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Handlebar width?

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Handlebar width?

Old 06-12-24, 08:28 PM
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Handlebar width?

I rode today and like usual my triceps started aching after 5-6 miles. I started moving my hands around on the bars and found that with my hands on the outside of the hoods it wasnt as uncomfortable.
Is it possible that my handlebars are too narrow?
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Old 06-13-24, 02:20 PM
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Aren't your hands always on the outside of the hoods when you are on the hoods? Only my thumb hooks over the top of the hood. My palms are pretty much flat and down the outside of the hood.

When I had some pain behind my right elbow, I went narrower. 42cm to 38cm. The other reason I went narrower was that it helped me keep my wrists straight and not bent in towards the bikes centerline. I know that might not make sense for going narrower, but it does when you see it on the bike instead of trying to visualize in your head.

But as always, what worked for me, may not work for you. And perhaps wider might be better in your case.

However I was surprised how much better I felt the steering response was for avoiding last minute road hazards that appear out of nowhere and for how much more feeling of being one with the bike when on really twisty downhill curves at speed.

Last edited by Iride01; 06-13-24 at 02:27 PM.
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Old 06-13-24, 02:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Iride01
Aren't your hands always on the outside of the hoods when you are on the hoods? Only my thumb hooks over the top of the hood. My palms are pretty much flat and down the outside of the hood.

When I had some pain behind my right elbow, I went narrower. 42cm to 38cm. The other reason I went narrower was that it helped me keep my wrists straight and not bent in towards the bikes centerline. I know that might not make sense for going narrower, but it does when you see it on the bike instead of trying to visualize in your head.

But as always, what worked for me, may not work for you. And perhaps wider might be better in your case.

However I was surprised how much better I felt the steering response was for avoiding last minute road hazards that appear out of nowhere and for how much more feeling of being one with the bike when on really twisty downhill curves at speed.
I have been leaning on my palms on the hoods/ top of the bars.
Maybe I gave simply been hold it wrong and causing problems.
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Old 06-13-24, 03:03 PM
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When my palms are on the top or back part of the hoods, then that's usually the rear half of my palm near the wrist. And that isn't a good place to be resting all the rest of your weight by as the nerves all run close together through that part. So numb hands many times is the result. As is the same when your wrist stay bent whether resting on something or not.

I don't know that palms down the side of the STI is what others do, but it works for me. However bad habits are hard to break and I sometimes find my hands starting to go numb and my rear portion of the palms resting on the hood or bar.
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Old 06-17-24, 08:10 PM
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Without knowing your handlebar or your shoulder width, it's hard to tell. But, yeah, anything's possible.
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Old 06-17-24, 08:40 PM
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Originally Posted by oldbobcat
Without knowing your handlebar or your shoulder width, it's hard to tell. But, yeah, anything's possible.
My wife measured my shoulder width at 18.5.
Its 18 from outside to outside on my hoods.
Its 17.5 outside to outside of the drops.

Last edited by pepperbelly; 06-17-24 at 09:09 PM.
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Old 06-25-24, 04:19 AM
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Originally Posted by pepperbelly
My wife measured my shoulder width at 18.5.
Its 18 from outside to outside on my hoods.
Its 17.5 outside to outside of the drops.
Incoming wall of text but hopefully this'll give you a way of understanding why you need a certain width of handlebar.

Judging from everything written in this thread it would be more likely that your handlebar is too wide. It usually is with drop bars.
The first symptom of too wide bars is typically the situation you've described, ie. you'll rest your palms on top of the hoods. This means that your hands typically splay outwards which can cause all sorts of problems.
If your handlebars are sized correctly, you typically don't ever need to rest the palms on the hood.

Let's start from how to measure your shoulder width. If you've measured from outside to outside, the figure you're using for evaluating handlebar width is going to be way off the mark and much too wide to boot. If you use outside to outside, you'll end up with a handlebar that's way too wide.

At the back of the shoulder you have this bony round protrusion. You can't really miss it when you start groping around the area. That's part of the acromion if you want to look at pictures of skellingtons.
You'll want to measure the width between the outsides (or therebouts) of these bony protrusions. You should be as relaxed as possible with a good posture when taking the measurement. The reason why this is the measurement of choice is because this is the center to center point of your arm attachement points, which directly affects handlebar width.
This measurement will be the figure to be used for deciding your maximum handlebar width. The width of these bony protrusions is the maximum width for the center to center (C-C) width of your drop handlebar. Mind you, some manufacturers measure center to center (C-C), some measure outside to outside (O-O) and some measure both. The center to center figure is taken at the point where the brake levers attach to the handlebar. The outside to outside measurement is typically 20mm wider than center to center.

Bikes in size 54 and up are often fitted with 440mm (center to center) wide bars. That's way too wide for most of male population. Remember, we're talking skeletal width, not muscular width. You can be buff but still have narrow skeletal width. Most men will likely be at home with 400mm (c-c) bars. With women you'll often need to go to the narrowest bar you can find and even that might be too wide.

When it comes to narrowness, there is a point where a handlebar can be too narrow but the bar needs to be seriously incredibly narrow in order for it to be a problem. If you're on the fence between sizes, always go for the narrower bar. There's no real downsides and you'll be more aero to boot.

Why then are we so concerned about a few cm when in the MTB world you'll have bars ranging from 680mm to over 800mm. The answer is in the neutral shoulder and elbow stance. When you're standing with a neutral posture your shoulders should be dropped, shoulder blades in relaxed center position, elbows should point backwards and were you holding a pipe in your hand, that would be pointing forward. If your elbows are pointing to the side and the pipe is pointing to the side, somethings off with your posture. Anyhoo, we want that neutral posture and the joint directions pertaining to it when we're using a drop bar, because that's the most neutral and relaxed position we can be in. That matters for long rides.
If you keep your elbows (relaxedly) against your sides and point your forearms forward, you should remain pretty comfy and relaxed. If you start pointing your forearms to the side while still keeping your elbows against your sides, when you go wider than shoulder width you'll immediately start creating this ever so slightly tense feeling in the shoulders and the elbows will start turning inwards. You can't go very wide and it won't be comfortable. Conversely you can clap your hands like this and it won't cause any change in shoulder tension or elbow rotation.

When riding wide MTB flatbars, you'll point your elbows out and then only your wingspan is the limit. But riding long distances with splayed elbows can be... Well for me it sucks a hairy... thing. YMMW and all that. It's not exactly a relaxed position, but it does have other benefits, like leverage. Which you don't need when riding road or gravel.

I'm a bit of an anomaly because my shoulder width figure is pretty much spot on 440mm, so I can use 440mm bars (c-c). But I'm also 6'5 with a wide skeletal structure (in the pelvis too). This as a reference in case you've wondering what it means to be able to use a 440mm bar.
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Old 07-01-24, 12:28 PM
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The handlebars are there to steer the bike, not support your upper body weight. Core strength helps hold the forward leaning position without even touching the handlebars.
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Old 07-01-24, 04:10 PM
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Here's the 'appropriate' way (for me) to measure my handlebar width needs. I stand up, I bend at the waist (the approx amount I might on my bike), I let my arms/hands hang down loosely. My body bent forward puts my thumbs closer together than shoulder width (by several cms). This should anatomically be the best position for hands/wrists if not riding with upper body weight supported by arms, at least not much and/or for long periods of time. Since I cannot buy 30cm handlebars, I settle for 36 and 38cm bars on most of my road bikes.
Here is the narrowest bar I could find = base of hoods measure 34cm. I'm 6'1" (185.5cm) tall. On a gravel-ish bike I'm using 42cm for better control on loose surfaces.

This 'handlebar same as shoulder' stuff is when one's skeletal structure (not core muscles) largely support one's upper body. Anatomically simple stuff = putting hands where they naturally fall when unburdened.




edit: Here is perhaps my most comfortable cockpit, set up many years ago. 35cm at base of hoods.


and the bikes - for reference.

58cm frame, my smallest

62cm frame, about my largest.
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Last edited by Wildwood; 07-01-24 at 06:58 PM.
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Old 07-02-24, 05:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Wildwood
The handlebars are there to steer the bike, not support your upper body weight. Core strength helps hold the forward leaning position without even touching the handlebars.
That's a simplistic and reductionist way of viewing the purpose of a handlebar. But it is also wrong. While the primary purpose of a handlebar is indeed steering, it also serves as the third contact point on a bike, as a bracing device for various activities (sprinting, braking, climbing etc.) as an upper body support (aerobars). Also I don't consider using the wide bars of a mountain bike as leverage as steering per se.

On the topic of supporting the upper body weight with core strength without even touching the handlebars, it's largely a myth and should really not be chased. Only very few individuals with specific body proportions and matching body conditioning can achieve it. Even for them it's useless.

It's far more sensible to chase a level of hand pressure that's tolerable over one's longest rides. If all you do is ride a punchy short commute, there's no reason to focus on hand pressure and "core strength", when you'll likely be pushing the pedals hard enough to support the upper body anyways. If one rides ultra distances, even then I'd suggest ergonomics (choice of the correct saddle, handlebars and levers) along with fit adjustments. That way it's possible to have ergonomic enough a position that hand pressure isn't really an issue even if you bonk bad.

Core strength is a nice buzzword, but eventually all muscles get tired. If all you lean on is core strength, you'll be in trouble when you get tired. For that very reason I have a bailout position on my road bike, which means I can slouch and lean my upper body against handlebar indefinitely if I need to. But for that to be possible, ergonomics need to be sorted. I certainly couldn't do that before I got my hands on some Shimano GRX levers. Shows how important brake levers actually are.

Originally Posted by Wildwood
This 'handlebar same as shoulder' stuff is when one's skeletal structure (not core muscles) largely support one's upper body. Anatomically simple stuff = putting hands where they naturally fall when unburdened.
That's the sort of esoteric hand wavey stuff that's just unhelpful. When it comes to beginners, it's actively harmful. If there is a bulleproof measurement that accurately tells you the correct maximum width of a handlebar, you don't need to "feel" it. You just do it.

For a beginner it is incredibly difficult, or rather impossible, to feel their way to a correct position be it saddle height or handlebar width because they do not have a reference. It's difficult enough for experienced riders, because the sensations typically aren't very logical. And with that whole "putting hands where they naturally fall" assumes perfect posture with no dysfunction in the upper body area. You only need slight muscle tightness in the correct spot and that whole "natural" way goes out the window.

It's also fairly important to use the correct width bar even if you are one of the unlucky few who chase the "no pressure on hands" ideal. Having your arms and hands pointing the wrong way even if you don't have any pressure on them prevents you from relaxing your shoulders.
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Old 07-02-24, 11:58 AM
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Have you (all) tried narrow bars?
I clearly stated in bold, in the 1st sentence, that this fitting method is my personal definition of an ergonomic way to fit handlebars. Putting hands where they naturally fall should be obvious. YMMV


edit: Everyone puts some amount of weight and their bars and more weight in certain limited activities - time trialing, out of saddle climbing, etc. And that is noted in my post. Anyone riding for long periods with heavy pressure on the handlebars is asking for excessive hand, wrist and shoulder stress. Just a fact. One also cannot handle the bike as well if the intended weight distribution is shifted forward. Not talking city bikes, ATB/hybrids, mtn bikes, etc. Drop handlebar road bikes is the subject, I presumed. Also trying to move beginners past poor beginner habits, not solidify them.

re-edit: Relegating core strength to "a nice buzzword" is a disservice to a good fit and pain free longer rides.
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Last edited by Wildwood; 07-02-24 at 08:31 PM.
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Old 07-02-24, 12:36 PM
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Bar width same as shoulder width?
How do measure shoulder width? Standing at 'Marine attention', a normal relaxed standing position, or with shoulders slightly rounded, arms extended when leaning forward as if in a road position? Gives different values for me.
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