[Opinion] Handlebar Width: Is there a “right” answer?

[Opinion] Handlebar Width: Is there a “right” answer?


One topic that seems to rage on is handlebar width. It isn’t quite as controversial as the oh so tired clipless vs. flat pedals debate, but most riders are pretty picky about their personal setup. Back in the day, riders bombed 60mph down tracks like Kamikaze in Mammoth, California with handlebars that were under 650mm. These days we know that wider bars mean more control; at least to up to a certain point anyway.

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Cindy Buccowich blasting down Kamikaze at the Mammoth Kamikaze games Legends race.

Fast forward over a decade and in 2008, the first brand to really step it up and go “huge” (at the time) was FSA. The brand was way ahead of their time when they introduced the “Gravity Light”. At 800mm wide people thought it was absurd at the time. These days, for gravity oriented handlebars, 800mm has almost become a standard max width and guides are etched in so it’s easy for riders to cut their bars down to their preferred width.

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FSA’s Gravity Light handlebar. 800mm wide, nearly 9 years ago.

When it comes to handlebar width, there doesn’t really seem to be any recommended rule of thumb in terms of finding the right width based on height/weight. So, we aren’t insinuating that any of these riders have it “right” or “wrong” but looking at the three riders below as examples, one rider has a handlebar width that is relatively proportionate, where the other two ride bars which seem a bit “off”…Can you guess which one seems right based off of the body height:handlebar width ratios below?

Sam Hill – 750mm handlebar – 5’7″ (1.70m)
Richie Rude – 740mm handlebar – 5’11” (1.8m)
Rachel Atherton – 775mm handlebar – 5’7″ (1.70m)

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Sam Hill – flawless form in his the last World Cup win of his DH career and a bar:shoulder with ratio that looks just right.

If you guessed Sam Hill, you’re right, at least in our opinion anyway. At 5’7″ (1.75m) with a medium build, a 750mm handlebar is perfect for his frame. We’re not suggesting that World Champion winning riders like Richie Rude or Rachel Atherton are wrong. However, they certainly run unconventional setups but they have their reasons. At his size, Richie’s bar is really really trim (740mm) but he’s publicly commented that he feels safer running it that narrow due to the fact that he’s less apt to snag it on a tree when riding unknown terrain.

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Richie Rude, dwarfiing his handlebars at the Whistler EWS in 2015.

Rachel Atherton goes in the complete opposite direction with a 775mm handlebar at 5’7″ (1.75m) tall and fairly narrow shoulders. We’ve seen a few ladies on the world cup circuit running handlebars that seem disproportionately wide. Perhaps because women naturally having a little less upper body strength than men, they could prefer the additional leverage and stability gained over the bike with wider handlebars. At some point however one does sacrifice mobility by going too wide.

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Rachel Atherton gaining a bit of extra stability by running handlebars that are quite wide relative to her somewhat narrow shoulders.

So, where are we going with all of this pontificating? Well, if you’re having a hard time finding a width that works for you, here is the best advice we’ve received thus far. We’re not saying it will work perfectly for every rider all the time. There are some anomalies out there like Richie and Rach, but if you are unsure of where you should even start, this should get you on the right track:

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You’ll need a friend with a tape measure to help you, or perhaps a yardstick will do the trick if you don’t have a helper available.

  1. Drop down to a very neutral push up position that feels natural to you. If you’re a weirdo that does super wide grip or narrow grip push ups well then you’re pretty much shit out of luck and this won’t help you.
  2. Have a friend, or use your yard stick to measure the overall width from the outside of one palm to the outside of the other.
  3. Get up, shake your arms out, bounce around and repeat a handful of times.
  4. Calculate your the average width from the outside of your right and left palm. That should be a good position where your body naturally feels stable and strong. Therefore, it should translate to good form on the trails and thus should be an ideal handlebar width.

Remember, people come in all shapes and sizes and we all want something different out of our mountain bikes, but as we mentioned before; this is the best advice we’ve heard to date that’s somewhat universal. Take it with a grain of salt though; we all ride different terrain at different speeds which vary in how much space you have between trees, bushes, rocks etc. If you do find this useful, you can thank Nate Riffle, marketing guru at Specialized bikes for the tip; and if you’ve got any of your own tips or tricks to add, please feel free to leave it in the comments section below.

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