Handlebars provide control on the road or the trail and have the ability to completely change your riding experience. From handling precision to overall comfort, the right bar makes a world of difference. What should you look for in a new bar? Body geometries and personal preference both play a factor. Continue reading if you are interested in road fit, but if you are only interested in mountain fit, skip down to the mountain bar section below.
Proper fit on a road bike is essential to guarantee a comfortable ride and avoid injury. Beyond frame geometries, the bar is the next fit item that can drastically change the way you interact with your bicycle. Width, drop, and reach are the three handlebar geometries you should pay attention to when selecting your next bar.
The width of the bar can be measured differently depending on manufacturer. Some bar makers measure this width from center-to-center of the bar at the hoods, while others measure from outside-to-outside of the bar. Still others measure at the ends of the handlebars, which often flare out, meaning that the width at the hoods is narrower. Make sure you know how the bar is measured that you are looking at.
Finding the right width for you depends upon the width of your shoulders. Below is a brief video about how to measure shoulder width and then translate that measurement to a handlebar width that fits.
Reach and drop are two more bar dimensions that will change bike fit. The bar reach is the distance from the top of bar out to the apex of the hook where the hoods sit. The reach dimension will determine how extended your body will be when you have your hands comfortably resting on the brake hoods. If you currently feel like you are overreaching on your bike, new bars with a shorter reach can be an easy fix. Back pain can be a good indication of overreaching. Drop is measured from the top of the bar to the drop, typically using a center-to-center measurement. A more aggressive (lower/longer) drop will lower your center of gravity and is beneficial for descending at high speeds and allows for a more aero position.Shop Road Bars
Stability and control are essential when navigating technical terrain on a mountain bike. Handlebars can change a lot when it comes to your interaction with a bicycle. Most people, myself included, will purchase a mountain bike and never consider the bars that came on it and how they might drastically affect the feel of the bike.
In recent years, bars have been trending to wider widths. With wider bars comes more steering leverage. This has been popular because it provides a more stable feel at higher speeds. The 29er standard has increased rolling speeds adding to this even more. Today, most manufacturers make up to a 800mm wide bar; significantly wider than what would have been standard 10 years ago. Mountain bar widths are a lot more dependent on personal preference than fit compared to road. It will change based on discipline and what you are used to riding. Riders that prefer rock gardens and more technical terrain will most likely prefer a wider bar, offering a wider, more stable stance on the bike, and for leverage to prevent front wheel deflection. The downside of wide bars is that they can catch off-trail shrubbery if you are riding very narrow single tracks that are densely vegetated. The same stability offered by wide bars also means that they slow down handling and that can make carving through less technical singletrack a bit more laborious. Take a second to think about the trails you ride most often and which of the above factors are going to be most important to you.
When making decisions about bar width, mountain bars allow you some flexibility because they can be cut down in width. The Spank Spike 800 allows for 27mm of cut on both sides. Meaning this bar can be customized to measure anywhere in between 746mm and 800mm. Also, as a bar gets wider, it will shift your body further forward on the bike. Increasing the distance between your hands decreases the distance between your hands and chest—simple body mechanics. Because of this, stem length can also play a factor in the bar width game. A shorter stem might be in order after adding wider bars, or for some smaller changes, consider changing stem length instead of bar width. This can have the same desired leverage effects on steering. Be patient and try a few different setups before making any permanent decisions (hacking off the ends of your bar).
With all of that said here are some general guidelines, trail riders generally do well with 710-740mm wide, enduro riders tend to go for 740-770mm wide, and downhillers typically ride bar widths between 770-800mm.
Spending the time to dial-in bar fit on road and mountain bikes will be well worth it in the future, both in terms of comfort and ride performance. Head over to the Art’s Learning Center to see other helpful videos and write-ups on bicycle fitting.
Rubber Side Down is a weekly column dedicated to the fledgling cyclist in all of us. Art’s Cyclery Web Content Editor, Brett Murphy is not a professional cyclist, and doesn’t try to masquerade as one either, but he does love to ride bikes. Whether you are clipping in for the first time or counting down the days until your first race, read on, learn from his mistakes, and keep the rubber side down.