Blog post

Do you use the correct handlebar?



Written by Johann Wykerd

5 September 2018

Many mountain bikers don’t give a lot of thought to handlebars. In our experience your handlebar can make a huge difference to your bike comfort and bike handling. With this blog we will chat a bit about the things to consider in choosing the best mountain bike handlebar for you. I am not going to go into handlebars for Downhill or Hardcore endurance, but will be considering the handlebars we use every day, riding our mountain bikes on our favourite trails.

Much of the information I am sharing I got from this great article:

Bar Geometry

There are two main numbers to consider when looking at MTB handlebar geometry: rise and sweep.

Rise is essentially the height differential between the center of the bar where it attaches to the stem and just after the taper and transitional bend. Mountain bike handlebars are typically configured with zero-rise (flat bars) all the way up to 100 mm (roughly 4 inches). Bars with 100 mm rise aren’t very common anymore and these days, “high-rise” bars are usually in the 40-50 mm range (about 1.5-2 inches). The most popular handlebars on 29er mountain bikes, considering how and where most of us ride, are zero-rise (flat bars). We will however consider a riser bar if we have to fit a tall rider where the cockpit is too low. We prefer using a high-rise bar over a high-rise stem as the handling is negatively affected with a high-rise stem.

There are two measures of sweep: upsweep and backsweep. Upsweep is the vertical angle of the bars at the grip. Upsweep does affect the overall rise of the bars, but it’s a separate measurement and is designed for rider comfort more than anything else. Most bars, if they list an upsweep measurement at all, will fall between 4° and 6°. This tends to be a good, neutral position for riders, in terms of wrist angle.

Backsweep refers to the angle at which the bars sweep toward the back of the bike. This angle typically ranges from 0° for a completely straight bar to 12°. The backsweep of the handlebar can play a big role in hand comfort. Most stock bikes come with a handlebar with 9° backsweep. This means that the tips of the handlebars come back at you a bit allowing you to use a slightly longer stem or wider handlebar because your overall reach is ok. For a while some of the top women’s mountain bike team experimented with 12° backsweep bars because this allowed them to ride with much wider bars without adding to much additional stress on their shoulders and hands.

If you had a bikefit done with a 720mm handlebar with 9° backsweep on your bike and then you change to new handlebar that is also 720mm wide but has a 6° backsweep, the handlebar is going to feel wider because the tips are further away from you. This can be remedied by going for a slightly shorter stem or by cutting the new bar ever so slightly.

So yes, handlebar backsweep is a very important consideration when it comes to comfort on your bike.

Bar Width

This is the biggie that everyone talks about and you have probably heard the mantra that wider is better. That is true for most modern riders, as wide bars slow down steering for added control (especially when paired with a short stem) and can even make breathing easier on the climbs.

These days, mountain bike bars are available in widths ranging from less than 600mm all the way up to 840mm or more. When shopping for mountain bike handlebars, it is important to note the width of the bars but keep in mind, you can always cut the bars down–but you can’t safely add length. Cross-country riders will usually prefer narrower bars compared to trail and downhill riders.

Beyond control considerations, wider bars can make navigating dense forest trails more difficult. Also keep comfort in mind. If you have short arms, you may not want the widest bars available, even if you are a super aggressive gravity rider.

Ladies, please consider your shoulder width to those of men. It makes no sense for you to use a 720mm bar if the guy in your life is using one. Also give serious consideration to the backsweep of your new handlebar as I discussed earlier.

As always, please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our experience bike fitters should you have any questions.


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