Handlebar maximum measurements challenged

Harley-Davidson Street Bob Softail Dyna Handlebar maximum measurements challenged

Arbitrary maximum heights and widths for motorcycle handlebars have no basis in science or safety research, yet many jurisdictions enforce maximum measurements with no relationship to rider posture.

In Australia the rules vary from state to state, but they are generally that the lowest part of the hand grip must not be higher than 380mm above the rider’s seat or bar connection point and/or the bars must extend not less than 250mm nor more than 450mm on each side of the centreline of the bike.

As for widths, the Australian Design Rules increased the maximum in December 2015 from 900mm to 1100mm.

However, none of these measurements has anything to do with the rider’s height and arm length, nor the ergonomics of the bike or trike.

There are all kinds at the Sturgis Motorcycle RallyThere are all kinds at the Sturgis Motorcycle RallyThere are all kinds at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally handlebar measurements challenged Handlebar maximum measurements challenged

Ape hangers that are above the eyes of a short rider, may be quite comfortable and safe for a taller rider.

The lack of substantial evidence and the variances in rider/bike sizes is the reason some American states are repealing maximum handlebar height restrictions.

Maximum history

To understand the reasoning for handlebar maximum measurements, we have to go back to the ban on ape bars in 30 American states in the 1960s.

It was implemented on the pretext of safety, but was more likely introduced so police had reason to pull over and search riders believed to be members of outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Remember, this was during the height of media hype and public fear about bikies/bikers after the 1966 release of Hunter S. Thompson’s book, Hell’s Angels, and the 1969 cult film Easy Rider.

Easy Rider Rider personality test ape hanger maximum
Easy Riders

The ape hanger rules are strangely reminiscent of the current Australian profiling laws which allow police to check for tattoos and other “outlaw” club insignia.

Laconia Motorcycle Week Association spokesman Charlie St. Clair says American cops have also pulled over riders heading to their rally “as a tool for probable cause; an excuse to stop motorcyclists”.

Improper fines

Motorcycle Riders Association of Queensland president Chris Mearns says police have also incorrectly issued infringement notices to riders because the ADR is so complex.

MRAQ president Chris Mearns Ride to Work Day RACQ maximum
MRAQ president Chris Mearns

Chris says there are three documents affecting vehicle standards: ADR, the Road Management Act (vehicle standards) in each state and the National Code of Practice for Vehicle Construction.

“In all three documents there are particular things that do not match,” he says.

“One example is mirrors. In all three they are different in size configuration.

“If you go to the National Code of Practice for light vehicle construction and search for mirrors on motorcycles, the size stipulated is almost as big as the mirrors on a Ford Territory.

“But there are other examples, so we obviously have a problem with laws and standards that get tied together that don’t match because of mismatched and badly written legislation.”

Handlebar safety

Ape hanger and wide handlebars are usually deployed to look cool, although current hipster trends may actually make them uncool!

However, there is little research to say they are unsafe.

We have ridden several motorcycles with “mini ape hangers” around shoulder level, such as the Harley-Davidson Street Bob, and a couple of custom choppers with bars set around eye height.

Harley-Davidson Street Bob Softail Dyna Handlebar maximum measurements challenged
2018 Harley-Davidson Street Bob Softail Dyna

We found they are surprisingly good for urban slow-speed manoeuvring because you have close hand/eye co-ordination.

Ape hangers are also usually associated with raked-out forks that provide high-speed stability because it makes them “slower” to turn. However, it can also increase fork and handlebar flex which is not conducive to precision steering.

Anything above your heart level will also introduce some fatigue, tingling and numbness in your hands and fingers over long distances. You will often see riders drop their hands to get the blood pumping into their fingers again.

We have also ridden many motorcycles with wide handlebars and, so long as you can comfortable reach them, they are very stable at high speeds.handlebar maximum measurements challenged

The only impediment is in tight turns where one hand may come away from the bars on full lock.

There is also the concern that high or wide handlebars could be an obstacle in a crash. However, again there is no unequivocal information or scientific studies that establish that as fact.

Perhaps there needs to be some flexibility in the laws that account for rider posture to avoid ridiculous handlebar heights and widths that might be a danger to the rider and other road users.

  • What do you think? Show us photos of your ape hangers or wide bars and why you like them. Leave your comments below.


  1. Anything above your heart level will also introduce some fatigue, tingling and numbness in your hands and fingers over long distances. You will often see riders drop their hands to get the blood pumping into their fingers again

    Incorrect , Its that the throttle side is not a hard and solid object , Unlike the left grip that is fixed and rigid . The right one allows more vibration and in turn can cause that numb tingling effect…. Notice its always the right hand that displays this.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with having your arms higher than your heart… That’s just plain myth. Uncanny that s even standard style bars will do the same to a rider.????

  2. An arbitrary measurement of either width or height above the seat is ridiculous, riders are not all the same size. Do car seats move front to rear, are seat back angles adjustable, can you alter the mirror angles to allow drivers of a different size to become comfortable and operate their vehicle safely? Those are the same reasons that handlebar rules should not be so restrictive. Not only does the rider need to be able to make adjustments to achieve comfort, but everyone needs to consider that not everyone likes to drive a car, or ride a motorcycle in the same driving/riding position. Evaluating and setting a legal height above the riders shoulders is reasonable, but a width requirement is unnecessary unless they are exceeding the width allowed for a car, or the rider can not safely move the bars from lock to lock.

  3. Interesting comments, still my 16 inch bars saved my life when I slammed into the dividing wall on the Gold Coast fwy, back in 2011 when my bike wheel locked up..the right ape fell over the wall and I slid along the top of the wall for 40 metres until I stopped..After the crash i recovered the bike and managed to ride it home with bent bars..Lower legal size bars would have had me pressed up between the bike and wall..and who knows what might have happened.

  4. Some of the ape hangers I see are ridiculous. There’s no way they could be comfortable and probably make the bike unstable. But hey, if you want to make yourself a target for the police, don’t complain when they pull you over.

  5. Saw a bike with ape hangers at an intersection set of lights some time ago. Rider had a real problem turning right because he had to let go the throttle to turn the bike with his left hand and the engine at idle..
    Ummmmm, not for me !

  6. At 6’2″ I ride 07 Road King when it had the standard bar’s it was quite uncomfortable almost painful to ride but now it has 17″ ape’s very comfortable now, unfortunately are also very illegal but if it’s an older bike it’s not illegal these law’s that are made by people that have no knowledge or understanding of bike position or comfort have no idea it would be like giving them a car with only 1 seat position

  7. They don’t look “cool” at all; quite frankly I think ape-hangers look ridiculous. As for safety, a yobbo on our road died after the ape-hangers on his Harley-Fergusion penetrated his chest and lungs in a collision with a steer. The fact that he was wearing a beanie style helmet probably didn’t help either – his jaw was nearly twisted off his head. He wasn’t looking very “cool” at that point.

      1. Hey Graeme,I have never heard of a Harley Davidson referred to as a Harley Ferguson before,but what a great comparison,although the Ferguson tractor company might not think so as there product is reliable

  8. Goldilocks might have something to say about this.
    The only time I have ridden a bike with ape hangers was on my dragster as a ten year old it had the full kit banana seat sissy bars and Tbar gear shifter.
    It was surprisingly easy and comfortable to ride just cruising around but if you had to pedal up a steep hill those bars became a nuisance, I ever crashed once because the grip caught in a backpack strap as I was battling up a steep hill.
    My next push bike had standard bars that were mostly straight like a mountain bike that was easier to ride but not so comfortable for cruising.
    My next and final push bike has those curly racing bars and it’s not comfortable at all but it is the fastest. The best one for all round ease of control was the mountain bike and you’ll notice that the bars on ninety percent of the worlds bikes will be very similar to the size shape and positioning of the handle bars found on mountain bikes and dirt bikes. There are only two competing reasons to diverge from this proven shape, speed or comfort! Style is for posers!

    1. AL – Are you a Brother of Graeme? ARE you telling US Riders to adhere to ‘YOUR RULES’? What Concern is it to you what someone else rides does and wears on their motorcycle? I wish people like you would Think about Yourself and your attitude – are you some kind of save the world do gooder – just worry about yourself and forget about everyone else ok … it has nothing to do with you.
      What a bad attitude you have – JUST USE THESE HANDLEBARS – BUGGER THE PAIN IN YOUR BACK – BUGGER YOUR COMFORT – DO AS I SAY – IT IS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD – you really do have an attitude problem don’t you?

        1. Frostbite! Come in from the cold!

          I know Yanks seem to have a god given rights to do anything stupid, but I also thought that you treasure free speech!

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