Mountain Bike Handlebars that Hurt Your Bike Handling!

Your handlebars greatly effect the feel of your bike and how your bike handles. Sometimes bars that are comfortable for long rides aren’t the best for bike handling.

Mountain Bike Handlebars with a lot of back sweep (back sweep is how the handlebars point slightly back towards you, all mtb handlebars have some back sweep but most are between 3 and 9 degrees, these bars are 11 to 37 degrees) hurt your bike handling! I dislike them and they don’t like you! I have seen these handle bars recently on a few students bikes and they are scary and dangerous. I suppose if you have a nagging wrist injury or ride for more than 8 hours at a time they may be comfortable (but they are uncomfortable for me as my wrists have to twist outward to hold them) but comfort at the cost of greatly reduced control and risk of injury?! That doesn’t sound like a good trade off.

Top to bottom: Origin8 Space Off Road II (37 degree bend), Salsa Bend 2 (23degree), Surly (by Nitto) 1×1 Torsion Bar(15 degree bend).

 

I got this photo from an interesting blog focused on bike as transportation and adventure (bike packing and long distance rides) check it out if you are into long rides:

http://www.pushingthepedals.com/2012/01/all-about-the-bend/ he likes the bars and for his purpose they are probably fine, he will be a little more twitchy but if they make him more comfortable that might make long rides more fun.

Have your ever ridden an old 3 speed with bars that bend straight back towards you? They are very twitchy. These new bars are similar. The more back sweep a bar has the more it moves your elbows in, towards your body. This puts you in an nonathletic position (elbows in) where you can not resist side to side bar movement nor can you move quickly or efficiently. This means when you hit a bump that causes the front wheel to swerve (which happens probably once a minute on a mountain bike) the input from the bars will be transferred to your body causing you to swerve. With a more straight bar and arms out from your side more you would; A. be able to resist the bars swerving and B. the movement of your arms would not be transferred to your body so the bump would not cause you to swerve. It is also hard to absorb shock and contour to the terrain as well with elbows in. So if your bike came with these bars switch them out asap! If you were thinking these type bars might be an upgrade, they are not! As we have stated before, look for a wide bar, 720mm to 810mm and a short stem, 30-70mm long and you will have much more control (assuming you understand and ride in proper body position).

Create you most in control ride yet!

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67 replies
  1. David H says:

    What bars/stem are you currently riding?
    I’m in the market, but I don’t keep up with the latest fashions.
    I’d like to get something good, since I have a nice deal going, but there are a bagillion of choices and I’m lost.
    Any help?

    Reply
  2. Nathan Wigley says:

    Does the shorter stem apply to XC riding too? I currently ride a 29er with a 90mm stem. I’ve been getting some lower back pain at the end of my races and I was thinking of shortening it to a 70mm.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey Nathan,

      Yes, it definitely applies to xc riding too. Not sure if it will help your back (If you aren’t already doing this, try hinging at the hips with a flat back instead of bending at the waist with a round back, this really helped me get over lower back pain.

      Create a more comfortable ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  3. Frank says:

    I’ve been running Ritchey 10D bars on my bike the last year and don’t see myself turning back any time soon. I did try running a straighter bar for a few weeks per a friends suggestion (I think it was only 3 degrees of sweep?) but found that it actually gave me a little more trouble putting my arms further out than I wanted. I’d be up for giving another bar a try myself if it will make a difference in handling but don’t see myself using a riser with my current bike setup.

    Reply
  4. Eric.505 says:

    @gene: Non-sense. Your critique of so-called “alt-bars” adds nothing to the MTB community as it is based upon absolutely no facts, just your opinion. (It sounds as if you have never even actually ridden an alt-bar.)

    Now,I don’t expect your comments to necessarily have a bibliography (or reference list) attached to it, listing all of the scholarly articles on which you based your conclusions, but a “stream-of-consciousness” ramble without a single coherent fact is utterly unhelpful to newbies and to experienced riders alike. Your ‘argument’ (I’m being generous here) is akin to telling people that they should never ride a certain type of saddle or pedal, etc.

    A bar is a personal preference item, pure and simple. Some people like ‘em, some don’t. No worries. –E.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for writing! For a bibliography, check the “about me” page on this blog.

      I write these to help riders learn and improve, but everything in my blog is my opinion. It is a an opinion shaped by working with and
      learning from great coaches and riders as well as my own experience.

      If you have some observations comparing the control of the two bars
      please share. I love discussions where my readers and I learn from each other.
      I encourage my students to strive to keep a “beginners mind” that is open to all possibilities as I certainly don’t claim to know it all. As a matter of fact life would be pretty boring if I knew it all as leaning is one of my favorite activities.

      Create your best ride yet,

      Gene

      Reply
  5. Alan says:

    I have been a long time alt-bar advocate, I recently made the switch to a regular MTB riser bar. Not as comfortable, but the control and confidence I got in return is definitely worth it. Also, after taking a BR camp, I can use proper technique and good body position which is not possible with a bar with lots of sweep. Big sweep bars definitely have their place is cycling, but it’s not safe or practical in performance mountain biking.

    Reply
  6. Justin says:

    I was hoping you would have talked about the width of the bars and how it affects control. The magazines are really pushing getting wider bars and I am considering it. There arnt too many tree’s in the desert to hit while riding so I dont think that that would be a problem for me.

    Reply
  7. Scott says:

    After a couple seasons of attempting to arrive at a comfortable riding position (consisting of shorter stems and bars with more rise) I had unwittingly created a very twitchy bike. Many people, myself included, initially have no idea how drastically changing handlebar width and stem length can affect the bike’s handling. An experienced rider friend of mine who had resisted offering suggestions as I struggled eventually spoke up and helped me tremendously by going back to a flat, 100mm stem and a wider bar. The bike was transformed. Previous to the changes I seemed to always be falling as the front wheel twitched around in technical terrain. I also had found myself going over the bars frequently. All of those characteristics disappeared immediately and the bike became stable and much easier to control in rough terrain. I had been making what I thought were “obvious” changes and had been doing the exact opposite of what was necessary to achieve the desired result the whole time! Wide bars and long stems equal more stable handling. Short bars and short stems equal faster (and possibly) twitchy handling.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Scott,

      Sounds like the wide bars and lowering the front end helped a lot. The longer stem definitely hurt the handling a bit. Stems should be 35mm to max of 90mm (90mm for someone with a frame that is too small for them) as the stem length greatly effects bike handling. This is why you will not find a stem longer than 60mm on a World Cup downhill bike, Super D/Enduro bike or any of our coaches bikes. A shorter stem allows for more precise steering input and enables you to get in the proper body position.

      Reply
  8. Andy says:

    On my 29′er, I have run both a “traditional” riser bar (a Sunline V1) with about a 9 degree backsweep, as well as an “altbar”, a Salsa Bend 2 with a 17 degree backsweep. Both bars are the same width, about 720mm.

    I tried the Salsa bar as I was experiencing wrist pain/discomfort using the Sunlines about 2 hours into a ride. Once the pain set in it was there to stay, greatly reducing my comfort and enjoyment, and ultimately compromising control, especially in race situations where I’m already knackered.

    The altbars resolved this pain, and for me, the only noticeable difference between the two bars is a very slight change in horizontal wrist rotation – just enough to resolve my issue. I’m always conscious of “elbows out and flat”, “eyes up”, etc. and haven’t noticed any negatives from the alt bars. I’m also big on “heavy feet and light hands” too, and try to avoid death-gripping the bar no matter what.

    Due to the design of the Salsa bar, height and reach are about the same between the two bars. Perhaps the 29′er stability/cornering traits dampens any major handling differences that might otherwise be more obvious on a 26′er.

    Speaking of which, I run traditional Sunline bars on my 26″ bike with no wrist discomfort, and the two bikes have almost identical top tube lengths and seat tube angles, etc. I still can’t figure that one out!

    Reply
  9. Jeff says:

    A lot of times riders buy something or change their bike set up to mask deficiencies in their body to the detriment of the bikes handling. For example their hands go numb so they buy ergon grips instead of fixing the real issue of putting to much weight on their hands.

    Reply
  10. Gene says:

    Jeff,

    That is so true. Often it is body position (not using/knowing proper position) or a mobility issue (example: tight hamstrings not allowing them to hinge forward) or the bike may be too short or long for them.

    Reply
  11. Cy says:

    Gene,

    I love reading your tips and advice, and your reply to Eric shows a lot of class. The generosity with which you share your experience and knowledge is a great long-term marketing strategy for your business. I can’t afford your camps now but I am certain that when my cashflow makes it possible, I will jump at the chance to sign up.

    Reply
  12. John Rathbone says:

    Hi Gene,
    Those Alt bars will make a great upright conversion for your road bike to turn it into a cruiser bike… :) P.S. you’re giving out a lot of good information out for free… a great asset to the cycling community.
    Thanks,
    John

    Reply
  13. Ron Wipp says:

    Hello Gene,

    First, thanks for you’re continued articles and advice. This handlebar and stem article is close to my heart due to my own particular needs and problems. I’ve been wanting to solve my steering problem(s). However, I’m not really sure if it’s bar and stem or rider. I crash too much in corners, losing grip on the front wheel.

    I rode motorcycles for many years before taking up mtb. Even taking riding skills with Keith Code and Reg Pridmore and later his son. I also liked to take my sport tourer to track days a few times a year. I mention this due to the moto style of diving deep (late) into the corner and flicking it in.

    I should tell you about my bike. It’s a ’06 stumpy S-works FS. I bought the frame in ’09 off the shelf and had it fitted out with a complete XT drivetrain including wheels. The stem is a 120 with I’d guess is 5 or 6 deg rise and about a 640 low rise bar. Ergon grips to fight off the numbness in my hands. Tires are Specialized Captain tubless that I run with 22-24 # frt and 24-26 # rr.

    I live and ride mostly in North and central Florida where there always seems to be slippery leaves from oaks and pines. But other folks aren’t losing it like I seem to be doing. Or they’re not telling. I consider myself something of a intermediate non-aggressive 66 year old, in fair shape rider, who falls a little too much in the corners. It’s beginning to unnerve me a bit, to be honest.

    Thanks in advance to any advice you can send my way. And, I’m still hoping to fit YOUR school one day into my retired budget.

    Ron Wipp

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Ron,

      Great that you taken courses from Keith Code! I have leaned a lot from his books and look forward to taking one of his classes if my schedule ever allows me to.

      It is hard to offer advice without actually watching you but three things come to mind. First that 120 stem makes steering floppy and puts you in a non-athletic position. A 40-80mm stem will make the bike handle much better. Second, we don’t have the weight of a motorcycle pushing down on our tires and we don’t have a 9″ wide tire on sticky asphalt so cornering on an mtb requires a completely different body position than on a street bike (we need to stay on top of our bikes). Third, in addition to keeping our weight over our bikes make sure you are centered fore and aft too, with all of your weight on the pedal/s (often we creep back going into corners do to fear). I hope this helps and look forward to seeing you in a camp one day.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  14. Flatlandr says:

    Right on, Gene– wish you’d published this three years ago as I was starting my alt bar experiment. Three bars and three off-seasons with tennis elbow later, I’m back to straight bars without elbow pain. Never had upper body pain before, then couldn’t push a door open for three consecutive winters–both sides…

    As a biomechanics enthusiast, I’d make a few points about the alt bar, probably the most significant point I could make is how the elbows are allowed to rest inward of where a straight bar would–this disengages the pectorals and anterior deltoids forcing the triceps to carry the rider weight and absorb impact, etc.

    Many riders will habitually point their elbows outward when needed despite the steep sweep of the bars. When the wrists are in position with the elbows out, any pulling force is transmitted through a shortened muscle (extensor carpis in this case), an inefficient and compromised orientation for most joints, in this case the elbows and wrists.

    Elbow injuries aren’t common for mountain bikers, and I had it thick over the past few off seasons. After careful consideration of my setup, the alt bars have been relegated to the touring and cargo bikes. Much better suited on rec-style bikes and less on sport bikes. Again, I wish we’d had this dialogue a couple years back!

    BA

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey BA,

      Sorry to hear about the elbow problems. Thanks for sharing your experience and the bio-mechanics of alt bars vs straight bars, nice to get another perspective from a three year user of those bars.

      Reply
  15. Bradford Marcinko says:

    I have a straight bar on my specialized rockhopper. It stretches my shoulder to the point of pain. Can you suggest a bar that would be better. I mostly do singletrack riding and fire roads.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Bradford,

      Not seeing you on the bike it is tough to make suggestions. If you are being stretched you might want to try a shorter stem. 40mm-75mm stems handle the best (assuming a long enough bike and proper body position).

      Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Bradford,

      it is tough to give advice on this without seeing you ride both bikes (leg length, torso length and reach can vary greatly on people of the same height). My best advice would be to try a shorter stem (which will also improve the bikes handling). 40-75mm stems tend to handle the best

      Reply
  16. Mike says:

    Ron – I also learned to ride in north/central Florida when I was going to UF. I also spent quite a few years riding/racing motorcycles and found out the hard way that my ingrained moto techniques were hurting my cornering abilities on the MTB. The way you position your weight during cornering is totally different.

    In MTB you still want to get your braking and shifting done early but that is where the similarity ends. As you know, in street moto you want to keep your center of balance as low as possible which is why you shift your weight to the *inside* footpeg and hang off to drag your knee puck.

    On a mountain bike you need to straighten your outside leg and push all your weight down into that pedal in order to drive the side knobs into the dirt to increase traction. Your bike should be lower than your body which is exactly the opposite of street moto so it is a hard habit to break. You will also need to slightly bias your weight towards the front in order to get that tire to bite.

    My last piece of advice is to make some equipment changes in regards to your tire choice. Here in Florida the leaves sit on top of sand on top of hardpack. You need a front tire that has more aggressive knobs in order to bite through the leaf layer. Try a Kenda Nevegal or Maxxis Ardent. Leave your rear tire the same in order to conserve rolling resistance. You are also running too low of pressures. This will cause the front tire sidewalls to get “squirmy” and the contact patch to flatten out and slide over the leaves. Try firming up the front to about 32-34 lbs and you will be surprised at the difference.

    Reply
  17. KPierre says:

    Thank you for the article Gene.

    I started mountain biking about 6 weeks ago. i am coming into mountain biking from a background of high level alpine and telemark skiing. I am also a master boot fitter and alignment specailist. Fit is very important to me as I explore the different options for my first real bike.

    My present bike is an old late 80′s no suspension bike that appears to have the right geometry for what I am doing. I have been concentrating on basics and not really riding all that much yet. I have been struggling with the problem of arms that are very long in relation to my height. I am 5’8″ without shoes and my reach between finger tips is 6’2″. One of the early adjustments that I did was go to a longer stem (110mm) and move the saddle back. The problem has been one of keeping a quiet upper body in slower high bike angle turning. Because I understand dynamic movement I knew right away that your article was probably spot on for the solution.

    First thing I found out was that I could not buy really wide bars for the clamp diameter of my bike so I modified the present bars. I welded on extensions, ran the bars through the first stage of heat treat, took some of the sweep out of them and ran them through the second part of heat treat. I took the bars from 635 mm width, 12 degrees of back sweep, 50mm rise and 110mm stem to; 800mm, 4.5 degrees back sweep, 50mm rise and 40mm stem. The cockpit is roughly 50mm shorter but I am in a better athletic position and I can keep a rock solid upper body. I have no interference with my knees as I have short femurs.

    The result is remarkable as I can get much better traction on the front tire yet move aft easily to manual. I will try a trail later on today. I will be doing a trail where at times I felt like dynamic balance was being compromised.

    i just found your site a couple days ago. Will have to plan for a camp.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Pierre,

      Great to hear! Would love to have you in a camp. A newer bike would really make riding much easier for you too.

      Create a great ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  18. Terry Jones says:

    Gene, I am a short rider (5’6) and am interested on your take of handlebars. You state that you run SMAC Innovation bars. Do you ride with the full 830mm length? Do you recommend this length for a shorter rider?

    I have to ask a second question that ties in along with the first. What mtb saddle do you recommend? I do not want to be out of position with a saddle that may not work well with a longer handlebar.

    Thirdly, I, along with thousands of others, offer our deep, heartfelt thank you for all that you do. You add so much good to the MTB community and we are proud to have you here.

    Thank you again!!!!!!!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Terry,

      I cut my bars to 30″ for xc riding and leave them stock for downhill. The goal is more stability without sacrificing your body’s ability to absorb shock. Search our blog for more on this, I and Andy have ridden about it several times and Andy is exactly your height.

      I run saddles that are given to me or come on my bikes, don’t really have much knowledge on the latest saddles. I like narrow, hard saddles which sound harsh actually feel great as you sit on your sit/s bones, not your butt.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  19. terry jones says:

    Thank you Gene! I want to be set up correctly when I take your Better Ride Camp in September. I will be looking for a 30″ handlebar as well as a 60mm stem and start getting used to it. Like a rider stated earlier in this same blog, his riser makes him feel very front heavy and I have the same feeling as well. It is if I have to get way back on the bike even for mild jumps. I always feel as if I am nosing down like a plane in a steep dive.

    As always, thank you Gene!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  20. pimpbot says:

    It’s your opinion, but you are saying it factually. Alt bars WILL hurt your handling? Well, you’re wrong. My Titec H-Bars improved my handling, and my endurance. I rarely even use the alternate hand positions. I just like the sweep. They suck for some, but fully rule fo others… like me!

    Before you shoot your mouth off, I suggest giving them a real go at it. Put an alt bar on your bike and ride it for a couple weeks. I put my bar on and the first ride I thought I made a mistake. It felt weird, and it worked the muscles in my forearms differently. I put three rides in on it and I was sold. They went on all my bikes.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Pimpbot,

      I state that “Alt” bars hurt bike handling because it is a simple fact for all of the reasons I have stated (which are based on years of research, the laws of physics and how the human body moves) above multiple times. Please, someone support Alt bars with an argument on how they help and some really good, proven bike handlers that use alt bars!

      Reply
  21. Michael says:

    Hmmm. I agree with this article to a point. Wide bars short stem = awesome. I took you’re other advice. But the 780mm 9 degree sweep bars just don’t have enough back sweep to prevent my wrist from canting uncomfortably. I’ll be ordering a 12 degree shortly in the hopes that it will at least reduce the awkward cant….

    Michael

    Reply
  22. Alvin says:

    Hi Gene,

    I am riding a 2012 29er stumpy and it comes with a 60mm rise stem with flat bars of 710mm.
    I am itching to change it to a thomson X4 0degree rise with a low rise bar, will this be able to help me in terms of handling as well as stable in climbs and easier to pull for hops.
    My height is only 165cm thou.

    Another question, my logic is that when I shorten the stem, it improves the handling (but will shorten the reach) flat bars to riser (to compensate with the shorter reach and slight higher stance and centers riding position) correct?

    Reply
  23. Alvin says:

    Hi Gene and last to add, I keep hearing from my LBS that Thomson 50mm stems are for DH bikes and not trail

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Alvin,

      Wonder why your LBS says that? I know a lot of guys who can ride circles around me (and everyone who works at your LBS) that love 50mm stems. I guess they are just trying help?

      Your question about the shorter stem and flat is bars is basically correct (I doubt you will end up in the exact same position but close). The question is what is the correct reach? I have never found/heard a good answer for this as you spend approximately half you time seated and half standing on a mountain bike and the perfect reach why seated might not be the perfect reach why standing and vice versus. So defining or measuring perfect reach is tough if not impossible, most likely you will be compromising optimum standing or seating reach.

      Create a great ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  24. Jack says:

    awesome stuff! a year ago when i got my trek remedy 7 i noticed the handlebars were about 29″ wide. thought about trees i could no longer get through. when i asked my bike tech he said” its an out west thing” and i could cut them down to 26 or 25 inches..so in my begginer mind I took a leap of faith. I says self! there is a reason that handle bar is 29 inches wide with a 9 deg sweep and is a low rider. and i will walk all trees i dont fit through til i learn why my handle bars are 29 inches wide. i forced myself to learn to love those wide handle bars and now a year later i see why! thank you gene!

    Reply
  25. Jack says:

    Question?pre camp student question; i have an 80 mm stem. i am 5 foot 8 on a medium trek remedy 7 .if i switch to 60mm stemm i think i can joyfully absorb the 20mm closer bars. might even make my form better. altho i already push seat way back as i just went from 12mm ofset to zero on new dropper post..do you think it(60mm stem) will cramp my switch backs and such too much or should i just go for it and alow camp to weed out the bugs.?same with pedals. should show up to camp with canfields or camp got them on sale? got the seat post already. soon maxis high rollers.also 5 ten maltese falcolns.so my grand question is do i show up to camp with my bike like you teach? or does camp teach and provide product we can buy on side to change bikes? or show up as is and camp teaching causes me to change afterward?gene if you say change my bike befor camp i will do it.

    Reply
  26. jack says:

    change to specialized 60mm stem and up side down and it is like getting a new bike!!thanx Gene! you were so right. also my bars are correct. I agree 100% begause the bent bars in top pictures would force my elbows down and in where as my flatter les bent bars alow me nice free bent arms..Gene you are the man! thank you!!!

    Reply
  27. Adam Horton says:

    Gene,
    I’m fairly new to MTB and will be attending your San Diego camp in May. I have a couple bike fitting questions regarding stem/bar setup in the meantime: I currently have an ’06 Santa Cruz Blur XL frame. I’m 6’2″ and have a 120mm stem with 27″ bars. The bike is already on the large side for my size and I’m thinking about switching to a 60mm stem with 30″ bars. According to your article and posts on this blog it should improve my athletic position on the bike (not so far forward) and improve my handling. My question is: Should I make the changes now and start getting used to the new setup, or wait for your camp in a couple months to confirm the changes? Thanks.
    Adam

    Reply
  28. Adam Horton says:

    As a follow up to my above post, I’d like to clarify that most of my riding is XC/trail. That being said, do you still advise the shorter stem/wider bar? What effects would simply running a shorter stem with the same bar produce?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Yes Adam, this is for all riding. Change is ALWAYS going to feel weird, doesn’t mean it is wrong, just different than the 3,000 hours of riding. If you know, understand and ride in the correct body position you will love your new set up. If you think a mtb should feel stretched out like a road bike it will feel weird but still give you WAY more control!

      Create you best ride yet,

      Gene

      Reply
  29. Justin says:

    Gene:
    To relieve pressure on my back I recently went from a
    110mm/6 deg stem
    620mm wide/15mm rise bars
    to
    70mm with a 12deg angle stem
    680mm wide/25mm rise XC Riser Handlebar

    I expected per the discussion here to experience a big change in the feel of my riding. Either an uncomfortablness or a big postive change in control. I felt neither and I really had 0 issues with the change. Any idea why that is? I have been riding BMX and as an adult mtb for years and I thought this would have been disruptive but it wasnt at all. Any ideas why? Just curious. It would seem I would be set in my ways and not able to make this kinda adjustment so easy.

    Reply
  30. Soren says:

    Any reason you couldn’t just rotate them almost 90 degrees so that the bend is almost entirely in the vertical plane with the ends pointing downwards? That way your hands won’t be significantly closer to your body and cramping you up, but your wrists will be in a more neutral position.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Yes, that would put you in an unstable and nonathletic position. Great for roadies (who aren’t going over roots, rocks, gravel, drop offs, jumps, etc.) but not so good for controlling your mtb.

      Reply
  31. dave says:

    Seems like a lot of riser bars have about 5 degrees upsweep and 8 degrees backsweep. If I want to run a (wide) flat bar, should I look for one with a 13 degree bend, and rotate it to get the same backsweep/upsweep as with a riser, or is there a good reason to choose a wide flat bar with less bend, since most of them seem to have less bend?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Dave,

      I would definitely go with a bar with less than 13 degree back sweep. 13 degrees would make it darn hard to get into a solid, in balance descending body position.

      Let us know how it works.

      -Gene

      Reply
  32. Dustin says:

    Hi Gene, I have a Pivot Firebird with 6.5 inches of travel which came with a syncros 710mm 20 mm rise and 9 deg sweep with a 70mm stem. I recently replaced it with a Easton Havoc 750mm 20mm rise and 9 deg sweep with a 50mm stem. Since the new setup I experience wrist pain I have left the setup most of the summer hoping the pain would go away but it doesn’t and it’s worse after an aggressive decent. I love the handling benefits of the wider bars but I put the narrow bars back on and the pain goes away. I looked at a pair of Syntace vector dh 780mm wide 15mm rise and 12 deg sweep. I wonder if the small amount of extra sweep would remedy the wrist pain and still offer handling benefits. Do you feel 12 deg sweep is to much? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Dustin, Yes, I think 12 degrees is too much (see Mike Huffand’s comment below, he, like I do feels 9 degrees is too much!). Not being there to watch you ride I can’t tell how good you body position is so the narrow bars might just be masking some bad habits (making them feel better) or you may have the bars rolled too far forward or back, or your bike’s “reach” is to short, or maybe you are just designed quite a bit differently than most riders (bodies vary greatly). Did you give them 7-10 rides to get used to them? Change ALWAYS feels weird, doesn’t mean it is wrong, just way different than the 20-2000 rides!

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  33. Dustin says:

    Thanks Gene for the advice. I wondered about my reach being short or long because I changed from a 70mm 10deg rise stem to a 55mm straight without moving my saddle. My saddle is set up with the plumb bob from the bottom of the knee cap to the pedal axle. Is there an easy way to determine the correct reach? I am between 5’10 and 5’11 riding a large frame with a 24” top tube. I have gave the new bar setup 10 to 20+ rides trying to figure out the issue. I consciously try to ride with my elbows out keeping my hands in a natural position on the bars. I apologize for the long posts but appreciate that you respond to everybody’s questions and offer experienced advice. Thanks again.

    Reply
  34. B3 says:

    I was interested to read your assertion that riding alt bars will cause a rider to … Well, you said the handling changed once you get more that 9 or 12 degrees and that was dangerous. I assume you meant that these alt bars are a law suit waiting to happen.

    What really inspired me to write was you parenthetical ” buyer beware” statement. How can I as a reader evaluate your assertion about the alt bars if it only makes sense to riders who “understand and ride in proper position?”

    Explain how the width and angle change the handling and which is more important. Your only example is a non mountain bike bar. Tell us how the jones bar makes riding more dangerous. Give us some math or real world examples.

    Yes, I don’t understand, but as a coach your job- that people pay you to do- is to help me understand.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey B3, I did explain why they are bad, “The more back sweep a bar has the more it moves your elbows in, towards your body. This puts you in an nonathletic position (elbows in) where you can not resist side to side bar movement nor can you move quickly or efficiently. This means when you hit a bump that causes the front wheel to swerve (which happens probably once a minute on a mountain bike) the input from the bars will be transferred to your body causing you to swerve. With a more straight bar and arms out from your side more you would; A. be able to resist the bars swerving and B. the movement of your arms would not be transferred to your body so the bump would not cause you to swerve. It is also hard to absorb shock and contour to the terrain as well with elbows in.”

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  35. B3 says:

    So it is the width that is important.

    The elbows don’t move in just because the bar angle is more that 12 degrees.

    You did better explaining the need to resist the swerve.

    Sadly, that has very little to do with athletic position, by which you seem to mean some sort of open stance.

    Thanks for the clarification. I just want to know how you determined that the wrist angle made it non athletic. It seem from your response, that your comments about the position are not necessary to your argument.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey B3,

      Thanks again for your input! Please reread the article as apparently you missed something as you thank me for a clarification (and say, “You did better explaining the need to resist the swerve.”) but I didn’t clarify anything in my response, I just quoted the article that you read, absolutely zero new information in my the response your questions. It looks like you missed something again, as the elbows DO move in because the bar angle is more that 12 degrees (again at 12 it isn’t as bad as 18 or 24 degrees, 12 degrees is where it just starts to feel bad for some riders)! It is easy to test, simply hold on to bars with a lot of back sweep and try to comfortably get your elbows way up and out, you can’t do it! You can 70% do it with a lot of discomfort in your wrists, but you can’t do it.

      Keep asking these good questions but please thoroughly read the article first and make sure the answer is already in the article. Yes, these articles are brief as I am not being paid to write them but I do my best to make them understandable.

      Bar width has little to do with this (but bar width is super important, look for my bar width/stem length article).

      Thanks,

      Gene

      Reply
  36. B3 says:

    I am sorry that I did not recognize your main argument. It was not clear that swerve control was the meat of your argument. This appears to be your starting point.

    “I dislike them and they don’t like you! I have seen these handle bars recently on a few students bikes and they are scary and dangerous. I suppose if you have a nagging wrist injury or ride for more than 8 hours at a time they may be comfortable (but they are uncomfortable for me as my wrists have to twist outward to hold them) but comfort at the cost of greatly reduced control and risk of injury?! That doesn’t sound like a good trade off.”

    Then you start with a comparison between a flat bar and a bar you would not use on a mountain bike and proceeded to say that these alt bars, which you personally dislike, are like the straw man you just set up.

    Your reply pointed out your main argument.

    I have followed your directions:

    “It is easy to test, simply hold on to bars with a lot of back sweep and try to comfortably get your elbows way up and out, you can’t do it! You can 70% do it with a lot of discomfort in your wrists, but you can’t do it.”

    First, holding a bar that is not on the bike, I can find your point of discomfort holding the bar at chest level.

    Second, holding a bar while on the bike, I can’t reach your point of discomfort until my forearms are close to 90 degrees relative to the ground.

    Is that your athletic position?

    Can you see how the term athletic position seems a little weird to me in this context?

    “Elbows way up and out” is a fine instruction, but I don’t have a frame of reference that makes sense.

    Do I keep going up and out until it is uncomfortable on a 3-11degree bar and then back off just a bit?

    Or is there some balancing necessary to find the sweet spot?

    If my forearms are at 60 degrees relative to the flat ground, is that up enough or too low? 75 degrees? 95 degrees?

    If I “can do it 70%,” does that mean I am loosing 30% of my handling or some greater percentage?

    You have basically told me I am going to crash if I ride alt bars. I just wanted to know if you had some science to back up your claim.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey B,

      I fully agree with your statement that you don’t have a frame of reference (about the elbows up and out) as this short article was was writteny to point out that bars with a lot of back sweep give you much less control than straighter bars. I mistakenly assumed most people reading the post would of read most of the previous posts or be one of our students, either way I thought the people reading this would have a decent understanding of body position and I was wrong, bad assumption on my part.

      I do explain a fair amount of the correct body position in a few of our other blog posts and I believe Andy does too (search for them). If you sign up for our free mini course there is a link to the best blog post we have on body position in the first email you will receive.

      As you have noticed, explaining skills in writing and giving “tips” is hard as the written word is a terrible way to learn skills, especially when they aren’t laid out in depth and not in the order of our skills progression. Had you and many other readers taken our skills progression or read in depth about body position all of this would be easier to understand (again my mistake for assuming things). Also, I always say knowledge is worthless without action, even when you know to do something that doesn’t mean you actually do it. The best way to learn anything is with coaching and drills to master what has been coached, no one ever read a book on karate and then became a black belt without coaching.

      At the urging of many of our students I am writing a book that will have much more detail, photographs and drills on all these skills. It will be out by Dec. 10th and some great info will be “leaked” on this blog.

      Thanks,

      Gene

      Reply
  37. andy.s says:

    I’m joining this pretty late, but I have to say, I found the whole assertion that alt bars are dangerous because your elbows are tucked in faintly ridiculous. I have used Jones bars and On One Marry bars for a number of years on many bikes. I have never been deflected sideways by a bump, never found the handling of my bike to be made dangerous by the fitting of such bars (if anything, woodland singletrack can be flowed faster), but on the same note I also use wide bars on a number of my bikes.

    I have to ask you a question. Have you ever ridden with alt bars, if so, for how long?
    If the answer is no, then you really aren’t qualified to make the comments you make, they’re based on spurious math involving the ‘athletic position!!’

    Here’s another point – on a rigid mtb, alt bars with big sweep provide greater control and comfort, they position the wrist in its most natural position for absorbing the shocks and jolts.

    I’d be really interested to hear a conversation between yourself and Jeff Jones. To anyone reading this and taking your words as gospel, I suggest you check out his website and read what he has to say about bars and bar sweep.

    Reply
  38. B3 says:

    I agree with Andy.

    I have actually taken the time since my last post to try some wider bars (I am old enough to have ridden the narrow bars when they were the”in” thing), and I can say that a wider bar does feel better.

    The angle, however, does not make much difference, unless it is uncomfortable for some reason. In other words, zero and ninety degrees are not good.

    Most mtb bars have bend between 5 and 45 degrees. Most riders can find comfort in that range.

    In that range, control is a function of width, but the maximum width is limited by the size of the rider.

    Does that mean alt bars are “dangerous” to the rider? No more than a poorly fitted bike.

    Taken to absurdity, the elbows “up and put” instruction will produce less “control” than any alt bar. That is just basic biomechanics.

    If you are trying to resist the swerve of the bar when your wheel is deflected, you need your arms and elbows at an angle that maximizes your resistance. Most of us can find the sweet spot that maximizes our comfort and our control with very little time. It took me about a week to confirm my position, and I don’t ride everyday,

    The expensive part is trying the right angle/width combination that works best for you.

    Good luck and have fun riding.

    Reply
  39. efp says:

    This puts you in an nonathletic position (elbows in) where you can not resist side to side bar movement nor can you move quickly or efficiently. This means when you hit a bump that causes the front wheel to swerve (which happens probably once a minute on a mountain bike) the input from the bars will be transferred to your body causing you to swerve. With a more straight bar and arms out from your side more you would; A. be able to resist the bars swerving and B. the movement of your arms would not be transferred to your body so the bump would not cause you to swerve.

    I certainly wouldn’t call “elbows in” a nonathletic position–in most athletic situations, this is what you want for shoulder stability. As Flatlandr pointed out, elbows out disengages the pecs, delts, & lats, thus I would say it doesn’t help you resist the bars swerving. For instance, see:

    http://youtu.be/daCBvjmm-sc

    But you make the very interesting point that you actually want your arms sort of floppy, to prevent the bumps from being transferred to your body. The answer, as usual, is probably somewhere right in the middle; neither too floppy nor too stiff. So a moderate sweep, depending on one’s anatomy and bike position, is probably called for. I’ve been thinking my elbows are too far out, especially seeing photos of myself riding… my bars have a 12 degree sweep, but it is a back sweep. I’ve been thinking a bit of a rise and a little downward sweep, rather than a backward sweep, would give me a more neutral arm position.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey Efp,

      Well thought out and researched, thank you. Your final paragraph states things well, “…probably somewhere right in the middle; neither too floppy nor too stiff.” I agree, what we want is moderate sweep. If you watch James do his push up his fingers are pointed forward, not out to the side, this aligns with your moderate sweep comment. I think of moderate back sweep as being between 3 and 9 degrees (possibly more as we are all built differently). Watch the latest World Cup downhill on Redbull.com/bike and you will see that the top riders like Aaron Gwin have their elbows up and out (I stress way out because most riders are way too far in so they will end up around halfway between the old habit and the new habit, putting them in the best position for control).

      Thanks for sharing with us!

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  40. Chris says:

    Gene,
    I have a few questions regarding boke sizing, stem and bar rise. I recently got me my first trail bike and went with the manufacture and dealer sizing recommendation, size M. Now a little back ground on my riding, I have only ridden big hit FR and DH bike that use the slack geometry that we are used to seeing in these bikes. I knew going into it that there would be a learning curve with the new angles but never realized it would be this drastic. I am running a 90mm stem with a 700mm bar, 25mm rise at a 5 degree upsweep and 9 degree back sweep. What I am used to is a 780mm bar , with a 38mm rise at a 5 degree upsweep and a 7degree back sweep on a 60mm stem.
    The issue I am having or should I say the uncomfortable ride I have is that the one, the bars feel really narrow but mostly I feel cramped inside the cockpit ! The two bikes have relatively the same tope tube length and seat post length. On this new trail bike when I get into tight and twisty single track and have to use my bars to turn as opposed to using my body to lay the bike over to turn the bar is jabbing my knees , when I stand up and start using my body my knees are up in the head tube . Is this normal with trail bike geometry ? I switched bars out today that were 745mm with a 38mm rise. This felt better and had more stability and control of the front end, but the 38 mm rise did not change the bar to the knee.
    I don’t feel comfortable going over the 90mm stem and would prefer to keep it around 70mm but I don’t know if this will be possible . I am thinking of going to a 40mm or even 50mm rise bar to see what this does , would this rise be too high?
    Should I have gone with a large frame and taken the risk on the seat tube being a little too long over a top tube that is too short? Or is all this normal for a trail bike with steeper geometry than what I am used to riding? Any suggestions ?

    Thanks, Chris

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Chris,

      This is so hard to do without seeing you on the bike and watching you ride. It sounds like your bike is a little short. I know it is expensive but a longer bike with a 35-50mm stem would handle best.

      Good luck with your bike set up,

      Gene

      Reply

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