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Image credit: Zoon Cronje

[blockquote_s=Archimedes]Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.[/blockquote_s]

Making a clean sweep

If you are considering the wide handlebar bar option, then it is important to select a bar with the necessary amount of back sweep to suit your width choice. Back sweep will put your wrists and hands into a more natural position, which will then translate into the arms and shoulders. It also gives a feeling of better steering and climbing leverage on the front of the bike. It stands to reason that the longer the handle bar width, the greater the need for a bigger back sweep that accommodates the stretched feeling a wider bar will cause. For this reason many riders reduce their handlebar width to cure that ‘extra wide’ feeling that a straight bar will create.

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How much back sweep is enough?

Back sweep usually varies between 3 and 9 degrees in most handle bar makes and models, however certain brands have felt the need for a back sweep as much as 17 degrees. A bar with less back sweep will usually require a more aggressive stance by the rider with a bent elbow and hunched shoulders to maintain the reach. This position can usually be utilised best in short course XC style racing. For longer marathon riding, a slightly more relaxed position would be necessary and therefore the back sweep would need to be greater. You will find a handlebar with a big back sweep will bring the handle bars closer to you, helping the rider maintain a more comfortable stance, with straighter arms and relaxed shoulders. Although this position will relieve a lot of shoulder tension and neck ache, it is important to note that as more back sweep is added, the position may feel slightly cramped. This can affect control and handling, and make the bike feel slightly more ‘twitchy’. Therefore a longer stem may be an option to maintain a certain level of control on the bike.

When purchasing a new bike, be aware of the previous bar width on which you were riding. A common mistake is to trim down that newly purchased handlebar to regain a familiar feeling of confidence once possessed on the old machine, usually a common transition process from the 26inch to the bigger wheel size of the 29er.

One should note that nowadays a handlebar back sweep is usually a standard 9 degrees. If the bar width is narrower than 660mm, with this amount of back sweep it will leave the rider sporting a locked elbow position on the bike.

A locked elbow does not bode well as a natural shock absorber when referring to body position on the bike. If a surprise bump or rock appears in your path then it is important to have a slight bend in the elbows to relax the neck and shoulders and absorb any impact transferred from the front wheel and shock.

Know all the angles - Stem length and angle

Body position will go hand in hand with stem length and angle. Therefore you will be looking for the correct stem length once you have selected the handlebar suited to your riding style and comfort. To be sure you are using the correct stem length the general rule of thumb that can be used to determine this is to ensure the angle between the torso and the outstretched arm holding onto the handlebars should be 90 degrees. If the rider is too stretched for reach over the 90 degree angle then the stem will have to be shortened until the 90 degree angle is achieved.

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Image credit: Zoon Cronje

Now when selecting which stem length is optimal, the stem angle should also be considered as the stem angle will have a direct influence on handlebar height; it is for this reason that many stem manufacturers have started introducing negative degree angle stems from -17degree, -20degree and -30degree. For most, this may seem like an extreme and unnecessary adjustment, however, a more aggressive stem and handlebar position can drastically improve handling and control. Another factor which is affected, which might not be immediately apparent, is the bike stack height. In simple terms, stack height is the distance between the handlebars and the top of the bike tyre. If the stack height is bigger and there is more space between the tyre and handle bar, then there will be an increased amount of flex between the fork and headset of the frame. Increased flex will cause the bike to feel less responsive and direct when negotiating loose rocky sections, and may cause the bike to feel very flimsy when performing out the saddle efforts.

We hope this article gives you a better understanding and better equips you to make the right selection for your bike. However, bearing in mind all that was discussed thus far, one can understand that there are many meticulous measurements and aspects to consider when choosing the correct handle bar, and therefore it is advisable to visit your local bike fit studio to have your bike properly fitted to get the most enjoyable experience out of your riding.