koga denham bars

Designing The Ultimate Touring & Bikepacking Handlebars, the KOGA Denham Bars!

It was late-2017 and I was in the final stages of planning my three-year bike adventure from Argentina to Alaska. I was chatting to Aloys from KOGA who asked me to imagine the ultimate touring handlebar. My initial thoughts were that these bars should be optimised 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 the Crazy Bar 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 optimised 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

koga denham bar
• 34° sweep at the grips
• 15° inward bend at the bullhorns
• 8° sweep at the bar tops
• 711mm width
• 31.8mm bar diameter
• Barend shifter compatible
• Black colourway
• Aluminium
• 400-450 grams
• $100 / €95 / £99 RRP

Creating The Perfect Handlebar

KOGA Denham Bars

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, which allows you to maintain a light steering feel, even with a front load. 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.

The bar width I’ve selected (711mm) suits smaller riders just fine. For comparison, standard bars fitted to extra-small women’s mountain bikes are actually a touch wider (720mm).

Maximising Aerodynamics

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 drop 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.

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.

Denham Bar

Optimising Comfort

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 (actually, I use five different positions as shown HERE). 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 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.

The 34° rearward sweep at the grips is nice for any bike setup where the handlebars are approximately level with the saddle or higher. My handlebars are about 6cm/2″ 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 with less sweep, in my experience.

Handlebar Reach

A very important aspect of these handlebars is the usability of each of the hand positions. By cleverly optimising 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.

Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route

Suitable For Drop Bar Frames

The bullhorn section is designed to mimic the brake hoods of a drop bar. The Denham Bars have the equivalent ‘reach’ of a 60-70mm drop bar, so if you want to match your current drop bars, check for the reach numbers on the bar manufacturer’s website. For example, the Easton EA70 AX bars have a ‘reach’ of 80mm, so if you were switching from them, you would want to go 10-20mm longer with your stem to get the bullhorns in the same place as your hoods. Oh, and I’ve got lots of reasons why I prefer flat bars over drops 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, but they will make your riding position a bit more upright in the grips. There’s a bit of a trade-off here: if you go longer with the stem, you will get the grips location closer to a flat bar, but you will at the same time make the bullhorns less accessible.

Appropriate Stiffness

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, Bikepacking Bag, and Rolltop Compatible

One of the biggest differences between the Denham Bar and other similar bars (Jones Loop, Surly Moloko) 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 my important belongings off my bike in a second to run into the supermarket. I have also successfully fitted a Ron’s Bikes Fabio’s Chest in size large to my bike, which can still open between the bullhorns.

How Does The KOGA Denham Bar Compare To Other Bars?

KOGA Denham Bars
I’ve used WhatBars to compare a flat handlebar, drop handlebar and the KOGA Denham Bar.

There’s a great tool for comparing all kinds of touring handlebars. It’s called WhatBars and you can choose between more than 100 handlebars to lay over the KOGA Denham Bar. As you can see in the diagram above, the Denham Bar can be a great fit for a bike with drop handlebars or flat handlebars.

If you’re coming from a Surly Moloko you’ll want to add quite a few centimetres to your stem length. This is because the ‘reach’ is longer in all hand positions on the Moloko. In comparison, the Denham Bar grip location will make your ride more upright, but you will have much better access to the inner section of the bar.

For a more in-depth comparison between the Denham Bar and similar handlebars click HERE.

Recommendations: Stems, Grips, Bar Tape, Shifters

koga denham bars

In terms of stem length, the minimum I recommend is 75mm. This is because the sweptback nature of this handlebar puts your hands ~75mm behind the steering axis.

By using a stem that is longer than 75mm, you will be able to steer in the upper steering arc, allowing your steering to self-centre. If you want to learn more about this concept head over to my steering masterclass.

The grips I recommend are Ergon GC1, Velo Attune, Contec Tour Deluxe, Ergotec Frisco 2, Humpbert AKS-08, or XLC GR-S22 (the last five grips are the same grips re-branded). They have been optimised for rearward-swept handlebars, which allow your hands and wrists to sit at a very natural angle.

The grip design has a ridge in the middle that cups inside your palm nicely and the rearward wings distribute the hand pressure across a larger surface area ($26 on Amazon).

For the bullhorns and bar tops, I’d recommend a nice thick bar tape (I use a double-layer wrap) as it will dampen more vibrations and provide a larger diameter handhold. Check out the gel cork bar tape from Cinelli ($16 on Amazon) for something nice and comfortable; you can use any old bar tape you can find for the lower layer.

These bars can use bar-end shifters on the bullhorns, but I don’t think that’s the best setup. You have the most control at the grips, so that’s the best place for both brakes and shifters. The most ideal shifters for the Denham Bars are trigger shifters.

As much as I like thumb shifters (eg. Microshift or Paul) the cable routing prevents you from being able to use the bullhorn section of the bars, so please don’t fit them if you want all hand positions.

Video Preview Of The Denham Bars

I discuss every frame detail and component on my bike in this video. But if you skip to 3:22, you can hear all about how I set up my KOGA Denham Bars, including my five hand positions and the mod I’ve made to my right-hand Rohloff grip.

Buying The KOGA Denham Bars

2020 Koga WorldTraveller-S
For a €2500 upgrade, you get a KOGA WTS 2.0 touring bike with your Denham Bars!

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) sells them and ships internationally, and so do CycleSense (UK) and JustPedal (NL).

Please note, that demand outstrips supply by a long margin. If you’re lucky, you might snag a set from the online stores, but most likely – you will need to pre-order them.

Alternatively, you can spec a KOGA Denham Bar with your WorldTraveller-S custom build! You can read all about the recently released KOGA WTS HERE or in my in-depth video about my personal bike HERE.

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