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  1. #1
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    Stem/Bars: Long and narrow or short and wide?

    Why are fatbikes and mtn bikes being specked with shorter stems and wider bars these days? What is the practical reason for this, or it just the industry trying to make waves? I have 660 bars on my 2013 Moonlander and I have experienced absolutely no need for the 750s Surly now gives the bike.

    Which approach do you prefer, and why?
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  2. #2
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    I just picked up one of the bikesdirect fat bikes and I think they came with a 720mm bar. I remember someone saying in a different thread that the wider bars are just to make it easier to maneuver the larger front tire around. I would imagine it increases overall balance as well, and that would go for any bike not just fatbikes.

    I personally plan to go with shorter bars down the road myself. Something in the 650-660 range. Been researching carbon bars due to the understanding that they have a little bit of flex to them which I think would just be a little more comfortable while riding.

  3. #3
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    arock, I understand that wider bars would possibly provide more control of the front end, but I haven't had any problem with my "narrow" 660s. Be it riding over big roots and rocks or through rutty, hard-packed sand. I don't know, maybe it's because I have a long background in road riding and I'm used to much narrower 440s.
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  4. #4
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    One thing we are forgetting is these bike are kinda designed around riding in snow and the wide bars are really helpful in maintaining balance and control in said environment. Now I understand that people are now using these bikes for all different types of riding run what ya like.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by bdundee View Post
    One thing we are forgetting is these bike are kinda designed around riding in snow and the wide bars are really helpful in maintaining balance and control in said environment. Now I understand that people are now using these bikes for all different types of riding run what ya like.
    Yeah, I haven't even ridden mine in snow yet, so maybe I'll feel differently when I get that chance. Thanks for your reply.
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    I was never comfortable with the skinny bars bikes came with in the '90's, and actually like wide bars. But is it a market trend driven by people's preferences?

    I rode my pugs for a couple of hours yesterday; first real ride in a month or so. I was surprisd to learn that I had forgotten some subtle quirks...like increased rider input. Right now it has an uncut Salsa bend2 (710) on a 7 deg up /90mm stem. I think a fat bike with narrow bars and a short stem would be a struggle for most recreational riders (and that's a HUGE market segment, eh?). Increasing stem length to the point of slowing down handling would be counterproductive, as would lengthening top tubes by very much. So its wide handlebars.

    After a certain period of time, one learns to bend at the waist a little while standing ...get your butt back a little and weight the back tire a little better. Wide handlebars help make this feel more secure, and when adding the extra traction of a fat tire, it feels like you can climb almost anything.

    An inexperienced rider on a test ride feeling more stable and secure will certainly equate with more sales, I think, too.

  7. #7
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    I agree, narrow bars with a short stem would not be any fun. But I think most narrow-barred bikes are usually specked with longer stems. I can see your point in how the wider bars (and shorter stem) helps the rider to get back over the rear wheel. I've always loved climbing and I suppose I have my technique down (somewhat). But who knows, maybe I'll need a little extra help when I start riding in snow! Thank s for your reply.
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  8. #8
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    I took the wide stock bars off mine and replaced them with narrower bars for one really simple reason- the trails around here are designed for narrow bars. Nothing worse than having to slow down to a crawl every time the trail passes between two trees for fear of catching your bars.

    My experience with wide vs narrow has been mostly "meh"- that is, narrower bars didn't make it any harder to steer, don't require noticeably more effort in snow or on trails.

    Honestly, once you get into enough snow to matter, the width of your bars is pretty much the least of your worries.
    Last edited by buckfiddious; 10-14-2013 at 08:55 PM. Reason: damned autocorrect

  9. #9
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    Well for one, it's pretty much the worst accelerating bike ever, so wider bars give you leverage to stand and pedal, which is really helpful from a stop to get up to speed, or not lose speed on a particular section. To make the rest of the bike balance out, a shorter stem helps to allow this without making your steering or reach goofy.


    I've been searching for 25 years, but I've never found those oft talked-about mystical trails where you have to use narrow bars. I'm not sure where they are, but I'd like to ride them sometime in my life.
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  10. #10
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    Ive never had a stem longer than 90mm, i think the longest on any of my bikes at the moment is 80mm. Bars are min 680mm to usually 720mm.

    If you go too crazy on width they clip trees and limit speed on tight trails.
    Last edited by ozzybmx; 10-15-2013 at 05:54 AM.
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  11. #11
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    I'm right on the edge of trying out some wider bars with a shorter stem. I have a 100mm and 680 bars on my SS Pugs now. My buddy and I were out riding some trail the other day and we switched bikes- he was on his Krampus with 80mm stem and 780 bars. Holy smokes- that took a lot of getting used to, but once I rode it for a bit it wasn't too bad. The trails around here are tight in sections, that was my only worry. He usually rides very wide bars and he felt he was twitchy as hell on my "hipster" bars, as he joked.

    I think I'm going to try out some wide bars on my Necro that I use all Winter where I don't have to worry about clipping trees at high rates of speed and see how it feels. Another buddy is letting me borrow his Spank 777's and 60mm stem, so I'll be going in head first!

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayem View Post
    I've been searching for 25 years, but I've never found those oft talked-about mystical trails where you have to use narrow bars. I'm not sure where they are, but I'd like to ride them sometime in my life.
    If you are ever in the Mpls - St. Paul area, you will find them. I have 760mm bars. There are trails with 1" to clear on either side between trees. The trees have the marks on them of those who have not cleared cleanly.

  13. #13
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    Down in the Otways in Victoria (Australia) theres a trail network called Forrest.... awesome trails, i swear there's a tree that has half its trunk gouged out by handlebars, its not even that narrow to miss but this tree has lost out big time.
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    I think the wider bars are driven by the leverage and control they provide at high speeds or on very techy terrain. At least, that's why I assume they are so prominent on trail bikes these days.

    When I bought my Transition Bandit 29, it came with 740mm bars, which when I used I instantly felt at home on. After that when I bought my second Pugsley, I just feel super uncomfortable on the narrow bars, which I have yet to fix. For normal bumbling about I can get used to it, but when I get into very technical slow speed rock crawling, I find myself wanting wider bars.

    For snow riding, I assume wider bars help work to dampen the steering input. But I've yet to truly ride my fatbikes as everyone else seems to on here, lol.

    Regarding narrowly spaced trees, I dunno, I don't have a problem with 740mm bars, I just quickly twist the bars to get around the trees.
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  15. #15
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    I've been a fan of wide bars and short stems since back when 620mm was considered wide and 90mm was considered short.

    There are really two factors here: the first, and most critical is fit. People with wider shoulders will fit better on wider bars, and people with longer arms or torso's will fit better on longer stems, and vise versa. Of course frame design is a factor in this, for example I ride a small Beargrease since I have short legs (29" inseam), but with a long torso (relatively, with a total height of 5' 7"), I'm going to a 130 mm stem to get a good, efficient XC fit.

    The other side of the story is ride feel, leverage vs stability... more or less. Many bikes today are being designed with a longer top tube so you can run a shorter stems and the bike becomes more flickable. Wider bars help with leverage...

    What it comes down to is that mountain biking has changed in the past 15-20 years. Back in the 90's trails (at least here in the Midwest US) were narrow, tightly wound around trees, and speeds were slower as a result, so having a nimble bike was a priority. Steering was done heavily with the handlebars. The other driver was that XC racing was big so bikes were built around a body position that was better for pedaling efficiency.

    For the past 5 years, maybe a bit more, it seems like most new trails are build to allow faster travel and more 'flow'. As a result, steering is done more from the hips than from the handlebars. Trees and other obstacles are generally removed if they work against trail flow so narrow bars offer no advantage. The sport has become more focused on gravity events so stability at speed and on rough terrain has been prioritized in bike design. I recently changed from 620mm bars to 660mm bars on my MTB, and along with the increased stiffness of newer bars my ability to 'rail' bermed has improved considerably.

    All this has carried over into fatbike design. Fat bikes, in their natural environment of snow and sand, roll at lower speeds and the balance of steering efforts is back to the arms and bars. But these surfaces put up a lot of resistance, so wider bars really help give you more leverage when you need to make a big heavy bike change direction on a soft surface.

    So it kind of depends on your size and your riding background, not to mention the kind of riding you do on your fatbike. But the main point I'd like to make is don't do something just cause your riding buddy does it, different sized people are going to find different sized bars and stems fit their bodies better or worse.
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  16. #16
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    Also: Wider bars can be cut shorter. Shorter bars can't be widened.
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  17. #17
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    I'm a big guy with very long arms and I hated the narrow 660's that came on my Moonlander. I put 810's on it thinking I would cut them down some, it never happened.
    Riding Fat and still just as fast as I never was.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayem View Post
    I've been searching for 25 years, but I've never found those oft talked-about mystical trails where you have to use narrow bars. I'm not sure where they are, but I'd like to ride them sometime in my life.
    Madison, Wisconsin has lots of narrow trails.

    When you don't have hills or mountains, you make your trails twisty and technical to make up for the lack of vertical drop.

  19. #19
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    It's all personal preference, try both set-ups and see which you like better.

    I, for one, like the greater leverage of a wide bar/short stem and I really, really like getting my weight back over the rear tire, making it less likely to endo and making the front end lighter and easier to lift over obstacles.

    While 780mmbars/50mm stems felt the best to me there are many trails in this area where the gaps in the trees are less than 750mm. I settled on 710mm bars and a 50mm stem as a compromise.

    FWIW, I'm 6' tall with long arms and legs. I ride 100% singletrack and 0% snow. If you're riding a higher percentage of time in the snow it probably makes more sense to run a long stem and get more weight over the front tire to equalize the weight and minimize the rear tire sinking.

  20. #20
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    Lots of great input here! Until I got my Moonlander, I hadn't been on mtn trails since the late '80s (just about the time shock forks were coming around, I believe). I've had my Moonie on some of our mtn bike trails in SE Wisconsin, and many of them are tight and narrow. There have been several times when the 660mm bars have been JUST narrow enough to get between trees, and I've even placed a "signature" in those trees.

    My other riding has been on the beaches along Lake Michigan, and so far I have not felt a real need for wider bars. However, one of the main reasons I bought this bike was for winter snow riding, and I've beginning to feel that there might be an advantage to a (wider) bar that offers more leverage/control when getting into situations where the nature of the terrain might want to "self-negotiate" the BFL tires. Truth be told, I may I have even sensed that advantage a bit when rolling through some of the areas with larger rocks that I occasionally encounter on the beaches. So it looks like I will be testing out something wider than my current bars/stem.
    Thanks everyone for the valuable info.
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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by jnroyal View Post

    FWIW, I'm 6' tall with long arms and legs. I ride 100% singletrack and 0% snow. If you're riding a higher percentage of time in the snow it probably makes more sense to run a long stem and get more weight over the front tire to equalize the weight and minimize the rear tire sinking.
    I'm 6'1" with long arms and legs too. And it makes sense about equalizing the weight when riding over snow, especially since I have a light upper body. So I probably won't be cutting my stem length down as much as some guys do.
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  22. #22
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    wider bars and shorter stems help slow down steering and make inputs more direct. It also shifts your weight further back, which is great for steep sections. It can also make you sit up a little higher and more upright, which are all good things for DH or aggressive riding.

    The OTHER side of the coin is that you can also extend the top tube while shortening the stem, which keeps your overall body position the same, but puts the front wheel further in front of you, moving your weight rearward. This makes it a little bit harder to climb (weight balance is key and has now shifted rearwads), but makes it sooo much better to ride technically, especially at high speed. You've got more room to move around, and since you're not right on top of the front wheel, it's easier to correct mistakes after they happen but before you feel the effect.

    I don't know how any of that will affect a fatbike rider though. In my experience, I settled on a 90mm stem with a 23.5" ett for 90% of the riding I do. It puts me centered on the bike and makes the steep climbs and descents around here really fluid without a lot of monkey motion. For DH, I want a 24" plus top tube and a short, 35mm stem. It gives me so much more control over the bike and even when things get hairy, I don't lose control. I experimented with a 60mm/24.4" top tube XC bike for a while, which cornered very naturally and was one of the most "fluid" bikes I've owned, but climbing was a chore. My pugs is a 24" ett and I'll be playing with a 90mm and 60mm stem, probably settling on the 60. I imagine that it'll be good to have your weight back, but if it's too far, you might push the front wheel hard in the snow. Too much monkeying around in slippery weather is not a good thing either, so a balanced position might be ideal.

    As for wide bars, wider is better. Give it a shot. I have 31.5" bars on my XC bike now, which I thought I would want to immediately cut down, but I really don't mind them. I had 720s before, and the 685s on my pugs felt narrow! You do punch trees, but I think you'll find that any tree you would punch with 30" bars, you'd punch with 27" bars.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by sandwich View Post
    wider bars and shorter stems help slow down steering and make inputs more direct.
    I immediately noticed this when I first rode a Krampus. Hated it! I didn't like the slowness of the steering, but that's probably because I'm still thinking like a roadie and need to re-evaluate my requirements for fat-biking.
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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by buckfiddious View Post
    Madison, Wisconsin has lots of narrow trails.

    When you don't have hills or mountains, you make your trails twisty and technical to make up for the lack of vertical drop.
    I think its more a matter of the local vegetation type and the size of the park where you can ride. There are a lot of places in dryer climates where there's just not as many trees, and the undergrowth doesn't grow into the trail so quickly where the trails will stay more wide open. Also, often we in the midwest have very small fragments of "natural" area that are not developed, so if you want decent trail milage, you have to make it twist and turn a lot to fit it into a few acres as opposed to thousands of acres of public land elsewhere.

    For the record the trails in S. WI are a lot more open and flowy than the trails in IL where I learned to ride
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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by buckfiddious View Post
    Madison, Wisconsin has lots of narrow trails.

    When you don't have hills or mountains, you make your trails twisty and technical to make up for the lack of vertical drop.
    Oh, I've ridden plenty of narrow and tight trails that looped back on themselves all over and had lots of trees growing right next to the trail, even occasionally brushed a handlebar on a tree (with both narrow and wide handlebars), but I've yet to find these textbook "tight" trails where you can't ride wider bars. I will keep searching though...
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