Have you ever given buying a set of handlebars more thought than their price sticker and the name printed on the bars? As one of only three contact points with your bike, perhaps you should, and your hands and wrists will definitely appreciate it.
Regardless of how racy we think we are, we all appreciate a little comfort when out on a ride. If you ride road bikes, you’ll find that you put a lot of weight on your hands, as you ride in quite a bent over fashion. The more you bend over, the more weight/pressure you’ll exert on your hands. That is why drop bars offer you a lot of different hand positions; this way, you can get a little bit of relief.
Mountain bikes though tend to have a handlebar that only offers you one position. You’ll not be as bent over as you are on a road bike though. You’ll also move around the bike a lot as you navigate different terrain, the effect of this is similar to having a lot of hand of positions on offer.
Steering is effected by leverage. Think of your handlebars as a lever trying to force your bike to get in a new direction, and you’ll get an idea of why leverage is important. The principle behind this is why people started to look at wider bars; wider bars would be a bigger lever, hence easier steering?
Well, not quite. You can only offer good leverage if you have a stable pivot point; in this case, you’re the pivot point. As your bars get wider than shoulder distance, you start to weaken this pivot point, in theory making it less stable. You, therefore, end up with less leverage. That is why you don’t want to go 3” wider than your shoulders for your bars.
The 3 factors of picking a good handlebar
- Width. You need a handlebar that fits you, and you ideally want a bar around shoulder width.
- Weight. You don’t want bars that are going to make your superbike seem a lot heavier than it should be.
- Strength. You want bars that are not going to break. No one wants bars that will see you falling to the floor.
The next considerations
If you love going fast on your road bike, have you thought about aero bars? Aero bars will not only help you slice through the wind, but they also give you a bigger platform for your hands when they might want a little bit of respite. They are also great for resting your forearms on if you're pretending you have clip-on aero bars.
Have you thought about rise? Rise makes you feel more in control, mostly due to the fact you can now see further down the trail. It will also bring better control on steeper sections of trails, and more importantly, you’ll find it easier to lift your front wheel over obstacles. It is also worth noting that a 40mm riser bar is not the same as 40mm of extra spacers. Spacers will work out a few millimeters less, due to angles of your headtube and stem.