Ideal handlebar width

TOM

Maximum Pace
#1
So far, I've been using standard 42 cm handlebars that came with the complete bike but, not being very broad-shouldered, I somehow find the standard width to be on the large side. I read somewhere that one should add 2 inches to one's shoulder width to obtain the "right" handlebar width.

I was wondering, how does switching to a narrower handlebar - say from 42 to 40 - affect one's riding ? Better aero effect & faster? Not so sure. I would assume though that it is easier to keep a straight line when climbing a hill (in sitting and especially in standing position) with a narrower handlebar but more difficult to "power steer" the bike in the downhill sections because of the obvious leverage loss....

Very anxious to read more on this topic.
 

Trek DJ

Maximum Pace
Jan 27, 2009
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Kobe
#2
The norm is to run a bar that is the width of your shoulder at the socket joints. I am 185cm, medium shoulders I suppose...and run 42cm bars. I used to run 40`s when I was younger with no negative effects. However I prefer the feel of 42cm bars, especially when out of the saddle.

2" wider than shoulders would result in a massively wide bar!

As for differences, well comfort is your primary concern. It definitely trumps "aero-ness". If you find that 42cm is too wide, I would find a cheap 40cm bar with similiar drop/bend and try it out. Too narrow a bar though and you may get neck/shoulder pain, and the opposite would be true with too wide a bar. Also, depending on your position, I would think a bar that is too narrow could also effect your breathing.
 

Deej

Maximum Pace
Oct 13, 2007
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Setagaya
#3
Hi Tom,

I'm not saying this is the gospel, but here's something I came across online a long time ago:

"For optimal control and efficiency, drop handlebars should be about the same width as your shoulders (photo). ... So, if the distance between the bony protrusions on top of your shoulder blades is 42 cm, that’s what the handlebar width should be."

And here's the photo that came with the quote:
proxy.php?image=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.jimlangley.net%2Fcrank%2Fbike_fit1barwidth2.jpg&hash=c722135b85a07337dd3782941bcb4100



I got this info here.

Deej
 

trad

Maximum Pace
Dec 4, 2006
393
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Tokyo
#4
with Deej on this.... and I think erring one size small is ok...

I'm 183cm with M/L shoulders and use 42cm (C-C). I remember AlanW talking about this being one of "bike fitting" adjustments - where both he and his lovely better half were recommended smaller bars. I understand the differences were considerable (especially for N-san) - more rounded shoulders (vs sagging between shoulder blades), improved breathing, etc... Perhaps AlanW can chime in on this.

I also know that Japanese fitters recommend going one size small if the rider likes to climb and "dances" on pedals.
 

Wolfman

Speeding Up
Jul 31, 2007
631
18
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Suginamiku
#5
I had 44cm on my old bike and I always used to notice how my arms were spread out too far, especially on long straight descents where I'd feel that they were flailing in the wind. I'm now on 42cm (I'm 182cm tall, medium shoulders) and they are a lot more comfortable and seem a lot less conspicuous. It's surprising how much you can notice 2cm.

If you're on really smaller bars I wonder if they also negatively influence your breathing, in addition to shoulder pain issue etc.
 

Phil

Maximum Pace
#6
Smaller is better?

I have disproportionately narrow shoulders for my height--fortunately, cycling is one of two sports* I can think of where weirdly narrow shoulders are an advantage.

It's a huge improvement for me when I replace the stock 44cm bars that inevitably come installed on larger bikes with 40cm bars. I could probably go even narrower--the new 'cross bike bars are 39cm c-c, and they feel great too.

Wider bars make me feel like a parachute in the wind, cause shoulder sag because of the angle of the arms, and bike wobble when standing out of the saddle.

Bars the right width help keep the arms in a straight line from the shoulder to the bars, which means the skeleton is doing much of the supporting instead of muscles.

I think many road cyclists these days, especially beginners, run bars that are too wide... Especially see a lot of women riders here in Japan on bars that are clearly 2 or 3 sizes too big. On bikeforums you read of guys running 46cm or larger(!). Blame Lance--a few decades ago, 40cm was considered big...

*The other is obstacle races.
 

massa

Warming-Up
Feb 22, 2008
174
0
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Setagayaku
#7
Narrower bars are a little bit lighter and easier to ride through between obstacles in front of you. Adding those, you'll get less air friction in terms of aerodynamics. But I'm afraid you need practice for a while until you are accustom to pedal out of saddle. :D
 

kiwisimon

Maximum Pace
Dec 14, 2006
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Japan
#8
I go the other way wider bars give me more leverage to pull on in climbing, when I used to climb fast. They also open up the upper torso to expand the lungs more allowing a better breath. Again maybe I'm against the norm but I really don't like skinny bars. Riding through streets with lots of turns I can understand the quicker steering might be needed but on open road no thanks. If you need to lesson your profile move your hands in. If you need to have control of the bar I would imagine then you are in a bunch not getting a clean wind hitting you or you are climbing, again the wind aint much of a factor going up hill. Seems like bar widths are like colors, they follow trends. FWIW I hated neon colors:cool:
 

Davad

Warming-Up
Oct 15, 2008
116
0
0
Koto-ku, Tokyo
#9
Like Phil, I "have disproportionately narrow shoulders for my height" (188cm) but like kiwisimon I like wider bars - I have 46 c2c, which are about as wide as you`ll find. I also have long arms - would that be a factor in bar width? I totally agree with the opening-the-chest for breathing, the leverage for climing/sprinting and also, having done much more offroad riding, the stability that the wider brace gives.
I`d like to hear Thomas comment, because when we road together I was surprised by the narrowness of his bars in relation to his height....
 

thomas

The Crank Engine
Nov 1, 2005
1,799
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多摩区
#10
I`d like to hear Thomas comment, because when we road together I was surprised by the narrowness of his bars in relation to his height....
You are right, David, I am using 40cm c2c bars on all of my rigs. I cannot comment on the narrowness of my shoulders, but I tend to agree with Phil: I just do not feel comfortable on a 42 or 44cm bar. Perhaps I'm too much of a "city swerver". :)

Last weekend I test-rode Sergey's Cervélo S1 (a veritable beauty of a bike), but his 44 cm bars made me feel like this: :D

bambi.gif
 
Jan 14, 2007
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Noda
japanichiban.com
#12
I have very wide shoulders and my chest is often too open when I'm riding. I've been contemplating getting narrower handle bars to make me a little more aerodynamic when racing.
I also always assumed that having the handle bars as low as possible would help me get down low, but I'm now thinking that if I raise them it will be more comfortable to ride with my elbows bent that will then make my back flatter when I'm on the drops.
With the handle bars low I tend to stretch my arms out straight and this causes my chest to be upright which acts like a parachute.
 
#13
Very interesting

this thread. Obviously everybody has his/her own preferences. I am very surprised that a big locomotive like Thomas has been using 40cm but it could help explain his "otherwordly":D danseuse style no-one can replicate!

This Sunday, I will join the Kusatsu Training ride with a narrower handlebar (42->40). I am anxious to see any difference and will report.
 

AlanW

Maximum Pace
Jan 30, 2007
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Tokyo
#14
As a result of my professional fitting, I changed the bars on my bike from 44cm to 42 cm (centre-to-centre), which is the distance across my shoulders.
For me, with the wider bars:
  • On the brake hoods, my arms were pointing outwards, which meant my shoulders sagged and led to more stress on my neck muscles.
  • In the drops, my hands were rotated outwards, which put a lot of strain on my wrists.
  • And, the front end of the bike felt big and unwieldy.
I find the 42 cm bar much more comfortable and natural feeling.
Naomi-san also reports much less neck strain with her new 36 cm bars.
 

Philip

Speeding Up
Feb 15, 2007
765
7
38
Setagaya
#16
I was surprised at the complete change in balance between my road bike (400mm drop bar) and a new bike with a flat bar (580mm). The flat bar had huge steering leverage. It made me realize just how much I steered the road bike using balance. The flat bar made me feel like I was driving a tractor. I cut the flat bar back to 500mm and the difference was significant. Now the flat bar feels fun to ride. Now I feel part of the bike - not like I am using the steering wheel off a bus.

I think Deej's suggestion of matching you bars to the width of your skeleton at the shoulders is a reasonable benchmark - and then your preference for a little narrower, equal or wider.

Philip
 
#18
Benchmark

Yes, Deej's suggestion made sense and that was a good picture and source too. Last evening I had my shoulders measured...only 37 cm; I suppose therefore that a 38 cm handlebar would perfectly fit me perhaps even better than the new 40 cm one which I will test on Sunday's KT5. Fortunately these things are relatively inexpensive as long as you stick to aluminum (3,500~8,000 yen).


I think Deej's suggestion of matching you bars to the width of your skeleton at the shoulders is a reasonable benchmark - and then your preference for a little narrower, equal or wider.

Philip
 

AlanW

Maximum Pace
Jan 30, 2007
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Tokyo
#19
Flat Bar

I've got 610 mm low riser bars on my mountainbike where I need the leverage to muscle the bike around and the stability not to be knocked off line while barrelling downhill :D:D:D

Laggan_-_Al_Approaching_Rock_Drop.JPG


I was surprised at the complete change in balance between my road bike (400mm drop bar) and a new bike with a flat bar (580mm). The flat bar had huge steering leverage. It made me realize just how much I steered the road bike using balance. The flat bar made me feel like I was driving a tractor. I cut the flat bar back to 500mm and the difference was significant....

Philip
 
#20
SORRY guys I don't think it matters so much. I DO try to go with shoulder width C-C. 44 cm. I think thats a good general rule. But I got on one of my old steeds with much narrower bars and it was just fine once I got used to it. [ about a block ] I think I got 48's on another bike and thats OK too. I think close is close enough for bars.

TODO

And Q factor ? Thats for the short guys to worry about. Give me all you got. I tend to pay a bit more attention to bike fit advice from guys over 6 foot tall. T Richey and Leonard Zinn spring to mind. How tall is Jobst Brant anyway ?