BAR TO BAR
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.