Can You Put BMX Handlebars On a Mountain Bike?

Condensed answer: It’s possible to install BMX handlebars on an MTB, but the new bars will hurt the bike’s original geometry, and the quality of riding will deteriorate.

What’s Special About BMX Handlebars?

The distinctive qualities of BMX handlebars are:

  • Height

Most BMX bars come with a 8″-8.75″ (20-22cm) rise. The elevation compensates for the small frame and keeps the rider in an aggressive position which facilitates the performance of tricks such as bunny hops.

  • Strength

BMX handlebars are subject to a lot of abuse. To avoid failures, manufactures rely on reinforced materials (4130 steel) and stable architecture.

The Downside Of Putting BMX Handlebars On an MTB

1. Modified Geometry

When installed on a mountain bike, BMX bars reach unhealthy heights.

The result is a one dimensional change in geometry that isn’t reflected by the rest of the bike.

The aftermath of this modification includes:

  • Unnaturally Upright Riding Position

When pedaling in the saddle, the rider has no choice but to have a very vertical back. The position isn’t aerodynamic and stresses the sit bones unless you have a saddle designed for city riding

Climbing uphill in such a stance is notably more difficult due to the extra drag and the center of gravity shift towards the rear wheel.

  • Handlebars Dangerously Close to The Chest

The taller the bars, the closer they’re to the cyclist’s chest. During jumps and landings, the bars may come in contact with your chest area. The outcome could include a painful injury.

  • Uncomfortable Out of The Saddle Riding

When the geometry of the bike is unhindered, the rider is pulling the handlebars up when riding out of the saddle.

But when the bars are very high, you can’t pull them up because you are too far below them. The only option is to pull them back.

This type of pull doesn’t boost the rider’s pedaling output as much because it’s “horizontal” rather than vertical. The outcome is a loss of efficiency and weird handling.

Another downside of super tall handlebars is the shortened hip extension.

Super high bars force the rider to stand upright with the hips close to fully extended. As a consequence, the pedaling motion transforms into a “step-up” exercise.

This riding pattern results in lower force production due to the reduced contribution of the glutes.

2. Extra weight

Below is a table comparing the weight of popular MTB and BMX bars.

The BMX bars in the table are designed for freestyle riding.

BMX BarsWeightMTB BarsWeight
Fiend Reynolds Bars774gProcraft Sport II Riser330g
Odyssey Lumberjack XXL789gTruvativ Stylo T20390g
Cult Crew Bars816gRitchey Trail 2X 31.8 Flat276g
BSD GRIME754gRace Face Ride XC 19288g
United Supreme Bars1079gTruvativ Hussefelt 40 mm 390g
BSD SAFARI Oversized771gPRO FRS 345g
MUTINY COMB848gFSA Comet 313g
Demolition Paradise941gRenthal FatbarĀ® 35315g
SALT PRO903gSpank Spike 777 FR 350g
Animal 4AM771gSQlab 311 MTB 27.0320g
Average:844.6gAverage:331.7g

Conclusion: Freestyle BMX handlebars are significantly heavier than MTB bars. On average, the BMX bars in the table above are 154% heavier than the MTB models.

The next table contains the weight of BMX bars used for racing:

Racing BMX BarsWeight
Box One Alloy Triple Taper465g
JET BMX Expert Race Bars500g
S&M Race XLT Bars725g
Box One Chromo685g
S&M 5.75″ Cruiser Slam861g
S&M Race Bars730g
ELEVN 22.2 SLT FLAT719g
Avian Alloy 4.5″311g
Answer PRO Cr-mo632g
Tangent 31.8 Flatiron 62805g
Average:643.3g

Conclusion: BMX race bars require less material (lower rise) and are often made of aluminum. Consequently, they’re notably lighter than freestyle models. However, even race bars are heavier than average MTB bars.

Reducing The Negative Effects

The only way to mitigate the negative side effects of BMX handlebars on an MTB is to stick with “low rise” bars.

Those are smaller BMX handlebars with an elevation between 3 and 5 inches.

Similar models are more common among the dirt jump crowd. For better or worse, they’re a bit hard to find.

Note: You could also consider race BMX bars. Many models come with a 3-5″ inch rise.

How to Install BMX Handlebars On an MTB

Most BMX handlebars have a 22.2mm diameter at the clamp area.

Meanwhile, the majority of MTB stems are designed for 31.8mm bars. (MTB bars are made of aluminum. To increase the strength of the bars, they are thickened near the clamp area.)

In consequence, there are three main ways to make an MTB compatible with BMX handlebars:

1. Search for BMX bars with a 31.8mm diameter at the clamp and keep your existing stem.

2. Replace the stem with an MTB one designed for 22.2mm bars or switch to a BMX stem.

Note: If you replace your stem with a BMX one, you will need extra spacers because BMX stems tend to be thinner than MTB ones.

3. Use your existing 31.8mm stem and put a shim around the bars (not recommended for stability issues).

Once you have the needed stem and bars, the procedure is fairly straightforward:

  • Remove the shifters and brake levers from the old bars.
  • Remove the old bars by unscrewing the faceplate bolts of the stem via a 5 or 6mm Allen key.
  • If you aren’t going to replace the stem, you can mount the new bars and retighten the faceplate bolts to the required settings.

If you have to replace the stem, you will have to remove it by unscrewing the stem bolts as well as the star nut bolt.

Then, you have to mount the new stem on the fork’s steerer tube while being extra careful not to “unpack” the headset.

Make sure that the stem is straight in relation to the front wheel, retighten its bolts and then install the handlebars.

What Are The Benefits Of Installing BMX Bars On an MTB?

1. Higher reach

The biggest advantage of BMX handlebars is that they have a tremendous rise and thus put the rider in a more upright position which reduces the stress on the wrists and elbows.

However, when you account for the negative impact that BMX bars have on an MTB’s geometry, it becomes apparent that such handlebars could be appropriate only if the bicycle is used for “calm commuting” without hilly terrain.

That said, you could also buy “comfort handlebars” with a large rise. They will work just fine while also being cheaper and lighter.

That said, you could also buy “comfort handlebars” with a large rise. They will work just fine while also being cheaper and lighter.

2. Aesthetics

Truth be told, a lot of people like the look of BMX bars and install them on their bikes for aesthetic rather than functional goals.

3. Extra Room For Accessories

The extra tubing in the middle of BMX bars provides an option for installing additional accessories.

Note: Since BMX bars are fairly thin in diameter, you may need shims to mount certain items.

FAQ: Will I have problems installing MTB grips, levers and shifters on BMX bars?

MTB bars have a 22.2mm diameter around the grip area and so do BMX handlebars. Unless you have unorthodox BMX handlebars, your MTB grips, levers and shifters should fit on a BMX bar.

That said, you may be unable to install the same bar plugs because the inner diameter of the bars could vary.

Some MTB bars are thickened and have a small inner diameter which requires thinner bar plugs that may fall right off when slid into a BMX bar.

If the MTB bars aren’t thickened, the diameter of the plugs may be too big for them to fit into BMX bars.

Higher Reach Without BMX Bars

As you can see, BMX bars are pretty harmful to an MTB that’s going to be used as intended.

The healthier ways to elevate the bars is:

1. Install MTB specific bars with a higher rise. (There are MTB bars with 2 inches or higher rise.)

2. Switch to a stem with a greater elevation.

3. Combine option 1 and 2

FAQ: Are BMX handlebars stronger than MTB models?

Technically, yes. A quality BMX bar is made of heat treaded Chromoly steel and can take a lot of abuse. It’s also resistant to direct hits.

In different, most MTB bar are made of aluminum alloy, usually 6061. While aluminum can be very strong and made close to unbreakable, it’s not as resilient when it comes to impact because it’s a softer and less flexible material.

For that reason, BMX freestyle bars continue to come in steel whereas the race bars are often made of aluminum to save weight.

Ultimately, however, MTB bars are plenty strong for the needs of most people as shown by freeriders.

If you are particularly worried about the strength of your MTB bars, you can buy reinforced downhill bars. Breaking them would be very difficult.

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