Upside Down!

Fate has been kind to Marianne! Rather than being torn apart for donor components, she has been spared, and fitted with new handlebars.

What you see here are upside down Nitto Albatross Bars (Nitto's version of "North Roads").

Ever since seeing pictures of vintage path-racers, it has been a fantasy of mine to have this handlebar set-up on one of my bikes. My concern was that it would be too aggressive for me to handle. But since Marianne's Milan bars were becoming increasingly uncomfortable on longer rides, I thought it might be time to revisit the possibility.

Harris Cyclery had some Albatross bars in stock, and the nice mechanic Jim Ammirato talked to me about installing them upside down. It is so difficult to tell what will feel "too aggressive" to one person versus "comfortable" to another. But luckily one of Jim's own bikes - a gorgeous bordeaux A.N.T. path-racer that deserves its own feature - had this exact set-up. I tried the handlebar position on the A.N.T., and to my amazement it felt wonderful. And so the installation proceeded!

As you can see in the pictures here, installing North Road style handlebars upside down places the hand gripping areas considerably below the level of the stem, while at the same time bringing them closer towards the rider than drop bars. You can control just how far down the gripping areas are by tilting the bar. We made mine on the tamer side to start with, but when I feel ready for a more aggressive posture I will tilt them down further.

North Roads are famously comfortable, because their gripping areas place the rider's hands in a naturally-occurring position: parallel to the body with an ever so slight outward flare. This is in direct contrast to flat handlebar styles (which includes the flat upper part of the drop bars, where most cyclists really spend most of their time). They position they offer is not a naturally occurring and places stress on the wrists if maintained for long intervals.

So the cool thing about upside-down North Roads, is that the aggressiveness of the posture is dampened by the comfort of the hand position. If you own an English Roadster or a Dutch bicycle, imagine holding your hands just as you currently hold them, only lower. Not so scary at all.

Perhaps this explains how it is that with the upside-down Albatross bars I am both more leaned over and more comfortable than with my previous Milan bars. I have ridden 13 miles with the new set-up so far, and it's been exhilarating. Of course a longer trip will allow me to give the final verdict.

Since these pictures were taken, I have treated the cork grips with wood stain in an attempt to darken them without the slippery finish of shellac. I am still waiting for them to dry and will let you know how this project works out.


  1. nice review, and nice trick to use wood stain instead of shellac.

    i wonder how different the upside-down albatrosses are from porteur bars, aside from being a couple cm wider than porteur bars, and having a bit more drop. i'm guessing the hand position is very similar?

  2. Nice. I agree-flat bars actually make my hands go numb and tingly over more than 5 or 6 miles. But I do ok on the brake hoods on drop bars, which is also a more natural position.

  3. The wood stain idea occurred to us just recently and (if it works) it opens up a whole range of possibilities with regard to cork bar tape, cork grips and cork composites that tend to get too slippery with shellac. I suspect wood stain may also work with cloth tapes that have a tendency to turn into unpleasant-feeling sand paper when shellacked. This idea is in testing stages. :)

  4. I am not sure whether the wood stain idea will actually work. I have read some accounts of it not absorbing properly (cork is of course, non-absorbent, but this is reconstituted cork) and other accounts of this being a good solution. In the end it may depend on the brand of grips.

    Tom - I have trouble pressing the brakes from the top when in the hood position and still haven't thought of a solution to this. Do others have this problem?

  5. The lovely Marianne looks even more European now. I notice her huge cyclops-style headlamp has been replaced by a lower-mounted version. Was this a by-product of the handlebar installation?

    Glad to hear your hands and wrists are now more comfortable when you ride her - look forward to hearing the results of a longer test ride!

  6. Ooooh ooohh... are you going to do this on your custom mixte? That would be so hot.

  7. Um, I LIKE North Road bars, from those on my old Raleigh, to VO's Tourist bars to the alloy bars from Sunlite that sell on Amazon for under $14.

    And my back and shoulder ACHE for days if I use some other bar. That said, I may order up a set of the "Dimension Double-bend Urban Aluminum Bar Black" (mustache bars) for under $30, and mount them PROPERLY and see if they aren't even better.

    Heck, Torker even does a fairly good factory imitation of an old-style Raleigh bar on the Cargo-T too.

  8. They're lovely! And I think they really suit your bike. I have moustache bars on my mixte, and they're quite similar to those really. I love them! I was previously riding with drops, on my other mixte, and find the moustache bars hugely more comfortable. I too have problems pressing the brakes from the hoods, I think it might be rectifiable by adjusting the position of the levers on the bars- I've not actually tried it yet but am hopeful it might help. I kind of feel that maybe if I sort of swing the whole set up around the bar a little closer towards me, that might make it easier to get the leverage required to press the brakes properly. Who knows though. If you get it sorted out I'll be keen to hear how, because the ability to brake fast in London is a must!

  9. Inverted Nitto bars look jaunty, even more so on a mixte since both drop away. Flowers are a nice touch, too.

  10. The new bars look nice. I wonder how the position compares with mustache bars?

    Off topic, how did the Harris employees pronounce Zimbale? I was assuming either "Zim-Ball-E" or "Zim-Bail".

  11. While they might not work with some of the grip choices, bar end shifters might work well on the bike compared to either the stem-mounted shifters or down tube ones.

  12. Looks great and super comfortable!

  13. Chiming in with a superficial comment perhaps, but I would add that they also look super chic. Nice!

  14. Why did they suggest you install the bars upside down? To allow more aggressive positioning?

    So the Milan bars had a bad angle for your wrists?

    I'm trying to understand all the issues of these types of bars. Due to neck problems, I need to move to an upright position on my bike.

  15. Carinthia - The "cyclops headlight" just did not light very well, and made clunking sounds when the bicycle went over bumps at high speeds, so I decided it was time to go.

    Tinker & Matthew - I didn't like the Moustache bars when I tried them on the floor model Hillborne at Harris Cyclery. It does not make sense to me that in order to press the brakes the rider is forced to get into the most aggressive position possible. Though maybe I am not getting something?

    Herzog - The way I feel about these bars now, I want to do this to all my bikes. But maybe something different on the custom mixte, like (upside-down?) VO Porteurs...

    Steve - Believe it or not, I have come to love the stem shifters on this bike. The Co-Habitant had to talk me out of trying to get them for my new mixte. On the new bike I will have bar-ends.

  16. Peter - They didn't suggested; it was something I asked them to do. I wanted a more appropriate handlebar for long rides, without having to put drop bars on this bike. And I wanted to be in a fairly aggressive position with the handlebar, because I have learned that this bike (a bike with road geometry) is at its best when the rider is in such a position.

    The Milan bars were basically an elegant version of mountain bike bars, in the sense that they put my hands straight out, like holding a shopping cart. This is actually quite comfortable on short rides and when cycling through the city, esp. in between cars. But during long rides (20 miles+ for me, though others' reactions may vary), I begin to get pain and an "electric current" feeling through my wrists when in this position.

  17. Well, they look very nice on your bike.

    Last question - do they make your bike wider so that it is harder to move it through doors, etc.?

  18. Brilliant, I hope those make her a more feasible option for you long-term. It's always interesting how different factors of riding posture effect your comfort differently.

  19. somervillain - I know you have a different opinion from mine re what Porteur bars are, so I am not sure which you are referring to. When I mention Porteur bars, I refer to handlebars that look like this. My 54cm Albatross bars are actually wider than the VO Porteur bars, which are 58cm. As for the hand positions, I'd like to see the two side-by-side in person, which hopefully I eventually will.

  20. I LOVE my albatross bars- I just feel like they improve my posture, opening up my shoulders and leave me more relaxed and balanced. I can go for 30-40 miles with them no problems- haven't tried longer.
    I just got a 2nd set for my bike rebuild (just posted about it last night) I'm curious how you will like them, because we discussed bar width relative to our DL-1s. I have a hard time with the narrower handlebars on my DL-1 because I'm so used to the super-wide albatross bars, and I feel kind of pinched with the narrower ones. Of course mounting them upside down is probably completely different...
    Did you get the Aluminum or the CroMo ones? I have had a hard time finding the CroMo ones except through Rivendell- didn't know that Harris had them at all in any flavor-otherwise I wouldn't have ordered them from afar.
    About the wood stain- we stain cork floors with regular wood stain all the time. For floors we normally cover that with a water based poly, but I think that would be too slick for grips. If you were worried about weathering, you could put something like low gloss Tung oil to seal them.
    Re: Peter- They are wider, but I have no problem going through doors at my office. I don't know about up a tight Boston apartment stair though.

  21. yep, those are the porteur bars i was referring to (they are 48cm, not 58). and yes, hopefully we can compare soon!

  22. I've had my North Roads inverted on my Raliegh Sports for a few years now, and I've had no desire to change them back. It has been very comfortable on long rides and it just looks too cool! It totally changes the personality of the bike and it's ride comfort, I think you will enjoy your current handlebar setup.

  23. Actually, the Nitto version of the North Road handlebar is the North Road Handlebar:

    The Albatross bars are wider with less rise.

  24. cycler - I am weird, because I actually prefer narrow bars. So I like the bars on my DL-1 much better than those on the Pashley. The bars on my temporary Austrian bike Jacqueline were also narrow and I rejoiced. This is why I initially considered to get the Nitto Dove handlebars rather than Albatross, as those are a narrower version. However, so many people warned me against that, that I got the narrowest available Albatross instead.Mine are aluminum. When I was last there, Harris had both them and the cromoly in stock.

    Peter - it depends what you mean by "wider". What bars do you currently have? The Albatross are far narrower then the handlebars on cruisers, some mountain bikes I have seen, and touring "butterfly" bars. They are even narrower than some other North Road styles.

    Erik - I have been told by some that this is in fact the same bar, and by others that it is not - confusing. But in any case, the Albatross is definitely a variation of North Roads. Raleigh itself had at least several styles, so there is no one definitive NR bar...

  25. Had a sort of North Road -Albatross type bar on a Dursley Pedersen years ago - the Pedersen being a bolt-upright, hammock-saddled, Gothic masterpiece of Danish origin. Wonderful set-up for touring, headwinds notwithstanding.


  26. Milo -You've toured on a Pedersen? Pictures please, pictures!

  27. Velouria,
    I really would like your feedback on my last post about my 'old new Mixte'. I never felt so nervous about choosing colours or handlebars... it is crazy.
    Love this post by the way, helped a lot :)

  28. How did you like the albatross bars in the end? I have them on my surly lht, but they were supposed to be doves. I was so exasperated by the bike I shop I was dealing I just left them on. Albatross bars are HUGE! I'm less than 5 ft 3 and nobody small should be using them. I can't find anything good about them and I had read many loving reviews. I have a few vintage bikes with different upright bars and none are like the albatross. I haven't tried them upside down though. As it is, the albatross makes my bike very unstable because it is so big for the small frame and puts the weight in the wrong places. I can't pick up enough speed because I am awkwardly upright and there's just too much handlebar which leads to wobbling. I prefer narrow handlebars. Also, handlebars should be fitted so that your natural arm extention from your shoulder is the width of the bar.
    Now what bar to use?

  29. I've got the Albatross on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. Rode it upside down like this for a few months. My bike is black and stripped of decals, creme Fat Frank tires. Got a lot of "Wow, how old is that bike?" (reply: "about 6 months"). I've since put them back upright.

    With the bars upside down, it's quite nice to grab the front part of the bar and be aggressive. The front part curves down and fits nicely in your hand. But,your hands are nowhere near the brakes.

    When your hands are in the normal position, on the grips, you're bent over but your hands are way further back than they would be with drops or straight bars. With my arms going straight down, they didn't carry much weight and my back muscles would get sore, holding that bend for 10+ miles.

    Anyway, I've already got a race bike, this is my cruiser. For more aggressive riding, I prefer drop bars. Upside down *is* super classy looking though ...

  30. Hello Velouria,

    Apologies if this is a silly question, but can you tell me about the brake levers you have set up on your upside down bars? I love the set up, and am getting ready to change the drop bars on my mixte to north road bars.... but of coures I have to change the brake leavers, too. I'm new to all of these kinds of changes, so anything you can tell me would be a great help!

    Thank you!


Post a Comment