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Are ape hanger handlebars dangerous?

Michael Madsen looks cool as "The Gent" with his ape hanger bars in Quentin Tarentino's Hell Ride Handlebar maximum measurements challenged regulations tall
Michael Madsen looks cool as "The Gent" with his ape hanger bars in Quentin Tarentino's Hell Ride. But are they legal?

The safety of ape hanger handlebars is back in the news with one American state considering axing a three-decade ban and other states closely watching the outcome.

High-set ape hanger bars were banned in 30 American states in the 1960s. The American was on the pretext of safety, but was more likely introduced so police had reason to pull over and search riders believed to be members of outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Remember, this was during the height of media hype and public fear about bikies/bikers after the 1966 release of Hunter S. Thompson’s book, Hell’s Angels, and the 1969 cult film Easy Rider.

Easy Rider Rider personality test ape hanger
Easy Riders

The ape hanger rules are strangely reminiscent of the current Australian profiling laws which allow police to check for tattoos and other “outlaw” club insignia.

(By the way, in Australia the rules vary from state to state, but they are generally that the lowest part of the hand grip must not be higher than 380mm above the rider’s seat or bar connection point and/or the bars must extend not less than 250mm nor more than450 mm on each side of the centreline of the bike.)

New Hampshire Democrat Senator Andrew Hosmer introduced legislation to repeal the state statute restricting the height of handlebars.

Laconia Motorcycle Week Association spokesman Charlie St. Clair applauded the Senator’s Bill.

“I have never heard the height of handlebars presented as a safety issue,” he says. “There is no history of accidents caused by high bars.

“Law enforcement pulled people over for high bars as a tool for probable cause; an excuse to stop motorcyclists.”

Currently, 30 American states have various handlebar restrictions and as you ride across some state borders there are signs warning that handlebars have to be below a certain height or no higher than the rider’s shoulders.

St. Clair says many of these states are repealing restrictions under motorcycle club pressure while 18 states impose no limits.

South Dakota, which hosts the famous annual Sturgis Rally, became the most recent state to repeal its shoulder-level law.

There are all kinds at the Sturgis Motorcycle RallyThere are all kinds at the Sturgis Motorcycle RallyThere are all kinds at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Whether ape hanger bars are safe or not is debatable.

We have ridden several motorcycles with “mini ape hangers” around shoulder level, such as the Harley-Davidson Street Bob, and a couple of custom choppers with bars set around eye height.

Harley-Davidson FXDB Street Bob
Harley-Davidson FXDB Street Bob

We found they are surprisingly good for urban slow-speed manoeuvring because you have close hand/eye co-ordination.

Ape hangers are also usually associated with raked-out forks that provide high-speed stability because it makes them “slower” to turn. However, it can also increase fork and handlebar flex which is not conducive to precision steering.

Anything above your heart level will also introduce some fatigue in your hands over long distances and you will often see riders drop their hands to get the blood pumping into their fingers again.

Perhaps there needs to be some flexibility in the laws, but still some upper limits to avoid ridiculous handlebar heights that might prove a danger to the rider and other road users.

  • What do you think? Show us photos of your ape hangers and why you like them. Leave your comments below.

  1. They’re a danger in as much as they cause fatigue but also they don’t afford proper control in all situations as they are above the level where you can exert the most force.
    Also they are dangerous in an accident as they have impailed riders and wrapped around them trapping them , not what you want when the thing catches fire.

    1. Just how much ‘force’ do you think it takes to steer a motorcycle? I’ll answer that for you – hardly any at all. And the size and weight of the bike matter far less than the steering geometry (which isn’t limited to the rake of the forks either).

      1. Maybe in a straight line, I guess you haven’t been in the twisties much with apes, otherwise you wouldn’t be leaving that comment, but then again that’s pretty obvious.

  2. When our neighbour hit a steer, what killed him was the ape-hanger bar penetrating his chest and lungs. The Nazi-style crash helmet also meant that the bottom half of his head was twisted to one side, but it was the handlebar penetration that ultimately killed him. Still, all part of the Harley-Davidson “experience” I suppose.

    1. Ape hangers are not inextricably synonymous with “the Harley-Davidson experience.” I love Harley, but I don’t like gigantic ape hangers. Your story is tragic, poignant and potentially carries an important message for people considering the ape hanger look, but it is not indicative of a general reckless stupidity at Harley-Davidson or among their overall customer base.

      Just some food for thought. Thanks for the informative anecdote. Ride safe.

  3. Any size bars are equally likely to impale a rider, the ends point out so the wheel would have to be full lock and even then they don’t point back to the rider. If the rider was entangled with the bike during a collision it is possible that they could be impaled but again, no matter how tall your bars are, the ends or grips point the same direction. Actually, on apes they tend to be at more of a right angle to the rider while stock bars are angled back toward the rider slightly. If you hit something head on then the taller bars are going to possibly be in the path you are taking as you fly off the bike but not likely to be your biggest problem at that point. Most apes I have seen are wide enough for a pretty large person to pass through.

    I think some people don’t like them for the same reasons they were made illegal in the 70’s, they see them as a sign of a dirty criminal biker which is just profiling. I have apes on mine which keep my hands just below shoulder level and it helps with back and wrist fatigue. I know a lot of people who will only run apes because of comfort. None of us are in biker clubs nor are we criminal. Other than the retired ones we are all professionals and have very good paying jobs.

    People who are adamantly opposed to apes should talk to some people who have them and get a better understanding of what they are and what they do before issuing blanket statements about how unsafe they are. Motorcycles are unsafe by nature but the reasons are mostly because of the way people in cars drive. Apes aren’t the problem.

    1. SchottH I think they are different than the ones most people are talking about where at full stretch you can barely reach them (they literally look like you are hanging off of them with arms fully stretched like an ape hanging off a branch)

      Those are the ones that I am at least talking about.

      And Leon seemed to completely miss the point and think got a bit butt hurt by my previous comment, must have hit a nerve.

      draughtrider Why is it then I’m yet to see a Harley rider with a full face helmet? The amount of Harley riders my friends who are paramedics pull off the road with no face left which could have been 100% avoided is beyond a joke. Zero brains.

      Also harley’s are THE most complained about vehicle (above all cars and motorcycles) for noise according to police statistics.

      Sorry but the vast minority of Harley riders actually have brains. Open faced helmets (or in America pretty much none of them wear helmets if it’s legal to do so) and the only motorcycle to have extreme ape hangers and be associated ALSO with try hard outlaws or tough guy wanna be’s. In all my years I’ve known 3 people in total out of everyone I’ve met (thousands) that actually had a stock muffler and no ape bars (extreme type or not) and they STILL wore open faced helmets.

      Sorry but the statistics don’t lie.

      1. Well, don’t I blow away your stereotype.
        Harley rider with a full face helmet here, because I like my face the way it is.
        I do however have an aftermarket (though still legal because it’s an HD Screaming Eagle EC compliant one) muffler.

  4. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the individual rider. If you are a safe rider, then you have less to worry about. If you like to live on the edge and roar around at a hundred mile an hour everywhere, then there is a higher chance that you will or may be involved in an accident, in which case the handlebars (ape hanger or not) could possibly cause serious injury and or death. I think that the ape hangers look cool, but I would only ever use them if I personally knew, that I would be capable of handling them for whatever distance I may be travelling. Again, personal choice. People need to ride to their ability, not to the ability that they think they have. I’m a trike man and I love the 10” Mini Apes. They are nothing too high and extreme, but they still have that classic Ape Hanger look and styling. Ride safe, keep the wind in your hair and the sun at your back.

  5. The first time I saw one rider, one thing that crossed my mind was “unsafe”! But have come to see some that are considerably “comfort”.

  6. Beyond stupid and dangerous. You cannot tell me that the serious ape bars that are above even head height on some of them, have any control. They might be fine cruising down the highway but in any situation where emergency evasion is needed or even normal cornering etc it is bloody dangerous.

    It is the typical Harley attitude how they just want to be noticed and looked at, hence why the obnoxiously loud untasteful noise is part of almost every single Harley around as well.

    If you haven’t seen the Southpark episode with Harley riders I highly suggest you watch it. It summons them up 100% accurately.

    1. Well aren’t you a pompous POS! Being that the number one cause of motorcycle accidents is cars not yielding the right of way to the motorcycle, I would say being seen and heard is a good thing. Who cares what your stupid cartoon says about anyone.

      1. I’m not specifically a Harley fan, but I know a lot of people who ride them. To profile Harley riders and Harley attitude is puerile at best, and could be argued as far more telling of the poster than any Harley fan.

        I’ve never ridden a bike with anything but stock bars, save a small riser or modified grips for comfort. Reading the article made me realise that while many people might think ape-hangers look unusual, you’d have no idea how they actually perform unless you’d tried them.

        As a side note: the captcha is out of control! 5 rounds of pictures to prove I’m not a robot? Jesus H Christ.

            apes for me is a choice for control and comfort
            so ozbloke y dont u KISS my FUCKIN ASS

    2. I switched to 14″ ape hangers on my touring bike and it handles so much better when cornering now, it’s like night and day!

      The bike is also much more comfortable.

      Vast improvement over stock in every situation!

  7. Who cares what you all ride its that you ride any bike is a good bike ! If someone chooses to ride a bike with arms stretched up to the sky then good luck to them . The on ly person they are hurting is themselves ..

  8. Thousands of us grew up riding Sting Ray bicycles with ape hangers. Now I have a cool Harley with ape hangers just below eye level, and I can maneuver perfectly, at high speeds or slow speeds in tight spaces. It’s not dangerous at all ! It’s not uncomfortable either. Try not to judge things you know nothing about, it just shows you’re misinformed. The Harley thing and the ape hangers thing is part of American culture, and part of what it means to be a free country!!

  9. Love the apes.
    i see your negative points, but i can say the same thing about airbags in vehicles. i bet more people die from airbag impact than by ape hangers specifically…

  10. I like dragbars and I like ape hangers. In my opinion, everything in between are just handlebars and serve the purpose without any points for being cool. As I said, that is my opinion and everyone should run what they like. I have titanium in my lower spine and am not supposed to ride at all. The only way I can ride with any comfort is to have handlebars tall enuf to allow me to sit up straight and comfortable. Apes do nicely. Shoulder height is tall enuf. IMO – Anything any taller looks dumb and I would think would tire your arms out. As I said, I like dragbars but cannot ride with them because of my back.

  11. I am a tall person who likes to sit up straight while riding and that is why I chose apes for my bike. my bars are level with my shoulder and I have total control on highways and when cornering. I was defected and forced to lower my bars which I now feel I have lost the certainty that my handlebars were giving me. I now have a crouched feeling and take shorter rides because my back needs to take a rest and stretch as before my back was perfectly aligned with my bike. when I get in my car I adjust my seating and steering to suit and I have been driving a forklift for 35 years and you would never drive that until the necessary adjustments have been made. My hands on the steering wheel are also level with my shoulders and I would think most drivers hands are above their shoulders while driving.

    1. Apes are a great application on some bikes. I miss them on my 2017 fxdwg. That is going to change very soon. I will go with 16′ with the stock risers. Drags are great and the stock bars from whatever brand you ride were engineered and designed by professionals. This is what they do every day and get paid for.

      Some riders, like myself, think they can improve on the original design. It’s just a simple customization, we want to ride what is in our minds as functional and cool. Well, you can’t buy cool. If you were considered a Geek or a Nerd in High School, you will just be the same on a Harley with Apes.

      Back to functionality. You can strap a bunch of gear on to apes for a ride.

      Handeling is an adjustment and goes along with basic survival instincts. My rides are right shift , left shift, choppers and no front break machines. My mind shifts into survival mode and i adapt quickly to the ride.

      If you don’t ride every day, your not practicing enough.

      We all know practice makes perfect.

  12. As the name suggests APE HANGERS ARE FOR APES ,who are adamant that it’ improves the handling or there bikes ,if this is the case then I cannot help but wonder why we never see ape hangers on gp bikes

    1. The reason you don’t see ape hangers on gp bikes has more to do with wind resistance than handling. GP riders hug the tank to create as little wind resistance as possible. Apes on the other hand turn the rider into a big sail as they not only sit upright but also have their arms spread wide. As for handling I will quote Archimedes, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Apes are a longer lever making the turning of the wheel easier. That however only holds true for lower speeds, as every good rider knows leaning and shifting of weight provide better control at higher speeds.

      I will now go back to picking the nits out of my fur.

      Be well

      1. you are a very funny man. Love the way you got your points across with humor. Try standup and let me know, I will be there to cheer you on 😉

      2. Apples & Oranges…. Different type of bikes. You also don’t see custom bikes with clip-on’s where rider position is bent over, nor do you see rider hanging off them on curves.
        I have both types of bikes… A Shadow chopper, and an RD-350 2 stroke speed bike.
        But personally… I hate ape hangers.

  13. I have 18 inch hangers on my shadow. And I love them. I had the stock beach bars and just had a lot of shoulder pain. Switched to apehangers after a bike night. Won the bars in a raffle. I feel like I have better control of the bike and don’t have to bend over the tank.

  14. Ape hangers have their proponents and detractors. If you ve never tried a bike with some installed, it might be worth giving them a whirl you might like em!

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