Are your bars the correct width?

Pro enduro racer and LLB factory pilot Macky Franklin wrings out his perfect setup.

Dear fellow mountain bikers,

  • Do you feel like you’re getting thrown forward off drops?
  • Is it impossible for you to make tight switchbacks?
  • Does riding just feel … wrong?
  • Do your shoulders hurt?

I learn the hard lessons so you don’t have to.

These issue have lots of possible causes, but the easiest one to address is the width of your handlebars.

Are they too narrow? Too wide? Just right?

If you’re a small rider, bars tend to feel too wide. If you’re a tall rider, bars tend to feel too narrow. If you rode in the early ’90s, bars were way too narrow. If you’re riding now, they tend to be too wide.

Too narrow: Here’s the man himself, Ned Overend, back in the days when men were strong, bikes were rigid and bars were narrow. While he made this setup work fine, wider bars would have been easier to handle.

Too wide: I thought I was so bad ass with my 800mm Shimano PRO Atherton bars. But they pulled my elbows out too wide, and they pulled my shoulders out of safe alignment. That was bad. Those same bars are 750mm now, and this bike is perfect. And my shoulders hurt less.

Just right: With 750mm handlebars I can carry my elbows behind my hands and keep my shoulders aligned for strength and safety. Better late than never.

The bike industry either has no idea how wide handlebars should be, or they’re keeping it a secret.

Well, I’m going to tell you the secret.

The problems with current handlebar widths

Unless you have a custom bike, the handlebar that comes with your bike is determined by:

  • Fashion. What is cool right now?
  • The style of bike. Is this a cross country race bike or a trail bike or an enduro bike?
  • What the bike company thinks it can sell. Will this handlebar help you decide to buy this bike? That’s the strongest consideration.

None of those have anything to do with you, the rider! While you might be able to ride whatever handlebars, the wrong handlebar width can mess up your riding and your body:

  • You lose range of motion so you can’t ride down steep hills or make tight turns.
  • You lose pushing strength so you can’t handle impacts.
  • You lose pulling strength so you can’t pump terrain.
  • You rely on the small muscles in your arms and shoulders, and they get tired.
  • You can damage your shoulders.

If you are a human, odds are your handlebars don’t fit you. At best, you’re not riding at your potential. At worst, you’re damaging your body.

This 2017 Specialized Enduro Öhlins Coil was the closest you can get to a downhill bike that feels good on regular trails, and I loved mine. This bike came with 800m handlebars for all sizes. I’m a huge Specialized supporter, but this is a case of handlebar width matching the bike, not the rider.