Saturday 18 April 2015

Project: Enduro Type Handlebar

So far I have been really pleased with the stock handlebar on my Electra 5s (CI). However, during my Leh tour, there were times when I felt stress on my arms, mostly shoulders, and I faced difficulty in maneuvering my loaded bull on tricky mountain routes with stones and gravel. Though being 'fit n strong' (ahem!) helped me manage those patches, definitely I wouldn't like to keep stressing my limbs every time I ride through such terrains. As they increase the possibility of an injury. As the trip provided tons of first-hand experiences with pain being the least exciting of all, I almost forgot about it after coming back. After my return last year in August, I have done some serious off-roading, during my ride to Mandalpatti Peak. Where I and a buddy took a cycling trail through the mountains. It was a hell of fun doing off-roading(post coming soon). Only a few days back I was checking online for some touring mods on my ride and all the mental notes I had taken during the Leh trip came right back. And here I am with my first mod project: 'The Best Touring handlebar for RE Electra'.

Best Handlebars for Highway Cruising:

So far the comfiest bars I have used were on the big Harleys (partly the comfort was due to the punchy torque and comfy/plush seating). Among bulls, Thunderbird I believe has the comfiest handlebars as stock, as they keep your arms flexed at all times and hence add no stress on long hours of highway cruising. But there is a catch, the cruising bars are not confidence-inspiring for dirt/off-road/aggressive riding, as it provides a more pulled-back seating posture. This means it does not give you that forward-leaning stance, that off-road riding requires. Now coming to the looks of those bars, they mostly go well with laid-back cruiser-looking bikes like Thunderbird (or the mighty RE Lightning 535 of yesteryear). Electra however is a totally different deal. It comes as a retro-looking, blank canvas and it inspires imagination in stock form. Actually, the design is very basic and that is what excites buyers (mostly seasoned bikers), to think about how they can customize and make it unique. It can be given any look based on your taste. So far I have kept mine looking like a chromed cruiser with a bit of a vintage look and feel with the stock handlebars. However now after my extensive off-road riding (which is what most of the Leh-Ladakh route can be termed as), I am very much looking forward to trying out an enduro/rally setup on my bike. More on this setup in a later post. For now, let's stick to the project at hand. 

Best Handlebars for Adventure Touring (Cruising + Off-roading):

Now I did my search and read around to know which would be the best handlebar for my needs (touring + off-roading) at the moment. After digging around for a few days, I could zero in on the 'RD350' handlebar with a center rod. It's not the first time I am seeing or hearing about this particular design. It's been there since Enfields are being customized (which is like forever!). But what convinced me for this one is the fact that it's the most commonly used handlebar on all rally/trail fields, without exception.

DISCLAIMER: Images below are not mine and owned by their respective owners. I have used them here for reference only.

 I could guess the reason why. On mud/dirt/gravel this gives that upright stance to maneuver this heavy bike. And the center rod along with the bar-end weights takes care of the characteristic vibes generated by the bull. This bar I could feel is taller and a bit* wider than the stock handlebar, which will make cruising a bit more enjoyable am sure. Well, these all are my expectations, based on my experience with similar handlebars. After riding for a while with this new set, I will definitely post an update.

The Hunt:

For this mod, instead of me going out hunting for the accessories, I posted a query on one of the RE pages on FB. Though I wasn't expecting much, some people like Jijo, Hitesh, and Anirudh came forward with suggestions and their experience with the bars, etc, which turned out to be very informative. If you guys reading this post, a big 'Thank you'.

Keeping a copy of the thread in case you are walking the same path while modding your steed.

The Purchase:

Initially, I thought of visiting JC road with the bike and getting the job (purchase and fitting) done there. Then I got free from work a bit late and didn't have time to drop my car and pick up the bike to visit JC road. So directly drove there and picked up a mint-looking RD350 rally-type handlebar with center rod and end threaded holes (to fit bar-end weights) for 280 bucks. Seeing the (perceived) quality of the build of this bar, I would say I am impressed. It feels sturdier than I had expected and the fit and finish look good. Have a look for yourself.

Rider side (rear) view

Front side view

Hole with threading for fitting the bar-end weights

Plastic sheet wrapping on the whole bar to protect the paint and finish. Nice touch! :)

As tomorrow is a shutdown in the city ('Karnataka Bandh' due to the Kaveri water dispute), mostly all shops/garages will remain closed. I had to visit the bank for some work, but that's not gonna happen now. So why not get my hands dirty and get this rod fitted myself :) 

In the morning I will get to it and if possible will try recording the process and 'gotcha and will post the updates here. So stay tuned!!

Update [18/04/2015] : Today I swapped the handlebars. Quite a task but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Steps are available in a new post, which you can access here. This evening I finally took the bike out on the streets, both busy city roads (still much less than peak hour traffic though) as well as open roads where I rode a bit faster (within allowed limits of course). Here are my first impressions:

  • Shoulder and arms quite relaxed all through the ride (compared to stock)
  • It feels easy to filter through tight spaces between big vehicles moving slowly on city roads (this was difficult with stock handle, as when riding slow it use to take a lot of effort and strength to maneuver it)
  • Due to this newfound agility and effortless maneuvering, I think I was riding a bit faster than usual and kinda aggressively (compared to my usual riding style). I am sure this is more due to the excitement of the new setup and will mild down as I get back to riding more.
  • The bike no more feels like a cruiser from the rider's PoV. It looks and feels more like a dirt/enduro bike (not sure what else I was expecting here! lol)
I think a long trip would help me in evaluating the new setup in detail. Will try and update that when it happens.

Update [05/05/2015]: Completed a 1200 KMs trip through Tamilnadu and Kerala and could confirm the new handlebar is a gem. Lots of ghat section riding too and really happy with the way the motorcycle handles now with the new setup.

Ride Safe & Ride Far,


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