SQlab Alt-Bars AndrewM
EDITORIAL

Handlebar Width & Staying Gracious

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major Unless Noted
Date Dec 21, 2018

Go Ride Your Bike

Short days, creeping moisture, greasy trails, and a regular torrent of tears from the heavens; it's that time of year again when it's too easy to skip a few rides. I'm here to remind you that if everyone in your life - partner, pets, parents, kids, bike mechanics, baristas,  etc., seems to have less patience for your bullsh*t these days, it's definitely you, not them. 

Sorry. They still love you. They just really want you to go ride your f**king bike. 

Many of us love nerding out over gear, but anyone who's spent the last three evenings trying to divine whether a 76.5° or 77° seat tube angle is superior needs to pull their lights off a charger and go for a ride. And if you're blind raging about anything, literally anything, to do with mountain bicycles then that's doubly true.  

Sorry. I won't make a habit out of telling you what to do but rain or rain, go ride your bike. 

Renthal-35mm-NSMB-AndrewM-1.jpg?w=1600

Renthal's 35mm Fatbar aluminum bars - engineered to ride exactly like their excellent 31.8mm bars - is a fantastic handlebar but the 7° back sweep makes them one of the straightest options on the market. 

Case in point, a friend sent me this link to an article on Pinkbike by Richard Cunningham about handlebar width. The body, for the click averse, is looking at the heights of various EWS and WC DH pro racers compared to their handlebar widths but the premise is asking whether you've taken a look at your personal setup lately.  

There are some interesting numbers to compare, like Isabeau Courdurier's 760mm bar at 5' tall VS Tracey Hannah at 740mm for a 5'6" frame, but I think the data largely illuminates the long held consensus that bar width is always going to be a combination of personal preference and average gap between trees where you ride. 

SQlab Alt-Bars AndrewM

If I hadn't tried SQLab 16° backswept bars I'd probably still be riding normal 7-9° bars, applying Voltaren to my left wrist and elbow, and there's no way I'd be regularly riding a rigid bike on the Shore. 

That wasn't my friend's profanity-laden takeaway; "no stem lengths, reach numbers, ape indexes, bar heights, head angles... how am I supposed to find this sh*t helpful?"

First off, bike fit isn't exactly a precise science. Even talking road bikes there are plenty of riders on 46cm bars who 'should' be on 42cm bars and vice versa, and there is much more fit-specific research and consensus on the tarmac. 

I think the point is that it never hurts to have a think about your current bike setup. I love playing with my setup so I don't need any encouragement, but for a lot of riders I know playing with handlebar tilt or height or width, when they consider their current set up fine, is a foreign idea.  


To set the record straight, personal preference is reason enough to defend your favorite width. I'm not going to dictate which bar you should ride." - Richard Cunningham

Food For Naught

If there's any overarching takeaway from the last couple decades of mountain bikes it's that there's no point in jumping in a foxhole with an opinion and surrounding myself with Concertina wire. 

As AJ mentioned yesterday,  it feels like all the really interesting new bikes are aluminum or steel. I know a few previously passionate 29" wheel haters working as their own absolution-ists. The men's WC DH title basically was won on a 1999 Balfa BB7*. Heck, I'm not sure how I ever thought lock-on grips where a good idea**. 

*Okay, not exactly the same. 
**Shout out to Dan Graham for never straying from glue-and-wires. 

Race Face Chester Cockpit AndrewM

Race Face hits a broad range of price levels with their cockpit options but their bar geometry is very consistent. Different widths can be easily achieved with a hacksaw but I'd love to see more diverse sweep options. 

Injuries, age, fitness and so on, there are plenty of changes that affect bike fit beside the measurements of your new rig. Even the change in weight distribution from ditching or switching packs can encourage dropping or raising bar height. 

Lately, I've been going back and forth between a 50mm and 60mm stem on one of my bikes. I prefer the 50mm on aggressive descents but the 60mm is much more comfortable on long climbs. It has me wondering why so many companies make a plethora of stem colourways but don't fill in their lineups with 45mm and 55mm stems. 

The History of Chromag Stems - The Ranger Shows a Big Advance in Skills

As much as it taunts me as a hypocrite with its two different hex-head sizes, the Chromag Ranger has long been one of my aesthetic favourites. I have a 50mm and 60mm and would love to split the difference with a 55mm. Photo: AJ Barlas

Back to my furious friend looking for an article to say what width bar he should run. I climb standing a lot and I've been buying 780mm bars or cutting longer handlebars to 780mm for years. That is my happy spot when I'm reefing back and forth on the grips and with narrower bars, my hands always end up hanging over the ends uncomfortably. Easy right? Wider bars don't work for me, which doesn't mean an 840mm bar doesn't work for you.

Except lately I've moved my brake levers inboard and when I landmark for descents a quick shift has my hands in a position closer to what I'd get with a 760mm or even 750mm handlebar. Handling is a little faster, I'm pumping the bike a bit more, and the stubs of my bar hanging out from each side make me feel like one of those punks from Bone Deth that huck off roofs on BMX bikes with more air pressure in a single 20" tire than most readers will have in their suspension fork. 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

Whether Renthal Push-On Ultra Tacky or Sensus Swayze, on my own bikes I'm fully on the glue-and-wire program. But I've also ridden lots of lock-on grips over the last couple years and I'd be happy to find a single-clamp option that matches my push-on favourites. 

It sounds a bit silly, but my +/- 20mm hand positioning for long climbs versus descending seems to be working really well for me and who knows, it may work for others who are indecisive about their optimum hand placement. With my push-on grips having no clamps there's ample grip space to move my mitts around. 

I happily recommend trying different widths, heights, and sweeps even for riders who are generally happy with their current setup. I won't recommend what bar dimensions you should use but I will say shorter winter rides are a great chance to experiment.

Oh, and hey, go ride your bike! 

Trending on NSMB

Comments

Kelownakona
+13 Beau Miller luisgutierod Carmel DarioD Poz Luix Mammal Kenny Pete Roggeman Andrew Major Metacomet Skyler Dustin Meyer
Kelownakona  - Dec. 21, 2018, 1:23 a.m.

This is why NSMB kicks PB's ass.

All about the ride and honest journalism.

Happy holidays folks

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Beau Miller
Andrew Major  - Dec. 21, 2018, 8:15 a.m.

Appreciated! But, not to give the proverbial gift horse a thorough prostate exam I do think there’s some great content on Pinkbike.

Just selected from thin air, here’s a couple examples of really good RC reads one from this year on building vs test-writing and one from a while back on accidental innovation and I also love Danielle Baker’s work on The Bakery.  

Anyways, just some credit where credit is due.

Merry Christmas!

Reply

fartymarty
+2 Pete Roggeman Cam McRae
fartymarty  - Dec. 22, 2018, 4:53 a.m.

NSMB has filled the massive hole left from the demise of Dirt after Steve Jones left.

Merry Xmas and keep up the great work.

Reply

Lynx
+1 Pete Roggeman Andrew Major Beau Miller
MountainBikeBarbados .  - Dec. 21, 2018, 4:17 a.m.

First up Andrew, another good one.

Now onto the premise, I mess with my setup all the time (can't understand how you're like me and live with glue/wired on grips, lock ons are a must) and I recently bought a SQLabs 30X 16 degree bar after trying a cheaper Salsa 11 degree bar (also after reading your review of them) and it not being enough. Really liking the position it let's me get my hands in without needing so much elbow bend, great for all the pedaling I like to do on flats, rolling, climbing and haven't noticed any downsides descending, all of course on a rigid Unit. Now wondering if it's going to feel weird when I hop back on my FS with only 9 degree sweep bars.

Agree with playing with bar rotation, not everyone is the same and while the intended design might work for the engineer who designed them or the rider that inpired them, you might prefer a slightly different angle. To me it's amazing the amount of people who bring bikes to me with bars rotated forward so far that there is no upsweep, actually there's down sweep and much less back sweep and when I "adjust them" they are amazed at how much better they feel and make the bike handle.

As to the actual article, yeah, it's PB and RC, take both with a BIG pinch of salt. Something that I noticed so long ago watching the EWS was Issabeu's bar width, could never fathom how someone who barely breaks 5ft tall can run the same width bar as I have on some of my bikes and I'm 6'2". In her case, I personally think she'd be much better off trimming 20-40mm off her width, she always looks so pulled over the front because of that wide bar.

As to your current setup, actually looks quite fine with those longer lever blades for me and one finger braking with hands all the way out to the edge of the grips ;-)

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Dec. 21, 2018, 8:35 a.m.

Cheers!

Even with the SQLab bars my saddle-to-bar and seated & standing reach are different on my different bikes so I find my bars all feel a bit different when I’m standing over the top tube, but all feel ‘right’ when I’m on the pedals.

Did you ever read RC’s article about building his own airplane? I’ve enjoyed quite a few pieces he’s written over the years - linked in a couple of my favs in the comment above. As I keep learning myself it doesn’t all end up being gold (or even bauxite).

This sounds cocky maybe - but working in shops the best moments were making that minor adjustment to the saddle, bar, brake levers, suspension, etc that seemed like nothing and then rider feedback being just STOKED. Years ago, I cut 3” off a rider’s 410mm Thomson post while they waited and I still get a hug when I see them it was so game changing. Gotta savour those moments!

Gluing & wiring grips isn’t just about having no hard plastic sleeve between hand and bar. I mean, that part is great. It’s also about the non-instant process. The same way I enjoyed installing cantilever brakes over v-brakes. That thin, supple, all rubber grip that doesn’t move and yet subtly has give in every direction because the rubber is quite thick - mated with carefully twisted wires and glue carefully maximized around the inside. 

Delicious.

Reply

GladePlayboy
+2 Pete Roggeman Andrew Major
Rob Gretchen  - Dec. 21, 2018, 6:17 a.m.

Good article... JGRYFB... best take-away yet!!    Much too much analysis paralysis out there these days...

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Dec. 21, 2018, 8:40 a.m.

Thanks! You guys out on the fatbikes yet? Analysis paralysis percolated over an off-season is the worst!

Reply

GladePlayboy
0
Rob Gretchen  - Dec. 21, 2018, 4:56 p.m.

We have no snow lower down at all.. still riding the regular bike in places.. fatbikes higher up....

Reply

pedalhound
0
pedalhound  - Dec. 21, 2018, 9:20 a.m.

Thanks Rob...I just bought jgryfb.com...haha...who know's if I will even do anything with it but it's a great name...lol.

Reply

AJ_Barlas
+2 Pete Roggeman Andrew Major
AJ Barlas  - Dec. 21, 2018, 8:07 a.m.

This:

“I think the data largely illuminates the long held consensus that bar width is always going to be a combination of personal preference and average gap between trees where you ride.”

And don’t over-analyze, just ride your bike. 🙂

Reply

JBV
+1 Mammal
James Vasilyev  - Dec. 21, 2018, 10:12 a.m.

a couple yrs ago the Bikemag tests had the women specific bikes and tester videos out. most the gals were very small, slight ladies and they praised the bikes for finally coming with wide bars, 780-800 i think. they looked redonkulous and to me, were struggling to handle the bikes with their hands so wide. it's not just pushup width but where your lat strength comes into play that i think makes really wide bars a negative rather than a positive. i'm 194cms and if i even demo a bike with 800mm bars (which is like, all of the xl's i hop on now) i hate it.

Reply

Vincent66
0
Vincent66  - Dec. 22, 2018, 8:52 a.m.

The last sentence wraps it up pretty much for me !

Merry Christmas everyone ! Cheers !

Reply

andrewbikeguide
0
AndrewR  - Dec. 22, 2018, 9:27 p.m.

@AJ Barlas. Pro make a 55 mm stem (Part # PRSS0387). I run the 35 mm on my Range and the 45 mm on my Sight and that way I have the same practical reach on both bikes. Or you could go nuts and ask ENVE is you could "test" their 55 mm stem.

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