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How to perfect your bike's handling: bar width!

#handlebarwidth #wideornarrow #keeppedalling

How wide should your handlebars be? Mountain bike handlebars come REALLY wide, and the hot tip is to cut them down to a more reasonable width. But what’s a reasonable width for you, and what other factors might you want to consider before getting out the saw?

PNW Components Range handlebar at Jenson USA:
Jenson USA’s complete selection of handlebars:

Through the 90s, we were stuck with sketchy, narrow bars. It kind of looked like we were riding with chopsticks rather than handlebars! Then, as best I can remember, Answer ProTaper bars came out in about 1998 or so. I thought they were a full 710/28” wide, but after some online research, it looks like they were only 690, or 27”. Regardless, ProTapers actually got narrower again for the next five or so years, and were eventually sold as narrow as 630mm! So yeah, we came from a world of really, really narrow bars.

Handlebars are usually sold around 780 to 800mm wide or so. That’s HUGE! But if a bar comes really wide, that’s good news, because it can easily be made more narrow. There’s been a bit of a pendulum shift back to more reasonable widths. Reviewing some of Pinkbike’s reporting from the EWS scene it seems that many top pros are running 740-780mm bars.

I’ve been using different width bars on my bikes, and that is because the different widths end up providing some different handling characteristics.

Let’s go over a few of the different ways width will affect the feel of your bike!

1. Stability downhill- wider often has the advantage in general downhill smashing because that wider stance provides more stability and leverage against steering forces. If you find where your arms are naturally positioned for a push up, well, they are probably around shoulder width, and when you smash roots and rocks, it’s nice to have a similar bend to your arm as you would when doing a push up.
2. Wider bars are great, but they often end up muting any Playful handling traits of your bike. This means jumping, wheelies, cornering and even switchbacks will become harder and less fun with a bar that’s too wide. When the bar is too big, your elbow is too bent, and unless you have really long arms, you won’t be able to hinge enough to lean the bike over.
3. Out of the saddle pedaling feels way better with wide bars. This goes hand-in-hand with dropper seat posts. Once the saddle is no longer being used as much as a control point, the extra leverage and stability of the bars becomes crucial.

On my four main bikes, each one has a little different bar width:

My big HD4, with the 170 fork, has the widest bars. This bike has a long wheelbase and a slack head angle, and I need that leverage to control the thing. The trade off is that its harder to handle on corners and jumps, and loses a lot of the playful feel that the bike should have with the 27.5 wheels.

My little HD4, with the 130 fork and 136 rear travel, has narrower bars. This bike is SUPER FUN and playful, and I am very happy with the feel. 755mm

My Ripmo is a pretty big bike, and after I broke my scapula, it was a lot harder to throw it around. I shortened the bars down after that injury, and now have them at 745mm. This helps get the bike feeling more lively again.

My Mojo 3 is at 30” wide (760mm) since the bike is fairly small, and I want it to feel as though it’s a tad bigger. A trick with shorter bikes that you want to have feel as though they are longer is to mount up wider bars. It goes a LONG ways to transforming the feel!

Handlebars age- and they get weaker over time. Especially alloy bars. Breaking a set of bars is NO FUN, I’ve done it and was lucky to walk away with only 13 stitches. Point of this is DO NOT BE AFRAID TO CUT YOUR BARS- if you go too narrow, new bars are a good idea every couple years just to stay safe.

Big thanks to these guys for making this all possible! Any purchases from these links will directly help support this series as well:

Jenson USA:
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Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB):
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