Do wide handlebars make it harder to lean your bike?

Do wide handlebars make it harder to lean your bike?

If you would have asked me yesterday, I would have said “no” but after my ride today I realized that they do. 

After cutting my bars down to 26.5 inches/ 675 mm wide I went for a trail ride fully expecting for them to be too narrow, especially in the corners. But what I found was that the narrow bars made it easier to lean the bike over and gave me a bigger range of motion for my lean.

You can see me show this in the video and you can see it even better in the pictures.

30 inch bars

26.5 inch bars

The first picture is with my hands about 30 inches/ 760 mm wide and the second is with my hands 26.5 inches/ 675 mm wide. You can see in the pictures the difference in how much the bike is leaned over with my arm fully extended with the second picture showing more lean (you can really see the difference in how much of the spokes you can see in the two pictures from the tire lean).

And no, this isn’t “just my opinion”, it’s called geometry. The handlebar, bike and ground form a triangle as you start to lean the bike over and shortening the handlebars changes the length of one side of that triangle, which affects the other two sides as well. Go ahead, do the math and you’ll see that the longer your handlebars are the less lean you can get out of the bike in relation to the ground. 

Finally, there is a sweet spot where getting too narrow will make things twitchy and you will start to lose stability. Just like with the Push Up Test, you’ll find that having your hands too wide or too narrow produces problems and finding your individual sweet spot is the real goal.

I’ll be digging into this more but so far I’ve shown how wide handlebars compromise your range of motion up and down and now from side to side, as well as how they make it hard to keep your elbows “wedged” behind your hands to keep the bars stable. Wide bars are one of the worst things to happen to mountain biking, let’s get away from the scarecrow posture and get back to a strong, functional position on the bike.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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  1. Lisa C says:

    Hi James,
    I’m curious how tall you are and what size bike you have? Just thinking this plays into the sweet spot of the handle bar length. I would be able to understand it better if I knew these measurements.
    Thank you,

    Reply • September 16 at 8:56 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I’m 5’11” and I ride a medium bike. However, this doesn’t have anything to do with the sweet spot, the Push Up Test I use in this video is what tells you the sweet spot for your hands to keep your elbows in the right position on the bike.

      Going wider than what you find in the Push Up Test will result in a less stable position at the bottom of your Cockpits ROM (as shown in the video I linked to) and make it harder to lean the bike. It is all simple geometry and once you start applying it to the bike you find that wide handlebars mess up your angle in all sorts of positions.

      Reply • September 16 at 9:03 am
  2. James P. says:

    Hi James: I agree and think that shoulder width should drive the width of a rider’s bar, not what the industry is telling us we need to have. Maximum strength and support is lost with too wide of a stance. That said, I found that too narrow of a bar limits the control I have on descents. I’ve settled at 780mm wide bars even though my shoulder width justifies a bar closer to 750mm. Anything less than 780mm feels twitchy, especially on high speed corners.

    Reply • September 16 at 9:38 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      It sounds like you have found what works for you instead of falling for the “wider is better” argument, which is my main point. There are very real drawbacks to having your bars wider than you your hands are in the Push Up Test and as long as you are aware of them and are willing to make that trade off then it is fine.

      Reply • September 18 at 9:40 am

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