You have no doubt at least heard something about why mountain bike handlebars should be wide, but perhaps you are wondering why you should get wide handlebars and how to tell just how wide they should be for you.
So should you get wide handlebars for your mountain bike? Wide handlebars offer more stability for downhill mountain bikers. Wider handlebars force you to be slightly less aerodynamic but will offer you a safer ride especially on the decent.
There is a lot to deciding the right width for you, and there is even more when it comes to choosing a right handlebar for mountain biking. Mountain bike handlebars are not like road bike handlebars, not only are they wider by they also do not have the drop sections on the sides which curve down and back. Pretty much all mountain bike handlebars are 700mm wider or wider, with the truly wide options being 800mm or more.
How To Get The Right Width For Your Handlebars
As mentioned, handlebars can come in different widths which are most commonly measured in millimeters, however these can occasionally be measured in inches sometimes as well. The most common width for handlebars, and the size that a mountain bikes usually come with if you buy a new one, is somewhere around 760mm which is 29.9” wide.
A normal range for mountain bike handlebars is somewhere between 700mm to 800mm, with some of the bigger sizes being closer to 840mm if you are a really tall person who needs a lot of arm room. As a general rule the 760mm size is a good place to start. Keep in mind that while you can always cut a bar down in size you cannot make a bar longer if it is too short.
One of the first things that you need to keep in mind when you are trying to determine your right size is the terrain you plan on riding, and the other main thing is your comfortable zone. When it comes to terrain it is best to have a nice wide handlebar for better support when you are going downhill.
On the other hand, if the trails that you will be riding on are very narrow in places due to trees that are close to the path or narrow places between two cliffs or large rocks, then you will likely need your handlebars to be narrower in order to fit. However, when it comes to flat and wide open terrain it is solely up to the rider, but you do not want to get too wide for safety reasons while mountain biking.
When it comes to what is most comfortable there are two parts to this. The first of these is how you like to be on your handlebars. Bars that are narrow will put you more leaning forward for the most part which will make you slightly faster and more aerodynamic but which will make you less stable.
Wider handlebars are more stable and give you more of an upright position which is why downhill racers often prefer wider simply for safety. Wider is also better for leverage when doing technical things, however narrow handlebars can be slightly faster turned. As I said, what you need most here will depend on the way you ride and what you are looking for in a mountain bike.
The second part of determining what width you would be best suited by is by doing a couple of simple tests which you can do while on your mountain bike. One thing that you must keep in mind to start with is that your hands should always be a few inches further apart than your shoulders are, so if you have shoulders that are particularly wide then you will need to start off with a wider handlebar.
The first test that you can easily do requires only something to measure with and a clear spot on the floor. Get down on the floor in the right position to do a pushup on the ground with the measuring tape handy. Measure what the width is from the outside of one hand to the outside of the other while your hands are in the position that they naturally go into without you having to think about it.
While you are in this position, move your hands further out and move them back further in to get a real feel for what is comfortable for you. Mark down this number as well if it is not exactly the same as the first number. Average these out for what is very likely to be just about the right width you should get your handlebars in.
Alternately, if you don’t want to get down on the floor, then you can do somewhat this same thing on a wall by standing a couple of feet away from it and letting yourself fall towards it while putting out your hands to catch you.
The second of the tests that you can do to help you to determine the right width for you is to look at the angle that your elbows make. When you are leaning forward to attack the trail your elbows should ideally be at close to a 90 degree angle. However, your upper arms should still have a slight downward slope to them and your elbows should not be level with your shoulders.
If your elbows make a wider angle then 90 degrees, then the handlebars are too wide. On the other hand, your shoulders should not be near your head with the look as though you are shrugging either. This will not only hurt your shoulders, but it is also proof that the bars are too narrow.
When you are testing out the width to try to decide if it is the right width for you there are a few things that you can look at while you are on your bike to see if you should go wider or narrower. Of course, one of the simplest of these is to get on your bike, hold your handlebars, and see how far apart your hands are compared to your shoulders.
Since one of the ways that some people use to determine their correct width is to add a few inches to the width of your shoulders, it should come as no surprise to you that if your hands are gripping your handlebar at the same width apart as your shoulders then you should go wider on your handlebars.
Another thing that you can do is to ride slowly around on a trail or in your yard and to take a really deep breath, filling your lungs as much as you can. If this moves your arms out to make room, then you probably need to go with wider handlebars that will put your arms further out and give your lungs more room. Even though you might not normally take breaths quite that deep on the trail, if your arms are having to move at all then your lungs are probably needing more space before that point.
Above all, you should go with whatever you find is the most comfortable. Sometimes your body knows what position is best for it better than anyone else, so even if everything points to the fact that you need bars that are narrow yet you feel more comfortable with wide bars, then go with the wide.
Other Things To Look At When Choosing Mountain Bike Handlebars
In addition to deciding on the exact width that you want your handlebars to be, there are also a few other things that you should think about. One of these is that the handlebars have what is referred to as a clamping diameter. This is what you will need to know when you are choosing what grips to put on the end of the handlebars, and you also need to know this in order to know if the size is the right diameter to fit in the stem of your mountain bike.
There are two main sizes when it comes to this: 31.8mm and 35mm. While it is possible to get whichever size of handlebar you want, if you get one that will not fit with your stem then keep in mind that you will have to buy that as well.
Mountain biking handlebars are also either flat or have a slight rise. The rise often comes with a backsweep and upsweep, with the backsweep referring to how far back towards you that the handlebars go and the upsweep referring to how much up the handlebars go.
Though this is by far a matter of personal preference, as a general rule you do not want your handlebars to be either perfectly straight, nor do you want there to be too much of an angle or you will make your arms ache. These are also measured in mm like the diameter is, and most of the time if you are considering something like downhill racing then you will want more of a rise than you will need if you are going to be ridding across trails that are comparably flat.
You should also consider what you want your mountain bike handlebars to be made out of. The choices pretty much boil down to either carbon or aluminum. Aluminum is cheaper and weighs more, while carbon is more expensive and lighter in weight. Carbon bars can also be stiffer – a whole other debate – and some of them can be a little too stiff. You will also not be saving a whole lot of weight just with the handlebars either.
Three Upgrade Options For Handlebars
Getting the right handlebar for your mountain bike is one of the most important features that you will probably want to get for your own comfort. They are very easy to change out and not too expensive to buy, making them a really easy option when it comes to making your bike fit your unique body better.
To help you take some of the guesswork out of the seemingly endless options when it comes to the different handlebars that you can get, I will give you three different options that you can go with which I think would be great choices for almost anyone.
Renthal Fatbar Lite Carbon Handlebars
Like you can probably guess from the name, these handlebars are made of carbon fiber. Other than that is the fact that these handlebars are 740mm wide, which is a little on the small side but perfect if you are a small person. They weigh in at around 180 grams, which is very lightweight for handlebars.
There are four different rise options that you can choose from according to your preferences: 10mm rise, 20mm rise, 30mm rise, or 40mm rise. The upsweep is 5 degrees and the backsweep is 7 degrees, so it is more back than up. Finally, the diameter of these bars is 31.8mm.
This is a great handlebar for almost everyone and it is made really strong, stiff, and durable with a very low weight and the rise degrees being at very comfortable angles for your hands to hold onto the ends. Yet it is also designed so as not to be too stiff so that it can help to absorb as much of the different shocks and vibrations of the trail as possible. It does a very good job of balancing its rigidity and its handling abilities.
The clamp areas on the ends of the handlebars where the grips go are roughened in order to help even slip on grips to stay on as well as possible and to also help clamp on grips get a more secure grip. On the ends there is also lines marked there for you just in case you want to cut your handlebars to be narrower than the width that they come in.
All in all, this is a great option and its one downside is that it is not quite as wide as most mountain bikers need. The finish on it is even really nice and the whole thing is tested to comply with the BMX drop test standards.
Race Face Atlas Mountain Bike Handlebar
This is another great handlebar that you should look at if you are in the market for a new one for your mountain bike. This handlebar is 785mm which puts it at just 31” in width and is a really good width to have. It weighs around 340 grams and so it is a bit more weighty than the previous option was. However, it is also much more durable. So durable, in fact, that the Race Face company offers a 3 year warranty on these handlebars which only goes to show that these are made to last a while.
Even though it is made out of an aluminum alloy, it is still lighter than some of the other aluminum handlebars out there while being just as durable. This makes it an excellent choice for Enduro riding or downhill racing.
The 8 degree backsweep paired with the 4 degree upsweep makes for a very comfortable grip and the rise is 1 ¼”. This one also comes in a variety of colors, allowing you to either choose your favorite or what would go best with the way you want your bike to look. Though these colors have unique names, they are essentially green, black, blue, red, orange, yellow, and silver.
The one downside to this mountain bike handlebar is that it is not quite as cheap as you might expect an aluminum handlebar to be, so you should be forewarned of that. Also, though it is quite wide enough for most, if you are very tall then you might need a little bit more width than this one can offer.
Chromag Fubar OSX 35 Handlebar
This is the widest option of the three that I am going to mention, and it is a full 800mm wide. It is made out of an aluminum alloy and is 35mm in diameter. While the thicker diameter size is still fairly new and not as well-liked, this is one of the latest models and as such it has a much better design so that it is not overly stiff due to being thicker, thus making it easier on your hands.
It does so well at this in fact that it is 390 grams which is only a little bit heavier than the last option even though it is wider. The rise is 25mm and these handlebars have a backsweep of 8 degrees and an upsweep of 5 degrees, which is really close to the same angles of the last option and is really comfortable.
It has some flex, but not too much, and it also has the nice feature of line markings on the ends so that you can easily cut it to be more narrow if you want to do so. Its thickness and durability makes this a great option for downhill racing and other rides that are tough on the handlebars.
It comes in a few different color options: gray bars with orange lettering or black lettering, black bars with blue or yellow lettering, sky blue with gray lettering, and a red and orange fiery looking combination. However, you should know that the graphics are a bit loud, so if you don’t like that then the sky blue option or the red and orange are not as bad when it comes to this.