is Wider Better?

On Sunday I hopped down to Glentress taking both my Fat Bike and 29er down the trails.

both in the van
both in the van

Moving from the fat bike with its wide bars back to the 29er i was shocked at how narrow the bars seemed. Took me two runs to feel comfortable – so stopped into the shop armed with a 20% discount and bought some wide Renthal bars and fitted them.

old ones in front new fitted
old ones in front new fitted

I will need to cut them a bit so google and came across this interesting article (BIKERADAR)  on how wide I should be ….

Handlebars have been trending wider for many years. Few of us are riding the 580mm-wide Answer Hyperlite bars that were the rage fifteen years ago, but that doesn’t mean you should rush out and buy a handlebar that’s wider than a Honda Civic just because it’s what your favorite pro downhiller is riding.

If you’re thinking about going wider, do it for function, not fashion. And before doing it at all, weigh the pros and cons.

Specialized fit professor Aaron Post recommends balancing biomechanics with terrain and riding style to find your ideal handlebar width

The Evolution of Wide Bars

Like the rest of the components we ride, handlebars have evolved dramatically since the early days of our sport. In the beginning there were just ‘mountain bikes,’ today we have all manner of species of knobby-tired machines—cross-country, trail, all-mountain, enduro, freeride, downhill—along with components designed specifically for these breeds.

Noel Buckley is the owner of Knolly bikes. He has a background in engineering physics and has seen the mountain bike market diversify over the past two decades. “The changes in riding style, advances in full suspension bike geometry and suspension travel, the rise of new applications (e.g. downhill bikes) have allowed handlebar manufacturers to go wider than the standard cross-country bar of 20 years ago,” said Buckley.

His engineering background lends itself to an analytical view of handlebar width, though he admits there’s no hard science to finding one’s ideal handlebar.

“There are no simple answers here: even making a table of rider height versus frame application versus suggested bar width would be difficult and probably not overly useful. Local factors such as trail design, trees, rocks, and the balance of climbing versus descending might sway a given rider’s preferred bar width by 25-50mm,” said Buckley. “The obvious argument towards using longer handlebars is that they give you more leverage (or torque) to steer the front wheel: this is supposed to make controlling the direction of the bike easier. In general, this is correct. At the end of the day, it is very difficult to say anything more than wider bars = shorter stems, smaller riders = narrower bars, and low and slack bikes can typically get away with wider bars than steep, tall bikes. But even these dogmas are being challenged by the increase of 710-740mm bars in the trail bike market—bar widths that were decidedly DH oriented less than half a decade ago.”

Wider Does Not Necessarily Equal Better

Like most things in life, handlebar width is best approached with an eye towards moderation and practicality. If your trails are very tight, heavily wooded, and lack high-speed sections then a wider a bar may be a hindrance. If your handlebar is so wide that you are riding with your arms extended and your elbows locked you will find it very hard to react to obstacles. Likewise, if you’re slight of frame with narrow shoulders, wider bars may cause discomfort.

Some trails are just not compatible with wide handlebars...:

You shall not pass!

Aaron Post is a fit professor with Specialized. He notes that while there are tangible benefits to going wider, wide bars are not for everyone, and my have little to no benefit, depending on how and where you ride.

“The wider trend has come from riders who are riding very technical, very fast terrain, where the trail is literally starting to pull the bar out of the rider’s hand. If your trails are not particularly technical the need for a wider bar diminishes. More often than not, it is biomechanically easier for a rider to support themselves with a narrower bar, you would want to go wider as the terrain dictates,” said Post.

Post uses push-ups as an example. It is much easier to do a push-up when you hands are placed just to the outside of your shoulders than it is when your arms are splayed out to your sides. Signs that you may have gone too wide include pain or discomfort between the shoulder blades and upper back.

Handlebars, Stems, and the ‘Golden Ratio’

As your handlebar length increases your reach decreases. A wider bar will shift more of your weight forward. Hence the need to run a shorter stem to keep your weight centered.

A wide bar is only half of the equation: a shorter stem is necessary to maintain a consistent reach: a wide bar is only half of the equation: a shorter stem is necessary to maintain a consistent reach

A stubby stem helps to keep your reach relatively consistent when running a wider bar

The general rule of thumb is to maintain a 2:1 ratio of handlebar width to stem length: for every 20mm increase in handlebar length you should reduce your stem length by 10mm. So if you’re running 660mm bars with a 100mm stem and want to try a handlebar that is 700mm wide you will need to pair that 700mm handlebar with an 80mm stem to maintain a relatively consistent position on the bike.

Like most rules of thumb, this is 2:1 ratio is by no means absolute. And, as Post points out, it is only useful if you’re starting from a comfortable fit position. “If you’re already unhappy where you are all bets are off.”

Test Many Times, Measure Twice, Cut Once

It’s important to remember that just because you bought an 800mm-wide handlebar does not mean you’re locked into this length.

“Manufacturers often try to make the bar a bit longer than required to give users the option to shorten it to the correct length. Riders may mistake this extra length as being appropriate for their height, bike setup and riding application,” said Buckley.

Measure twice, cut once, but be sure to experiment with various widths: measure twice, cut once, but be sure to experiment with various widths

Work outward from your existing position to find your ideal width 

It’s easy to experiment with handlebar width, particularly if you are running lock-on grips. With a wider bar installed, mount your controls in the same position they were on your narrower bars and gradually move them outboard until you find a position that’s to your liking. (This may require the use of several different stems, too.)

Testing time – no not my daughter

been mapping out a route for bikepacking / fat biking through some parts of the cairngorm range. So planning to stop at a bothy overnight but although fine in principle there is always the uncertainty of not knowing what the bothy is like.

A chance came to do a test recce – one of my ex wife’s elderly relatives passed away so she flew up to shetland with my oldest daughter for the funeral. The younger daughter was with me and this coincided with a break in the weather.

So we headed off to feshie bridge with a plan to cycle in to glenfeshie bothy. It is barely a jaunt at 12km in on trails but for a 8yo it seemed longer.

 I loaded my fat bike up with both sleeping bags, sleeping mats and carried spare clothes. I put cooking stuff into my backpack along with some food. Rehydrated packs for dinner and some porridge for the morning. And then some fruit and also some jelly baby enticement for the young one and a wee hip flask of single malt for me.  

It was good going although she was tired and kept on with ‘how long ’til we get there’ 

The river/ streams were snow melt but only knee high – although 3 crossing each time of the 4 rivers – once for my bike once for hers and once with her meant my feet got chilly


But we made it after a longer than it should have been ride  

The bothy was great and despite the great weather – it was 16C – it was empty apart from us. During easter? 

Needn’t have bought all the pots either as there was plenty to cook with, good to know for the big adventure 

The next morning there was a bit of fog to burn off but it was hot by the time we left.



 Equipment wise everything is working well- the fat bike is superb laden on rough trails the low psi means it just conforms to the trail. The salsa anything cages keep the weight distributed all over the bike and the alpkit handlebar and seat bag are secure and stay steady even down stone steps.

I can’t wait for the proper adventure now 

Fat biking – is it no longer a fad

Good first person article from singletracks


Watching the birth of fat bikes in the mountain bike industry has been nothing short of breath taking. Drawing from personal experience, this fat-tired wonder opened up a lot more trails as well as placing big grins on our faces. Before fat bikes we had been riding our mountain bikes year-round, putting on the studded tires when the snow started to accumulate and whipping them back off again as the ice melted in the spring spring. About three winters ago, a wide tread mark kept beating us to the trails and part way through the season, we finally spotted the culprit: a Surly Pugsley Black Ops.

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A month or so later, Freewheel Cycle Jasper had a fat bike demo day. Happily for us, there weren’t a lot of people trying them. We ended up testing the fat bikes on an old rutted dirt road, the bike park, a frozen lake, the town walking path, and off path through the virgin snow. We became absolutely hooked on the idea of riding these in the winter versus what we were doing at the time. The rest of the season saw us driving 80 kilometers to rent Freewheel’s fat bikes, when the conditions in our town were counter productive to riding skinny (our studded mountain bikes). That was 2012. The fall of 2013 we had the opportunity to purchase a pair of Surly Pugsleys. We’ve had them out on all kinds of trails in Alberta and British Columbia.

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Sales of fat bikes were through the roof that year and with the explosion of fat bike owners came a multitude of fat bike pages on Facebook. I belong to three group pages; two are are- specific while the third is literally comprised of riders from around the world! For those curious fat bike followers, the pages are: Jasper Fat Biking (Jasper, AB), Fat Fockers (Kamloops, BC) and Fat Bikes (world). These are three entirely different pages as well as groups of riders riders. While just a few of us post on the Jasper page, the Kamloops Fockers are a large number of enthusiastic fat bikers, with a core group who get out with snowshoes–and a groomer when needed–to keep the trails rideable. Members of the Fat Fockers update statuses on trail conditions, post trail expansion ideas with community involvement, and upload a number of great photos.

The Fat Bike page is an entity of its own. Being member #150 (+/-), I have watched the group grow to almost 6,500 members worldwide. The topics vary from what fat bike should I buy, what winter clothes and boots do you recommend, what GPS is best, what studded tires, how about night lights, all the way to the most controversial one, “Once You Go Fat, You’ll Never Go Back!” That topic tends to raise the hackles in different ways, depending on the rider.

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Some riders are steadfast in their belief that fat bikes are the wave of the future and that we can wave good-bye to normal mountain bikes. And the evidence seemed to be in the interest and sales. Retailers in some areas couldn’t keep up with the demand, with Surly, Salsa, and Konas being produced for Canada. The industry was taken completely by surprise and mountain bike makers jumped on the bandwagon. This past year saw well known names in North America, like Trek, Specialized, and Norco, introduce their versions of a fat bike.

With this new wave of bikes came the redesigning of accessories to fit fat bikes and their riders’ needs, depending on where they rode. This included items such as panniers, racks, frame bags, lights, fenders, and attachments for carrying any number of items. These versatile bikes were covering all kinds of territory.

That also brings up the often unseen point in the debate, “are fat bikes a trend or not?” Where and when are fat bikes being ridden and how does that affect the market in a given area? For most of Canada and a chunk of the USA, winter has a lengthy grip. Personally, we bought the fat bikes primarily to ride in the winter.

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Fat bikes are proving, however, that they aren’t just a bike to ride in the winter… and if you do a search on fat bikes, you’ll find that some of them, originally, weren’t even intended to be winter bikes. Hundreds of photos of fat bikes in almost every country can be found on the internet, proving how they are being used as travel bikes and work horses. You can even find videos on YouTube of freestyling, touring, and even hunting on fat bikes. It is amazing what some of these riders are doing with fat bikes!

Since I try not to use a motorized vehicle at all when at home, I will use either of my bikes depending on how much time I have. The looks I get and the curiosity of non-riders when I do a solo ride on my fattie to the library or to get bread make the fat bike a fun training bike in the summer. My husband will only ride his fatti in the winter as he loves his Santa Cruz Carbon Blur for the rest of the year.

Is fat biking just a trend? I don’t think so, but I also don’t think they will entirely take over the biking market.

Your Turn: Do you see the fat bike craze slowing down anytime soon? Why or why not?

Sandra Pelley hails from Hinton, Alberta. She rides year-round and favors full suspension mountain bikes and fat bikes over road bikes. She and her husband travel all over western North America to ride their mountain bikes, and her bucket list includes a Women’s Only Weekend at Ray’s Indoor MTB Park in Ohio, Finale Ligure in Spain, France, Kingdom Trails in Vermont, and the Trestle Bike Park in Colorado, to name a few.