Rais­ing The Bar

Hid­den be­neath all that colour­ful tape, the han­dle­bar is easy to take for granted. But thanks to new and evolv­ing shapes and sizes, it plays an in­creas­ingly crit­i­cal role in the qual­ity of your ride. It’s time to take a fresh look at this un­sung com­po­nent

Bicycling (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - By Oli Mun­nik

Han­dle­bars are for more than hold­ing on to – they can in­crease com­fort and im­prove per­for­mance. Here we look at the key fac­tors that make your han­dle­bar work for you.

II­mag­ine you buy a new road bike, and start head­ing out for rides. Af­ter that fresh-han­dle­bar-tape smell wears off, you start to no­tice that your shoul­ders hurt on a long ride, or your hands go numb, or you can’t reach the brake levers from the drops quite like you want to. But the bike it­self might be fine – it could just be that the han­dle­bar is not quite cut­ting it.

As re­cently as 20 years ago, the bar played a mostly util­i­tar­ian role: It pro­vided a place to at­tach brake levers, and gave you some­thing to hold on to. But re­cent changes in bike de­sign and in­no­va­tions in man­u­fac­tur­ing have led to an ar­ray of new han­dle­bar shapes and sizes. This for­merly over­looked com­po­nent now plays an in­te­gral part in how we get along with our bikes, af­fect­ing ev­ery­thing from fit to com­fort to han­dling.

The cor­rect han­dle­bar will put your hands in a po­si­tion to sup­port your up­per body with­out ­put­ting strain on your neck and shoul­ders, and help bal­ance your weight be­tween the front and back wheels for proper han­dling. New shapes, like compact bends, of­fer im­proved er­gonomics and con­trol.

“There are so many more op­tions, and peo­ple have re­alised they don’t have to be un­com­fort­able,” says Char­layne Barger, an ex­pe­ri­enced bike fit­ter.

What’s driving this new bloom of op­tions? Many trend-watch­ers point to the ad­vent of compact- frame ge­om­e­try in the 1990s. Those frames, still pop­u­lar today, have slop­ing top tubes that ac­com­mo­date a greater range of rider heights, al­low­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers to ­pro­duce fewer sizes. Be­fore those de­vel­op­ments, most frames were de­signed with a rider’s ideal stem and sad­dle po­si­tion in mind. ­Typ­i­cally, cy­clists could find a good fit with only min­i­mal changes to their stem length and sad­dle height. Compact frames flipped that for­mula 180 de­grees. “Now, frames dic­tate what to do with the stem and seat­post,” says long-time frame-builder Tom Ritchey.

To adapt, rid­ers have to rely on more pro­nounced changes to their sad­dle lo­ca­tion, and es­pe­cially their hand po­si­tion.

As cy­clists be­gan clam­our­ing for ad­di­tional ways to fine-tune their set-up,

new ma­te­ri­als and tech­niques gave com­po­nent-mak­ers more con­trol over bar shape. Re­mov­able-face­plate stems opened up more bend op­tions, since the bar no longer had to fit through a stem clamp. The re­sult is a smor­gas­bord of choices: com­plex shapes, more com­bi­na­tions of reach and drop, bet­ter ­er­gonomics, and larger clamp di­am­e­ters that prom­ise more stiff­ness. With so many op­tions, the han­dle­bar has be­come an im­por­tant tool to help ­cy­clists find an ideal rid­ing po­si­tion.

Bar shapes and sizes con­tinue to evolve. Select­ing the right one re­quires some trial and er­ror, but it’s eas­ier than you might think. As­sum­ing your bike is the right size, your bar should let you reach the brake hoods com­fort­ably with a slight bend at the el­bow. When your hands are on the hoods or wrapped around the hook por­tion of the drops, your wrists should be at a com­fort­able an­gle. And you should be able to reach the brake levers eas­ily from the hoods or drops.

Chang­ing your bar won’t make up for a frame that doesn’t fit. But it can make your bike feel bet­ter, in­creas­ing com­fort and im­prov­ing con­trol. The han­dle­bar is one of just three points at which your body con­tacts your bike, so even small changes can have an out­sized ef­fect – trans­form­ing a good bike into a great one.

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