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Most bicycles today come with handlebars that suit the person who fits the bike. So, it's likely that your handlebars fit adequately. There are lots of different handlebar sizes and shapes, however, and changing might fine-tune your fit providing additional comfort.

Width
Check width first. For optimal control and efficiency, drop handlebars should be about the same width as your shoulders (photo). These bars come in sizes ranging from about 38- to 44-cm wide. So, if the distance between the bony protrusions on top of your shoulder blades is 42 cm, that's what the handlebar width should be.

Flat-bar widths vary, too. Usually, riders who enjoy demanding, technical trails appreciate a little additional width (24 to 27 inches), especially if they're using dual-suspension frames. All-round riders prefer a more standard width of about 22 inches. Also, if the trails you ride cut through tight spaces such as neighboring trees, you’ll want to be sure the bars aren’t too wide to clear the obstacles.

Shape
Handlebars come in various shapes, too. Flat bars have different bends and may include rise to help you sit more upright. Drop bars often feature anatomic bends in the hooks for more comfort. And they're sometimes bent differently on the tops to accommodate your wrists. The larger the hand, the more drop is needed; for a smaller hand, less drop makes it easier to transition to the lower position. Another consideration with drop bars is reach, the distance between the bar tops and bottoms. Usually, taller riders appreciate more reach, and shorter riders appreciate less reach.

Notes

  • If your flat handlebars are too wide, you can shorten them with a tubing cutter or hacksaw. But don't overdo it. Measure carefully and be sure to leave ample room for the brake and shift levers, etc. Also, if your considering cutting carbon fiber bars, first check the manufacturer's warranty. Cutting too much may void the warranty.
  • Wondering how different bar shapes feel? Come on in and try some out!