If you look at photos of bike racers throughout history, you might notice the variance in handlebar width.
Even among modern road bikes, bars can be found in a fairly wide variety of widths. But what is the right handlebar width?
The standard fitting advice is to get a handlebar as wide as the measurement between your AC joints. Those are the bumps atop your shoulders where the collarbone attaches just inboard of your deltoid muscle.
But many riders prefer a handlebar slightly wider than their shoulders. A wide bar opens the chest. Some people say they breathe better because of it.
A wide bar also provides more leverage for steering. It can make a twitchy bike more stable and makes a loaded bike or tandem easier to control.
The aero advantage of a handlebar that’s a couple of centimeters narrower seems negligible to me, especially on recreational rides when you’re up on the brake lever hoods most of the time. The upper body creates a lot more wind resistance than arms do.
I remember a comment from a pro rider a few years back. He said his switch from a 42-cm bar to a 44-cm was like going from night to day. He loved the way the wider bar felt to his body and his bike handling.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.
Todd Winkler says
Coach – I’m heading to Hawaii and plan on doing a 100+ mile ride on a rental, but I ride a 44 cm handlebar at home very comfortably, but the rental shop uses stock width 42 cm and does not swap out or have an option until the frame is larger than what I ride. I know this is very personal choice as will be ultimate comfort, but would I notice much difference after riding the first 10 miles, or is it worth just riding an oversized (58 vs 54) frame? I wouldn’t be too concerned but part of those miles are coming down Haleakala crater, and I’d rather not feel squirley handling for that leg. Thank you in advance, Todd