Setting Up Dirt Bike Handlebars for Trail Riding

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Handlebars are the first thing you grab on your dirt bike when you go riding on trails and the last thing you let go of when coming back to the camp. They make your dirt bike go where you want it to go.

The way the dirt bike handlebars have been set up has a big effect on how your dirt bike performs in different riding styles. In fact, it is probably the most important factor to consider when perfecting the riding ergonomics.

Dirt bike handlebars with a handguard and number plate in front of the bike

What is the correct handlebar position for trail riding? How should I set up and position my dirt bike handlebars? What aspects do I need to consider when setting up the handlebars? Next, we will answer to all of these questions and show you how to set up the dirt bike handlebars for trail riding.

Fundamentals of Dirt Bike Handlebars

Front and side view of handlebars with different measurements shown
Dirt bike handlebars consist of six measurements: width, height, rise, clamp area, control length, and sweep.

Dirt bike handlebars are the steering control for dirt bikes. Their main task is to turn the dirt bike to the direction you want to go. In addition, they control just about everything that makes your dirt bike operate.

Most new dirt bike handlebars are made out of aluminum. Aluminum is a great material for handlebars as it is light weight and doesn’t rust. It can also take a hit so your handlebars won’t bend immediately after your first crash.

Dirt bikes come with two types or sizes of handlebars: 7/8″ bars and 1 1/8″ bars. The 7/8″ bars have a cross brace across the middle of the bars. Whereas the 1 1/8″ bars—sometimes also called fatbars or tapered bars—have a fatter bar through the length of the bar with usually no cross brace across the middle. In our opinion, 1 1/8″ bars are a better choice for trail riding as they are stronger and have more flex.

Dirt bike handlebars consist of six measurements: width, height, rise, clamp area, control length, and sweep. However, the only ones you really need to think about are width, height, rise, and sweep as these measurements tell you the real shape of the handlebars. This way, you will get an idea of which handlebars will work for you.

Width

The width of the dirt bike handlebars means the measurement from one end of the handlebars to the other. To be more precise, it is measured from the end of the left control length to the end of the right control length. Most handlebars are almost the same width if not the same, about 31.5 inches.

Height

The height of the dirt bike handlebars is the measurement from the clamp area to the top of the control length, in other words to the end of the bar. You can adjust the height of the handlebars by loosening the bar at the clamp area and adjusting it forward or backward.

Rise

The rise of the dirt bike handlebars measures the length from the clamp area to the first steep bend of the handlebars. You can lengthen the rise by using riser clamps to maximize the overall height of the handlebars. If you are a tall rider, you’ll more likely want to raise the height of your handlebars or use handlebar risers.

Clamp Area

The clamp area of the dirt bike handlebars is the bottom of the handlebars where they clamp onto the bike. You can add risers to the clamp area to change the measurements and feel of your handlebars. The thickness of the clamp area is 7/8″ or 1 1/8″ depending on the thickness of the handlebars.

Control Length

The control length of the dirt bike handlebars is the area where your grips are.

Sweep

The sweep of the dirt bike handlebars, also known as the pullback, is easiest to view by looking at the side of your dirt bike. The sweep is measured from the center of the clamp area to the end of the bars, or to the control length, in the shape of a letter “L”.

Read also: How To Set Up Dirt Bike Suspension for Trail Riding

What Is the Correct Handlebar Position?

Dirt bike set on a center stand with woods on the background
Looking at the dirt bike from the side, the handlebars should follow the line of the forks when the bike is set on the center stand.

The dirt bike handlebars can be positioned forward, center, or back.

It all depends on your riding style and how aggressive you want your position to be. Typically, lower handlebars will allow you to muscle the dirt bike more. But the handlebars should still be relative to your height.

We prefer lining up the handlebars with the line of the forks when looking at the dirt bike from the side. That is to say, not too far forward nor too far back.

Please note that you may want to adjust this position and move the handlebars forward or back if you cannot comfortably have a proper standing position.

This is the handlebar position that we have found to work best when riding on trails.

Read also: Ultimate dirt bike size chart and seat height guide

How To Set Up Dirt Bike Handlebars

Front side of a muddy dirt bike and handlebars with handguards and a number plate

The dirt bike handlebar setup has a big effect on how your dirt bike performs in different riding styles.

As we have earlier learned, handlebars have different sweep and height dimensions. In addition, they can be rotated and moved in the triple tree.

If you are a taller or shorter rider, you most likely will need new handlebars to get the riding ergonomics perfect. You can read more about getting new dirt bike handlebars later in this post.

But for all other riders, there are a lot of small adjustments you can do that can make a big difference on how your dirt bike performs.

We recommend starting with the factory setup and tuning from there based on your riding style.

In general, there are three things to focus on when it comes to dirt bike handlebar setup: handlebar position, handlebar rotation, plus lever and grip setup.

Handlebar Position

Set your dirt bike on the center stand. Look at the dirt bike from either side. The dirt bike handlebars should follow the line of the forks.

Most dirt bikes have four positions to set the handlebars in the triple tree from forward position to back position.

Set the handlebars to the center position. This can usually be achieved by setting the handlebar clamps to the first threaded hole and making sure the offset of the clamps is set to normal and not turned 180 degrees.

Handlebar Rotation

Notice how the dirt bike handlebars have a printed chart in the center of the handlebars? To see it, you may need to take a look at the under the bar pad if you have one.

The printed chart shows the center position and incremental lines for rotating the handlebars forward or backward.

Start with aligning the handlebars to the neutral or center position.

If you rotate the handlebars forward, it will give you more space and generally helps the dirt bike to turn more aggressively. If you rotate the handlebars backwards the dirt bike tends to be more stable.

Also, see how the ends of the handlebars are pointing higher or lower depending on the rotating angle of the handlebars.

Lever and Grip Setup

After setting up dirt bike handlebars, make sure you align the levers and grips correctly. We see many riders, especially newbies, struggle because the controls are incorrectly set.

Start by making sure the grips are correctly in place, centered and properly fixed where there is no movement. Next, move the levers to a downward pointing angle. Good starting point is one finger thickness down from the level position.

Make sure to check out our ultimate brake and clutch lever positioning guide. You will learn how to adjust and position the clutch lever, front brake lever and grips to an ideal position in just 15 minutes!

Other Adjustment Options to Consider

Rider side of dirt bike handlebars with handlebar pad, grips, levers and handguards

In addition to the three key focus points mentioned above, there are also other adjustment options to consider when setting up dirt bike handlebars.

Rise Adjustment

The rise can be adjusted up or down. There are all kind of after-market risers you can get in order to adjust the rise of your dirt bike. This way, you will get a comfortable standing position. You don’t have to reach too far or too low and you will still be able to keep your elbows up.

You may need between 0 and 2 inches of rise depending on the shape of your dirt bike and how tall you are. We recommend getting a kit of swappable risers. This way, you will be able to adjust the rise in steps and to test and find the perfect rise for you.

Especially if you are a really tall rider, you definitely want to consider adding risers. If your dirt bike handlebars are too low, this makes you slouch when standing up on the bike. In consequence, you want sit more on the bike, which is not the ideal riding position.

The risers will change the handling characteristics to a degree and they may reduce front end grip when cornering. But the benefits certainly outweigh the drawbacks. The risers will make a world of difference in your comfort and you will be standing more and sitting less.

Handlebar Width

Wider dirt bike handlebars make it easier to handle the dirt bike but they also tend to hit trees. You may get stuck between tight trees or thrown off the bike in tight woods.

So, if you feel like your handlebars are too wide, you should consider cutting them. Before cutting them though, make sure you can fit all the equipment on your new handlebars. You may also need to change the clutch-side grip.

If you plan to participate in races, we recommend getting the overall width of the handlebars to 30.5 inches.

Forks and Rake

The forks can be adjusted up or down in the triple tree. This will slightly change the height of the handlebars but, more importantly, it will change the rake i.e. the angle of the forks with the ground.

As a result, the handling of the dirt bike will be massively impacted. If the forks are raised as little as 1/8 of an inch, the rake will change by one degree and the steering will be altered dramatically.

The steeper the forks are, the twitchier your dirt bike will be. This means that if you move the forks up, the bike will turn very quickly but it will be less stable at high speeds.

If you lower the forks too much, the bike will be harder to turn but it will be more stable at high speeds.

Take a look at our article on how to adjust the front fork height and why. You will learn to adjust the front fork height in just about 15 minutes—and it’s definitely worth it!

Handguards

On most single tracks, you will continuously get hit by branches, trees, and riders roosting in front of you. Make sure your handguards are set correctly on your dirt bike handlebars so that they protect both the levers and your hands.

If your handguards are set too high and you land or hit something, your wrists may slide under the guards. When the handguards are set low enough this will be prevented. This is important especially with the metal-backed handguards.

Getting New Handlebars

After setting up the dirt bike handlebars as instructed above, do you still feel that they need to be higher or lower or that reaching is an issue? Then you need to get new handlebars that fit your height.

Stock bikes are set up for riders that are 5′ 8″ to 6′ 2″ tall depending on the make and model. So, if you are taller or shorter or have short or long arms, you may need to change handlebars for a better fit.

When selecting the handlebars, you want to take a look at the rise and shape. You also want to make sure that the handlebars fit the clamps (7/8″ or 1 1/8″) of your dirt bike. In addition, they need to have enough space for all the stuff you have, such as handguards and switches.

In terms of comfort, the rise and bend are relevant. These are not easy to figure out so we recommend sticking with the same type of handlebars that the manufacturer has for the bike.

The width of the handlebars is also something to keep in mind. Wide handlebars make it easier to handle the dirt bike but they tend to bang trees.

In general, we suggest you to try low handlebars if you’re between 5′ 6″ and 5′ 9″ and rotating them down a little closer to you. For riders over 6 feet and above, we recommend taller bars, rotated forward a little.

We recommend these dirt bike handlebars if you need a better fit for your height:

Renthal Fat Bar – Oversized 1-1/8 (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) – Renthal has a great selection of lower or higher sweep handlebars. We recommend these for replacing bent handlebars or finding the correct height and sweep for your height and riding style.

Conclusions

A dirt bike handlebar setup that fits your riding style makes riding more controllable and comfortable.

Sometimes the stock handlebars work just fine but sometimes you need to get a new one. Whichever you choose to go with, remember to properly set up and position the dirt bike handlebars. This way, your riding position will be better and also your dirt bike will perform better.

Keep in mind that this is not rocket science—after all, it’s all about how the handlebars feels to you. If your wrists are sore after a ride or if your back hurts from slouching, it’s time to perfect your riding ergonomics by taking a look at your dirt bike handlebars.

As an added bonus, your dirt bike will be easier to handle on the trails!

Read next: How to adjust the front fork height and why

Last updated: October 13, 2021