Introduction: Changing Motorcycle Handlebars - Yes, It's That Ridiculously Simple!

So, you've been sitting in the same position now for the last three hours. Your shoulders and forearms are killing you and your hands are cramping up so badly you have to alternately drop them in your lap to get some sort of feeling back. Not one for seriously deep thought, it takes a minute to understand you're having one of those rare moments of clarity in life. "I'm an idiot" - you suddenly realize - "These @#$%!&* bars are killing me!"

Well, now you're in luck. Changing out your old handlebars is not only a cheap upgrade, but an easy one as well. Despite this, a good chunk of riders seem very apprehensive in changing them out. This Instructable runs through each step and demystifies the process. Follow the bouncing ball and get into a better position on your ride!!!

Step 1: Changing Motorcycle Handlebars - Buy the Right Bars

The first step is to identify the diameter of your current bars and match them with the ones you'd like to replace them with. In my case, this Honda CX500 uses a fairly standard 7/8" bar. This is measured right at the handlebar clamps.

* Be forewarned though, because handlebar companies use different bending processes in the manufacturing of their bars, the diameter of the bar just to the outside of the clamps might be slightly different than the actual clamp diameter. Luckily, there are only a few basic sizes out there, so it's unlikely you'll really get it wrong.

Handlebars are also defined by their rise and sweep, but I'm not going to cover them since they're more a product of personal preference (say that five times fast!).

Step 2: Changing Motorcycle Handlebars - Loosen the Controls

On to the swap!

Remove the grips - this can either go really easily, like this one did (a blast of shop air popped them right off), or they can be a royal pain in the a**. Some grips are simply slipped on and rely on friction, others you find might be wired or glued.

Now, you're ready to start loosening the controls. In this case, a Philips head screwdriver loosens the throttle clamp, while a 10mm socket does the trick on the brake housing.

Just loosen the controls. Don't actually remove any of the bolts!

Step 3: Changing Motorcycle Handlebars - Remove the Bar Clamp(s)

The bolts for removing the bar clamps may take a completely different set of tools than the controls. Some are hex heads, some use allen bolts. Make sure you have the right tools before you start or, if your bike is your only mode of transport, you'll get immensely frustrated walking repeatedly to the hardware store!

Loosen the bolts and remove the clamp, or clamps, if you have a two piece arrangement.

Step 4: Changing Motorcycle Handlebars - Swap Controls Between Bars

This is where cables can get problematic for some people, but there is a simple trick that'll make life a tad bit easier.  After loosening everything and removing the clamps, slide the whole contraption all the way over to one side.

In this case, the bars have been moved all the way over to the right, as far as the cabling on the right side will allow. Now, the left controls can be slid easily off the end. Do the same thing on the other side.

After all the controls have been removed and the old crappy bar thrown the heck out, start redoing the process, only this time in reverse with the new bar!

Step 5: Changing Motorcycle Handlebars - Re-clamp the New Bars and Center 'em

Now that the controls have been loosely installed, it's time to re-center the bars or, in the weeks to come, you'll always find yourself mysteriously turning left :)

Put the bars back into the clamps and put the bolts back in but keep them loose. If you have fairly straight bars you can simply measure from each of the bar ends, inward, to get your bars centered. However, and as I mentioned briefly before, most bars have these pesky things called rise and sweep that can prevent you from getting an accurate side-to-side measurement. A really quick tip is to use either the marks already printed on your replacement bars, the edges of the knurling, or just draw a Sharpie mark dead center on the bars before installing. 

On the Honda, there's one, big clamp that covers the centering marks so you can't see them at all. So, what's a guy to do? Slide the bars over to one side until the edge of your 'mark' lines up with your bar clamp. Make a mark on the opposite side. Then reverse the process. 

Now, you have two marks that are visible, and, most importantly, equidistant (speaking remedially, that means the same distance from the ends). Once you've got these visible marks, it's a fairly easy process to center your bars.

Step 6: Changing Motorcycle Handlebars - Adjusting

WOW! Congrats. You've, for the most part, installed a new set of bars without too much pain and suffering, I hope. Onwards to adjusting and tightening we go....

With the main clamps loose, sit on your bike and push and pull the bars until they feel comfortable. I usually close my eyes and keep my fingers off the controls while I do this. After you get the push/pull thing done, go ahead and tighten the clamps fully.

Next, pop on your throttle-side grip. This is the step where you add the grip glue, hairspray, safety wire, or barbed wire, depending on how psychotic your therapist thinks you are.

Measure the distance from the bar end to the outside edge of your controls, then go ahead and walk around to the other side and make sure the opposite controls are equidistant (HEY! There's that word again!). Now that every things even, its time to slide on the second grip.

Step 7: Changing Motorcycle Handlebars - Adjusting 2.0

Great...your bars are installed and tight, the controls and grips are in what? It's time to make some finishing adjustments and you're done...that's what!

Looking straight down from your riding position, you'll more than likely see that one brake lever is slightly off from the other one. Since the controls are loose (they are still loose, aren't they?), rotate them up and down until you get a comfortable hand position on the levers. Keep in mind, some brake reservoirs need to be kept level with the ground and might dictate the height of your lever positioning.

Step 8: Changing Motorcycle Handlebars - Adjusting 2.1

Ok, wait dude, you said I was almost done. Sorry, one last thing. I noticed that the throttle cables are still twisted in their old positions and need to be rotated into a smoother alignment. This will vary depending on the bars they came off, but there's a good chance you'll have to do this one too, so it's worth mentioning.

Loosen up the lock nuts on each cable housing and rotate them into their new positions. Re-tighten the nuts and you're good to go!

* If you are switching between extremes, like ditching the ape-hangers and running drag bars, you'll probably need to entirely redo the cabling and hydraulic hoses as well. Now's as good a time as any to go buy some new cables and hoses and do the job right!

Step 9: Changing Motorcycle Handlebars - Done!!!!

Yeah, that's pretty much it. Now stand back a couple of paces and admire your work. Marvel at the manly grime under your fingernails. Bask in the awesomeness that is your handiwork! Better yet, do this right before a group ride so you can boast to your friends about the various trials and tribulations, not to mention bloody knuckle gashes, that you acquired in the process. 

Congratulations my are now cool.

James Irmiger
Lead DC - Facilities Manager
TechShop SOMA