Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents - WORDS: BEN MORRISON IM­AGES: NICK WAYGOOD

What makes a good han­dle­bar and stem com­bi­na­tion for trail rid­ing? We put eight sets to the test, and quiz rid­ers about what they think works best.

The han­dle­bar is per­haps one of the most over­looked and un­der­rated parts to any bike. All bikes have them, and other than a set of grips, they are the first point of con­tact when get­ting on and rid­ing a bike. If you don’t get along with your bars you’re gen­er­ally not go­ing to get along with your bike. Han­dle­bars are re­spon­si­ble for many things be­yond be­ing a con­tact point be­tween you and your bike and a place to in­stall all your con­trols. They help turn and di­rect your bike, ab­sorb­ing forces and re­duc­ing hand fa­tigue, fur­ther as­sist­ing to re­duce neck, shoul­der pain and arm pump. How­ever, they can also be the rea­son be­hind these is­sues, es­pe­cially if your setup doesn’t work for your body or rid­ing style.

Back sweep, up­sweep, rise and width are the key fac­tors for con­sid­er­a­tion to any moun­tain bike han­dle­bar and will be the lead­ing rea­son be­hind whether one or another is the right bar for you. Be­fore you start to con­sider bar clamp size and if you should lash out on car­bon or stick with the more cost-ef­fec­tive al­loy bars, you should con­sider the above fac­tors and what your needs are.


the an­gle your bars come back to­wards the bike when level. This will have the largest ef­fect on your wrists and in turn the way you are able to reach your brake levers and shifter due the an­gle the sweep will put them on. The less the back sweep, the straighter and flat your hands will be. The greater the back sweep, the closer into your body your hands will sit.


the an­gle your bars sweep up­wards away from the stem when level. When it comes to up­sweep, this will de­ter­mines the po­si­tion your hands are in when on the bars. A high de­gree of up­sweep will tilt your hands in to­wards the in­side of your bars. The lower the de­gree of up­sweep the closer to a flat line your bars will have. The key to up­sweep and back sweep is to get a bar that feels nat­u­ral and com­fort­able to you – do not try and copy what other rid­ers use.


how high the han­dle­bars rise from the stem clamp. Rise can be a per­sonal pref­er­ence due to rid­ing style or lim­it­ing fac­tors like head­tube or cur­rent stem height. Higher rise han­dle­bars are of­ten the main choice for rid­ers that ride steep and tech­ni­cal trails, al­low­ing for free­dom to move and at­tack the trails with­out their body weight be­ing shifted for­ward by grav­ity.


The to­tal width from end to end of your han­dle­bars. Han­dle­bar width is likely one of the big­gest points of ar­gu­ment from one rider to another. Once upon a time a wide bar was con­sid­ered to be 680mm and the An­swer Pro Taper bar was THE bar to have. XC rid­ers would never con­sider a bar this wide when they first came out. Fast for­ward 10 plus years and we have XC rid­ers us­ing 720mm plus bars and down­hill rid­ers us­ing 800mm plus han­dle­bars. Bar width can do lots of things – all of which can be im­por­tant. A wide bar will help with sta­bil­ity at speed and al­low some more flex (car­bon bars can have this flex built into them even at a nar­rower bar width) to take the edge off this speed. It’s a nar­rower bar that can make a bike feel more nim­ble at low speeds and tight sin­gle­track. The width of a bar is a very per­sonal thing and in this case big­ger is not al­ways bet­ter! Con­sider the width apart your hands are at when do­ing push ups… When your hands are ei­ther in very close or very far apart, you are not at your strong­est and mul­ti­ple push ups are dif­fi­cult. Now con­sider your bar width based on where your hands are do­ing your strong­est push ups and this will give you an idea of how wide a bar should be to give you the most con­trol. The best sus­pen­sion on your bike is your body, and your arms are the first point that starts to move and ab­sorb shock. By lim­it­ing your strength and abil­ity to use your arms you are af­fect­ing your ef­fi­ciency and abil­ity to ride your bike in con­trol.

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