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Are there any rules/tips to choosing a handlebar for your bike?

I live in a big city, and I've seen fixies with really, really narrow handlebars (presumably to avoid hitting pedestrians?)

I personally like the way wide handlebars feel (especially when riding fast), and I'm wondering what, if any disadvantages there might be to having a ~28" bar on a non-sus mtb for city riding.

  • In addition to what the others say, slightly wider bars tend to be more comfortable on long rides. And narrower bars, of course, slightly reduce your wind resistance. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 24 '14 at 3:51
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Let's unpack that a bit.

The first consideration is control.

Do wider or narrower bars give better control? Narrow bars mean that small movements cause larger direction changes, wider bars mean you have to move them more to steer. The amount you need to turn depends on your speed. If you're doing 30 kph (~20 mph) then you need only small steering adjustments, but if you're weaving through stationary traffic you could be making much larger turns.

On a road bike where you'd often be riding faster, it turns out that the most comfortable width is around the riders shoulder width. But you'll notice that roadies tend to have less fine control at low speeds. On MTB's, people often want wider bars to get more control in heavy conditions. Wider bars also give better control at low speed. So the minimum width for a MTB has the inner edge of the grips at about armpit width. As a matter of preference you can go wider, but as you do you should shorten your headstem to compensate.

The next consideration is traffic.

Are you the kind of rider (like me) who rides through gaps between things (cars, cyclists, poles)? If so, then narrower is better. (I suggest to never ride close to our between pedestrians, they are too unpredictable).

So, the downsides of wide bars

  • they upset your bike fit, so you should use a shorter head stem.

  • they limit the size of gaps you can ride through.

  • 1
    Narrow bars also have significant advantages in confined storage spaces and cramped bike racks. – mattnz Nov 24 '14 at 1:29
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Well, your handlebar's diameter where the stem clamps onto it has to be compatible with your stem. Your brake levers and shifters (if any) should also be able to clamp onto the bar (this also means matching diameters).

After that, its completely up to personal choice. Go with something that makes you feel comfortable and happy. I do have fairly wide bars on a commuter mountain bike I use -- I find them very helpful in snow.

Really narrow handlebars on fixies are primarily fashion (as everything else on fixies are) -- you could have significantly wider bars than the ones you're talking about and still not hit anything more than you would have due to your body width.

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