by 15° to give you a really snug fit, and the ‘bar tops’ offer a gentle 8° backsweep to pull your shoulders in on the open road.
A very important aspect of these handlebars is the usability of each of the hand positions. By cleverly optimizing the widths and angles, I’ve been able to create a handlebar that offers a very similar effective ‘reach’ from saddle to bullhorn, bar top or grips. In short, your body won’t be excessively stretched when using any of the hand positions, allowing you to comfortably ride for long periods of time wherever your hands prefer.
Suitable For Drop Bar Frames
As the handlebar ‘reach’ is not all that different between hand positions, the cool thing about these bars is that they can be retrofitted to almost all touring bikes! By switching from drop bars to Denham Bars, you’ll still have your hoods position and bar tops, but you’ll also be able to take advantage of the steering leverage too. I’ve got a few other reasons for making the switch HERE.
Suitable For Mountain Bike Frames
These bars are also a nice upgrade to an off-road touring bike like the Surly Troll or Ogre. If you’re coming from a typical flat bar or Jones Loop bars you can fit the Denham Bars without a stem change. The Surly Moloko is a bit different as the effective ‘reach’ is longer in all hand positions, so in order to maintain the same body positioning, you’ll need to add a few centimetres to your stem length if switching to the Denham Bars.
KOGA have minimum standards when it comes to handlebar stiffness and strength. A high degree of handlebar stiffness is important for safety, but it’s also about getting the right steering ‘feel’ – make them too stiff and you reduce rider comfort. In my opinion, the Denham Bars are spot on in terms of stiffness, comfort and feel.
Handlebar Bag and Bikepacking Bag Compatible
One of the biggest differences between the Denham Bar and a Jones Loop or Surly Moloko handlebar is that it fits a handlebar bag. I like to keep my DSLR camera in a handlebar bag because it best protects my camera from shock and vibrations. I also keep other valuables in this bag (passport, money etc), allowing me to take it off my bike in seconds and run into a supermarket, for example.
Grip and Bar Tape Recommendations
My favourite grips for bike travel are the ESI Chunkys ($16 on Amazon) as they dampen vibrations like nothing else. I’ve also heard great things about the Ergon GC1 grips ($26 on Amazon) which are optimized for rearward-swept handlebars and distribute pressure better across the whole palm. I plan to fit a set of GC1s soon, so I’ll let you know how they go!
For the bullhorns and bar tops, I’d recommend a nice thick bar tape (or even a double wrap!) as it will dampen more vibrations. Check out the gel cork bar tape from Cinelli ($16 on Amazon) for something nice and comfortable.
Buying The KOGA Denham Bar
As KOGA is a bicycle company first, their components are exclusively available through their dealer network only (much like Giant or Specialized parts and accessories). I know that Vakantiefietser (NL) keep these in stock and ship internationally, and so does CycleSense (UK). If you know of other dealers that ship internationally, please let me know.
Alternatively, you can spec a KOGA Denham Bar with your WorldTraveller 2.0 custom build! You can read all about the recently released WTS 2.0 HERE.