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Narrow drop bars affecting oxygen intake?

Old 06-09-23, 10:39 AM
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Narrow drop bars affecting oxygen intake?

I've been trying both wide and narrow bars and I'm currently using narrow 38cm road bars. So far the pros with the narrow bars is more comfort on my shoulders, noticeable aero positioning and faster top speeds on the flats and on the downhill. The one issue I'm noticing especially when doing hard sprints out of saddle (especially climbing) is that my air intake seems slightly more strained, which then increases my HR. I feel in order to increase my air intake I have to flare my elbows out further. Though it's not as comfortable versus having bars that are wider which opens up my chest.

I've been thinking of going with narrow hood drop bars, but with more flared drops for those times I do go out of saddle (which is quite often). Though I'd be open to other suggestions or techniques I could implement. Thanks!
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Old 06-09-23, 11:23 AM
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Old 06-09-23, 11:47 AM
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So if I modify my breathing habits with the narrow bars I should be able to adapt bringing back my HR on those hard sprints?
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Old 06-09-23, 11:51 AM
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A lot of pro cyclists seem to not only be skinny as in low body fat, but also skinny as in narrower frame. Put one of them on 44 cm bars and their arms flare outward from shoulder to wrist when they're on the hoods. But put me on 40cm bars, and my arms are bent inward on the hoods - I have a couple vintage bikes with 40s, which were what you got on large (57-59cm) bikes BITD. I feel constricted on them, and climbing or sprinting out of the saddle feels weird, like I don't have the leverage I need to swing the bike properly.
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Old 06-09-23, 12:04 PM
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Narrow handlebars restricting breathing is one of many cycling myths that are finally disappearing, along with the myth that narrow tires pumped to very high pressure are faster under all conditions.

The myth about narrow handlebars seems to have been confined to amateur cyclists, anyway. Look at videos of pro race stages where riders are climbing in the Alps and Pyrenees. You'll see plenty of riders holding the bars at the top, with their fists next to the stem.

And look at time trial bikes. Riders are positioned with their elbows nearly touching and their hands as close together as possible.

As for sprinting, most track sprinters have moved to extremely narrow bars.

The trend has been to increasingly narrow handlebars, to the point where the UCI (the international body governing professional cycling) has stepped in to limit how narrow the bars can be.

New UCI rules target extremely narrow handlebars

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Old 06-09-23, 12:55 PM
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Love my 38s, especially in a tuck.
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Old 06-09-23, 03:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Trakhak
Narrow handlebars restricting breathing is one of many cycling myths that are finally disappearing, along with the myth that narrow tires pumped to very high pressure are faster under all conditions.

The myth about narrow handlebars seems to have been confined to amateur cyclists, anyway. Look at videos of pro race stages where riders are climbing in the Alps and Pyrenees. You'll see plenty of riders holding the bars at the top, with their fists next to the stem.

And look at time trial bikes. Riders are positioned with their elbows nearly touching and their hands as close together as possible.

As for sprinting, most track sprinters have moved to extremely narrow bars.

The trend has been to increasingly narrow handlebars, to the point where the UCI (the international body governing professional cycling) has stepped in to limit how narrow the bars can be.

New UCI rules target extremely narrow handlebars

In general I do like the narrow bars, perhaps I haven't adapted a proper technique yet when it comes to out of saddle? I do rotate between my gravel bike (flared) and road bike (narrow) and can notice differences. I almost feel like I'm getting free speed with the narrow bars. On the same downhill descents I ride, I do see maybe 1-3 mph difference from just being more aero.
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Old 06-09-23, 03:25 PM
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I like bars on my road bikes that are the same length as the width of my shoulders. Shoulder width varies greatly so it is to be expected that different people have different optimal bar widths as well.

For me I find that a slightly larger frame that allows me to stretch out more helps a great deal with hill climbing. When I first started doing long rides of 100 miles or more the then standard bikes had a geometry designed for criterium racers and I ended up have to get a custom frame made to get a more relaxed geometry.
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Old 06-09-23, 04:03 PM
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Ancient rule of thumb on bar width. (Far from new when I was racing 45 years ago.) Bard c-c width should be the same as your shoulder width. If the bars are not on the bike, you should be able to place the bar ends exactly over the balls or your shoulder. This worked very well for me, Yes, going wider would have helped me a small amount uphill but I would have paid all the rest of the time with wind resistance and in races, lost opportunities to shoot gaps and improve position. (Free, no work ways to move up can be very race results positive.)

Now that I am well into the aging process, I've moved all my 38/39s to 40/42, wider for off road and fix gears that will see hills. I am simply considerably less strong and crashes cost a lot more. Upright take precedence over aero and fast. But if I could get my 25 yo body back, I'd be back on the 39s in a flash.

Fun aside - on the fix gear in hills, wide bars help both up and down! Up is obvious. More leverage on the handlebars . Down? On a big enough down. aero is not your friend. Keeping the RPM below the ridiculous is. Wind resistance? A welcome plus!

Edit: There is an exception to the shoulder ball width "rule" that applies to a lot of hardcore cyclists. Broken collarbones. They narrow your shoulders; usually. Keep your bars at the old pre-broken collarbone width. (I'd guess a 1/4" would be a fair guess if you don't have a good X-ray to go by.. Pinned would probably be no change, a poor set closer to a 1/2". I never documented my width changes but it took me four to finally return to symmetrical. More than an inch narrower would be easy to believe based on the change of my shirt fits.

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Old 06-09-23, 07:09 PM
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I go narrow. 38s or narrower. No breathing issues. Not a pro sprinter, but lots of extended climbing. Trying 34s ctc at the hoods, with 40cm in the drops. Used it on the winter trainer, before going Live on th Road. Hoods rotated slightly inward for comfort.

Bike is 58cm, I am 6’1” (186cm)

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Old 06-09-23, 09:40 PM
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I was regularly running out of air on hard climbs and sprints until I modified my breathing technique to ‘belly breathing’. Changing my breathing lowered my heart rate and increased my power as well as time to exhaustion. You will be using your diaphragm for a change which will be need to conditioned like any muscle through repetition and practice.

Like stated above, wider bars are a myth. Your lungs can only expand to the width of your ribs and downward into the thoracic cavity. Where your arms are located is immaterial.
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Old 06-09-23, 10:28 PM
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Originally Posted by rsbob
I was regularly running out of air on hard climbs and sprints until I modified my breathing technique to ‘belly breathing’. Changing my breathing lowered my heart rate and increased my power as well as time to exhaustion. You will be using your diaphragm for a change which will be need to conditioned like any muscle through repetition and practice.

Like stated above, wider bars are a myth. Your lungs can only expand to the width of your ribs and downward into the thoracic cavity. Where your arms are located is immaterial.
Another trick I learned from a swim coach - exhale! In fact, concentrate far more on the exhale than the inhale. A really deep exhale frees the cells at the bottom of our lungs from the most persistent CO2. That CO2 is blocking the most productive cells in our lungs. That coach wanted up to breath out continuously the entire time our face was underwater swimming freestyle. Said that with an entirely empty lung, even a 1/4 breath inhale (say a wave in the face) and we still got plenty of oxygen, in fact far more than the best we could possibly get after a 1/2 exhale. My experience matches that. I knew abdominal breathing when I raced. Wished I'd known the importance of the exhale.
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Old 06-10-23, 09:36 AM
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Originally Posted by 79pmooney
Another trick I learned from a swim coach - exhale! In fact, concentrate far more on the exhale than the inhale. A really deep exhale frees the cells at the bottom of our lungs from the most persistent CO2. That CO2 is blocking the most productive cells in our lungs. That coach wanted up to breath out continuously the entire time our face was underwater swimming freestyle. Said that with an entirely empty lung, even a 1/4 breath inhale (say a wave in the face) and we still got plenty of oxygen, in fact far more than the best we could possibly get after a 1/2 exhale. My experience matches that. I knew abdominal breathing when I raced. Wished I'd known the importance of the exhale.
Excellent point!
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Old 06-10-23, 11:53 AM
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Originally Posted by 79pmooney
Another trick I learned from a swim coach - exhale! In fact, concentrate far more on the exhale than the inhale. A really deep exhale frees the cells at the bottom of our lungs from the most persistent CO2. That CO2 is blocking the most productive cells in our lungs. That coach wanted up to breath out continuously the entire time our face was underwater swimming freestyle. Said that with an entirely empty lung, even a 1/4 breath inhale (say a wave in the face) and we still got plenty of oxygen, in fact far more than the best we could possibly get after a 1/2 exhale. My experience matches that. I knew abdominal breathing when I raced. Wished I'd known the importance of the exhale.
I'll change up the breathing next time approach a punchy climb and also see if I can adjust my breathing on longer seated climbs. Thanks for the tip!
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Old 06-10-23, 11:57 AM
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Originally Posted by rsbob
Like stated above, wider bars are a myth. Your lungs can only expand to the width of your ribs and downward into the thoracic cavity. Where your arms are located is immaterial.
Another poster did mention leveraging wider bars when climbing out of saddle. I do feel I can sway the bike more as I'm exerting effort. So maybe my issue has more to do with handle bar leverage versus oxygen intake? Anyways, I'm definitely taking note of all the points mentioned on this thread!
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Old 06-10-23, 12:08 PM
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Originally Posted by jonathanf2
Another poster did mention leveraging wider bars when climbing out of saddle. I do feel I can sway the bike more as I'm exerting effort. So maybe my issue has more to do with handle bar leverage versus oxygen intake? Anyways, I'm definitely taking note of all the points mentioned on this thread!
Have never read anything about the benefit of rocking the bike while climbing, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I used to do it, to simulate the pros, but now I just flex at the elbows when out of the saddle climbing. Less dramatic looking, but it works for me. I would think that rocking does take some energy, but probably not enough to quantify. Wide bars, if you ride on the hoods or drops, increase your frontal area which translates into more Watts for the same speed. The whole thing is an interesting question, but my bias based on my style and need to be as aero as possible without contorting myself is toward a narrow bar. But do what you think is right for you and if you want to rock the bike, then rock on!
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Old 06-10-23, 12:37 PM
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One thing I saw, can't remember where, was that an indicator that your bar is too wide is that you tend to turn your wrists inward when on the hoods, presumably because your body is seeking that direct line from the shoulder to the wrist. With 44s, I don't find my wrists doing that, whereas with 40s I find my hands tend to like being more toward the outside of the hoods - to be fair, though, I'm not using anything like the same levers on both. The 40s have old school non-aero brake levers vs modern brifters on the 44s. BUT to me this says that 44s are the right size FOR ME.

WRT rocking the bike, I think that comes naturally to most riders. Watch the pro riders on climbs or sprints - they rock the bike while their head moves in a straight line. It allows you to add your upper body strength to your leg strength and your weight.
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Old 06-10-23, 02:16 PM
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Want to optimize your gas exchange? Get flat on the bike. That improves ventilation-perfusion matching, i.e., sending air to the parts of the lung getting the best blood supply due to gravity. This lesson was relearned by the clinical community recently during the pandemic when patients in respiratory compromise were shown to do better lying prone.

V-P mismatching is one of the many physiological costs of bipedal locomotion and upright posture.

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Old 06-10-23, 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by MoAlpha
Want to optimize your gas exchange? Get flat on the bike. That improves ventilation-perfusion matching, i.e., sending air to the parts of the lung getting the best blood supply due to gravity. This lesson was relearned by the clinical community recently during the pandemic when patients in respiratory compromise were shown to do better lying prone.

V-P mismatching is one of the many physiological costs of bipedal locomotion and upright posture.
But when I do that my thighs keep hitting my bottom ribs. Used to be my gut, but I lost weight.
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Old 06-10-23, 02:49 PM
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Originally Posted by genejockey
But when I do that my thighs keep hitting my bottom ribs. Used to be my gut, but I lost weight.
Can’t help you, man.
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Old 06-10-23, 02:59 PM
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Originally Posted by MoAlpha
Can’t help you, man.
In the era when women wore corsets. they'd sometimes have their lowest ribs removed. PROBABLY a bit too extreme for this application.
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Old 06-10-23, 03:34 PM
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Originally Posted by genejockey
In the era when women wore corsets. they'd sometimes have their lowest ribs removed. PROBABLY a bit too extreme for this application.
There are similar rumors about certain pro riders.
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Old 06-10-23, 05:06 PM
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In the pre-aero brake lever days of my racing, I spent hours thinking about surgery to open up the gap between my index and middle fingers so I could slide my hands over the lever horns. Years later I saw my first aero levers. "That's it! I want!"

genejockey, what you need is a prone bike. Like the speed record guys use.
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Old 06-10-23, 06:59 PM
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Originally Posted by 79pmooney
Another trick I learned from a swim coach - exhale! In fact, concentrate far more on the exhale than the inhale. .
Originally Posted by 79pmooney
Ancient rule of thumb on bar width. (Far from new when I was racing 45 years ago.) Bard c-c width should be the same as your shoulder width.
a huge plus one on both. I may be showing my age, but I was taught both of these s a young racer.

while, it may be debateable whether narrower bars restrict breathing,if they’re already as narrow as your shoulders, there’s not much aero advantage to going narrower,and it makes for a comfortable fit.

As for concentrating on the exhale, if you fully exhale, your body will take care of the inhale. Your body desperately wants to inhale, and not fully exhaling leads to limiting how much oxygen you can inhale and ultimately hyperventilation. Fully exhale and the rest comes naturally.
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Old 06-10-23, 07:37 PM
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Originally Posted by 79pmooney
Another trick I learned from a swim coach - exhale! In fact, concentrate far more on the exhale than the inhale. A really deep exhale frees the cells at the bottom of our lungs from the most persistent CO2. That CO2 is blocking the most productive cells in our lungs. That coach wanted up to breath out continuously the entire time our face was underwater swimming freestyle. Said that with an entirely empty lung, even a 1/4 breath inhale (say a wave in the face) and we still got plenty of oxygen, in fact far more than the best we could possibly get after a 1/2 exhale. My experience matches that. I knew abdominal breathing when I raced. Wished I'd known the importance of the exhale.
I find it better to forcefully exhale using my diaphragm and relaxing on the inhale. When using my diaphragm, my chest doesn't go in and out eliminating the need to use my abdominal muscles.
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