The moustache handlebar is a piece of cycling history. Living history, since it is still manufactured. This puts it in the same catagory as the Lock Ness monster -- if you believe in that sort of thing.
The bar, which looks like a traditional road handlebar that has been mostly flattened out, was invented in the early 1990's by Grant Peterson for Bridgeston's XO bikes.
Since then, it has remained popular. In fact, there are now many brands, offering various versions in various materials and finishes. The most well known maker is probably Nitto, but other providers have entered the fray including Soma and Origin8, both offering their own versions of the bar for varying prices. The origin8 name, being the least expensive, is the one I ended up with as I desired to test the Moustache Bar without parting with a fortune.
Ironically, from the beginning moustache bars were quirky. On the original Bridgestone X0-1, where they first appeared (only for two years, ending in '93) Bicycling magazine thought they were horrible. However, many riders still liek them enough to create a demand, now, over twnety years later, for many aftermarket varietions. It may be that many of those who denounce moustache bars aren't riding them properly, or setting them up right. It may also be that they are simply usinga type of moustache bars that doesn't really approximate what they should be; there are many variations, as well as improvides "moustaches" made by simply inverting cruiser or "north road" style bars. For instance, somewhere out there is a picture of my first fixed gear, an old entry-level blue Bianchi, with a home-made moustache-style bar made from an inverted, cut down cruiser bar. I remember it vividly for two reasons. One, it had mismatched yellow and red handlebar tape. And two, it wasn't all that comfortable. But then it wasn't really a moustache bar -- it was my own attempt to improvise one.
That attempt, however, says a lot about the moustache bar, because to many people the bars look alike. Indeed, many people look at a moustache bar and thing it is the same as an inverted cruiser, 3-speed, or "north road" style handlebar. It isn't.
1) The moustache bar has a much smoother and continuous curve. A flipped upright bar will have small curved sections much smaller than normal adult hands, followed by straight areas intended for the grips and brake levers. The curved area is intended simply to bring the bar back towards the rider. The curved section isn't intended to be a usable grip area. On the moustache bar, the curved area is intended as a usable hand position. 2) The center clamp diameter is different, and 3) the brake area clamp diameter is different. Road bike levers are intended for one diameter tubing, mountain levers for another. roadster or other upright bars are typically yet a third different size. And 4) the interior dimensions of the handlebar tubing for the moustache usually permit the use of bar end shifters. (the Soma "three speed" bar is a recent exception intended for mountainbike-type clamp on parts, not road).
So what is the moustache bar?
The moustache bar was intended to work as a more upright bar then a traditional road handlebar, but not as upright as a roadster or other traditional "upright bar", like the type found on old 3-speeds. Also, it was intended to accomodate road levers and fittings, which remains the case. Although some moustache bars are now made to be compatible with mountain bike levers most remain road-oriented.
That said, they make awesome all 'round bars and there is no need to limit their use to pavement -- although check the packaging. My Origin8 Tiki bar was supposed to apparently contain a warning that it was only for use on pavement, and not for offroad use, according to something I read online. However when I checked out the packaging I couldn't find this warning. However, with this in mind I would choose a different brand if I was going to put it on a mountainbike.
Who is it for:
The moustache is not for everyone (the bar, or the facial hair). Seriously, this is not a bar that'd be popular with hardcore downhillers, tri junkies or road racers. Although normally put in a fair amount of road miles myself, I got this bar as a departure from "normal" road bars.
If it is set up right, a moustache bar is comfortable. Probably those "Bicycling" reviewers all those years ago didn't set it up right. Or someone didn't buy enough ad space. Whichever. Setup is important. I had the bars on a roadbike (my grey Lemond) and found the following: The bars need to be higher than road bars, and, according to conventional whisdom, on a shorter stem (more on that later). I also put them on my rigid Bridgestone MB-5 mountainbike, which I then fitted with 1.5 street slicks. I was able to cruise at 17-20mph on the road, and still hit a dirt path through the woods. Nice. However, let's be fair, drop bars aren't for racing. Racers ride drops for a reason, and even for non-racers, especially on the road, normal road drops have existed with the same basic shape for over a century because they are pretty good at what they do. They offer more hand positions than moustache bars, and those that they offer provide a larger variety of overall riding positions. For instance, you can ride on the tops of the road bars, where it is flat, with your hands on the hoods, or on the edges of the bars near the hoods. All three provide different grips and hand positions (important for preventing fatigue during long rides) but they all offer a more or less upright ride position. however, then you have the drops, and the position of your hands on the curve of the drops, or back at the end where it is straight out. Both these put you lower and more aerodynamic.
The moustache bars, however, offer basically two, maybe three hand positions. The curve by the brakes, the brake hoods, and the ends where they are straight out. But I gotta tell you the brake hoods isn't all that comfortable. There is also not much flat on top but you can sort of use this -- some people have installed dummy brake hoods there to create a flat area and extra position.
In other words, the moustache provides half as many hand positions -- basically doing away with the lower "drops" positions. The "drops" on a moustache bar -- the lower and back ends of the bar -- are much higher. Because of this, moustache bars probably aren't for a road racing bike you plan on taking on fast group rides. A casual roadbike, a comuter or errand bike? A bike for cruisng around on? More likely. Of course you could use drop bars for these too, but moustache bars give you a little more upright position. So if you aren't racing or hanging in a paceline, why not?
Amazingly, there is not a lot of information on these handlebars being used on road bikes. You get one or two hits but most of them are just confined to "I like 'em" or "I didn't like 'em." Very few explanations.
Worse, few clear pictures of the bars on bikes, making it hard for the garage mechanic to not only set up the bars, but know if he has the right length stem or other parts handy. Many of the pictures have the bars upside down, so that the curve is upward, not downward. Although these bars do not have much in the way of drop, runnign them with that drop as a rise gives them the overall position of roadster or other upright bars, just with more of a curvy section in the front. As if to reinforce this point most of the bikes pictured with the bars inverted in such a manner have grips ont he straight ends rather than road tape down past the curve -- just like the handlebars on an old roadster or Raleigh Sports 3-speed.
If I am looking for info on how to set up my roadbike with moustache bars, pictures of people using the moustache bars as roadster bars will not help.
So I've decided to add not only my observations as I ride with the bars, going forward, but also my observations about installing them and about moustache bar fit and some other facts.
Because they are more upright (then road bars) you'd think you could run them where your drop bars are, are the same height and length. You'd be wrong. Because on the drop bars the highest hand position is the flats on top of the bars -- level with the clamp area. On moustache bars, the highest "real" position is by the curves, which is just below the clamp area. Thus to get comfortable most people will have to use a higher stem. Since getting a higher stem with the same angle means using a longer stem, you may often use not only a higher stem but a shorter one, or one with a more pronounced angle. Some people do run them lower but in my experience the clamp area has to be a hair higher than the seat. About a few finger-widths higher than the equivolent drop bars.
The straight ends of the bars can be level or tilted slightly down. If angled up the curved grip area will probably be too low and forward. However, note that depending on stem height the ends of your bars may be level with your top tube when turned and could hit it. this isn't usually an issue. I had mine angled slightly downward; they hit the frame. i made the straight ends level with the top tube (it's a traditional, not sloping, frame) and the ends of the barsd just cleared the frame. Problem solved.
Reach is one aspect not usually addressed beyond terms like "shorter" or "longer". Let's put this in perspective; in bike terms that's usually not a big distance. The difference of 5 millimeters in length between 170 and 175mm cranks, for example, is noticable. So what are we talking about here?
First of all, while traditional wisdom says to run a shorter, taller stem for moustache bars, the thing about traditional wisdom is it is great as a guide, but not a hard and fast rule. This is especially true for issues of bike fit, because let's face it, no two people are exactly alike in terms of proportions.
In my case, a higher, taller, or however you want to phrase it -- elevated -- stem was needed. It didn't matter if it was using a level stem with more spacers (not an option as my steerer tube wasn't long enough) or using a sharply angled stem that has a definite rise (what I ultimately did). The goal was to raise the height of the clamp area where the handlebars attached to the stem, because the primary hand position with moustahce bars is slightly lower than the clamp area.
But what about length? Well, measured to the center of the clamp area on the handlebar, the reach, or distance from the horn of the saddle to the clamp area on two of my road bikes is just a fraction on an inch under 18 1/2 inches. These are on two modern aluminum production frames. When my friend at the Bike Stand bicycle shop measured me for my custom steel frame, he came up with a reach of 50cm, which is according to my handy tape measure which is marked in both metric and English, about 19 3/4 inches.
So where does the Lemond, with moustache bars come in? Oddly enough, with the clamp area almost an inch further away than with drop bars. Instead of just around eighteen and a half inches, it is around nineteen and a half.
As an aside, my other lemond, the Zurich, which has similar frame geometry but is made with 853 Team tubing and a carbon fork, has about an 18 1/2 inch reach and sports dropped road handlebars.
It may well be that the extra reach is a function of the need for greater height; that even with a sharp upward angle, a higher threadless stem is going to have to put the handlebars slightly further away. Or it may be a function of fit. In truth, I worked with what parts I had lying around; out of about three threadless stems, one was way too low because it was short, one was in the middle and one was really high, but long. That stem, which measures, in a straight line, paralell to the ground, 110mm in length, center of steerer to center of bar clamp area, could be shorter. I'd probably choose to run a 90mm or a 100 if I had one. But I don't, not yet any way, and in truth, the small extra length is not uncomfortable. Actually, because the ends of the bars sweep back towards the legs of the rider, with a shorter stem, inadvertantly striking a knee might be an issue with the bars turned.
Brakes and shifters:
Moustache bars like the one I got are designed for road levers, so you can use any and all levers you'd use on your drop bars, but most people prefer to avoid brifters, or the modern integrated shift-brake levers. I've read where they work good, so I do not know why that is, unless perhaps the people are building up older bikes, or bikes that are being built where long term durability is more of an issue than convenience; bar end shifters seem more popular and less face it, they are cheaper and can be repaired -- and there's less to brake. Plus, for those who ride year roudn, they are easier to operate with thick gloves or even mittens or "lobster claws".
Some people even prefer old-style non-aero brake levers. The argument for that is cleaner cable routing, which makes sense given the bars and their angle.
In my case I went with Shimano SLR aero road levers and left the bike's downtube shifter's alone.
The handlebars provide good control and leverage and are very comfortable. You can move your hands back down the bars towards the ends, or ride right by the brakes, or halfway, near the brake but at the bottom of the curve. i tried ridign the hoods but did not find it pleasant. Perhaps if I angled the hoods upward this would change, but I am not about to do that now.
Over bumps the bars are remarkably stable. They provide a wide steady grip.
Shifting is another issue. Because the bars are wider than standard road drops, reaching down for the downtube shifters is rather awkward. Though it is no doubt something one could get used to, I understand why many have moved towards bar-end shifters for moustache bars.
Standing up was different, but not necessarily awkward. However where the bars really shined was seated pedaling at speed. They are comfortable and you can really go, without craning your neck like you would in the aggressive position of the drops. However, they are not as low, so on windy days you will pay a deficit. Although that is outweighed by their comfort and the fact that they still offer more than one hand position, unlike a flat mountainbike or a roadster handlebar.
Some time later I added the bars to my Bridgestone MB-5. Even before I added a 52t outer chainring to approximate the gearing ont he X0-1 (my goal was a poor man's xo-1 clone), with street tires, as mentioned, it made respectable speed, even though it was not a road bike. Overall, I have found these pbars more comfortable on a mountainbike or all-around bike than just on the roadbike. I was even able to use a shorter stem on the MB-5 than the Bridgestone (shorter in terms of height, not length, although that was shorter too. Part of that may be the bikes tt length but part I think is how it is used. The MB-5 is more of a cross between both, the way i have it set up, as an all-around bike. I actually built it specifically for dirt roads, but it does everything well, although it does sit different than a roadbike.
Ultimately, moustache bars place may be right back where they began, on a bike that straddles road and offroad use, the best fo both worlds.