Mountain bike handlebars: the width issue! Why are wider bars better? - by BikeRadar
When it comes to mountain bike handlebars, wider is better. They offer you more control, easier breathing and better positioning for balance. This makes you more stable and slower to fatigue. As with any component so intimately related to fit, handlebar width is relative. So what constitutes ‘wide’? For bikes that are small, medium, large/extra large, we’d consider the following handlebar widths as ‘wide’, respectively: 650-680mm, 680-730mm, 730-750mm. Anything larger than 750mm is probably influenced by discipline – downhill or gravity, for example – and personal preference.
When it comes to fitting a wide bar, the first thing to understand is that bar width is closely linked to stem length. So as you add bar width you should also reduce stem length. For example, say you’ve decided to go from a 680mm to 700mm bar, and you have a 90mm stem – we’d suggest reducing stem length to 75mm. How about swapping from 680mm to 730mm? Try going to a 65mm stem, and so forth. Going even wider, to 750mm on a trail bike, you should plan on pairing the bar to a 50mm stem. Once you head into the mid-700mm range, it’s worth considering the terrain you’re riding. Those who rip aggressive trails at higher speeds are much more likely to benefit from a wider bar. Whereas slow-speed singletrack technicians will likely get tired of weaving a wide bar through tightly spaced trees. So think about the environments you like to ride in when considering this ‘wider is better’ movement. Also consider the purpose of your riding, as bar width can easily be influenced by this, too. Generally, faster trails are more open, so are more conducive to wider bars. Prefer downhill racing on high-speed courses, or tackling jump trails? A medium-sized rider could push out to the 800mm width there. And we can imagine an East Coast all-mountain rider being quite happy with a 680mm bar.
Downhill and uphill advantages
The main feature of a wider bar is the increased leverage it gives riders. This means steering inputs require less force, but you need greater movement when driving. It also makes it easier to resist trail feedback. All of this conspires to give you much more control over the bike.Try doing a push-up with your hands centered and touching under your chest; then move them out past your shoulders – which is easier, and which feels more stable? Now imagine a rough downhill run as a series of push-ups. A wider bar also requires (or allows) a shorter stem, which can center you better over your bike. This makes for easier and more dramatic weight shifts both front and rear, allowing for more overall control of the bike. Finally, long travel (and even short travel) trail bike geometry is going in the direction of slack head tube angles. More bar-based leverage serves to mute the floppy feeling that some riders struggle to adjust to.
It’s easy to argue that stability and balance can help with going uphill, especially when things get technical. Leverage is a benefit too, when you’re out of the saddle and putting down the power. But the substantial uphill benefit most riders will notice with a wide bar is how it opens the chest for easier breathing when climbing.
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