Sunday, December 17, 2006

Why so wide?

The handlebars on my 1986 Centurion are 15 1/2 inches wide from edge to edge (about 14 inches center to center) . I rode a 2007 Specialized Roubaix this weekend, and this baby sports handlebars that are almost 18 inches (16 ½ center to center). It seems the trend has been for handlebars to get wider over the years, but this seems ridiculous.

Why are road bars getting wider? Fashion? Or is there a good design reason for this?

The 2007 Specialized Roubaix with carbon frame and forks rides like a dream, incidentally. I have no idea if the "Zertz Viscoelastic Dampers" actually do anything besides look cool, but the '07 Roubaix offers a plush yet responsive ride for my middle-aged body. I'll try to post a more complete review in the near future.

Photo info: 2007 - 17 3/4 inches by richardmasoner.


  1. I thought you said are "roads getting wider?" To which, the answer of course is no, cars have been getting wider.

    I have ssen some really narrow bike lanes -- which makes me think that the bars need to be narrower.

  2. I'm a wide bars fan! Then again I'm not your standard skinny cyclist...

    I've fairly broad shoulders in typical rugby player style and the wide bars are just more comfortable for me than the thin ones :)

    Ventilation is a good point Paul!

  3. I'm pretty much your standard skinny cyclist (except for the mini beer gut), and I love the wider bars too. My Jamis road bike came with 44mm bars and after riding them for a summer I want to get wider bars for my Schwinn too. It's not as aero, but it's more comfortable on my chest and back.

  4. Wider bars came into vogue as research seemed to indicate that breathing was improved by a wider spread of the shoulders, allowing better function of one's lung capacity. In years past, narrow bars were in vogue for being able to get through smaller gaps in the field and to minimize the amount of sway in the bike when out of the saddle and rocking the bike back and forth. I believe the "truth" is probably somewhere in the middle.

    I've seen many smaller riders with bars that are far too wide and they constantly complain of shoulder/ back pain. Conversely, I've know many wide-shouldered guys with very narrow bars with the same complaint. Bar width, especially for longer rides should closely resemble shoulder width- IMO- for the best comfort and performance.

    As a track sprinter, I ride narrow bars on the track to get through narrow gaps, but those events are all very short. On my road bikes I ride 44cm bars to match my shoulders.

    How's that for a long answer?

  5. Thanks for the comments, all. I figured it was to open things up for breathing. Shawn brings up a good point, which is the ability to navigate through traffic. He even cut his mountain bike bars down to 19 ½ inches for this reason. It's also the reason I prefer narrow bars since part of my commute is through urban traffic. The ability to squeeeeze between cars can be handy.

  6. I have to say, I love wider bars. I remember riding exclusively on 40cm wide Cinelli road bars back in the early nineties. About the same time, I cut my mtb bars very short to fit between tight trees. Today, I use bars that somewhat match my shoulder width on all of my bikes. 44 cm road bars are just right for me and I am glad that those options are readily available today (if you had walked into a bike shop looking for 44- 46 cm bars in the 80s they would have just laughed at you). I wish I had tried wider bars when I first started racing many years ago, but I just stuck with the narrow bars that the Euro pros were using.

  7. I have the Nashbar 56cm moustache bars. Love them. They're perfect for my fixed gear, every bit of extra leverage helps when grinding up the hills.

  8. Being an old Vintage steel rider, I use the narrower bars, myself. Better aerodynamics and comfortable for my oversized frame!

  9. and stability

    a cross bike may need wider bars as the terrain may demand it

    the shoulder blade to shoulder blade rule has been in effect for some time

  10. I'm short, so my bike came with really narrow handlebars (38s!). I totally feel the lack of leverage everytime I come into an uphill overgeared. As soon as I figure out what size is right, I'm switching (shoulder blade to shoulder blade? Which part?).

  11. We had 44cm bars at Palo Alto Bicycles back in the eighties. The thought was the wider bar opened you up for better breathing and you could get more leverage when out of the saddle. I started with 42cm. My friend Dave got into 44s and I tried them. I immediately felt more comfortable and more stable. Use the bar that feels best and don't listen to anyone who tells you you are wrong in your choice.