As mountain bikers, we take pride in our bikes and swear by parts that have treated us well in the past. Everything on our bikes — from the style of pedals to our favorite saddles — builds a relationship between us and our rigs, but there is one part many riders overlook.
Yes, we are talking about handlebars, and to be more specific, we’re talking about the width of those bars.
The New Era Of Wide Handlebars
It’s no secret that handlebars have been growing wider over the last five years, and this trend is largely a product of changes in bike geometry. Modern bikes are built with shorter chainstays and longer top tubes that demand wider handlebars and shorter stems to bring out the best handling.
These changes have made bikes more stable and responsive than in the past. However, the law of diminishing returns says there’s a limit to how wide you can go and still benefit. We set out to find that limit and help you choose the right bar width for your bike.
To be wide or not to be wide? Handlebar width plays an important role in how a bike fits and feels; however, current trends have pushed riders to use wider bars than ever before, causing some riders to run flat-out handlebars too wide. At what point do we say wide enough is too much?
The Importance Of The Right Width
Almost every rider understands the importance of finding the correct saddle height and placing their controls comfortably, but many riders leave their handlebars the way they came stock. This doesn’t necessarily mean your handlebars are the wrong size for you but remember that many bike manufacturers use the same handlebar width across their entire size lineup.
Imagine two riders — one who makes their living as an NBA player and one who moonlights as a jockey. Now, put them on the same bike with their appropriate-sized frame and the same handlebar width. It would be a pretty good guess to say one of those riders isn’t experiencing the same level of comfort and control as the other. The larger rider is likely to fit a wider 760- or 780-millimeter bar, while the smaller rider would probably fit more naturally on a 720- or 740-millimeter bar.
Making it easy: Some handlebars, such as the Renthal Fatbar Carbon, provide riders with markings that make cutting their bars to size quick and easy.
Other Factors Affecting Handlebar Width
However, this is far from a hard-and-fast rule, and various factors can impact your ideal handlebar width.
Terrain: Terrain significantly influences a rider’s preferred handlebar width. The taller rider may be forced to use a smaller bar if they’re slaloming trees that barely allow enough clearance for the bar ends. Giving up a little leverage is easier if it means you’re not smashing your knuckles into trees on every turn. By contrast, a desert rider with a smaller stature will have no issues blasting the trails with the widest bars he or she feels comfortable with.
Style: A rider’s style can also influence their choice of handlebar width. Choosing a wider bar will offer more leverage over rough terrain on descents, as well as more leverage over the bike during slower cadence climbing. Narrower bars will put the rider in a forward-leaning, aerodynamic position that allows them to spin at a higher cadence more efficiently but will sacrifice stability going downhill.
Reach: It’s important to remember that these bar widths changes will also change your reach on the bike. A change in reach can affect the body-weight distribution and overall bike fit. To remedy this, we recommend shortening your stem around 10 millimeters for every 20 millimeters of bar width gained — and vice versa.
Top Tips For Finding The Perfect Width
The feeling you’ll get from a perfect bike fit is second to none and will increase your confidence and your bike’s stability, handling, and attitude on the trail. Finding the perfect bar width can be hard, so here are a few helpful tips:
- If your current bars are too narrow, there is no safe way to add length. Sorry. The only way to fix this problem is to buy new handlebars.
- Using 800-millimeter handlebars is a great way to experiment. After every couple of rides, cut them in 10-millimeter increments until you’re satisfied.
- While experimenting with handlebar widths, buy used or inexpensive aluminum bars so you don’t risk ruining a carbon bar.
- Try the tape measure method. Go into a natural push-up position and measure the distance between the outside sides of your right and left hands. This may require a conversion from inches to millimeters. Google will be your friend on that one.
- Keep in mind the trails you ride and what obstacles you may face, such as narrowly spaced trees. This may cause you to run a narrower handlebar than preferred. Your intact knuckles will thank you.
- Never assume your bike came stock with handlebars that fit you perfectly. Bikes often come with wider bars than necessary to satisfy riders on larger frames. If you’re riding a small or extra-small frame, take a second look at your handlebar width.
- Your stem and handlebars work together. Sometimes it will be necessary to replace your stem if you drastically change your handlebar width.
Perfecting Your E-Bike Comfort
Finding the right handlebar width is crucial to perfecting your e-bike riding experience. Getting the handlebar width right has a knock-on impact on your comfort on the e-bike, enabling you to cruise along the seafront, tackle tricky terrains, and scale the highest of hills with ultimate ease.