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Handlebar width question

Old 01-30-24, 07:26 AM
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Handlebar width question

Im ordering a new handlebars, i have some doubts Wich width to choose since now seems everyone Is prefering a smaller one.
Actually I have one that measure 42cm, I don't have any problem but sometimes I feel very insecure when I'm closed in the middle of a group during races.
- A smaller handlebar would have a negative impact for the respiration? (More closed arms=more difficult for chest to expand).
- 2cm less would help in those compact group?
Regarding the aero gains I think is not even worth talk
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Old 01-30-24, 07:30 AM
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If someone is wondering what are the aero gains, somewhere I read that switching from a super small to a extreme small handlebar (10cm less) the aero gains are around 11w.
but honestly that extreme would be problematic in lots of situations.
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Old 01-30-24, 07:31 AM
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Originally Posted by CrowSeph
Im ordering a new handlebars, i have some doubts Wich width to choose since now seems everyone Is prefering a smaller one.
Actually I have one that measure 42cm, I don't have any problem but sometimes I feel very insecure when I'm closed in the middle of a group during races.
- A smaller handlebar would have a negative impact for the respiration? (More closed arms=more difficult for chest to expand).
- 2cm less would help in those compact group?
Regarding the aero gains I think is not even worth talk
Technically, yes. However, I don't believe you will notice it. I mean, pro riders ride very narrow handlebars and they need a lot more o2 than us mere humans do when we cycle.

Now, will 2cm less will help in group rides? More or less. May-be you will feel better / more secure. If so, then it's a win!

I ride 42cm handlebars when I'm ''supposed'' to ride 44cm, and I will go to 40cm if one day I change my current ones. Narrower just feels better for me.
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Old 01-30-24, 07:34 AM
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Originally Posted by eduskator
Technically, yes. However, I don't believe you will notice it. I mean, pro riders ride very narrow handlebars and they need a lot more o2 than us mere humans do when we cycle.

Now, will 2cm less will help? More or less. May-be you will feel better / more secure. If so, then it's a win!

I ride 42cm handlebars when I'm ''supposed'' to ride 44cm, and I will go to 40cm if one day I change my current ones. Narrower just feels better for me.
Thanks! Do you have found any negative points?
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Old 01-30-24, 07:35 AM
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None. It just feels better overall.
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Old 01-30-24, 08:40 AM
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Likely a 'panacea' effect when riding in a group using a narrower bar than you generally use.
Will it affect breathing? depends but unlikely.
General rule of thumb is the width of your shoulder bone is the approximate width of the h'bars.
My measured shoulder width is 40 and I use a 38cm bar and find it comfortable.
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Old 01-30-24, 09:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Kai Winters
Likely a 'panacea' effect when riding in a group using a narrower bar than you generally use.
Will it affect breathing? depends but unlikely.
General rule of thumb is the width of your shoulder bone is the approximate width of the h'bars.
My measured shoulder width is 40 and I use a 38cm bar and find it comfortable.
i don't understand one think. The rule of the shoulder measure would be influenced by the muscle size?
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Old 01-30-24, 09:47 AM
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At some point the elbows will start pointing slightly outward freeing them from the chest. Think about it the opposite way. If you simulate putting a set of bars on there in the 55-60 range, feel how anchored your arms will be to the chest. And when they bend, they'll anchor to it even more. But with the narrower bars, the elbows will tend to move out and away from the chest when they are bending.
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Old 01-30-24, 10:15 AM
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I wonder how the "narrow bars constrict breathing" belief arose. It's been around for decades (maybe back as far as when "ankling" was a hot topic among touring riders). Like many such ideas, it's superficially plausible. But: how can your arms, which can pivot freely and effortlessly up and down, left and right, possibly constrict your rib cage?

Real-world counter-examples:

Pro riders climbing in the Alps, Pyrenees, etc., can often be seen grasping their handlebars with one fist on each side of the stem, riding that way for minutes at a time. Time trialists ride with their elbows just a few centimeters apart. Graham Obree is an extreme example: he set one of his hour records with his arms folded under him, elbows together, upper body weight supported by them. An hour record.

When I lean my forearms on the top of a desk or table for a couple of minutes and move them closer together or farther apart, my respiration rate doesn't change. Check my work.
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Old 01-30-24, 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Trakhak
I wonder how the "narrow bars constrict breathing" belief arose. It's been around for decades (maybe back as far as when "ankling" was a hot topic among touring riders). Like many such ideas, it's superficially plausible. But: how can your arms, which can pivot freely and effortlessly up and down, left and right, possibly constrict your rib cage?

Real-world counter-examples:

Pro riders climbing in the Alps, Pyrenees, etc., can often be seen grasping their handlebars with one fist on each side of the stem, riding that way for minutes at a time. Time trialists ride with their elbows just a few centimeters apart. Graham Obree is an extreme example: he set one of his hour records with his arms folded under him, elbows together, upper body weight supported by them. An hour record.

When I lean my forearms on the top of a desk or table for a couple of minutes and move them closer together or farther apart, my respiration rate doesn't change. Check my work.
Both of your arms are closer together on narrow handlebars VS wider ones, therefore there is increase pressure on your rib cage and on your lungs. Of course, you're not always riding with both hands on each side of the bars and you're not always riding with your elbows fully extended so it may more or less be relevant.
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Old 01-30-24, 10:35 AM
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I have fairly wide shoulders, and have always preferred 44cm bars, but this is probably because that's what I'm used to. My most recent road bike purchase came with 42cm bars, and it didn't feel "right" to me. A swap to 44s came quickly. Bar width is like any of the other contact points - personal preference. As a sprinter, I preferred the leverage of a wide handlebar.

As for riding fast in tight packs, there would be times I would flare my elbows out just a bit in that situation. I know getting wider sounds counter-intuitive, but the rider next to me would pump against my elbow before my handlebar. As long as you stay relaxed enough to be able to absorb the bump without upsetting your handling, it works pretty well in a lot of situations. If you're tense and rigid, probably not so much. It's something that took a bit of practice.
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Old 01-30-24, 10:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Eric F
As for riding fast in tight packs, there would be times I would flare my elbows out just a bit in that situation. I know getting wider sounds counter-intuitive, but the rider next to me would pump against my elbow before my handlebar. As long as you stay relaxed enough to be able to absorb the bump without upsetting your handling, it works pretty well in a lot of situations.
Many years ago, at the beginning of a mass start road race, about 125 of us were hustling down a two-lane road heading out of town. I was riding on the hoods, as was the guy to my right, and the backs of our hands (my right hand, his left hand) came together; the feeling was just like when wheels cross -- I lost my ability to balance my bike, and felt sure that trying to pull away would result in a crash. I know the other guy felt it, too, as he uttered, very softly, "Easy..."

Somehow we managed to drift apart just as we had joined together. The whole thing lasted a few seconds, but it felt like minutes. But man, I will never forget that sensation. Freaky.

Yeah, now I stick my elbows out, like you. I want a zone of safety around me.
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Old 01-30-24, 11:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Koyote
Many years ago, at the beginning of a mass start road race, about 125 of us were hustling down a two-lane road heading out of town. I was riding on the hoods, as was the guy to my right, and the backs of our hands (my right hand, his left hand) came together; the feeling was just like when wheels cross -- I lost my ability to balance my bike, and felt sure that trying to pull away would result in a crash. I know the other guy felt it, too, as he uttered, very softly, "Easy..."

Somehow we managed to drift apart just as we had joined together. The whole thing lasted a few seconds, but it felt like minutes. But man, I will never forget that sensation. Freaky.

Yeah, now I stick my elbows out, like you. I want a zone of safety around me.
Bumping hands is definitely more nervous than hips and elbows. Not freaking out is really important to survival. One of my best friends did some exceptional work as my leadout guy. Part of his game was moving up through the group while getting really wide with his elbows, making a bigger hole for me to follow through.

I'm happy that's all behind me now. I do not have the testicular fortitude to play those games any more.
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Old 01-30-24, 11:18 AM
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I don't think you'll know whether you have a issue with respiration if you don't find out for yourself. Like a lot of things cycling, it'll depend on you and how your body is built. My shoulders roll forward as I stretch out my arms so I don't notice any restriction. I can imagine that someone that is barrel chested and their shoulders don't want to move from the upright standing posture of shoulders back might feel some breathing restriction on narrower bars with their arms outstretched.

But... I did say I can imagine that. But it may not even be so or be the reason for the others that say they feel their breathing is restricted. So don't imagine it for yourself. Try it and see. Bars are inexpensive enough. You can buy the expensive ones when you find out for yourself.
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Old 01-30-24, 11:44 AM
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I have wide shoulders, “should” run 44s but prefer 42s. The trend is to go narrow, which I tried on my crit bike. I put 38s which were stupid small and then tried 40s and still didn’t like it. So 42s it is. Almost all of my bikes have flared bars, I like the wider drops for sprinting. Something to think about.
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Old 01-30-24, 11:54 AM
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Originally Posted by bampilot06
I have wide shoulders, “should” run 44s but prefer 42s. The trend is to go narrow, which I tried on my crit bike. I put 38s which were stupid small and then tried 40s and still didn’t like it. So 42s it is. Almost all of my bikes have flared bars, I like the wider drops for sprinting. Something to think about.
If I was building a bike for crit/road racing now, I would go with flared bars. I have a mild flare on my gravel bike, and really like them. I understand why they are becoming more popular for road bikes, too.
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Old 01-30-24, 12:45 PM
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Really depends on what you are doing and preference. Personally, I like a slightly wider bar than the standard "shoulder width", but in crits or squeezing between buses in midtown, a narrow bar is the way to go, also how long you are going to be on the saddle and riding alone vs a large group or paceline can be a factor.
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Old 01-30-24, 01:33 PM
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I am one that has gone wider with flared drops, shallower and shorter reach. I am old with chronic spine and shoulder issues. Having the torso more open and upright is what works for me now. Comfort is now priority two for me, after proper/safe operation of the bikes, which includes maintenance.
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Old 01-30-24, 08:53 PM
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Originally Posted by CrowSeph
i don't understand one think. The rule of the shoulder measure would be influenced by the muscle size?
Nope...not the muscles, the bones.

I just watched an interesting video on the NorCal Cycling YouTube channel tonight. The presenter tested the aerodynamic differences between the newest "narrow bar from shifter to shifter with a flared drop...37cm" to his standard 42cm aero bars. Testing was done on identical bikes, wheels, same watts on the same course and riding in the same position on the shifters on both bikes. The narrow handlebar was four seconds faster on the almost 5 mile course. So a very marginal difference. He did say it felt good and may be more useful in a crit compared to a wider bar so there is that.

I use Roval Rapide 38cm bars on my 52cm Aethos frame and I quite like the bars. My shoulder measurement is near 40cm so no noticeable impact and to be honest I don't really notice if there is a difference between the 38cm and 40cm bar I was using...Two centimeters is barely an inch.
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Old 01-30-24, 10:07 PM
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Ancient rule of thumb that works really well - place the handle bar ends over your shoulder balls. An exact fit, ie the bar ends fitting exactly on the balls is near perfect for breathing, comfort and bike control until the road surface gets wild. Then wider is better. For speed and aero you can go narrower. I raced 38/39s with that perfect fit. Loved em. Have stayed on that until recent years. Gravel, wider is better. (Control.) Mountain climbing fix gears, wider, even a lot wider is better. More leverage at low RPM standing power climbing in huge gears and wind resistance is your friend on very fast downhills! Also, as I get older, I get less strong and crashes look less fun so wider = safer seems better. Most of my geared bikes are around 42 now.
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Old 01-30-24, 10:34 PM
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I have noticed that as I have gotten older wider bars are more comfortable. My current bars are at least 4cm wider then they were 40 years ago.
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Old 01-31-24, 08:17 AM
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Originally Posted by zandoval
I have noticed that as I have gotten older wider bars are more comfortable. My current bars are at least 4cm wider then they were 40 years ago.
Interesting
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Old 01-31-24, 10:40 AM
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Originally Posted by eduskator
Technically, yes. However, I don't believe you will notice it. I mean, pro riders ride very narrow handlebars and they need a lot more o2 than us mere humans do when we cycle.

Now, will 2cm less will help in group rides? More or less. May-be you will feel better / more secure. If so, then it's a win!

I ride 42cm handlebars when I'm ''supposed'' to ride 44cm, and I will go to 40cm if one day I change my current ones. Narrower just feels better for me.
"Supposed to" based on what?
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Old 01-31-24, 10:41 AM
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Originally Posted by eduskator
Both of your arms are closer together on narrow handlebars VS wider ones, therefore there is increased pressure on your rib cage and on your lungs. Of course, you're not always riding with both hands on each side of the bars and you're not always riding with your elbows fully extended so it may more or less be relevant.
As I said, that statement in bold is treated as axiomatic around here. Where's the proof? Given that the motion of our arms is isolated from our (effectively inflexible) skeletons by flexible connective tissue, what evidence is there that narrower bars increase pressure on ribs and lungs?

There might be some minimal effect of the connective tissue interacting with the muscles of the back, I guess. But I've spent many years riding handlebars from 38 to 42 mm in width (and maybe wider; I usually just used whatever bars came on a given bike without measuring them), plus various aero bar configurations, and I've never been able to detect any restriction of breathing.

(With one exception: low aero bars that put me in a nearly flat-backed position shove my guts up against my diaphragm, restricting breathing from below. But that has nothing to do with handlebar width.)

Again, counter-evidence: professional riders, who ride with maximum efficiency or risk losing their jobs, clearly are willing to ride with narrower bars, rack up the kilometers on interminable brutal climbs with their fists next to their stems, etc., etc. Why would they do that if it put them at a disadvantage?
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Old 01-31-24, 10:46 AM
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I have ridden 44s since I started riding again at 38 (now 28 years ago). A couple years ago, I got a number of 1980s bikes, complete with their 40cm bars. I can ride those, but my arms feel squeezed together. And given that the difference Jeff found on the NorCal Cycling video mentioned above was 5 seconds over a 15 minute ride, going from 42s to 37s, I think I'll keep my 44s on the newer bikes.
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