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Image credit: Zoon Cronje

Standing head and shoulders above the rest

Assuming you’ve read the previous article on handlebar width, and you have had your shoulder width measured from outer to outer, using the bony intrusion as a point of reference, you can now determine the correct bar width. Let’s take a moment to discuss road handlebar width, and translate the measurements.

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The above measurements are measured from centre to centre of the handlebar.

Sizing it up

Based on the measurements above, it can be seen that road handlebar width can be a fairly simple selection. How is it then that mountain bike handlebars are such a big debate at present? The answer is simple. In the booming industry of mountain biking we are now offered far more choice than we once had, and with the introduction of the bigger 29 inch wheel we now have to change what we once thought was the norm. Typically on our once trusted 26 inch wheels, bar width was never a major issue. The consensus was to have the bars narrow enough to manoeuvre through those tight, tricky trails. The majority of handlebars rarely stretched over the 600mm in width. It was only those maniac downhill experts that seemed to have enough courage to adopt the wider handlebar, and even so a 700mm handlebar width was then considered wide!

Nowadays, riders use anything from 680mm to 780mm in handlebar width, and in some extreme cases 810mm. This begs the question; what handlebar width is correct for you?

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Image credit: Zoon Cronje

Using the same shoulder width measurement mentioned earlier in the article, you may use the following translation into handlebar width as a basic guide to what width would work best for you for mountain biking.

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Any person with a shoulder width lower than 410mm should consider the narrower option of a 660mm handle bar, this is the lowest recommended width on 29 inch mountain bikes; it is a common width used for woman cyclists, as a shoulder width broader than 410mm in woman is fairly uncommon. A bar width of less than 660mm is not advisable as this will result in you losing the leverage and control necessary to steer the bigger 29 inch wheel.

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Image credit: Zoon Cronje

Bearing this in mind, it is important to discuss what type of riding you will be doing, and what you are looking to get out of the bike. Like many component choices, a person’s ideal bar width is a function of the type of riding they do, where they ride and what they ride.

The wider handlebar option will give more control to the front of the bike, and make the bike feel a lot less ‘twitchy’. A wider bar will also open up the chest, allowing for easier breathing. It will also allow for greater ‘pull’ on the bar and better leverage, and this will help with those steep uphill sections of trail that require you to grip and pull on the handlebar, therefore improving the amount of power transfer onto the pedals. Wider bars will also give you more balance, which helps you hold your line through roots, rocks, and ruts.

By now a lot of cyclists will be asking the question, “I already get my handlebars caught on most things like branches, trees or gates, how can I possibly go wider”? It is always important to have one’s confidence in mind when making this choice of bar width. It may take some time to adjust to a new handlebar width, but it should never compromise one’s confidence when approaching sketchy drop offs or loose rocky uphills.

In order to maintain a comfortable position on the bike with a wider handlebar, you will have to look at a handlebar with a suitable back sweep to ensure this. In our next article we will look into handlebar back sweep, and how it affects comfort and control.