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 good stability sitting? How about standing in a climb?
With 5 miles of test riding and a “positive feel” endorsement, it’s time to think about cutting.
How Long are Handle Bars for MTBing?
Tall men run into a problem of not having handlebars WIDE enough. If you’re over 6 foot 3 you could be bordering on the stock handlebars not being long enough.
The standard length for most MTB handlebars is usually between 760 to 820mm.
Using the Lee McCormack formula, that 6’3” guy you would want to find handlebars in the 840mm width area. I was looking around and Whisky 9 Carbon Handlebars do come in a larger width. I know Amazon carries them here’s a link – Whisky 9 Carbon Handle Bars.
What Tools Do You Need to Cut Handlebars?
Most folks have everything needed in their tool box. If you don’t have a dedicated MTB tools, I’d really suggest starting to build up a kit. I spent hours reviewing different MTB Tool Boxes and wrote about it in this article. BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE TOOL KIT.
Tools Required to Cut MTB Handle Bars:
- Pipe Cutter – if cutting aluminum bars here’s a link to one at AMAZON that works Great – Rigid 29963 35S Tube Cutter
- Hacksaw with tungsten carbine cutting blade or super fine +32 tpi. – for carbon bars – This can be a little bit of a specialty product so here’s one I found on Amazon. XXXXX
- Flat and Rattail Files
- 200 gr Sandpaper
- Torx and Allen Wrenches
- Scribe or marker
- Measuring tape and small scale.
OPTIONAL New MTB Grips – You can reuse your old grips, but now might be a good time to upgrade. I’m going with ERGON GS1 they are super comfortable and easy on my +50 year old hands. If you’d like to reduce stress on your hands, I recommend getting the ERGON GS1 (link to see other riders reviews on Amazon)
How to Cut MTB Handle Bars
1.Wow, getting the right width can take a little bit of work, but if you cut your handlebar to short…..UGH, there is no fix for that. With your testing complete and the correct TARGET WIDTH it’s time to “GIT-R-DUN”.
2. Remove both grips and bar end caps.
3. Loosen the controls and slide them inboard toward the stem.
4. Time for some math again – I’m sorry. Measure the total length of your handlebars and SUBTRACT your target width. You’ll probably get a number between 80 and 20.
5. Divide that number by two which will give you the amount to cut off EACH side.
6. Measure in from the end of the handlebar and mark it this amount. Do this on BOTH sides.
7. Now double check the overall length to your marks. This should equal your target width.
8. If your measurements are good proceed to step 10. If something is off go to step 9.
9. If your mark to mark measurement doesn’t equal your target width the cause is most likely in the overall length measurement you used before removing the handlebar grips. This doesn’t mean the TARGET WIDTH is incorrect. What is means is you’ll need to adjust the marks on your handlebars (equal amounts on both sides) to achieve the target width.
10. Setup your pipe cutter on the handlebar and proceed with the cut. Once your first cut is complete double check the distance from the cut end to your mark on the opposite side.
11. Cut the opposite side.
12. Using the sand paper and files remove burrs from the ends. Don’t leave this “as cut” sharp. Injuries are caused by riders falling on MTB handlebar ends. Read about this and other ways of being safe MTBing in this article How to Fall off a Mountain Bike without Getting Hurt.
13. Clean any residue out of the handlebars. This can be done by tipping the handlebar vertical and tapping or giving it a shot of compressed air. It also makes sense to wipe the outside of the handlebars off in case any oils or other contaminates are on it.
NOTE: Take your MTB Multi-Tool handy for the first couple rides to adjust the position of grips and controls. Since my bike uses both a 4mm and 5mm the Crank Brothers M19 is perfect for this. Check the prices and reviews on AMAZON here Crank Brothers M19
14. Install grips. Make sure the grips are fully seated onto the handle bars. Since most MTB grips have bar clamps, tighten to prescribed torque. (Usually around 4.5 Nm)
15. Position and tighten controls. I do my best for positioning, but knowing I’ll need to adjust. The aim when positioning brake and shifter controls is to keep the fingers, hand, wrist and arm in alignment. Start at this point and make fine tuning adjustments from there. A good target torque for tightening controls is 4.5 Nm.
16. Do a safety test ride with your M19 easily accessible. This means find a safe area where you can concentrate on your hands and the position of the controls without worrying about trees and rocks on a trail. Make adjustments with the multi-tool as needed. Pay special attention to your wrist angle.
17. With adjustments complete, double check the torque on the control bolts and grips
DONE – Now get out and ride some singletrack in comfort!