Do you have numb tingling hands? Are your shoulders and wrist hurting? Arms and elbows getting tired? Are you finding yourself riding your MTB with your hands on the controls and not the grips?
If you’ve never had your bike fitted and you’re experiencing some of the above symptoms your mountain bike handlebars are probably too wide. Bikes in the $900 range and up are coming standard with wide handlebars. This is great, but you need to make the next step and make them FIT.
If you want to be comfortable for hours in the saddle, the contact points (Handlebars, Pedals and Seat) need to be setup correctly.
For the last 6 years I’ve been using ERGON GS1 Grips. (Link to Amazon where you can read more reviews). I can say my wrists and hands have never felt better.
The steps to cut handlebars are straight forward but finding the correct dimension is the key to a great fit.
How Wide Should Your Mountain Bike Handlebars Be?
The goal is comfort, while having stability and leverage. Handlebar comfort is also associated with stem height, but that’s another article.
How to TEST your Handlebar width before cutting. Okay it seems obvious, just keep moving the controls in until it feels right. Yes, that’s one way, but you could be playing with the handlebar width for days. The method I’m suggesting will have those handle bars comfy in an hour or so.
Method #1 Use a Formula
I’m not taking credit for this, but Lee McCormack has literally written the book for fitting an MTB. It’s called Dialed: The secret math of a mountain bike setup. (link to Amazon) In it, Lee has shared his years of knowledge when it comes to getting a mountain bike to fit correctly.
Essentially the formula is based on the rider’s height and gender. So, find a a tape measure and measure your height. I’m going to provide an example with a tape measure in inches.
MALES measure height in inches (H) X 25.4 (convert to mm) X 0.44 = recommended MTB handlebar width.
As an example I’m 70” x 25.4 x 0.44 = 782.3mm = Handlebar Width.
FEMALES measure height in inches (H) X 25.4 (convert to mm) X .426 = recommended MTB handlebar width.
Take a note of this measurement as we move into the next method of determining Handlebar width.
Method #2 Use the Push Up Method
As the name implies it’s time to “Give Me 20!” and do some push-ups. I’ve found this to be a great way to hone in on a comfortable handlebar width. What seems to work best is to stretch out a tape measure on a flat floor. Then do 3 or 4 push-ups ON the TAPE MEASURE, taking note of the outside measurements on your hands.
Take a break by sitting down now CLOSE your eyes do 3 or 4 push-ups again on the tape and measure. (My measurements were 789mm eyes open and 778mm eyes closed)
METHOD #3 Move the Controls
Folks have said to just lay your hands on the handlebars from the seated position and note where the outside of your glove falls. From experience I’ve found this might not be best. When doing this, we tend to find a comfortable spot on the controls for the palm of our HANDS (brake and shifter) and not the desired thing which is a comfortable spot for our BODY (hands, arms and shoulders)
Use Method #1 and Method #2 to adjust your controls for a test ride.
This works best if you have clamp on grips that slide completely over your handlebar ends.
I averaged all the measurements then subtracted the grip width. So the example would go as follows.
Method #1 = 782mm
Method #2 Eyes Open = 789mm
Method #2 Eyes Closed = 778mm
(782 + 789 + 778) / 3 = 783 mm <- this is your Target Width
Now measure your Handlebars (not cut), mine measure 820mm SUBTRACT your Target Width 783 = 37 mm
Since you’ll be moving the controls (brakes and shifter) on both sides DIVIDE by 2, then move your controls in 18.5mm on each side.
As an equation ~
Handlebar Width (minus) TARGET WIDTH (divided by) 2 = Amount to Move Controls Inboard.
How to Check MTB Handlebar Width
With the above data, move the controls in and test ride. Take an Allen wrench with you in case you want to tweak the position of the controls or angles.
Be conscious of your hand position during this test. Are you feeling the controls are too narrow? Do you have