as I contemplate reducing reach by either 1/ shortening my stem or 2/ shortening my dropbar's reach, I have some questions about whether approach 1 or 2 will have a greater difference on my bike's handling.

So, would love the group's opinion on this theoretical question: Will all 3 of these handlebars steer the same? All have the same vertical and horizontal distance from the stem.

enter image description here

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    Have a look at this question: bicycles.stackexchange.com/q/69900/30402 what can be answered about the present question is in there. – gschenk Aug 21 '20 at 14:49
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    Does this answer your question? Options to reduce reach on a gravel bike – gschenk Aug 21 '20 at 14:58
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    Steering is only affected by the position of your hands relative to the steering axis. Configuration of the bars and/or stem between these two points has zero effect. – Argenti Apparatus Aug 21 '20 at 17:45
  • @ArgentiApparatus On my roadbike I've recently replaced the 10cm stem with a 12cm with the same bars. The bike now follows a straight line much more precisely with the hands at any position on the bars. – Carel Aug 21 '20 at 19:28
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    @carel yes, that's because you moved you hands 2cm further forward. The OP explicitly states 'All have the same vertical and horizontal distance from the stem''. What I'm saying is the 'wide U', 'T' or 'V' configuration of the bars/stem makes no difference – Argenti Apparatus Aug 21 '20 at 20:35

From a naïve geometry point all three options are equivalent.

For real systems material properties and 3d geometry become relevant. For instance, your model (A) could not be made with a single piece bar. The double 90 degree bends needlessly increase stress.

On the level of one dimensional line figures there's no reasonable answer possible. To answer this question you need the actual dimensions and materials in a CAD model and then run an finite element analysis (FEA).

  • See this from GCN: youtube.com/watch?v=B69I_uayeMA – Carel Aug 21 '20 at 19:20
  • Your 2nd and 3rd paragraphs are completely unnecessary. These are bikes, not some space probe that costs $20,000/kg. We can answer it reasonably: it makes no different what the bars are if the hands are in the same place. – whatsisname Aug 21 '20 at 21:03
  • @whatsisname the question was for steering dynamics not statics. Have a look at the market and you'll find a number of different bar designs that are specifically made to increase damping. We may debate if there is any benefit to it but it most certainly can be engineered and thus detected. What is more, we are not in the 1960s. We do use computer aided engineering for nearly all goods that are manufactured – gschenk Aug 21 '20 at 23:26
  • @gschenk: The OP isn't trying to manufacture anything, he's essentially trying to grab stuff from the parts bin at a LBS. Things don't need to be made more complicated. – whatsisname Aug 22 '20 at 1:19
  • If we take the drawings as exact depictions of real handlebars, I'd like to point out that pixel-thin bar would be extremely flexible and very uncomfortable to grip. – ojs Aug 22 '20 at 21:05

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