We've been getting a lot of questions about handlebars lately so I thought I'd share what little I know.
Width: In recent years many riders have been fitting ever wider bars on their bikes. I did this myself and found it a mistake. Certainly on mountain bikes and CX bikes the additional leverage of wide bars makes sense, but not on low trail city and road bikes.
A well designed low trail bike should feel almost as if the steering is linked directly to your brain. The bike will hold a line through a corner with little input. It will also track straight without the need for constant attention. After all, the steering is optimized for a tired long distance rider. The bike should take care of the rider and this sort of bike has been doing exactly that for many decades.
It is the bike that is based on racing geometry that may feel better with extra wide bars. They deaden overly quick steering and improve control on a high trail design. But there is an aerodynamics and ergonomic price to be paid for that width. It's true that beginning riders can feel more comfortable on very wide bars, just look at the "cruiser' bikes at the local shop, but one soon get used to slightly narrower bars.
The same holds true for city bikes. The last thing you want is wide bars to snag on passing cars and cyclists. The city bike must be narrow and if the geometry is correct narrower bars will feel just fine.
Bar Height: There has also been a tendency to raise drop bars well above saddle height. Certainly there are people with bad backs who benefit from this, but there are many more riders who set their bar too high simply because they've read that that's the way to do it. Again, there is a price to be paid in aerodynamics. I'm not suggesting that you set the bars several inches below saddle height as the pro racers do, but most people are soon perfectly comfortable with the bars at saddle height or an inch below. And cruising along at 15-20mph you'll really feel a difference.
City bike bars can vary greatly in height, some folks want city bikes that feel like road bikes and will lower the bars to below saddle height. Others will want to sit straight up with their bars at chest height. Just remember that if you like to sit up, which makes a lot of sense in heavy traffic, get bars that sweep back; otherwise you'll feel like you're riding a chopper.
Drop: I favor shallow drop bars because most non-racers are not comfortable on the drops if they are two low. And if you can't use the drops, you might as well just cut them off and save some weight.
Ramps: Most models of Nitto road bars have fairly flat ramps; that is, when you are riding on the hoods your hands don't angle down. There is no question that this is more comfortable than racing bars with downward sloping ramps. Add wide and long brake hoods, as on modern Tektro and Campy brake levers, and you'll see a big improvement over the bars and levers we used 20 years ago.
Part 2 tomorrow.
20 February, 2008
Posted by Velo Orange at 12:36:00 PM