Saturday, February 2, 2013

Re-Trying the Moustache Handlebar

A Homer Hillsen
Iconic of the Bridgestone XO era and later championed by Rivendell, the Moustache handlebar is perhaps more popular today than ever. The dramatic forward sweep, the sideways-mounted road levers and the bar-end shifters make for a visually distinct and intriguing presence. The design is easiest to understand if you think of it as a flattened out drop bar, with the brake levers installed on what would have been the hooks. Grant Petersen designed the Moustache in the early 1990s specifically for the Bridgestone XO bicycles, as a kind of a hybrid between upright and drop bars. Today several manufacturers produce their own versions (including Soma and Origin8), though likely the Nitto/ Rivendell model remains closest to the original.

A Homer Hillsen
I first tried Moustache handlebars three years ago, and I remember being surprised by the leaned-forward position they put me in. Unlike the handlebars you see on city bikes, the Moustache is swept forward, rather than swept back - putting the rider's hands way out there, forward of the stem. Depending on stem length and handlebar height, this can be quite an aggressive lean. Recently I tried the bars again: I've been getting questions about them from readers and wanted to refresh my memory.

Riding with Moustache bars again was fun; my riding style has changed so much since the last time. These bars are unique and remind me of no other handlebars I've ever tried, so it's hard to find a point of reference. The forward sweep is vaguely North-Roadish, with two notable exception: All the hand positions are forward of the stem, and the brake levers are in the forwardmost points of the sweep, rather than in what we are accustomed to thinking of as the gripping areas.

A Homer Hillsen
The shape of the handlebars feels pretty good, and I have no trouble squeezing the levers from their location (here is an illustrated guide to the hand positions). However, I find the setup counterintuitive. Squeezing the brake levers puts me in a forward-leaning position, whereas using the bar-end shifters puts me in a leaned-back position: the exact opposite of what I am used to. After all, when I squeeze the brake levers I am trying to reduce speed - and the aggressive posture counteracts that - especially when coming to a complete stop. It was interesting to experience the discrepancy between what my body wanted to do when stopping and what the bars wanted me to do. On my own bikes, I prefer for the brake levers to be in a location that allows my posture to be more relaxed. 

A Homer Hillsen
A friend who rides with Moustache bars explains them as a variant of riding with vintage, non-aero drop bars (where you brake mainly from the hooks). He believes those who are used to that will find braking with the Moustache intuitive, whereas the likes of me who mostly brake from the hoods of modern drop bars - or from the edgemost gripping areas of swept-back handlebars - may have trouble with the setup. He could be right. Either way, it's a handsome handlebar that I enjoy seeing on others' bikes. 

54 comments:

  1. Squeezing the brakes puts me in a forward-leaning position, whereas using the bar-end shifters puts me in a leaned-back position: the exact opposite of what I am used to. After all, when I squeeze the brakes I am trying to reduce speed - and the aggressive posture counteracts that - especially when coming to a complete stop. It was interesting to experience the discrepancy between what my body wanted to do when stopping and what the bars wanted me to do. But on my own bikes, I prefer for the brakes to be in a location that allows my posture to be more relaxed."

    Your logic is mixed up here.

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    1. Major downside - palms/meat of hands can not brace well in braking.

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    2. I agree the logic is backwards. It is in the "aggressive position" where you want access to braking. Off road riding and descents would be hairy if the moustache had brakes mounted in the aft position similar to a north road bar.

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  2. I've got moustache on my Bomba...
    (http://www.flickr.com/photos/leslie_bright/7501897362/in/photostream/lightbox/)

    I'd intended to find some dirt-drop bars, but thought I'd at least give these a try first, then swap them out for dirt-drops later. But I've ended up sticking w/ these thus far.

    I find I often ride with my hands back holding the section ahead of the barcons, akin to an Albatross bar; but keep an eye out and glide my hands forward to the levers if it looks like it would be needed.

    They work well for trail riding, too. Descents feel stable with them.

    I can understand why someone might not like them; definitely not one to 'push' onto someone. But they're worth a try.

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  3. Interesting. I didn't know these were popular. Though I've seen many photos, I've never witnessed anyone actually riding this set-up.

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  4. I don't usually use mustache bars (I like to have a pop-up position for stoplights and the like) but I've found that they're perfect for reverse brake levers and mtb-style indexed shifters up by the curves. Then I lean forward when being shifty, but sit up and act like a sail when braking.

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  5. I outfitted my new-to-me commuter, a refurbished 1991 Bridgestone MB3, with moustache bars, sort of a poor man's X0-1. I like the bars very well, although I haven't ridden more than 15 miles at a stretch so far. The bike is outfitted with Ritchey Tom Slicks, so it's quite zippy on the pavement, and I like the leaned-forward riding position. Several people have commented that the bars, twined and wrapped in shellacked cloth tape, look "weird." I embrace being the eccentric guy with the weird handlebars.

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  6. Those are very cool looking. I suspect that people who have ridden off road a lot would have no issue with them. Stopping fast on a mtn bike off road, especially on a descent, can involve a weight shift back and a reach forward which appears to mimic the braking stance you describe (only more so). It might be fun to get a set up like that sometime just to try it on a single speed bike (although I would be more likely to use TT leavers stuffed in the end of the bars where you have the shifters.) I have seen TT brake levers with bullhorn bars on single speed bikes, and they look rocking. This bar on a fast single speed with some nice carbon sram levers would be pretty sweet looking I think: http://www.cinelli.it/site/index.php/prodotti?page=shop.product_details&flypage=accessoriflypage.tpl&product_id=120&category_id=2&sub=10

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    1. Interesting. That makes sense. Locally, I don't think I have ever seen M-bars off road; I see them mostly on city bikes.

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  7. Mustache Handlebars?! GOOD LORD, HAVE WE SUNK SO FAR!!!

    When I was a boy(!), this was a NOBLE sport and handlebars were less handle and more bar. Indeed it was a cherished rite of the new riding season each April 1st to wheel one's machine to the local SMITHY for a new "Grapple" (as it was known), before venturing forth into THE VERY TEETH of the refreshing SPRING GALE. That's right! A full yard of solid WROUGHT IRON(!!!), arrow strait upon which fellows of GRIT braced their mighty efforts!!!

    INCONCEIVABLE now, but in that BRAVE bygone epoch one simply drew(by MAIN strength and UNYIELDING force) the instrument, ON THE FLY(!!!), to whatever shape best accommodated the task at hand!! Many's the hearty lad I recall climbing some lofty spire, forearms like GREAT STRAINING HAWSERS, eyes bulging from a sweat-streaked CRIMSON visage as the groaning handlebar quivered and yielded to the grip of it's determined MASTER!!! Why the PATHETIC POSING PERAMBULATORS of today scurry to the local cycle factors at the merest HINT of a deformed bar for a REPLACEMENT rather than HEAVE the wayward fitting back into whatever faddish twist is the style of the moment!!!.! It strains CREDULITY!!! One is forced to ask,"What does the Wheelman of today do", for example, when a saddle adjustment is required when he is a league or two from his kit and finds himself unarmed with the appropriate spanner? Does he mooch a lift on a passing trolley or does he strike his leathern perch with his VERY FIST until it attains the desired altitude!!!?? I wonder...

    Imagine(If you CAN) the advantage bestowed upon he, OR SHE(INDEED, in this land there were once woolen clad TIGRESS' loose on 2 wheels!(NO MORE I FEAR)), who could with the flick of the wrist, tame 36 inches of 7/8" COLD ROLLED AMERICAN STEEL!!! You desire a wide grip to allow great gulps of LIFE GIVING oxygen(of which the article of my day was DEMONSTRABLY denser and more fortified with healthful coal spirits and stimulating nicotine than the vapid vapor of our degenerate day)? merely spread your tiller as broad as you desire! Feel the urge to draw ones hands behind ones knees for an efficient STREAMLINED TUCK? Gracefully sweep your hands to the desired position and the DEED is done! However,I suspect the MAN(pardon, PERSON) under 65 years of age capable of this once common feat DOES NOT EXIST!!!!!

    Why the VERY NAMES of today's versions are tantamount to admissions of INFERIORITY! MUSTACHE(!) SHORT and SHALLOW, and perhaps the most DAMNING, the NOODLE(?!). The man that CANNOT bend THAT to his will DISGRACES the uniform and should turn in his Plus Fours and Club Tie.

    While no man could say that I resist progress or am in any way less than up to the hour, I find myself asking, WHY?!!! WHY abandon the well tested icons of our Fathers and Grandfathers(Great-Grandfathers and Great-Great-Grandfathers even) for the novelty of the latest space-age wonder materials. Are we really certain of Aluminiums long term viability?

    Spindizzy

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    1. I think that the "moustache" handlebar, or at least something very similar, is actually as old as our grandfathers. I recall seing it on old French bikes. Really old, that is.

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    2. The style is the Porteur bar and yes the Rivendell version is not original. Petersen merely exaggerated the sweep.

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  8. "...a variant of riding with vintage, non-aero drop bars (where you can only brake from the hooks and not from the hoods)."

    I don't get this little bit of cycling folklore. I brake from the hood position of non-aero brake levers all the time. The lever doesn't know what position your hand is in. Do people find that the levers are too hard to squeeze from that angle? And that would be caused by a different cable pull because the cable runs outside vs. under the bar tape? Is there a physics professor in the house who can kindly explain why this feat is so difficult for so many?

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    1. I changed the phrasing, because you are right, it is possible. But... in all the times I have ridden with those who use non-aero brake levers, I have hardly seen it done. Those guys as a matter of habit do tend to brake from the hooks, and to generally keep their hands there much of the time. When not there, than on the tops - not in the modern hood position. That's been my observation at least.

      Speaking for myself, I cannot brake at all from the hoods with non-aero levers. Can't tell you why not, it just doesn't work.

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    2. Traditional brake levers have less leverage than modern aero levers, because the pivot point is located in a different spot. (The traditional lever pulls the cable downward, the modern one forward.)

      With most traditional brakes, to brake hard, you need the extra leverage from squeezing levers and bars together - which can be done only from the drops/hooks. Some very well-designed traditional brakes, like the Mafac Raid centerpulls, allow easy braking from the hoods as well. It's all a question of matching mechanical advantages of levers and brake calipers.

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    3. Available leverage also depends on hand size. Going back to 70s or earlier brake lever reach was a huge factor keeping women off road bikes. Personally I've never met a brake lever that precluded me from using all the potential a caliper had, from any position. And I've spent a lot of time swapping levers, positioning levers, retaping trying to make it possible for other hands to ride their bikes.

      Older calipers sometimes work much better with the wider rims they were born with. Is that leverage too? Dunno, but seems to be the case.

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    4. To change any traditional non-aero lever that pulls downward to an aero modern lever that pulls forward rotate the cable nipple socket 90 degrees.

      To brake hard brake hard.

      Leverage enters the system at a multitude of points. The whole system works or doesn't.

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  9. I tried mustache bars on one of my bikes a few years ago and I simply could not get used to them. None of the hand positions worked for me. I had several bikes at the time, and before long the bike with mustache bars was relegated to the back of the pile because it was so unpleasant for me to ride. They must work well for some people, but not for me.

    Concerning non-aero levers: I brake from the hood position about 99% of the time, but there is a noticeable increase in braking power in the hooks, and I use that position if I'm doing a very long, fast, and/or sketchy decent. When not braking, I usually ride with my hands on the bars just behind the brake levers. My bars are also wrapped with just a single layer of cotton tape, so it's all very "slender". I've become so used to this setup that padded bar tape and large aero levers (and even more so, brifters) feel freakishly large and ungainly to me. Even though they seem to perform better, I'm never quite comfortable when I try to use aero-levers and padded tape.

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    1. You had me on everything until you said modern levers appear to perform better.

      My road bike has Campy SR non-aero operating modern Shimano dual pivot calipers. My nephew has a Trek Madone with a full Modern Campy set. There are a lot of differences between his bike and mine, but stopping is not among them.

      As for the main topic, I tried mustache bars - on a Hilsen just like in the photo. They allowed a lot of hand positions but for me anyway, not a one of them was the one I wanted.

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    2. Matthew,
      The aero levers I've used seemed to perform better from the hoods, but down in the drops I couldn't tell a difference. Of course there are other factors at play, like which brakes were being used and if they were set up properly. My bike with non-aero levers uses some old Dia Compe cantilevers. From the hoods they're adequate but in the drops they're incredible. I used to have an 80s Nishiki with similar non-aero levers and Dia Compe caliper brakes, and they were just slightly better than useless no matter how I set them up, but it was because of the sloppy, flexible calipers and not the levers. I also used to own a Bertoni road bike with Campy Ergo shift/brake combos and Campy dual pivot calipers, and from they hoods they absolutely destroyed my current non-aero/cantilever combo, but in the drops they were only slightly better, if any.

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  10. I switched to moustache bars on a road bike from flat bars on a hybrid about a year and a half ago, when wrist problems forced me to find bars where I could hold my hands in a more neutral position than was possible on flat bars. I hated switching, since I loved the ease of braking and shifting on the hybrid, such a change from the bikes I had grown up with in the 70's. I didn't think I was flexible enough for drop bars, so moustache bars seemed a good alternative.

    I was delighted to find bar ends on the moustache bars every bit as intuitive and easy to use as the integrated mountain-style brakes/shifters on the hybrid. The brakes were much easier than old road-bike brakes (I had never learned to brake from the hoods) and intuitive as well.

    I had to switch to more traditional road bars, though, because the moustache bars were just too wide for a narrow-shouldered woman. On longer rides (eventually, even on ten mile rides) my elbows would begin to hurt so badly I couldn't bend them. I was told that it was because my bars were too wide, and I haven't had the problem since I switched to 40 cm drop-bars.

    I still like the moustache bars, and have been vaguely looking for a narrower alternative.

    teacherlady

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  11. Love my M-bars! Trick is to use a shorter stem than you would run with regular drop bars. I see the Hilsen above (beautiful) has a Nitto Dirt Drop stem, so that is taken care of. The forward braking position works really well, as it is a powerful position to grab the brakes from. Similar to MTB braking position as mentioned above.

    As for negatives, I don't like riding with them for longer than two to three hours. Your upper body position doesn't change that much with the M's, so they are a bit more fatiguing and claustrophobic than drops can be.

    Work WONDERFULLY on a bike that gets out in the dirt some, or riding in traffic aggressively. Glad you like 'em!

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  12. Years ago I resurrected an old touring bike, but could no longer tolerate the drop bars due to neck strain. I now have mustache bars and will never go back. They afford multiple hand positions - necessary for long distance riding - and have allowed me to once again tour on my very comfortable Miyata. They may not be for everyone, of course, but may provide relief to those seeking an alternative to the drop bar. That's an easier fix than scapping an otherwise much loved bike.

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  13. Will these bars accept city levers, and can you install them in the location you are accustomed to?

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  14. I run a moustache bar on my SS, but, have them flipped. Instead of barend shifters, I used Tektro TT brake levers. It makes for a nice, retro look that can be ridden like a city hadlebar.

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  15. There seems to be no particular reason you couldn't move the brake levers anywhere on the bar. It looks like you're not trying to use the hoods as part of the bar so there's no reason to try and get hoods, bar and stem level as you would with drop bars.

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    1. The return doesn't allow for enough lever travel.

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    2. I see what you mean. It does look like you could get them a long way around before it became a problem, especially since you can set the brakes to have minimal slop and they won't come all the way back to the bar.

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  16. Nice to hear from the comments that M-bars seem to be suitable for road and dirt for some people. My commute is a mixture of both and I would like to try an alternative to flat bars, just for the sake of it really, so will give these a go at some point. I gues they won't mix well with hydraulic disk brake levels though?

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  17. I've been told that the curve in road-bike brake levers' attachment mechanism precludes using them on the straight part of mustache bars near the ends, and that diameter precludes using swept-back bar (like albatross) brake levers. Anonymous 10:43, is there no problem with diameter or curvature with your setup? And do moustache bars (or similar) for narrower shoulders exist? I miss the solid feeling of moustache bars, and I miss the shift-as-soon-as-I-think-about-it feel of the bar-ends on moustache bars that I don't have with bar-ends on drop bars.

    And thank you, janheine, for the explanation of why I was never able to brake from the hoods on my pre-aero lever Miyata 610 back in the late '70s.

    teacherlady

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    1. Also caliper rigidity, housing rigidity, cables that are strong and coated with Teflon (housing too), optimized everything else.

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  18. I believe that Moustache bars do come in various sizes. For myself the Albatross bar is a better solution, at least for commuting. I bought it in steel because I don't fully trust aluminum in a handlebar. The curve on the Albatross is somewhat more open than a typical North End'er so one can reach forward and get a bit more aerodynamic. It is fine for converting an old mountain bike into a reliable commuter. Add some slick tires and you can zip along just fine. However, I tried the Albatross bar on my Bridgestone RBT touring bike and didn't like it. It felt cramped. I almost had to reach behind me to get to the bar end shifters. I went back to drops but I think that the Moustache bar may have worked well on that bike or on a typical touring setup.

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  19. This is useful, thanks! Do you have a similar review of Rivendell's Albatross bars? I am interested in how they compare.

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    1. The Albatross are essentially a slightly modified (mainly, wider) version of the classic North Roads - like the bars you would find on a vintage English 3-speed. I do not have a post specific to these bars. While the Moustache puts your hands forward of the stem and close together, the Albatross puts your hands way back and wide apart. The wrist angle is also different (turned inward on the M-bar and outward on the A-bar). Both bars accommodate bar-end shifters.

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  20. Here is a question for handlebar connoisseurs: What about the contemporary half-drops such as the Salsa Woodchipper, Soma Junebug, WTB Dirt Drop, and On-One Midge - are they more similar to the Moustache, to regular drop bars, or somewhere in the middle? Or different thing entirely? I do see those used on dirt locally, while the Moustahce I've seen only in the city.

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    1. Sigh. Me again.

      Entirely diff. No bracing on moustaches but for thumbs, grip area too curved around lever, can't use hoods.

      Those others you can brake from the hoods or bend. Use return for climbing.

      Moustaches are OK jra bars, lousy serious dirt bars.

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    2. You rang?

      Of the ones mentioned above, all but the Woodchippers seem to offer one good position. Basically just in the drops as there isn't much across the top, and the hoods don't work so well IMHO. The Woodchippers are pretty neat though. They have a longer top section, and the hoods are useable (but not great). The trick with all the above is that the bars need to be set high. They're build around riding in the drops, so you have to have that position maximized.

      Apropos to this posting, I find the Moustache bars work better for me than any of the modified drops, and I ride them plenty in the dirt.

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    3. Oh, me, me, me! I just installed a Midge on my Fargo, wanting something wider for more steering leverage off road where the otherwise very comfortable 42 cm Noodles were pretty useless and 46 Noodles were too wide and deep for my taste.

      I tried M-bars at least half a dozen times over the years, and even commuted on them (~10 miles each way) for a couple of years, but found the lack of any sit-up-and-relax position annoying. Odd, though, I found them most comfortable when set lowish and forward like a drop bar -- except for the absence of a high flat portion.

      But consider the Midge to be the perfection that the M-bar was vaguely groping for: you get the immense control (you *do* find yourself climbing in a higher gear thanks to the huge leverage). I'd used many if not most of the other flared drop models before and never liked them, but the Midge is a true keeper -- with one problem, below. The very shallow drop and short reach make up to a degree for the huge 58 cm width at the ends, and they are designed with a fully 38 cm long flat, something sorely lacking on the M-bar as well as on many of the other flared drops, like the original WTB. Combined with Tektro levers, with long hoods, and thick, Lizard Skin DSP 3.2mm bar tape, the Midge's hoods are the most comfortable I've used, and with the right tilt the hooks are also very comfortable. Except: the heel of my left hand is very sensitive, and I've had to be very careful about the tilt -- my road bars are comfortable when more or less horizontal which doesn't work with the Midge -- and to all additional padding at the end of the left hook. Jury still out there, but I like the rest so much that I am hoping to find a solution to that numbness.

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    4. Thanks for the replies. I think I understand these bars. Never tried any of them myself; the bikes I see them on have not been in a size I can ride. But I've heard them described as being "somewhere between drop bars and Moustache bars" hence my question. Seems like ergonomically, they are a different thing entirely.

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    5. Here's a couple comparisons between Moustache and Origin 8 Gary bars (Midge clones. There are a lot of similarities, but in the end the Gary/Midge types just didn't offer enough variation.

      Salsa Woodchippers on the other hand worked much better, but still not as good as my Moustache bars.

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  21. Love my moustache bars on my 520. Commuting, dirt, touring, whatever, they've been good to me since '08.

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  22. I prefer full beards over mustaches...Just me.

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  23. I bought a vintage Peugeot from an older French couple who brought it over from France when they first moved to the US. This model was never manufactured in the US and his wife gave it to him as a gift for his birthday is what she remembered was '78 or '79. It has the exact same mustache handlebars as these photos, which I take are the ones on Bridgestone. Can we truthfully say Bridgestone had the patent on this style as the original maker?

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    1. I think the first XO with the Moustache bars came out in 1991. I doubt he has a patent on the bars, and the design is a self-admitted modification of another style.

      But I would like to see a picture of your Peug. I would be very, very surprised if they are in fact the same bars.

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    2. I believe some French bike boom eras came with a variant of these. The few that I've seen were on mixtes.
      I built up a Mercier mixte awhile back that came with some moustache types. IIRC, they were installed originally upside down of what typical m-bars nowadays would be.
      The ones I used were steel, had road tubing diameters. All dimensions (forward reach, width) were smaller than an M-bar, and I think the curves were tighter.
      Only have one photo that doesn't help too much: http://s821.beta.photobucket.com/user/dabanzer/media/bicycles/74a94a56.jpg.html

      David

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  24. For a levelish distance commute on an oldish somewhat smallish-for-me road bike, I like upside down M-bars and down tube shift levers. Don't like the cable clutter of bar-ends or brifters, regardless of setting.

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  25. It's been around for a while - there is an extensive discussion of setting up and using moustache handlebars here

    http://www.stanford.edu/~dru/moustache.html

    Tony

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  26. I think in one of the Bridgestone catalogs Grant Peterson says he saw the moustache handlebar shape on bikes in Japan and modified the bends for the XO-1.

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  27. I have the moustache bars on my fixed gear and use the reverse brake levers so the whole bar is available for various hand positions. A shorter/taller stem makes them usable for me, otherwise the reach would be uncomfortable.

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  28. I have the Nashbar moustache bar on my road bike with bar-cons, and absolutely love it. I ride half-centuries with it all the time, and would never trade it. Unlike some of the others, it sweeps back a bit more so that I can ride in a sort-of upright position. But the bike itself is low-trail and essentially begs to be ridden with no hands from time to time, so if my back gets tired I just sit perfectly upright for a few minutes.

    There may be more hand positions available with a drop bar, but I find absolutely none of them comfortable even for a few minutes.

    Thanks for the post.

    Richard

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  29. Two years ago I replaced the straight bar on my Fisher Nirvana hybrid with an upside-down North Road. Standard brakes fastened 5 1/2" from the bar ends and tilted slightly to the outside so the levers are easy to work. Thumb-shifters fastened immediately forward of the brakes and also angled - which nestles them in the curves of the bar and allows me to ride with thumbs on the shift levers and fingers on the brakes if I need to. Far more comfortable than the old setup. The bars are wrapped in shellacked cloth tape and four twine whips. People stare at the arrangement fairly often - which I've decided to take as a compliment on my style, and not as a judgement on my sanity.

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  30. The Rivendell website has recently added a section with pictures of bicycles that members of their staff own. At what should be the mother church of the moustache bar, I saw lots of lugs, fenders, baskets, reflectors, and one-inch threaded stems, but not a single moustache bar.
    That being said, I have a moustache bar on my Surly Cross Check commuter. It took me a while to dial in the stem and brake placement, but now I'm pretty happy with it.

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    1. "pictures of bicycles that members of their staff own ...not a single moustache bar."

      For shame, Rivendell. For shame!

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  31. Picked up my new Rivendell Sam Hillborne today........ wtih moustache bars! Never used them before but have loved their looks since the Bridgestone days. Sold my road bike with racing geometry and STI levers. I'll keep you posted how it goes.

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