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How to Upgrade Motorcycle Handlebars

Updated: Jun. 30, 2017

Make that old clunker stylish again

FH11JUN_HANBIK_01-2Family Handyman
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.

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A full day

Replacement procedure

Photo 1: Measure before you buy

Pick any spot along the handlebar to measure its diameter. Then buy the correct bar for your bike.

Photo 2: Disconnect wires, then label

Find the wires from the handlebar harness and disconnect them one at a time. Apply masking tape to each connector and mark them for reassembly. Don’t disconnect any other wires.

Photo 3: Blow and twist the grip off

Insert a compressed air gun into the grip and squeeze the trigger. That’ll inflate the grip enough so you can twist it and break the adhesive.

Photo 4: Make room for the harness

Grind out a section of the control mounting bracket with a high-speed rotary tool and a cutting or grinding wheel. Then smooth the edges so it won’t cut into the harness.

Photo 5: Fill and bleed

Add fresh brake fluid. Then follow the brake bleeding procedure for your bike.

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.

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

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