How to Upgrade Motorcycle Handlebars

Make that old clunker stylish again

If you're tired of the dated look of your motorcycle, consider swapping out the handlebars for a newer look. It's an easy upgrade, and you'll save hundreds of dollars when you do it yourself.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Replacement procedure

If you’re still riding around with those “ape hanger” handlebars from the ’70s, face it, you’re no longer cool. I’ll show you how to change out your handlebars yourself and save about $200.

I chose a ’70s-vintage Honda because it was one of the more popular bikes back then. On this bike, the wiring harness runs through the middle of the handlebars. The new bar won’t have holes for the harness. So you’ve got two options. You can either drill out the new bar or modify the bracket for the controls and run the harness along the outside of the bar.

Start the project by measuring the diameter of your handlebars (Photo 1). Pick the bar style you like, but check with either the bar manufacturer or your dealer to make sure the new bar provides enough turning clearance to avoid hitting the gas tank.

You’ll also need shorter brake, clutch and throttle cables and a shorter brake line. Your local dealer can send your old cables out for professional modification, or you can buy new cables (about twice the price).

Remove the headlight to access the harness splice area. Then disconnect the wires from the handlebar harness (Photo 2). Next, drain the brake fluid reservoir and disconnect and remove the brake line, switches, levers and throttle. Then remove the left hand grip (Photo 3). Unbolt the handlebar and move it to the workbench.

Remove the harness from the bar by pulling and feeding at the same time. If the harness binds, squirt in a generous dollop of wire-pulling lube (available in the electrical department at home centers). Once it’s out of the old bar, clean off the lubricant and rewrap the harness with new electrical tape.

To run the harness on the outside of the new bar, modify the control brackets (Photo 4). Reconnect the wiring harness, controls and levers, and install the shorter cables and brake hose. Secure the wiring harness with zip ties. Then top off the brake fluid reservoir (Photo 5). Test all the electrical connections and the brake operation before you take it out for a spin.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Socket/ratchet set
  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Allen wrench
  • Electrical tape
  • Rags
  • Safety glasses

You'll also need a micrometer, a compressed air gun and a rotary tool.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Replacement handlebar
  • Wire-pulling lube
  • Brake, clutch and throttle cables (new or modified to fit)
  • Brake fluid
  • Zip ties

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