My new bike – Narrow-minded

July 14, 2011

The last component I added to my new bike were the handlebars, but one point I did not address yet was the width. I get asked on the “right” width from time to time, and as much as anybody just wants a simple answer, the problem with simple answers is that they are usually wrong.

You may know the rule about handlebar width matching shoulder width. Sounds logical. Then you ask yourself: “Why would my handlebars have to be the same width as my shoulders? There’s quite a bit of arm in-between!” Personally I like narrow bars, they make me feel compact and fast. Wide bars make me feel like I’m riding a cruiser.

Does bar width make a difference in my performance? Aerodynamically, the narrow bars probably are a bit better. Other than that I doubt it makes any difference. Some worry about the ability to breath, but with your arms free to take any position, I doubt that’s a real problem. It’s a little different with aerobars, where your elbows are locked in and hence if they are too narrow, it could affect the shape of your chest. But with dropbars that problem doesn’t exist.

What’s your favorite bar width? Let me know in the comments section or call me out via twitter @gerardvroomen.

20 Responses to “My new bike – Narrow-minded”

  1. Jack Mott Says:

    I am Jack’s complete agreement.

  2. wisey17 Says:

    I have ridden 44cm (C-C) since I was 19. I am now 38, and recently tried a set of 42cm bars. (actually about 41.5) What a difference. Pity I didn’t discover this years ago. Hey, I’m a big guy at 6’1″ and 80kg with broad enough shoulders under the ‘old rule’, but these narrow bars allow me to flick the bike from side to side (out of the saddle) with so much ease. I never would have believed that such a small size difference would make such a big performance difference. Narrow bars. Give ‘em a go.

    Gerard, how are the ergo shape bars going?

  3. Rouleur Says:

    Seems like every manufacturer’s C-C measurement is slightly different, but I stick with ~44cm bars- which sometimes means they are actually 45 or 43 at the hoods.

    I rode a 42cm bar for a while, but while the better maneuverability was nice, climbing out of the saddle reminded me of fixed-gear kids with super narrow cut-down riser bars. They also tended to strain my my trapezius muscles a lot when climbing.

  4. Joseph Says:

    I use 42cm bars, and have often thought about going to 40cm or narrower.

    What is the preference in Team Garmin-Cervelo, do the riders go by the general, shoulder width bar, or do the go for aero?


    • I think most teams allow for “personal preference”. I don’t think there are many team managers like Manolo Saiz, who allegedly only offered one frame size, two stem lengths, one saddle and told everybody to shut up and ride.

  5. G Says:

    a team mate of mine has a simple rule:

    as narrow a bar as he can get for his road bike (often a 38) and as wide a bar as he can get for his cx bike (usually a 44).

    For me i go with a 46 on a CX and a 44 on the road, i’ve tried narrower and don’t like the feeling in the hoods.

  6. gearz Says:

    I’ve found over the years that handlebar preference has as much to do with shape and drop as what width the manufacture stamps on them. The narrow compact shapes like the E70 feel good in the drops but anatomical or standard shapes feel better riding the hoods especially when standing to climb. IMHO

  7. Joseph Says:

    So Gerard, what would you recommend for those of us who don’t have an unlimited amount and variations of bar at our disposal?

    I may have just answered my own question, I guess something like a Retul bike fit would help with choosing a width.

    I guess its that or get yourself onto a pro team…hmmmm…

    All the best

    Joseph (@jrdm91)


    • Well, try something different with your next bike, or ask your bike shop for a second hand POS bar in a different width or with a different grip.

      In general I like narrow as I mentioned, some seem to agree but not all.

  8. Bill Says:

    I tried wide, narrow, and everything in between. I think my favorite so far is the Easton EA70 from this season. Mine is a 42, but the hoods/top width is slightly narrower than the drops, which effectively, since your hands sit a bit wider on top than in the drops, keeps the width the same for both positions. I dig it.

  9. Allie Says:

    A couple of years ago I had my 1980 Lotus touring bike rehab’d – repainted, frame tweaks for 21st century 10 spd gruppo, wheels, the works. I tossed the old handlebars – too narrow – 38’s I think, w/ classic drop. I know I was happy riding them ‘back in the day’ when I toured all over – now I prefer a short reach 42,C-C, which is what is on my road bike. Just more comfortable overall (I’m rarely on the drops) and better for climbing in or out of the saddle. Tourer has Nitto short reach, road machine – Specialized anatomic.


    • Whatever works for you. BTW, if you’re almost never in the drops, wouldn’t that be an indication that maybe your bars are a tad low? That seems to be a trend, bars so low that the hoods are in a nice spot but the drops never used.

      • Martin Says:

        I have compact bars and actually like them for this reason – it gives me a low position in the hoods and an easy reach for the drops.

  10. Dale Newnham Says:

    I use 44cm bars but you have got me thinking. David Millar used 40cm bars in the Giro so there must be something in it: http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/8591/Giro-dItalia-David-Millars-bike-set-up-to-spin-through-the-mountains.aspx
    I may try to swap the 44 cm bars I just got for a narrower set…

  11. Brandon Says:

    I know this is an old post, but it’s an interesting topic. My bars flare slightly at the ends to 48cm c-to-c. At the drops they’re about 45.5cm, and that’s where I spend most of my time. That has my hands slightly narrower than my shoulders at the curve, and slightly wider at the ends. I also use a drop-in bar that’s 44cm which is pretty comfortable, though I think that is about as narrow as would be comfortable for my anatomy.

  12. samu ilonen Says:

    I like 42cm c-c. But I also ride rather 40 than 44. Too wide feels that my shoulders would curve to back. And that makes my chest thighter,means less air for to breath.

  13. Larry T. Says:

    One rule I’ve always found to be true – a bar a bit too narrow is rarely a problem but one too wide will cause your shoulders to hurt. I proved it again awhile back with a 46 cm set I came across and put them on a ‘cross/winter bike..and sure enough my shoulders ached. Switched down to 44, no problems. But I spent a few weeks riding one of our rental bikes with 42 cm bars in July and my shoulders didn’t seem to like it when I went back to 44 cm. a few weeks later. I’m riding the 42’s again on the same rental bike and figuring I might be in for an expensive swap session soon if all of my bikes with 44’s on ‘em bother my shoulders when I start riding them again!


  14. [...] champion Chris Hoy adopt very narrow bars. And bike design expert Gerard Vroomen has expressed a personal preference for narrow bars [...]


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