Bullhorns vs. Risers (Pro & Cons Compared)

This post compares the advantages of bullhorn handlebars and riser bars.

Bullhorn handlebars

The name of bullhorn bars comes from their shape resembling the horns of a charging bull.

Bullhorn bars consist of three sections – flat, semi-drops/sides, and horns.

Riser Handlebars

Riser handlebars are fundamentally flat bars with an elevation achieved via an upward curve in the middle. Hence the name “risers” (they raise the rider’s hands).

The rise could be subtle (low rise) or more aggressive (high rise) depending on the riding style and the cyclist’s preferences.

Basic and Cheap Riser Bars

Number of Hand Placements

Bullhorn handlebars offer 3 “official” hand positions:

  • Tops
  • Semi-drops
  • Horns

Meanwhile, risers have one official hand position – the grips at the ends. It’s also possible to place your hands on the curvature, but that is a viable option only when cycling slowly in a low-stress environment.

Otherwise, you risk losing balance because you have very little leverage when your hands are in the middle. Sometimes I ride with that hand placement when there’s no traffic around and I need a break.

This position makes the back angle even more vertical as it artificially lengthens your arms.

Winner: Bullhorn Handlebars

The additional hand placements of bullhorn handlebars make them more versatile and suitable for longer rides when your joints are more likely to experience continuous stress from using the same hand position for hours.

Tip: You can increase the number of hand positions on riser bars by installing bar ends. Note, however, that most people consider bar-ends on risers “ugly” if that matters to you. Bar-ends are usually seen on completely flat handlebars.

Aerodynamics

Bullhorn handlebars are more aerodynamic thanks to the semi-drops and the horns. When the rider wants to get low (a more horizontal back angle), he can just grab the semi-drops or the horns and lean forward without losing control.

Meanwhile, riser handlebars hurt the aerodynamic properties of the bike massively because they elevate the torso and create a more vertical back angle.

The rider’s torso creates more drag and thus makes it harder to maintain a higher average speed.

Risers result in a more vertical back angle

That said, some more experienced riders still lean forward while holding the ends of the riser bars. And while this position is somewhat viable, it doesn’t offer as much leverage and control as the horns and semi-drop of bullhorn handlebars.

It’s also worth mentioning that the aero properties of bullhorn handlebars can be enhanced by pointing the bars slightly down or using a negative stem.

Winner: Bullhorn Handlebars

Weight Comparison

Short risers, the type that you see on fixies, are expected to weigh less than bullhorns when all parameters (materials, quality…etc.) are equal.

That said, the final weight of the risers depends on their length which is custom. Most people do not buy “dedicated fixie risers”.

Instead, they purchase MTB risers and cut them to length with a pipe cutter (recommended for clean cuts) or a hack saw (cheaper, available – works better with a guide).

Nonetheless, I wanted to create a table comparing the weight of bullhorns and risers. You can find it below (the weight of the risers is in “uncut format”).

BullhornsWeight In GramsWeight In OuncesRiser BarsWeight In GramsWeight In Ounces
Cinelli Bullhorn Handlebar290g10.23 ozTruvativ Hussefelt 40390g13.76oz
Cinelli Lola285g10.05 ozOneUp Components225g7.94oz
Profile Design Wing 20C UD200g7.05 ozEvelnine Race267g9.42oz
Nitto RB-021AA 276g9.74 ozRenthal Fatbar Lite 270g9.52oz
PureFix Bullhorns317g11.19 ozSixpack Racing Millenium228g8.04oz
WABI Bullhorns260g9.17 oz SQLAB 3OX335g11.82oz
BLB Bullhorns220g0.78 ozNEWMEN Advanced235g8.29oz
Rodeo Pursuit Handlebar255g9.01 oz BEAST Components IR 35220g7.76oz
Origin 8 Pursuit Bars320g11.29 ozPRO LT Low Rise346g12.20oz
Soma Urban260g9.17 ozTruvativ Atmos 7k250g8.82oz
Average:268.3g9.46 ozAverage:275.6g9.72oz
Weight Comparison

Conclusion: The average weight of bullhorn handlebars is 2.72% lighter. However, once the riser bars are cut, they will lose a few grams, and the average weights will get even closer.

Ultimately, however, the difference is negligible and matters only if your goal is to build the lightest possible bicycle.

Winner: Tie

Braking

Bullhorns allow three brake setups depending on the location of the brakes:

Levers on the Horns (or near them)

This is the classic method as it gives you access to the brakes in the aerodynamic position. I run this setup on my homemade bullhorn bars.

You can get dedicated bullhorn levers or use hooded brakes from drop bars.

I positioned my levers in reverse for three reasons:

  • This position gives the brake lever a complete amplitude. If I run it regularly, it may bottom out against the bars.
  • The strongest and longest fingers (index and middle finger) have better leverage over the brake lever. Consequently, braking is easier and takes less effort.
  • I like the look, although that’s subjective.

Levers On the Flat Portion

Another common setup is to place a set of small brake levers on tops/flats. The advantage of this method is its “discreteness” and lighter weight. The downside, however, is that you don’t have access to the brakes when riding in aggressive positions.

2 Sets of Levers

Another option is to use 2 sets of levers – one on the horns and another on the flats. This way you get the best of both worlds but add weight and clutter to your cockpit.


As far as riser bars are concerned, there is only one option for the brake lever position – near the end of the handlebars.

Winner: Tie (from the perspective of comfort)

Visibility of the Rider

Riser handlebars result in a more vertical riding position and thus make the rider more visible in traffic. Bullhorns do the opposite, especially when combined with a slammed stem.

Winner: Risers

Climbing

When it comes to climbing, bullhorns are simply destroyers. The horns give the rider a ton of leverage when riding outside of the saddle and make it easier to conquer hills at high speeds.

If the rider is seated, the length of the horns will allow him to position more weight on the front wheel and thus free the rear end – this is beneficial for climbing.

Risers could provide a lot of leverage too, especially when they’re kept long, but they can’t match the effectiveness of bullhorns (unless bar-ends are installed).

Winner: Bullhorns

Descending

Bullhorns are more effective on descents because the rider can get in an aero position and reach a higher average speed without pedaling.

Risers are simply not designed for aggressive road style descending.

Winner: Bullhorns

Sprinting

If kept long, risers are pretty decent for sprinting. If they’re cut tremendously (to fit through tight spots), a lot of leverage will be lost, and the rider will have a harder time generating short bursts of power.

Conversely, bullhorns are always great at sprinting thanks to the horns.

Winner: Close, but still bullhorns

Skidding

Skidding is way easier with bullhorn handlebars because the rider can shift his/her weight to the front. As a result, it becomes easier to lock the rear wheel via the pedals since there’s less weight on it.

Since bullhorns and pursuit bars protrude the most out of all bars (drops, pista bars…etc), some people even recommend them to riders who have trouble learning how to skid.

Of course, skidding can be done with riser bars too, but in the beginning, it will be harder because it’s not possible to shift your weight to the front as much.

Winner: Bullhorns

Tricks

Apart from skidding, riser bars are superior for every popular trick such as wheelies, bunny hops, manuals…etc. Some tricks like bar spins are not even possible with bullhorn handlebars.

If you are into freestyle riding, nothing beats riser bars.

Winner: Riser Bars

Clearance

The width of bullhorn handlebars is between 400 and 420mm. Meanwhile, riser bars vary from wide to ultra-wide because it’s up to the user to cut them to length.

In the past, fixie riders would cut their riser or flat bars ridiculously short (e.g., 350mm) to have an easier time passing between cars.

This practice, however, is long gone because short flat or riser bars lose their leverage and make it harder to climb and turn aggressively.

Today, most people keep their riser bars much longer – 500mm or more.

Winner: Bullhorns

Front Rack Compatability

You can install a front rack on both handlebars. I am running one on my bullhorns. However, riser bars are better for front racks because there are no horns to limit the size of your cargo.

If you’re serious about carrying odd objects on your front rack, risers are a clear winner.

Winner: Risers

Availability

Riser bars are much more popular than bullhorns. Many small bike shops do not even sell bullhorns. If you want maximum availability and options, riser bars win.

Winner: Risers

Table Summary

ParametersBullhornsRisers
Hand PlacementsWinnerLoser
AerodynamicsWinnerLoser
WeightTieTie
BrakingTieTie
Visibility of the RiderLoserWinner
ClimbingWinnerLoser
DescendingWinnerLoser
SprintingWinnerLoser
Front Rack CompatibilityLoserWinner
AvailabilityLoserWinner
5 wins3 wins
Table Summary

What to choose?

If you want maximum speed and climbing efficiency, then bullhorns are a clear winner. They are also better for skidding.

If you plan on using a front rack with massive objects, you kinda have no choice and have to go with risers.

If you want to do freestyle tricks, risers are your friend.

Don’t overthink, though. You can always change your handlebars in the future. They are much easier to replace in comparison to the frame, for example.

Good luck. Thank you for visiting my website.

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