Lane filtering riders would hit fewer car mirrors if handlebar height rules were relaxed, says Gold Coast handlebar manufacturer Burleigh Bars Australia.
They have started an online Change.org petition to have the rules changed to allow higher bars for a number of reasons including safety, control and health reasons.
Burleigh Bars spokesman Zane Waldon says the Australian Design Rules increased the maximum handlebar width from 900mm to 1100mm in December 2015, but not the height.
“For some reason they have changed the width but are reluctant to change the height ruling,” he says.
“We think these laws are unsafe, while we are allowed to lane split the legal height puts us in line with most family car mirrors.
“In our eyes these laws are unjust and aimed at the cruiser community in a blatant witchhunt for outlaws.”
Zane says they have seen an increase in riders replacing high bars due to fines and a drop in sales of their high bars due to the crackdown.
“Queensland and NSW seem to have been hit the worst at this stage with police harassing riders in the name of safety.”
Gold Coast rider Nick Lawrenson says he was pulled over on his Harley-Davidson Street 500 about three months ago. He was breath-tested, had his licence checked and his bike inspected by police.
“The guy told me he was part of some Task Force and told me my bike was getting defected because of my illegal bars,” Nick says.
“So they busted out a tape measure and I was a little over one centimetre from legal height. I was written up fined and defected.
“They allowed me to ride home, but in a nutshell, they tried to catch me on everything and anything.
“I wasn’t wearing anything that supported or showed anything to any club whatsoever.
“It was pure harassment.”
Height rules and regs
According to the current Australian Design Rules, Motor Vehicles Standards Act 1989 and the National Code of Practice for Vehicle Construction, it is illegal to modify motorcycle handlebar height to any greater than 380mm from the lowest part of the handlebar grip to the lowest point of the seat.
“This effectively outlaws any set of bars taller than eight inches,” Zane says.
“The Government’s refusal to respond to the demands of the people potentially leaves thousands of Australian riders to pay unnecessary fines and worse still with void insurance policies over their bikes,” the petition says.
The states have a variety of rules and regulations that are not updated or simply confusing to riders, says longtime motorcycle campaigner Wayne Carruthers.
USA handlebar laws
While there are some crazy handlebars on bikes in the USA, it is not open slather.
Currently, 30 American states have various handlebar restrictions and as you ride across some state borders there are signs warning that handlebars have to be below a certain height or no higher than the rider’s shoulders.
Many of these states are repealing restrictions under motorcycle club pressure while 18 states impose no limits.
In New Zealand the only stipulation is that a bike has “safe steering.”.
There is no empirical evidence we can find to suggest that wider and taller bars lead to higher crash rates, with anecdotal studies suggesting quite the opposite.
More realistically, handlebar measurements should have some relationship to the size of the rider, rather than some arbitrary measurements.
However, Zane says they are hoping to have the laws changed to similar standards that the pre 88-bikes must meet where the measurement is taken from the point of attachment.
“We would like to see the measurement increased to 460mm from mounting point allowing for 18 inch bars to be legal, but would be happy do compromise with 410mm allowing for 16s,” he says.
Ape hanger origins
High-set ape hanger bars were banned in 30 American states in the 1960s. The American was 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.