Handlebars with Generous Curves


Traditional handlebars have generous curves that support your hands well. They offer a multitude of hand positions for long-distance comfort. We are glad that today, Grand Bois offers three proven, useful drop handlebar shapes.

As professional races have become shorter and faster, modern handlebars have become shorter and shallower. For racers, that is fine, since they put out so much power that their hands barely touch the bars. The rest of us may consider the handlebars racers used during the “heroic age,” when races were longer, speeds were lower, and the roads rougher. Above is Nicolas Frantz on the way to winning the 1928 Tour de France in a photo from The Competition Bicycle.


One thing you’ll notice about many classic handlebar shapes is their long reach and flat ramps. This gives you an additional hand position behind the brake hoods. Theo Roffe took this photo of me during a 600 km brevet. You can see how I am resting the ball of my thumb on the ramps. That part of your palm has the fewest nerves, so it’s a good semi-upright position for riding long distances. For a more stretched-out position, I still have the position “on the hoods”, as well as the drops for a more aerodynamic position.


“Randonneur” handlebars (above) sweep upward slightly to offer even better support of your hands in the position behind the brake hoods – when you cup your hands slightly, the upsweep on the ramps supports your hands perfectly. However, this upsweep must be carefully designed to match the curve of the human hand.

The Grand Bois Randonneur handlebars are based on a tried-and-true French design that has proven itself over millions of miles. Unfortunately, many other “Randonneur” handlebars only echo the general shape, but don’t adequately support your hands in the right spots, so their curves may put more, not less, pressure on your hands.


Grand Bois’ “Maes Parallel” shape doesn’t have the upsweep of their “Randonneur” bars, so the top and bottom of the bars are almost parallel. This means that the tops provide a great hand position, with the advantage that you can move around your hands a bit as you ride.


One disadvantage of the parallel ramps is that your wrists can hit the bars when you throw the bike from side to side in an all-out sprint. The “Maes 1970s” handlebars curve a bit more to provide a little more room in a sprint. Their name stems from the fact that by the 1970s, racers sprinted out of the saddle more often, and thus the popular Philippe “Professionel” handlebar was redesigned to accommodate this change in riding style.

We are glad that Grand Bois offers these three excellent and proven handlebar shapes. They recently added a wider 42 cm version of the “Randonneur” model. (The other two models already have been available in the 42 cm width.)

Click here to find out more about Grand Bois handlebars.




About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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34 Responses to Handlebars with Generous Curves

  1. GuitarSlinger says:

    The one problem of resting on the ball of your thumb when you’re a professional string player [ of any stringed instrument ] being that is the focus of your fret hands strength : so resting on that area causes both pain – potential injury as well as numbness that can last for hours after a ride is completed . Granted this is a very specific problem for a very specific segment of rider … but I know I’m not the only one dealing with this issue and I wish someone would [ maybe a guitar/mandolin/violin etc playing bike builder sympathetic to the problem ] come up with a solution that works . Even raised straight bars are problematic .

  2. Daniel says:

    Jan, you’ve previously discussed the merits of narrow handlebars. I was wondering now that there is a slightly wider Grand Bois Randonneur bar, a) is the difference (10mm) very noticeable and b) how do you recommend sizing/selecting a width? Thanks!

  3. vladluskin says:

    One question/comment, Jan: the upsweep of the tops portion of the randonneur bar seems like it may be hard on rider’s wrists, as the shape requires one to pronate the wrists inward. What sort of feedback have you received on this shape and what has been your experience with it? Thank you.

    • On the tops of the bars – with the hands right next to the stem – the “Randonneur” model does feel a bit different at first. I use that position mostly when climbing, and it’s not been a problem.

    • I had the same reaction. I have also felt the same concern about the Ritchey bars which sweep backward, not upward: that backward sweep would require an additional rotation outward of my wrists when my arms are angled inward. Both of these sweep directions, upward and backward, appear to be designed to compensate for a stem which is too long and/or too low. BTW, I got a randonneuring bike recently with SOMA compact bars and I don’t particularly like them yet. I feel like the range of positions available is too constrained. I’m giving myself time to try and get used to them, however.

      • I got a randonneuring bike recently with SOMA compact bars and […] I feel like the range of positions available is too constrained.

        Randonneur bars don’t work with compact dimensions. You need room for those “generous curves”. Compact bars have their place, but compact randonneur bars are silly.

  4. Tim Evans says:

    On your Compass handlebar descriptions, the “Maes Professional” and “Maes 70’s” both show the same straight on photos. It appears they are identical. However, the side view photos show a difference. I am a bit miffed.

  5. I love the look of your bars but your theory that people can just pivot at the elbow and ride a narrow bar just doesn’t hold true for everyone. I’d kill for a rando bar that was a true 44cm in the hoods for us big guys. I hate being stuck on ugly bars…

  6. Niels Hansen says:

    Jan, have you tried the new(ish) compact bars with ergolevers?

    I love the feel and comfort of the flat spot where the bar meets the hood of the brake lever. I’ve never liked the old style where bar drops down before it meets the brake lever…

    Fan of fat supple tires though😉

  7. cbratina says:

    This is true for brake levers with cables coming out of the top, but once I changed to brifters with cables wrapped to the bars, I found the most comfortable position is with my hands on the brifter hoods. My favorite bar is the Deda Deep Drop.

  8. Ceilidh says:

    As a user of the (410mm) Grand Bois Maes Parallel, I thought I’d comment:
    1) Re: Niels Hansen & flat ramps: I’ve 2003 Campagnolo Brake Levers (same shape as the older 10-sp brake/shift levers, but without the shifter internals), and the ramp-to-brake-hood transition is perfectly flat and level (it’s one of the great things about this handlebar); you can cruise with your hands entirely on the ramps, slide them (pretty far) forward onto the hoods for hard efforts, out of the saddle climbs, strong headwinds, etc., or seamlessly place them anywhere in between. |
    2) Re: cbratina & Deda Deep Drop: The Maes Parallel replaced a Deda 215 Deep Drop on my bike, and for me the Maes is significantly more comfortable. The Deda Deep has a great shape as well (the best I found prior to Grand Bois), but the ramp-to-hood transition isn’t quite so flat, and it put the (Campagnolo) brake levers pretty far from my hands when I was on the hooks (I have small hands, so brake-lever reach is an issue for me). If you have very large hands and don’t care about flat ramps, then ignore the above(!) — but for me, the Grand Bois Maes took the good points of the Deda Deep and accentuated them. =) ||
    3) Re: Daniel and Starmichael & narrow bar width: if wide bars personally work for your riding (e.g., Starmichael), then more power to you!! But as wide bars have been pushed so hard by internet writers and vendors until just a few years ago, I thought I’d chime in on behalf of narrowness (in case there are other riders like me who might benefit from reduced widths). I started riding in the 1980s with 38cm & 39cm Cinellis and Modolos, and never thought about bar width (i.e., I was comfortable). After that, every bar was a little wider (“Opens up your chest for breathing!!!”) until I was on 42s (c-to-c; on the Deda that’s 44 o-to-o); that too was comfortable enough that I didn’t think about it. Then I had a bad wreck, ruptured 2 discs, spent 8 months on crutches, and got back on the bike with much, much less core (or any) strength than before. When you don’t have core strength or years/decades of continuous bike fitness to rely on, suddenly bike fit becomes an awful lot more important, and for the first time in my life I had to really fine-tune my on-bike position (otherwise even a little 20-mile amble was agony). For me, the Grand Bois Maes with its flared hooks + narrow ramp-to-ramp spacing is heaven sent: my new position is (compared to before) more saddle-rearwards and bar-forward (yielding a less-curved back, much less weight on the hands, and arms more relaxed & extended forward — it’s a position much closer to those shown by J. Heine and his friends in the photos on this site than to my former racing position). With this position, bar width matters a lot (for me): too wide, and there’s a pain in the neck and shoulders that never goes away; but with narrow ramps & hoods, the cruising position’s much more comfortable (and with the Grand Bois’ flare, the wider position in the hooks/drops is also comfy and more than amply stable). Again, for a lot of people, wide bars might well make sense — but for me, narrow is much, much better (and note that the modern “narrow” is pretty much what “normal” was in the 1980s!). |||
    4) Jan, the Compass site no longer lists 40cm Maes bars: are they discontinued? I have the 410 (41cm), and was looking forward to trying something still narrower one of these days (thanks!)

    • The 40 cm bars are not currently in the program, but we are thinking about bringing them back.

      • Ceilidh says:

        Thanks for the info on the 40cm. =)
        On a different note: I know it’s hard to describe such things, but could you take a stab at explaining how the Randonneurs differ from the Maes in terms of “feel”, specifically when your hands are on the ramps & hoods? Is it that the Maes gives you more flexibility to move around, but the Randonneurs fit your hand better at one particular spot on the bars? (I understand that they’re pretty different on the climbing tops…) And do both bars feel the same when you’re basically on the hoods, and also when you’re in the drops and hooks? Many thanks in advance!

      • You nailed the difference between them – the Randonneur fits the curve of your slightly cupped hands, whereas the Maes Parallel just gives you a flat surface to roam. On the brake hoods and in the drops, they feel exactly the same to me.

        I have the Randonneur on my Urban Bike which sees a lot of climbing in Seattle with heavy loads, and the tops of the bars feel totally natural to me. The Maes Parallel are on my Herse, and I love those, too.

  9. marmotte27 says:

    Should the ramps and the drops be parallel to the floor? I’ve got a velo orange handlebar that’s quite closely modelled on the Maes Parallel, and I’ve got it angled a little upwards, like you desrcibed in a post a while ago, the drops point towards the rear brake bridge Thus I get a little upward curve just behind the brake levers.

    • The Randonneur model must be angled upward to fit correctly. For the Maes Parallel, it’s your choice. It’s easy to rotate the bars to experiment.

      • Fionn says:

        I also have the randonneur model, and have never been totally comfortable on it; I recently shortened my reach by about 2-3cm, and that seems to have helped. How much of an up-angle does the randonneur need? I’m guessing that Rebour’s drawings are accurate of what it should be set to. I’ve had the randonneur set with the tops flat, but never up, but with the randonneur it’s hard to set the angle based on the tops, as there is no top as such. I’ll play with it tomorrow on my Sunday ride.

      • The angle depends on your bar height. The higher your bars, the more they should be angled upward.

      • Fionn says:

        Thanks for the answer, I’ve played a bit more with tilting them back on a ride last Sunday (about 60km), and it seemed to help. I’ll keep slowly adjusting till I reach a comfortable stage. A quick question though: in the photo it looks like you’re resting the palm of your hand in the curve of the bar, but when I do this I find that trying to rest the base of my thumb on the curve means that I actively have to “push”, and this becomes uncomfortable inside of a few minutes. I then end up with the curve pushing into the palm of my hand, and that is exactly where the nerve in my hand is, and this causes numbness on any ride longer than about 30 minutes. I must have too much pressure on my hands, perhaps I need to start pushing my saddle back a bit.

  10. thebvo says:

    So, all measurements listed are c-c at the ends of the drops, correct? What are the dimensions between the ramps (perhaps this is a more useful measurement seeing as how it is a more often used position…)? I think how much space one has on the tops before the tops/ramps bend is an important piece of info.
    My current Nitto Randonneur bars have so much flare it not only looks silly, but they also cut into Hbar bag/ hand space up on the tops/ ramps.

  11. Peter says:


    Completely off-topic, but does that pump you have on your frame work as well as it does look good? Compared to for example the Zefal HPX which is the the benchmark in this class I believe. I would love to hear what brand this is and where to buy one.

    More on topic: is there a reason you don’t sell (or mention) the Nitto Noodle?

    • The pump is an old Zefal, no longer made. It works fine and weighs half as much as the HpX, but it dents more easily.

      Nitto Noodle is a fine bar, but I don’t like the backward sweep, which makes little sense and feels awkward. I prefer the Grand Bois Maes models.

  12. Rob Johnston says:

    What is available that has a long reach and a deep drop? I find the drop on the Maes too shallow.

    • Have you tried them? I was used to bars with deeper drop, but really like these. Making the drop deeper would eat into the flat ramps, since the curve would start sooner. With the long reach, you adjust to different positions more by reaching further forward than further downward, as you incline your back more.

  13. Two other rando bars you don’t include in your comparison: (1) vintage SR bars (readily available used, mostly in a narrower width than most new rando bars), (2) Velo Orange rando bars.

    Thanks for your interesting research and reporting, and for actually making available the products you thing are needed that don’t already exist.

    • The SR bars – at least the ones I have seen – were one of those examples where the details of the shape were all wrong. I have no experience with the VO bars. Randonneur bars are a shape that must be just right to work well.

      • I think bar shape is more a matter of individual fit than of objective “right” and “wrong”.

        By way of information on the factors in other people’s choices: I ride a lot on the “corners” and behind the hoods, the shape of which appears to be preeminent in your choice of bars. But I ride m ore on the hoods, and I have sensitive wrists, which make me at least as concerned with where and to what degree the drops flare, for two reasons:

        (1) The flare of rando bars makes it possible to ride on the drops without hitting the insides of my wrists on the tops of the bars, which gets uncomfortable. This is often noted, but what is less often noted is that narrower bars maximize this clearance. Wider bars cause one’s arms to angle out from the shoulders to the bar ends, so that one’s wrists can hit the tops when on the drops of even flared wide rando bars. (The vintage SR bars are a significant part of the range of choices because there are few other similarly-narrow rando bars available, and because they are cheap enough to allow those who aren’t sure if they would like rando bars to try them at low cost.) Narrow bars are a compromise with control, and require better bike-handling skill, but *for me* they are worth it for wrist clearance and neutral position vis-a-vis my shoulder width.

        (2) Since the brake levers are mounted along the section of the bars where the flare of rando bars occurs, the hoods are naturally angled inward at the top if they are aligned with the bars. That gives them a position which is closer to “neutral” for my wrists than if they were vertical. For people with wrist problems, “neutral” positioning (matching the natural angle at which the wrists rest) is critical. If I hold my hands out in front of me, with any muscles that would rotate my writs relaxed, my hands naturally rest not straight vertically palms-in, but rotated slightly toward palms-down. With rando bars that fit me, that angle matches the angle of the brake hoods, so that when I extend my hands to the hoods, they drop into position on the hoods without my having to twist them into position.

        I could imagine changing the bend of the SR bars slightly to give a slightly different contour through the corner from the tops to the ramp, for slightly more compfiort when riding on the corners or behind the hoods. But for me, the more important factor in the shape is the amount and position of the flare, which gives the levers and hoods the right neutral position for me. Your priorities and the neutral position of your wrists may vary.

        I recently picked up a set of VO rando bars, but haven’t yet had a chance to try them.

        I’m very glad that Compass Bicycles makes available some choices that extend or fill in gaps in the range of available choices, but I also think it important for Bicycle Quarterly to note the existence of that range — there are few enough choices as it is!

        p.s. Please consider not closing comments so quickly on your blog posts. It closes off discussion on topics that may be of continuing interest for more than a week.

  14. Robert Youngken says:

    I may be a small minority within a small minority, but why the continued use of 25.4 clamp diameter? The shims work, but they are a distant second to a supportive stable junction.
    A move to 26.0 would make more stems available to us, I believe. As my old stems have been retired, the 26.0 have often seemed to be the only stem in town. Also, some bikes cannot use quill stems (Quelle Horreur!) and 26.0 is minimum diameter !

    • Bob says:

      @RY – Velo Orange does have threadless stems available with a 25.4 clamp. Nicely polished finish instead of matte black. I’m using one with the GB Maes bar.

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