The Mountain Bike Life
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Oh wait, don’t tell me…it’s dependent on the rider right? So I guess I should also add that this is a 26″ wheeled bike. Well whatever the case I wish it was easier to figure this stuff out than the tried and true method of swapping parts until something works. This could also be titled, “What’s the Best Handlebar Setup for Your Bike?” Bottom line is when choosing the parts where your body touches the bike is dependent on the rider and the type of riding you do.
My original setup in Schenectady’s Central Park
Riding a singlespeed is different than riding a geared bike. Singlespeeds require a bit more movement and input from the rider. I find myself out of the saddle more, especially on long or steep climbs. Also I find I use my upper body more. I also use specific techniques to get up certain terrain that I don’t normally do on a geared bike. I choose my lines more carefully so as not to interrupt my momentum and typically ride the same sections of trail that I ride on a geared bike faster…because walking up steep hills sucks.
Same setup but I added the suspension fork
I have been running my singlespeed for the past few years with basically the same type of cockpit setup. I’ve been looking for different types of bars, like a big 12 degree backswept or H-bar versions, but i could just never bring myself to drop the cash only to find out I may not like them. So I left it as is. But more and more I find that the bar I have on there feels wrong, especially when I’m climbing and really torquing it. Tonight I measured the current bar, a Raceface Air Alloy Low Riser, it comes in just over 25″. It’s a 1″ riser bar with standard upsweep and backsweep angles and a 31.8mm clamp section. Now I am not a big guy but I am a bit wider at the shoulder than some so I figured maybe I just need a wider bar? I have a few bars laying around that I can try and I came across an Easton EA50 bar that used to be on my Rocky. This bar measures 26-3/4″ and has a 2″ rise, the other details are the same as the current bar. It’s a bit beat up and a bit heavier than what I have now but should work fine. I could trim this bar down if I wanted it shorter but I am not sure what the higher rise will do, other than the more upright seating position. My fear is that it will be even more twitchy but I do have some stems I could try, longer stems, that would help slow down the steering a bit and bring it back to its previous bar height.
Easton bar with 105 mm x 10 degree stem
After a couple weeks of riding, the Easton bar with the two inch rise does not work well. The width is good but it makes the steering too twitchy. I had another Titec stem which is longer, 120 vs. 105, so I put that on to see if it would counter the effects of the riser bar. While it is better, it’s still too twitchy and it just doesn’t feel right. I do have a low rise Bontrager Select bar that I can try. It’s not the right width but maybe it’ll be good enough till I get the funds for a new wider flat bar.
Easton bar with 120 mm x 10 degree stem
Another week of riding tells me that while this low rise bar is better, it is still too narrow. Back to the drawing board and my search continues. While I’ve been scouring the Internet for a good deal on a bar I have also been reading reviews. Now I have been reading these reviews to get info not so much on the specific model, but the type and style of bar. Two characteristics kept popping up…wider and flatter. It just so happens I came across a good deal online for a Titec Flat Tracker with a 31.8mm clamp, nice and wide at 700mm and Carbon…for $40! I had not seen a deal like that anywhere so I bought it. A week later it came in the mail and I went to work putting it on the bike.
The new 700 mm wide Carbon flat bar with 120mm x 10  degree stem

Verdict?

This is the bar I was waiting for, what a difference. The width on the bar is perfect for me. Always has me ready and in attack position. Love the Carbon too, has a real nice feel to it. Plenty stiff on steep climbs when I am reefing on the bars but dampens some of the vibration from the trail. Can’t beat the look of natural Carbon either, nothing comes close in my book. Sure it weighs less than the other bars I had on there but I am no weight weenie, I don’t care what it weighs as long as it does the job. Just so happens that I got lucky with this one, tastes great and less filling!
So what is the best handlebar setup? Sorry but I don’t have a solid answer for you. There is no equation that I am aware of where you can solve for X. It’s just not black and white or yes and no. I now know what works for me but that may or may not work for you. The things you need to know before you start swapping out parts is…

What kind of riding are you going to do?

Down hill riding is a very different usage case when compared to cross country. You need to take that into account when upgrading your bike parts, not just the handlebars.

What’s your budget?

Today there are so many options out there to choose from and the prices can range from $20 to several hundred bucks so if you’re like me and money doesn’t grow on trees, you need to figure out what you can spend before you start looking.

What’s your body type?

Are you thin and narrow at the shoulder or not missing any meals and wide? Are you somewhere in between? This can be difficult to nail down but I think your body knows what feels good. If your shoes are too tight, your feet hurt right? Same goes for your upper body. If your hands are falling asleep or you’re dealing with neck pain after a ride, or the bike just doesn’t feel right…it could be that your cockpit setup could use a change.

Lastly you need to do your homework.

With tools like the Internet, information is so easily accessible that if you don’t do it, you’re just plain lazy and I am not sure you’d be into mountain biking anyway. Seriously, start looking at bikes that are similar to yours and see what they are coming stock with. Sometimes this is a trend but it may push you in the right direction. Also ask your friends what the are using and why. Most of my information comes by work of mouth from the peeps I ride with.
What are you using in your cockpit? What have you had success or failure with? Let me know what kind of riding you do and the setup you have. I’d love to know and so would our other readers.
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