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Review: the BBB Multibar handlebar for bicycle touring

Alia Parker's picture
The BBB Multibar handlebar. Product review. Cycle Traveller

I'll come straight out with it – they look like Micky Mouse ears. I don't think I'll ever get used to the awkward aesthetics, especially paired with the elegance of a hand-made Geoff Scott Clamont touring frame. But once the panniers are loaded, they start to look more at home. The BBB Multibar handlebar is specifically designed for bicycle trekking, and at the end of the day, I need a handlebar that is going to do the job.

I used the BBB Multibar on my recent ride – 11,300km up through the centre of Australia and then down the entire Great Dividing Range – on which I needed good control and comfort on all types of road surfaces, predominantly sealed, a good deal of gravel and in some sections, rough rocky surfaces and sand.

Review of the BBB Multibar handlebar. Cycle Traveller

Handlebar options

There are three common handlebar types used for cycle touring. The most common is the traditional drop bar, which offers a number of hand positions and the ability to get down low. Second is the flat bar, which is great for off-road control but limited in hand position options (although this can be improved by adding bar ends). And third would be the Multibar, also known as the butterfly bar or trekking bar. A fourth option, which is becoming quite popular with bikepackers, is Salsa's Wood Chipper, a shallow drop bar with drops that angle outward, providing not only an ergonomic hand position, but also a wider grip for off-road performance; pretty cool.

Why did I choose the Multibar?

The key thing I was looking for in a handlebar for touring was comfort, and for me that meant plenty of hand positions. I also needed something that was compatible with hydraulic disc brake levers. The development of drop-bar levers that are compatible with hydraulics is only a new thing and it is understandably focused on the road racing market, so we're talking 11-speed and electronic shifting. I was running a 10-speed XT for this ride, so drop bars and Wood Chippers were out of the question.

However, not having drops was not a bad thing – the Multibar allows for a more upright riding position, similar to a flat bar, meaning improved comfort over many hours.
I wasn't keen to get a flat bar as I once lost the feeling in two of my fingers for six weeks due to handlebar palsy from mountain bike touring for four months with a flat bar – this was primarily as a result of not having enough hand positions. So a Multibar it was.

The set up

BBB Multibar top view set up. Cycle Traveller

I mounted my Multibar on a 110mm stem. That's 30mm longer than what I would have used in a drop bar fit. The reason I chose a longer stem is that the flat section of the Multibar – the part where it is possible to mount the brakes – curves back toward the rider, coming in closer that what a flat bar or drop bar would. So the longer stem was to avoid sitting too upright like on a town bike. Even so, it was still a little more upright than I like.
I angled the Multibar a few degrees upwards to make the reach to the side and front sections comfortable.

To add more comfort, I wrapped it in double bar tape, which felt really nice and easy on the hands. BBB makes a foam grip that fits the Multibar, but I haven't used this to judge whether I like it or not.

What I liked

So after 11,300km, was I happy with my choice?

Predominantly, yes – I certainly made use of all the available hand positions, and most importantly, I didn't suffer a recurrence of handlebar palsy or neck pain. Being able to move my hands around also affected my overall comfort on the bike as riding more forward or back on the bar would change up the angle of my body – so it was nice to be able to move around a little on long days.

The most comfortable position to ride in for me by far was with my hands up the side of the bar (I didn't feel so upright and the outward rotation of the arms and wrists felt nice) and it was also a great position to be in when getting up out of the saddle to charge up a hill as it was ideal for pulling the heavy load around. The bar is 57cm wide, which helped with control on dirt roads as I could get a nice wide grip.

I used the top curve of the bar the least, but valued it on very steep climbs when it was the natural place to grab and pull back on.

What I didn't like

Ride position on the side bars. BBB multibar. Cycle Traveller

There were a few little things that weren't ideal, but not to the extent that they completely outweighed the positives.

The gears and brake levers are mounted on the lower straight section of the bar. When cruising along with my hands at the side, I wasn't bothered in the slightest about having to move my hands to change gears or brake. However, on steep descents – when I would need to keep my hands over the brakes – the ride would feel a little awkward as my hands were kind of tucked up under my chest and close together. I got used to it eventually, but it's not the ideal downhill position.

I also found my hands got a little uncomfortable when riding on the straight section, which is significant given that's where the gears and brakes are. As you will notice, this section is dead straight, which is not at all ergonomic and results in the wrists unnaturally twisting sideways a little to grip the bar.

If I had to suggest one way in which the ergonomics of the Multibar could be improved, it would be to have this straight section of the bar angle ever so slightly toward the rider, reducing the twist in the wrist. This is particularly important as the gear and brake levers are mounted closer together that what they normally would be on a flat bar.

The other suggestion would be to produce the bar in different sizes as it is currently only available in one. For me, the 57cm width was a little wider than I would normally need and while I mentioned the extra width was nice on the dirt, I would have easily given up an inch in most other circumstances.

Bottom line

The trekking handlebar, butterfly bar. Cycle TravellerOverall, the Multibar is a good option for bicycle touring. It is particularly well suited to those who like a comfortable and more upright riding position with plenty of places to move your hands around the bar. It is well suited to active rides on and off-road, and is easy to grip and control a bike fully loaded with front and rear panniers.

At the same time, I wouldn't describe it as the perfect handlebar either. For many, the ride may feel too upright (and there were plenty of times I would have appreciated a drop) and it's not the most comfortable on descents.

Would I use it again? Yes, it did the job well. However, for my personal style of riding, I would ideally lean toward the Salsa Wood Chippers if component makers were to start to manufacture an STI lever that was compatible with hydraulic disc brakes and 10-speed gearing (although, I doubt there's enough demand for that). Of course, I could always go back to mechanical disc brakes, and that would open the way to using drop bars. We shall see.

Specs

  • 6061 T6 aluminum.
  • Width: 57 cm.
  • Bar centre diameter: 25.4 mm or 31.8 mm
  • Colors: matt black, polished silver (25.4 mm diameter only)

Comments

I've had my BBB butterflies for just over a year now and have done around 5000ks as a commuter and love them. I find that these allow me to have my hands in completely different locations, rather than the traditional symmetry.

I have Humpert horn bars. These have a split section that allows the brakes to be mounted in a more traditional mtb position while still having many hand positions like a butterfly bar. Very good downhill control as well

Alia Parker's picture

Yes, I've seen these and they also have a more ergonomic angle to them. Will have to get some so I can review them for next time. They look like a great choice.

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