Mechanical advantage of wider bars?
Back in the day, when 120mm stems and 550mm bars were the norm, I ran that traditional set up on my Raleigh M400. Of course, it wasn't set up singlespeed nor did I even know of their existance, much less think of running it off-road. I was perfectly fine on my geared hardtail, 26" wheels and uber plush 80mm of suspension travel.
Present day, I only have SS bikes (5 currently). Most have ~700mm bars, which I think is perfect. Using those wide bars to get some good torque up some of the steep stints works really well for me. Much better than the 590mm bar I had on there previously.....I think. Earlier this year, I built up another SS and installed a 660mm bar (with about a 45 degree backsweep). I found that other than probably having to get a much longer stem, I didn't feel that much power loss from the narrower set up. The designer of the handlebar even suggested, on climbs, moving my hands UP the bar, which essentially makes the hand position narrower, but in turn, gets my hands away from the body a bit more (at the widest spot, my hands were just too close to the body). Hmmmm....
I'm trying to wrap my head around the current trend of "wider is better," which may have stemmed from the old Grand Prix commercials. Now Pontiac is defunct and wonder if my current belief of the same mantra is as well. My skepticism on this evolved from an event about 3 years ago, when I had tried to land a set of 180mm cranks. I thought that 175mm just wasn't cutting it, as I needed more power. 180's should provide that much more leverage, then I will be unstoppable. I then stumbled upon 63xc.com and started reading. I was intrigued and tried 170mm cranks on my roadie first. Ok, not bad. I could climb everything I had previously with 172.5mm cranks. Only difference being, on the descents, I could spin much faster. Win-win. On the MTB, jump to 170mm seemed like too much. Then I actually committed and bought some 170's. Ok, not bad, either. No real noticeable difference. Extra pedal clearance is nice, and spinning on the flats improved (instead of pedal pedal coast, it's pedal pedal pedal faster and coast). I cleared everything I did on the longer cranks, and didn't feel I had to exert any extra effort (maybe a tiny bit? I've been on the verge of puking on both set ups, so not sure how to compare). Anyway, blew my mind and since then, I have questioned every "now trend," and "rule of thumb."
So those that have tried both, but more importantly, tried them both without being brainwashed by the current trend of "wide = better", what are your thoughts? Does the wider bar actually provide significant mechanical advantage, both in theory and application?
Full disclosure: Those 660mm bars put my hands just too close to my body. So I picked up a Salsa Bend bar (710mm) recently and have been using that with success. But I'm not sure if it's the width or merely the hand position that makes it feel better. I think it's the latter. I'm going to experiment with both set ups this season.
I don't use excessively wide DH type bars. I have used from 600-700mm bars though. I'm thin/medium framed. 600mm now feel too narrow for me for general handling and climbing positions. I used 700mm bars and they feel much better. I added bar ends to the 700mm and i had more comfort and leverage than without or a 600mm bar. I switched to a 685mm bar with bar ends and lost zero noticeable leverage.
I don't buy into "wider is better" nor "wider works better than bar ends". I give pull ups or row machine exercises as an example. I have less power or endurance with my hands close together (inside my shoulders). Over hand position around shoulder width give me good strength and endurance. If i go wider than about a hand width outside my shoulders i start to experience stability issues and fatigue. Not as much as close hand, but, more than ~shoulder width. Now when i place my hands in a position similar to a bar end (parallel with my body) i have the most power and endurance. I'm not saying that ppl who ride extra wide bars are doing it wrong, its just wrong for me.
When i go wide, i notice muscles are required to remain engaged when they don't need to be. A touch wider than shoulders reduces effort and leverage required to remain stable. Do a test... When standing upright, lean forward and fall to the ground. Where did you place your hands to stop your fall? This will probably give you a good estimation of where you want your grips.
This has become quite the long post, but I thought I'd share my experience with my personal experimentation as of recently.
I think there are many factors to consider and the "wider is better" has it's limits...
- Riding area (tight trees, technical, flat, climbing, DH, etc.)
- Tight tree trails benefit from narrower bars
- w/ wide bars you could just slow down a tad for those area (depends on how many)
- Technical trails can benefit from the extra leverage, both up and down
- Your body (wide shoulders, narrow shoulders, arm length, etc.)
- the larger/wider you are the more a wide bar would fit go and visa versa
- some say do a pushup and measure the width of your hands (mines more than the wide bars)
- Bike set up (super slack head angle or XC steep, short or long stem, etc)
- Alot of new AM type bikes are coming w/ much slacker head angles and a wider bar can help control the wheel.
- The stem and handlebar work together for overall fit. As your arms get wider, they get closer to your body, thus a wider bar would require a shorter stem and visa versa.
Above are just some of the examples and things to keep in mind.
Me - 6', 220lbs, aggressive rider with a DH tendency.
-Back in the day I rode the typical narrow bar with a 150mm control tech stem. For the bulk of the past 10 years I rode 680-690mm bars with ~85mm Stems.
This last year has had many changes...
-First I rode my FSR with 711mm Haven bars with an 85mm stem, loved it but steering felt slow.
- So I went to a 70mm Stem and it was awesome! But still slow.
- So I went extreme to a 35mm stem and thought it was the best combo I ever ran and rode this for 6+ months.
- Then I bought a SS (4 months ago) and thought a little wider would be good for leverage so I got 725mm bars for it with a 55mm stem. Felt good but when I climbed steep stuff I kept widening my hands to get extra leverage to the point where I had a pinky hanging off each site.
- So I went 750mm Carbon Havocs on the SS and I was in heaven! To me and my body size it felt perfect and the trails around me had very few places that were tighter than that so all the benefits outweighed the chance of 1 set of trees I need to slow down for. I felt i had more control and my DH times were getting quite faster for a SS!
- The next time I rode the FSR29 I felt cramped and hated the 711mm bars so I instantly upgraded the FSR to 750mm also. They were great but I didn't feel I got the same leverage out of them as the SS.
- So, I wondered if my stem was too short for AM riding and went with a 55mm, and sure enough the bike handles better and had more leverage (I guess too short of a stem can turn too fast and lose leverage also).
- After I got comfortable on these set ups I started to feel cramped (funny being I'm wider than I have ever been in my life, but I am getting in the rehlm of my dirt bike sooo?
- I went on a ride on each bike and rode the entire ride with my pinky either at the very edge of the handlebar or even hanging off on the climbs and I could tell a difference and it felt more natural/comfortable (to me!). On the SS on a sustained climb I even moved my hands into the inner (normal) position and then out to a pinky hanging off and back a few times and I could tell that I had a tad more leverage and that it felt a tad more comfortable...
- So this week I ordered a 785mm bar and slapped it on, feels great in the street, doesn't feel to wide at all and just feels natural. The first test ride will be in an hour and we'll see what the results are!
- After today I'll decide if I go 785 on the SS as well
One additional thing I noticed when going for the 711 to the 750mm bars was that I felt I could breath a little better. I think because my arms were wider it let me expand my lungs a little more. As an extreme test, try putting your arms straight out in front of you and take a deep breath, then do the same with your arms out much wider. Personally it makes a difference for me!
Just got back from a ride with the new 785mm bars and they felt right at home. felt a tad more stable and natural. Granted I was not on one of the tight tree-lined trails, but on the very rocky downhill they felt great as well as the climbs!
Might have to try them on the SS now!
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