Wider is Better: Handlebars

In part 1 of our series on Wider is Better, we’re going to look at handlebars. This is one of the most common places people look to upgrade their stock bars, but why?

On road bikes, you won’t often see people going wider on handlebars.  There are a few schools of thought there, but often you’ll be between 1 or 2 sizes of handlebars only 20mm apart. Most people size road bars based on shoulder width, so leverage is less of a concern than being aero.

In mountain bikes, you will see handlebars ranging from around 560mm to over 800mm. Why the massive range? It depends on what you’re comfortable with riding and where you’re riding, as well as bike geometry. Older cross country bikes often came with long (100mm+) stems and narrow bars under 600mm. This combination of long stem and narrow bar provided sufficient leverage for a 26×1.8 tire on a XC bike with a short top tube. This is a very effective setup for navigating tight rooty trails, but a relatively narrow arm position may not put you in the strongest position to put the bike where you want it. If you like bars under 700mm, your choices are more limited these days than they used to be, but there are some great options out there like the Answer Pro Taper 685mm Handlebars at truly bargain prices.

As time progressed, so did geometry, with frame top tubes growing longer, stems growing shorter, and bars growing wider to provide the same leverage. You will often see 800mm bars Like the Spank Spike 800 Race Vibrocore on downhill bikes, with stems under 50mm to keep the rider from going over the front wheel as they’re hucking down a steep mountain, while the wide bars give enough leverage over the 27.5 x 2.5” meaty tires to wrestle them through a rock garden or root maze. You’d never want to try to thread 800mm bars through a narrow forest path, so for some trail bikes you may see narrower bars in the 720-780mm range like the classic Renthal Fatbar Riser, with stems in the 40-60mm range  Even for cross country race bikes these days, the sub-600mm bars have given way to bars in the 690-720mm range like the 3T Flat 720 Ltd Bars to provide a more leverage for gnarly xc courses.

So, is wider better for handlebars? If you’re riding mountain bikes, going with a wider bar may give you more leverage and control over your bike, especially if combined with a shorter stem to keep your effective reach similar.  Keep in mind, when you go wider you might find trees on your favorite trail you never knew were there before…



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