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Old 05-07-13, 08:09 AM   #1
TromboneAl
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Wider Handlebars for More Control?

My handlebars are 41 cm wide, and I'm wondering whether I'd feel like I have better stability and control at low speed if I went with something wider. Would I notice a difference if I went to 44 cm handlebars?

Any other considerations on getting new bars?

Current setup:

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Old 05-07-13, 08:20 AM   #2
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Width of the handlebars is more about rider comfort. If you have shorter bars, but very wide shoulders, your arms are angled in like a V. If you have wide bars, but narrow shoulders, your arms are splayed out wide. Ideally your handlebars should be wide enough to fit you.

I have a road bike and touring bike with slightly different width handlebars. I don't feel any difference with stability even at lower speeds.
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Old 05-07-13, 08:28 AM   #3
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+1 on what Jerry STL said. If you are comfortable with your current bar, there isn't much need to change them.

I've got slightly wider bars on our tandem, narrower bars on various of my older solo bikes. When I jump on a solo bike it might feel narrow, but otherwise it makes little difference.
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Old 05-07-13, 09:04 AM   #4
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I found I was more comfortable by going with slightly narrower bars than what came stock on my old bike because I don't have wide shoulders. Like JerrySTL said either spread out or pinched in feels uncomfortable to me.
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Old 05-07-13, 09:35 AM   #5
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OK, good advice, perhaps I'll just stay with what I've got. You can see the width vs. shoulder width in this photo from a few days ago:

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Old 05-07-13, 02:30 PM   #6
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I'll second all of the above r.e. comfort. My single is fine, but the wide bars (46cm) on my tandem are causing hand numbness due to the angle of my wrists (and I think also contributes to a bit of shoulder fatigue.. I don't know if 44cm would make that much of a difference, but I have some 44's in Al that I can try. The 46 bars are very nice wing bars in CF; love the shape, etc. - unfortunate.

And, Al, I believe the size and location of the number probably constitutes what UCI would call an "illegal aerodynamic device" (I just made this up BTW, but I'm sure I'm right)
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Old 05-07-13, 02:32 PM   #7
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Rule of thumb is width is around your shoulder width and a centimeter either way to achieve the control and comfort you desire.
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Old 05-07-13, 02:45 PM   #8
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Run 42 on my Road Bike, but 48 on the Touring bike .. with a front load.. added advantage..

straight portion is wider too
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Old 05-07-13, 04:03 PM   #9
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Rule of thumb is width is around your shoulder width and a centimeter either way to achieve the control and comfort you desire.
That's the guide for road bikes at least, c/l of shoulders to c/l of bars. The rest I know nothing about.
Your arms should come down straight to the drops or brake hoods. If your bars on road bikes are wider than that it will make handling harder not easier.
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Old 05-07-13, 07:17 PM   #10
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I've always heard the same as said above, shoulder width equals bar width for a road bike. That said, a wider par does give you a longer lever when it comes to control, but that could get out of hand quickly. I use a 44cm width that matches my shoulder's width very closely. The 41cm looks narrow compared to your width Al, how does it feel? All of the old measurement standards need to say " if it fits you and feels right" as a disclaimer, I think.

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Old 05-07-13, 07:38 PM   #11
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"if it fits and feels right" does not always work either. I've seen some set ups where the person looks and must be very uncomfortable and well as inefficient but they say "it feels great". If I'm not asked for my input I do not offer it.
It is often because the person has become used to/adjusted to the fit rather than real comfort.

Handlebars fit has a fair degree of fit tolerance within reason. Too wide and control can become a problem as well as rotating the wrists too far inward when in the drops...on a rode bike...and probably the elbows locked and shoulders stiff. Too narrow and the chest can be compressed a bit possibly resulting in breathing being a bit more laborious than necessary.

Also the type of road bar makes a difference in addition to the size. A deeper drop, etc. on same width bars will feel differently.
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Old 05-07-13, 07:50 PM   #12
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Agreed, I won't offer advise to someone on the road or in a shop, here at 50+ and someone I respect I'll say something, within limits. To me personally it comes to doing a fit, either by the LBS or yourself, if you can do it, when you get a bike. Bar width is something I never had a problem with, fortunately. I used some deep drop bars in the 70's, I couldn't rid them now for love nor money, at the time it worked for me. A 44cm width, compact works for me now, thankfully. It took me two tries to settle on this sat up, along with a stem length or 90mm and I'm a happy camper. Your point about the narrow bars and restricting breathing is my worry with the narrow bars, that one make me cringe when it happens.

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Old 05-07-13, 08:03 PM   #13
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My experience has been that control has less to do with handlebar width and more to do with my overall fore aft balance on the bike. Remember that shifting weight is the primary way we steer. Rarely do we steer with the bars. What's the control issue you're experiencing?
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Old 05-07-13, 11:12 PM   #14
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The picture suggests your bars are a bit on the narrow side, I think, but doesn't seem grossly so.

Narrow bars can be a little more aero. Wider bars give more leverage when sprinting out of the saddle. I don't think there is much controlability difference.
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Old 05-08-13, 02:51 AM   #15
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Changed the bars on the MTB from 22" to 27" and they were twitchy. No problem as if too wide I could always cut them down but within 100 miles they felt right.

Changed the bars on the TCR from 42 cm to 44 and they were twitchy. Once again a couple of rides and I settled in.

The MTB does have more control with wider bars but the jury is out on the TCR. Haven't noticed any difference in control or comfort so a bit of work and money put to no improvement for me.
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Old 05-08-13, 07:21 AM   #16
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When I accidentally bought bars that were tapered, I discovered that I like narrower bars. Until then, I'd never given it a thought. All my bikes had 42 cm bars, and by conventional wisdom, they were the size I was supposed to have. The tapered bars were 39 cm across the hoods.

Now, I have two bikes with 38s, one with 40 and I'm waiting for the right bars to come up on fleabay for the fourth bike. I rode it yesterday with its 42s and I felt opened up like a parachute when I was into the wind, and at other times I felt like I was driving a bus. And let's not even discuss my elbows.

What I also found was that I like deeper drop bars. My bikes are set up so that I'm comfortable in the drops, and can adjust my body height and angle by bending or straightening my elbows. I can't quite achieve a flat back while pedaling, but I come pretty close, and I do make it there when descending. Meanwhile, my hoods are up a bit higher than the younger guys, which is fine for tooling around town and commuting. Once my speed comes up or we turn into the wind, the drops are right there and comfortable.

With the shallow drop bars, I could get only one position or the other right. With the hoods right, the drops were too high and I strained when I tried to lower myself because I was bending at the wrists. With the drops right, the hoods were too low and I found I was riding the bar tops in traffic with my hands away from the levers.

Bear in mind that the current fashion of shallow drop bars isn't for old guys who can't quite make it all the way into deeper drops. They're for younger guys who want the hoods just a smidge above the drops.
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Old 05-08-13, 07:25 AM   #17
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Your point about the narrow bars and restricting breathing is my worry with the narrow bars, that one make me cringe when it happens.
No one has ever suffocated when their wrists and elbows are all but touching when using aerobars. So a couple of cms of bar width aren't going to hamper your breathing either.
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Old 05-08-13, 07:32 AM   #18
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My experience has been that control has less to do with handlebar width and more to do with my overall fore aft balance on the bike. Remember that shifting weight is the primary way we steer. Rarely do we steer with the bars.
Halfway there.

What we do use the bars for is balance. That wobble you see in tire tracks is due to the constant sawing back and forth on the bars that we must to do maintain our balance. A bike that doesn't pivot at the headset is not rideable since it's impossible to keep your balance. Narrower bars require less movement to achieve this, wider bars require larger movements.

When I switched to narrower bars it took me a while to learn how to keep my balance with smaller hand movements. For a short while, I was weaving quite a bit.

This, I think, is why people think wider bars are more stable and that they have more control--larger hand movements, larger margin for error.
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Old 05-08-13, 07:34 AM   #19
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Not saying they have, I just don't care to have my chest restricted, even too tight a compression top makes me feel uncomfortable. Its just a personal thing for me, been like that about anything that restricts or feels that way around my chest. You already knew I was strange, anyway. And, aero bars don't work for me at all, I had a pair of the bolt on for triathalons in the early 90's after some friends talked me into them, I don't feel comfortable and I don't seem to have bike control like I do when I am using a nice set of drop bars.

BTW, the jacket is great, thanks for selling it to me!

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Last edited by qcpmsame; 05-08-13 at 07:45 AM. Reason: spelling correction, duh!
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Old 05-08-13, 08:32 AM   #20
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Wider bars in effect gives you a higher steering ratio. Wider bars would give you "more control". One inch of movement on a wide bar moves the wheel less than a narrow bar.
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Old 05-08-13, 09:12 AM   #21
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What we do use the bars for is balance. That wobble you see in tire tracks is due to the constant sawing back and forth on the bars that we must to do maintain our balance. A bike that doesn't pivot at the headset is not rideable since it's impossible to keep your balance. Narrower bars require less movement to achieve this, wider bars require larger movements.

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Wider bars in effect gives you a higher steering ratio. Wider bars would give you "more control". One inch of movement on a wide bar moves the wheel less than a narrow bar.
I think the balance point is very important.

Imagine a straight bar handlebar that is parallel to the bike (instead of perpendicular). So, you have all of the leverage that you'd normally have, but not the balance. I think you'd find it a lot harder to ride, regardless of how long the bar is.

When I ride no-handed, I often spread my hands out to make it easier to balance. Having a wider bar will make it easier to balance for this reason. The higher steering ratio will help somewhat, but I don't think this is the big effect.
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Old 05-08-13, 02:38 PM   #22
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This, I think, is why people think wider bars are more stable and that they have more control--larger hand movements, larger margin for error.
This sounds correct, but I do think most have little difficulty in riding with their hands on the "tops" at anything but low speed; this position is much more extreme than narrow handlebars. I think it's more about learning curve; even with identical handlebar width, two bikes of varying geometries will feel different and switching to a different geometry bike will require some miles to fine tune one's "control system".
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Old 05-08-13, 06:11 PM   #23
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What's the control issue you're experiencing?
I just feel less stable than in the past. It's probably more related to my age than my handlebar width. For example, when turning around in the road, I don't feel stable, and it doesn't help that my toe overlaps the front wheel.

I should go to a grassy field and ride around slowly in circles.

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And, Al, I believe the size and location of the number probably constitutes what UCI would call an "illegal aerodynamic device" (I just made this up BTW, but I'm sure I'm right)
Next time I'm putting the numbers on the top tube -- not fair that I have to push that thing through 100 miles of air.
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Old 05-08-13, 06:42 PM   #24
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I just feel less stable than in the past. It's probably more related to my age than my handlebar width. For example, when turning around in the road, I don't feel stable, and it doesn't help that my toe overlaps the front wheel.

I should go to a grassy field and ride around slowly in circles.



Next time I'm putting the numbers on the top tube -- not fair that I have to push that thing through 100 miles of air.
I understand. I had a bout of that last spring. I was actually entering those tight circle turn arounds too slow. I practiced in a parking lot and realized that for whatever reason I felt the need to make tight turns slower than I used to make them
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