Mountain bike handlebars started off narrow but over time they have become wider and wider. Has this happened just because times have changed or are there real reasons.
Why are mountain bike handlebars so wide? Handlebars on mountain bikes are wider because they offer more stability and control. There is more turning power and leverage going around corners. Riders feel more comfortable and confident with wider handlebars.
Knowing how to take full advantage of your handlebars is essential if you want to increase your biking performance.
What Are Wide Mountain Bike Handlebars Good For
- Mountain bikers ride over various type of terrain. These include dirt, gravel, mud, sand, snow, rock, roots, and logs. Stability is key when biking over all of these surfaces. Wide handlebars give you the stability needed in order to remain balanced while rolling over them.
- Stability also improves bike handling capabilities. A wider handlebar can absorb the impact that the front tire encounters by remaining steady. A narrower handlebar will bounce around and be shaken more, so the rider has to focus more of their energy on just holding the bike steady instead of maneuvering the bike.
- This will result in poorer bike performance on the trails. The rider will have to slow down in order to maintain the steadiness of the bike instead of focusing on going faster. Too much of this could inevitably lead to a crash.
- On the trail there are all kinds of turns one will encounter. Wide handlebars offer more leverage and power in order to make the turn quickly and successfully. Being able to hold your momentum while in a turn is essential to getting through it.
- All turns require that the rider fight against the momentum to go straight. Wider handlebars cause your weight to be shifted forward which grounds the front wheel more. This improves turning at high speeds when cornering. It is easier to hold the turn in place compared with a narrower grip due to a narrow handlebar.
- Gripping your handlebars widely is more comfortable than a narrower grip. This comfort will make you feel more confident and secure during your mountain biking. You will feel and have more control over your steering.
How Wide Should Your Handlebars Be
- Believe it or not but how wide you have your handlebars is mostly based on personal preference. This is because I have seen taller riders use narrower handlebars and shorter riders use wider handlebars. So in the end it is your choice, go with what you feel most comfortable with.
- I know saying go with what you are most comfortable with is not exactly too helpful. So here are some guidelines. Basically you want handlebars which allow you to be able to grip them comfortable at 4 or 5 inches wider than your shoulder width.
- There are two ways you can figure this out. First you can stand 4 feet in front of a wall facing it. Then have some one push you into the wall. You put your hands up to stop yourself from hitting into the wall. The second way is to do a standard push up.
- The reason these two approaches are good is because they put your arms in their most powerful pushing position. You will be pushing, pulling, and pumping your handlebars as you ride. The strongest grip for this is like a bench press grip.
- Another guideline is taller riders should have wider handlebars, and shorter riders should have more narrow handlebars. This may not always be the case because riders arm lengths vary. Someone may be tall with shorter arms, and someone may be short with longer arms.
- The type of riding you do is also important. A downhill mountain biker should have a wider handlebar. They will be riding faster and on rough terrain. They will need the extra stability of a wider handlebar.
- If you are more of a cross country rider your handlebars will not need to be as wide. The trails you ride will be flatter and smoother. You won’t need as much stability, instead you will want to be more aerodynamic. You’ll have your elbows in closer to your sides and not flaring out as much.
What is the Average Mountain Bike Handlebar Width
If you are not sure about choosing your handlebar width then a good place to start would be around 750ml or 760ml. This is the most common width that mountain bikers are using. This is just a place to start, make sure you test out the width for yourself.
Once you are on a bike with a 750ml width handlebar then you can try going a bit wider. Some of the wider lengths go up to 820ml. You can also try going a little narrower such as down to 650ml. Try a number of widths to see what feels right and take it out for a test ride.
How Do You Know If Your Handlebars Are Too Wide
- If you are riding the trails with very wide handlebars you will not be able to maneuver the bike very well. You will feel very sluggish as you try to navigate through singletrack trails as an example. Your response time will be slower when you need to turn.
- As you ride through the forest you’ll find that your handlebars are getting too close to the trees. You may even crash into a tree with the right or left handlebar. This will cause you to smash you hand on the tree. Very painful.
- Another way to tell is your elbows won’t be bent enough. When you are in the attack position your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle. If you see that your elbows are at more than a 90 degree angle even though your body position is good, then the handlebars are too wide. You should not have to stretch or reach for the handlebars.
- A more scientific approach is to sit on your bike in a comfortable position. Drop a plumb line from the back of your elbow while you are in the attack position. This is the most common position you will be in one the trails, but you can do this exercise with other riding positions.
- Make sure that either your left or right pedal is in a pedal position which makes the crankarm horizontal to the ground. When you are in this position see that the plumb line is 2 to 4cm ahead of the knee.
- Now take a look at your elbows and make sure they are at a 90 degree angle. If the angle of your elbows is greater or less than a 90 degree angle then you need to change the width of the handlebars. This exercise can be done again and again for each handlebar you want to try.
- Make sure as you do this exercise that you are gripping the handlebars and can squeeze the brakes properly. This will make sure you are gripping the handlebars as you would when you are riding so you can determine the width.
Handlebar Rise and Sweep
A final factor in determining the correct width and handlebar for you is the rise and sweep of the bar. The rise of the bar is how much the bar rises when compared to the center of the bar. The sweep of the bar is how much the bar bends back toward you as the rider.
A straight handlebar will cause your wrists to be angled in. This will push the elbows out and the shoulders up. This position is very stable when in technical terrain but it can also be awkward and uncomfortable for some riders.
When the handlebar sweeps back and rises this allows the wrists to relax. The elbows drop down and the shoulders are lower. The shoulder blades then lower and are retracted which causes more stability and allows the back muscles to be used more.
This gives more stability to the spine and into the pelvis. So take into consideration the sweep and rise of the handlebars and compare it to straight handlebars and see how it feels.