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If you’ve seen popular movies and television series about motorcycle riders or clubs, you’ve likely heard reference to “ape hangers.” However, drivers and riders who aren’t accustomed to cruisers, choppers, and custom bikes might not know what the term means. So, what are ape hangers? And do they serve a useful purpose for riders?

‘Ape hangers’ are high-rising bars that sit well above Hollywood bars, drag bars, and mini-apes on motorcycles worldwide

Ok, you’re sitting at an intersection on a sunny Saturday afternoon. You look to your right and you see it: a rider on a late-model Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob. That’s nothing out of the ordinary on American streets. After all, mile-munching cruisers like Harley-Davidsons and Indian motorcycles are some of the most common bikes in the country. However, something is a bit off about this one. 

This rider is sitting with one hand in their lap, and the other on a grip rising like a crane from his riser cover. This rider has ape hangers. It’s a moto-culture colloquialism term often referring to high-rising, single-piece handlebars on a cruiser, bagger, chopper, or other custom motorcycles

A custom motorcycle shows what a canvas a bike can be with ape hangers and a custom paint job.
A custom motorcycle with ape hangers | Click_and_Photo via iStock

However, before you curse ape hangers as vapid, image-oriented modifications devoid of functional purpose, they once had a helpful intent. For instance, “mini-apes” will allow a rider to sit back, straightening the spine. Furthermore, reasonable hangers allow the shoulders, arms, and hands to hang in a comfortable position. 

Of course, ape hangers (and better yet, mini-apes), can’t do all the work. Some custom motorcycle builders will pair a tall set of ape hangers with forward-set controls and a rear-oriented solo saddle. Unfortunately, the forward-set pegs, brakes, and shifter will force a rider’s body into a crescent shape. As such, long trips that would otherwise be cathartic can be agonizing. 

Beyond comfort-focused bars that snake out of a riser cover to an ergonomic position, some riders insist on 18 or even 20-inch hangers. Handlebars of that height serve little to no purpose other than aesthetics. Doubt it? Imagine performing motor-skill manipulations while performing something of a flexed-arm hang on a narrow seat at 60 mph.