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Pedal Science Blog: Handlebar Width

Welcome to Pedal Science, the weekly bike fitting blog by Nick Thomas of The Endurance Coach. This week we look at the subject of BAR WIDTH and cycling performance. 

When buying a road bike the handlebar width will be determined by the frame size: the smaller the bike the narrower the bars, the bigger the bike the wider the bars. For most people this sizing works well but there are exceptions.

For someone tall and slim the bars might be slightly too wide which can cause a number of potential problems:

  • As the arms are splayed out from the shoulder to the bars the weight is not distributed directly up to the shoulders. This can cause discomfort in the upper back and neck.
  • The splayed hand position can cause discomfort or numbness in the hands, especially during longer rides.

Discomfort leads to the rider constantly altering position to improve the situation and this consequently leads to loss of sustainable power, not to mention enjoyment of riding the bike.

A short, wide person might find the bars are too narrow due to the smaller frame size. Narrow bars can cause the following problems:

  • As the bars are narrow bike handling can become twitchy, especially when descending.
  • The shoulders are drawn forward which can put excessive tension throughout the upper back. This commonly leads to upper back discomfort and the inability to maintain a still, efficient position for extended periods.
  • Breathing can become restricted as the narrow hand position prevents the chest to fully expand. This becomes problematic when working at a higher intensity and would be very apparent during a hard effort or when climbing.

When buying a second hand bike check whether the previous owner changed the bars from the original ones – we’ve seen several bikes where the handlebar width was unusually narrow or wide for the frame size.

So how do you know how wide your handlebars should be? The simplest way is measure the distance between the acromion on each shoulder – if you run your finger from your neck to your shoulder this is the bony bit at the end just before the top of your arm. This distance should be the same as the handlebar width measured between the centre of the handlebars.

Establishing the correct handlebar width is quick and simple and for most people a correctly fitted bike will have suitable bars fitted. If you have especially wide or narrow shoulders – or have bought a second hand bike – measure your shoulder width to ensure you have the appropriate bars.

Nick Thomas is the resident bike fitter at The Endurance Coach. He is a fully qualified bike fitter and expert in lower limb mechanics, holding a BSc (Hons) in podiatry. You can contact him using the email address: nickthomas@theendurancecoach.com or see more about his fitting services by GOING HERE.



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