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Archive | Handlebars

Why Contact Points Matter: Handlebars


Riding long distances – especially on rough roads – puts different demands on your body and your bike than short and fast-paced races. The contact points with the bike become more important the longer you ride. These days, you don’t hear much about them, especially the saddle and handlebars.


If you compete in relatively short races, this makes sense: When you pedal at maximum effort, your hands barely touch the bars, and your saddle only serves to stabilize you on the bike, but not to support you. All your weight is borne by your feet as you push the pedals with great force. And indeed, racers are more likely to complain about foot pain than other problems.


It’s a totally different matter when you are riding long distances, whether it’s touring, randonneuring or racing gravel events like Dirty Kanza: Inevitably, your power output over ten or more hours on the bike is lower than it would be in a three- or four-hour race. And so you’ll put more weight on your handlebars and saddle than the average racer.


Gravel racing and long-distance cycling aren’t new ideas – until World War II, most mountain roads weren’t paved, and the racers of the ‘Heroic Age’ were used to riding on gravel. Stages were much longer, and thus speeds were a little lower.

Back then, each racer had their personal saddle and handlebars, which they moved from bike to bike as they had new frames made. The handlebars were custom-bent to the racers’ specifications.
In the photo above, you see Nicolas Frantz, winner of the 1928 Tour de France, climb the Aubisque. The stage that traversed the Pyrenees was 387 km (240 mi) long! Racing on roads and distances like that is closer to modern gravel races or randonneur brevets than to it is to today’s Tour de France. Frantz took 16 hours and 20 minutes to complete this monster stage. And when you look closely, you see that his handlebars are what we’d call ‘Randonneur’ bars today.


Classic handlebars are characterized by their generous reach and subtle curves. They give your hands room to roam and support them in many positions.

Most modern bars are short and square. You usually hold onto the brake hoods, sometimes use the tops, and very rarely ride in the drops. There is a reason why drop handlebars have become so short: For many riders, the low handlebars of racing bikes were difficult to reach, because the ‘aggressive’ riding position did not match their strength. To accommodate recreational riders, handlebars (and top tubes) became shorter, allowing an upright position while maintaining the ‘racy’ look of low handlebars.

Fortunately, modern all-road and adventure bikes don’t have ultra-low bars, and there is no need for ultra-short reach handlebars any longer.


Handlebars with a longer reach give you choices between multiple riding positions, from relatively upright ‘on the tops’ to low and fast ‘in the drops’ – and many positions in between. This means that you can change the angle of your back as you ride, which greatly helps reduce fatigue.


The best handlebars are carefully designed to support your hands in multiple positions, eliminating pressure points that can lead to numbness and even nerve damage during long rides.

We have developed two different handlebar shapes, based on classic designs that have proven themselves over millions of miles – literally. The Maes Parallel (above) is a generous shape that provides much room for your hands to roam. I love it for fast-paced rides where my position changes frequently.

The Randonneur bars echo the shape that Nicolas Frantz used to win the Tour de France. Their upward curve is designed to support your hands as they rest ‘on the tops,’ behind the brake levers.


This is a very comfortable position – above I’m using it during the 2015 Paris-Brest-Paris – but it’s important that the curves are ‘just right.’ Before we found this shape, I’ve used many ‘Randonneur’ bars that actually were less comfortable than their standard counterparts.

What about padded handlebar tape? It can help a little with relieving pressure points, but it cannot make up for a poor handlebar shape.

New in the Rene Herse program are the Nitto ‘Monkey Banana’ bar pads (above) for the corners of your handlebars. They go under the bar tape to help support your hands in the ‘on the tops’ position, plus they offer a little extra shock absorption. They are designed to fit our Rene Herse Maes Parallel and Randonneur handlebars, but they are flexible and can be adapted to many other bar shapes.


Whether you are racing long gravel events, preparing for Paris-Brest-Paris, or planning a long tour, well-designed handlebars can make all the difference in enjoying the long hours on your bike. And even if you aren’t riding for ten hours or more, having comfortable bars makes cycling more fun.

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Back in Stock: Knickers and Handlebars


Our knickers are back in stock. They are sewn right here in Seattle in small batches, which can make it difficult to keep them in stock. Now all sizes are back.
Inspired by the clothes worn by the stylish Japanese cyclotourists, and refined for even greater performance, the knickers all but disappear when you ride. When you get off the bike, you are dressed to look sporting without pushing the boundaries of good taste. Click here to read a review – by a mountain biker! – of the knickers.

Our handlebars also have been incredibly popular. Their carefully designed shapes provide comfort on long rides by supporting your hands properly. Rather than locking you into a prescribed position, they allow you to find the position that matches your very unique anatomy. Made by Nitto in Japan to our exclusive specifications, they are among the lightest and strongest handlebars you can buy. All models and all sizes are in stock again. Click here to read a comparison of our handlebar models.
More information:

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New from Gilles Berthoud: Universal and Tool Bags, Mirrors


We are excited to add a few great products from Gilles Berthoud to the Compass program. The Small Universal Bag (above) is really neat: It holds a lightweight rain jacket, wallet, inner tube and a few other things. It’s incredibly versatile: Use it as a saddlebag (above) or hang it from your handlebars. Tandem stokers love this bag, because it fits neatly on a tandem’s rear handlebars, too.

Or attach the Small Universal Bag to a front or rear rack. You can put it on the racktop, or hang it on the side like a mini-pannier. There is even a leather piece on one end that slips over the backstop of a front rack. The Small Universal Bag fits perfectly on the Compass UD-1 rack. It needs a platform that is at least 17 cm long, and the backstop should be no wider than 50 mm. (It can be used without attaching to the backstop, too.)

Under the flap is a zipper, so it’s safe to carry keys and a wallet – nothing will fall out. The Small Universal Bag is a great bag for which you’ll find many uses.

A slightly smaller, superlight option is the Bottle Cage/Saddle Tool Bag. It’s a great way to carry inner tubes and other necessities in a bottle cage – much nicer and more secure than the cut-off water bottle I’ve used for this purpose in the past. It fits perfectly into Nitto’s T Cage (above)…

… but it also can be attached to most other cages with a toestrap. Or carry the bag under your saddle. Made from the same ultra-strong cotton canvas and leather edging as the other Gilles Berthoud luggage, these bags last (almost) forever. The canvas swells when it gets wet on the outside, making the bags mostly waterproof. Made from natural materials, they acquire a beautiful patina as you use them.
Still speaking of bags, we’ve noticed that the leather straps on the large Berthoud panniers were a little thin. They work fine, but after 10 years of hard use, I had to replace mine on one set of panniers. So we asked Berthoud to make extra-strong straps from thicker leather for us.

Gilles Berthoud’s mirrors are beautifully made from aluminum. We’ve had the first version for a while, but it didn’t adjust quite far enough for long-reach handlebars that are tilted upward a bit. The new Mk II version adjusts over a wide range and fits all road handlebars (inner diameter ~20 mm).

The mirrors are available in silver and black…

… and with a leather insert to match Berthoud’s saddles and handlebar tape. The leather mirrors come with a second, matching bar plug.
All these products are in stock now. Click on the links below for more information:

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Handlebars: Wide vs. Narrow


One of the hardest parts of bike fit is the width of the handlebars. There are many recommendations, but not all make sense. For decades, racers have been told that handlebars should match the width of their shoulders – but nobody seems to agree how to measure shoulder width! Let’s look at what we know about handlebar width.
Historically, handlebar width has matched the handling of racing bikes. When bikes had slack head angles and much wheel flop (1920s), bars were very wide: 46–48 cm was common to provide the leverage required to keep the bike going straight. When low-trail geometries were popular (1940s), bars shrank to 38 cm – that was enough to guide the bikes with a light touch. Narrow tires made the bikes less stable again (1970s), and bars grew to 42 cm. I wrote about that in detail here, but even that is not the full story.

Bike Radar recently had a feature about one of the tallest riders in the professional peloton, Jan-Willem van Schip, who uses ultra-narrow Nitto handlebars – measuring just 38 cm. (Bike Radar‘s sensationalist number of 32 cm is measured at the top of the hoods.) Regardless of how we measure van Schip’s bars, they are very narrow. That raises the question: Why does such a tall rider use such narrow bars?
The answer is simple: aerodynamics. Being so tall, van Schip needs every advantage he can get. Other pros also use relatively narrow bars: 40 and 42 cm are the norm. That got me thinking about the advantages of narrow handlebars. Here are a few:

  • More aerodynamic: Bicycle Quarterly‘s wind tunnel tests found that lowering the stem by 2 cm reduced the rider’s wind resistance by 5%. Using handlebars that are 2 cm narrower probably has a similar effect – about twice the benefit of aero wheels (2-3%)!
  • Easier to thread through narrow spaces: That is why track racers use narrow handlebars, and why I prefer them when riding through forests and in crowded cyclocross races.
  • More comfortable for riders who bend their elbows: Your elbows can articulate inward, not outward, so (relatively) narrow handlebars work great for riders who bend their elbows to absorb shocks and guide their bikes with a light touch. Bars that are too wide can cause shoulder pains for these riders. Few riders need bars as narrow as Jan-Willem van Schip’s 38s, but 40–42 cm seems to work well for many riders. For me, 44 cm-wide bars are too wide for comfort on long rides.
  • Weight: It’s not just the 2 cm of extra aluminum tubing: A wider bar exerts extra leverage, so it needs to be stronger. Nitto makes Compass handlebars to our exclusive ‘Superlight’ specification from thinwall, heat-treated tubing. However, this tubing can only be used for handlebars up to 42 cm wide – it doesn’t pass fatigue tests if the bars are wider. So our wider handlebars are made to Nitto’s ‘Lightweight’ specification, which, while still lightweight, is a bit heavier.

How narrow can you go? At some point, you will no longer have enough leverage over the steering. Guiding the bike becomes less intuitive, and countering crosswinds and bumps will require too much force. The bike becomes less fun to ride. But as Jan-Willem van Schip shows, you can go quite narrow. In fact, I’d love to send him a set of Compass bars, which are much lighter than the Nittos he took off an old touring bike, but we don’t offer our bars that narrow!

Wide handlebars also have their place, and some riders and bikes are better with them. Here are their main advantages:

  • More leverage is good on high-trail bikes: Wide handlebars are almost a requirement on bikes with high-trail geometries, because there is so much wheel flop. With the extra leverage of wide handlebars, these bikes are easier to keep going straight. The wide bars also provide leverage in tight spaces off-road, when you want to turn the handlebars immediately, without first setting up the bike with subtle weight shifts.
  • More comfortable for riders who lock their elbows: Our upper arms connect to our shoulders at an angle, and if you lock your elbows, your entire arms splay outward slightly. If your handlebars are too narrow, your shoulders feel strained when riding in this position. Bars that are wider than your shoulders feel more natural if you ride with your elbows locked.


There is another consideration: If you use a handlebar bag, it needs to fit with room for your hands to hold onto the bars. Gilles Berthoud handlebar bag bags are designed to provide a perfect fit with 42 cm-wide Compass handlebars (above).

Most of all, the width of your handlebars is based on personal preference, and that’s why we offer our Compass handlebars in widths from 40 to 46 cm. This covers the range for most cyclists – except that we apparently need a 38 cm version made specially for ultra-tall professional racers!
Further reading:

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BikeRadar Reviews the Compass Handlebars


At Compass, we design our components over thousands of miles on the (often rough) roads we ride, so we have full confidence that others will enjoy them as much as we do. Still, we were pleasantly surprised when the world’s biggest cycling web site, BikeRadar, tested our handlebars and awarded them 4.5 out of 5 stars.

That puts our bars somewhere between “one of the best you can buy” and “a genuine class leader.” BikeRadar’s tester Jack Luke was impressed by the “supremely comfortable position.” He noted that the shape works well with modern shifters, unlike other ‘classic’ bars that create an “awkward scoop before the hoods.”
The only downside he noted was that some lights may be difficult to clamp on because the 31.8 mm center bulge is relatively short. He also noted (playfully) that you cannot use them with aerobars, for the same reason.

He concluded: “From gravel nonsense to fast-ish centuries, the Compass Randonneur handlebars have proven to be an exceptionally comfortable option, and I expect I’ll be swapping these between bikes for many years to come.” 
Thank you, Jack, we’re glad you enjoyed the bars so much!
For Jack’s full review on the BikeRadar site click here.
Click here for more information about our handlebars.

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Why Handlebar Shapes Are Important

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Riders are realizing the importance of handlebar shapes again. In recent decades, makers tried to make ergonomic shapes by flattening the bars where the most useful hand positions are located. But human anatomies vary a lot, and locking riders into a few ‘anatomic’ hand position rarely results in the promised comfort. In fact, rather than locking you into a prescribed position, the most ergonomic bars allow you to find the position that matches your very unique anatomy.

 

The sweeping curves of classic handlebars allow you to do just that. Depending on the angle at which your wrists are most comfortable, you can move your hands to find exactly that angle. It’s something that was evident to riders and racers during the days when stages were longer and roads were rougher, but it has been somewhat forgotten in recent decades.

Riding classic handlebars, I was surprised how much more comfortable they were than the modern handlebars on my daily riders. That led us to explore classic shapes more and offer handlebars that are quite different from what you see on most bikes today.

Rene Herse Cycles offers two handlebars, the Maes Parallel and the Randonneur. I like them both, as they feel quite different on the road.

cobbles_firefly

The Maes Parallel is great if you change hand positions a lot. The ramps are long and flat, giving you plenty of room to roam. I prefer these bars for fast-paced group riding, where speeds change constantly, and I am moving around to use the most efficient position for the power output required by the group’s speed. The drops are relatively shallow, which suits modern racing bikes with relatively low handlebars.

I use the Maes Parallel handlebars on my Firefly (above) and on our Specialized Diverge long-term test bike.

rando_bar_touring

The Randonneur is great for longer efforts, where you find a good position and stay in it. It’s also great when you aren’t pedaling super-hard, and a little more weight rests on your arms and hands. This doesn’t mean you cannot use these bars to go fast: When it’s time to hammer, you use the hoods or drops for a lower, more powerful riding position. The drop is a bit deeper, to give you a more pronounced difference between riding positions: upright for lower efforts on the ramps, or low for higher speeds in the drops. In between, you have the hoods, and for sliding back on the saddle during climbs, I use the tops.

The upsweep next to the stem isn’t there to raise your bars – it creates a three-dimensional shape that fits perfectly into the palm of your cupped hands. With Randonneur handlebars, it’s extremely important to get the shape “just right”. Otherwise, your bars are less comfortable than handlebars without the upsweep. We tested numerous designs before settling on the shape of the Rene Herse Randonneur handlebars.  The differences are subtle, but you’ll notice them soon after you start riding. And the longer you ride, the bigger the differences become. We now offer the Rene Herse Randonneur handlebars in a 460 mm version for those who prefer wide handlebars.

I use the Randonneur bars on my Mule (above) and on the René Herse that I ride in brevets.

Two different handlebars for different riding styles – each optimized for its purpose. Available in a variety of widths and with 25.4 mm and 31.8 mm clamp diameters. We think you’ll enjoy them as much as we do.

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Compass 31.8 mm Randonneur Handlebars

Compass Randonneur Bars 31.8 Clamp
We are glad to offer our Compass Randonneur handlebars with a clamp diameter of 31.8 mm (for modern stems), in addition to the 25.4 mm model we introduced last year.
jan_pbp
These handlebars have been very popular, and for good reasons. They support the rider’s hands much better than conventional handlebars. Having ridden them (and the 1940s Mavic/AVA bars on which these are modeled) in two Paris-Brest-Paris, a 24-hour Flèche, and on numerous tours, they are by far my favorite handlebars.
square_bar
Unfortunately, too many modern handlebars have a very short reach and a very square shape (above), which locks you into just three hand positions. After a few hours of riding, these bars often feel uncomfortable, and during longer rides, you can even suffer from nerve damage.
Compass Randonneur Bars 31.8 Clamp
The generous curves of Compass handlebars allow you to find the perfect hand position on a continuum: Moving your hands slightly in- or outward will also change your wrist angle. And, of course, you can change your hand position during the ride.
We now offer both Compass handlebars for modern 31.8 mm stems: The Randonneur (above) has an upward sweep that provides a curves that supports the cupped palm of your hand perfectly.
Compass Maes Parallel 31.8
The Maes Parallel (above) offers flat ramps and generous space to roam as you ride. (Both models are also available in a 25.4 mm diameter. For 26.0 mm stems, we offer a shim that increases the diameter for a perfect fit.)
Click here for more information about our handlebars.
 

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Carbon and Leather

diverge_compass
The Bicycle Quarterly‘s Specialized Diverge test bike came out of the box all black. Specialized’s photo (below) makes it look like a shadow, but when I saw the actual bike, I found quite unappealing. Everything looked like it was made from plastic.
I dreaded taking the bike to the photo studio, where it’s our job to make test bikes look good. And I wasn’t particularly looking forward to riding it, either.
diverge_stock
As it turned out, I had to make a few changes to the Diverge before I could take it on the adventure that we planned for this bike test. With its stock tires, the deck was stacked against the Diverge, so on went a set of Compass Extralights. The handlebars gave me numb hands just riding around town, so I installed a set of Compass Maes Parallel 31.8 bars instead. And the Body Geometry saddle clearly didn’t fit my “geometry”, so it was replaced with a Rivet leather saddle that we were also testing for BQ.
These changes gave me an opportunity to do something about the appearance of the bike, too. Even though Compass tires are available in all-black, I opted for tan sidewalls to accentuate the wheels. Instead of reusing the original tape that looked like somebody had wrapped the bars in an inner tube, I used leather bar tape that matched the honey color of the saddle.
With these small changes, the bike was transformed, both functionally and aesthetically. The tan splashes of color directed the focus on the parts of the bike that matter: the tires that make the bike roll; and the handlebars and saddle as the important contact points with the rider. The black carbon frame connected these parts with smooth lines. To me, the bike now looked really appealing, and I could hardly wait to ride it.
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Imagine my surprise when I saw a similar juxtaposition of carbon and leather on a BMW concept car in a Munich showroom. The “328 Homage” has a body made from carbon fiber. The wheels are silver (not black!), and there are leather straps on the hood.
bmw_328_homage
The interior is covered with beautiful tan leather. It is a rather appealing mix, and I wish I could have sat in those leather seats. For me, leather isn’t about luxury or status, but its texture feels nice to touch. Leather develops a nice patina with age and use.
I imagine how the concept car would look if it was driven for a few thousand miles and then put on display. I was glad that I was able to ride the Diverge. The colors of its bar tape and saddle became even richer with use.
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For a fast camping trip on the Diverge, I took the contrast even further by adding a set of Gilles Berthoud panniers. There was a practical reason to use the Berthouds, as my modern front panniers were too small to carry a weekend’s camping gear. But once the panniers were on the bike, I realized how nice the gray-blue canvas looked with the black carbon…
I believe that timeless materials like leather and “classic” aesthetics can have a place on a modern bike. When you look at your bike, you want to think how wonderful it looks, and have the anticipation that it will deliver a great ride.
Until the bike industry wakes up to this potential, you can take matters in your own hands: A few small changes can radically change the appearance of your bike. And if, as in the case of the Diverge, the function is improved as much as the appearance, then you have two reasons to enjoy riding your bike more.

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Compass Randonneur Handlebars

Comp_randobar_side
Handlebars are one of the most important parts of your bike. As one of the three “contact points”, the handlebar shape determines whether you are comfortable on the bike or not. After every Paris-Brest-Paris, numerous cyclists complain about numb hands. Some riders take weeks until their hands feel and work normally again.
pbpcornervillage2
When we rode the 2003 edition of Paris-Brest-Paris on a 1946 René Herse tandem, I realized that hand problems were not inevitable. Despite having to hold onto the bars for 1200 km (765 miles) – riding no-hands on the tandem was possible, but I didn’t do it very much – I had no hand problems whatsoever. The old tandem was equipped with AVA Randonneur handlebars.
Ever since, I have tried to replicate that comfort, but currently-available randonneur handlebars did not live up to their promise. The upward curve of the “Randonneur” shape provides three-dimensional support for your hands, rather than the two-dimensional shape of “normal” handlebars. However, to fit into the palm of your hands, the bars must be shaped just right. The upsweep of most “Randonneur” handlebars does little except raise the bars a bit. Many of these models actually are less comfortable than standard handlebars.
After a decade of trying many different handlebars, we gave up trying to find a new shape. Instead, we decided to replicate the original AVA handlebars. We made detailed measurements of an original and then had Nitto make us a few prototypes.
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To test the prototype handlebars, I mounted them on my “Mule” and took them to Japan, where I rode them in a Flèche 24-hour ride. Riding for that long, almost non-stop, at relatively low speeds, meant that a significant portion of my upper body’s weight rested on my hands. At the end, my arms and shoulders were tired, but I had no hand problems at all.
rando_bar_touring
I then took the “Mule” on a multi-day camping trip on rough gravel roads in the Cascades, and the handlebars worked great in that challenging setting, too. The handlebars flare at the bottom, so it was easy to access the drops despite the long reach. (Click here for Lovely Bicycle’s explanation of the hand positions on drop handlebars.)
jan_pbp
This persuaded me to use the new handlebars in Paris-Brest-Paris, where they excelled once more. After this much testing, we were confident to offer them to our customers.
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With these bars, it’s important to angle them upward, so that the ramps (the top portion behind the brake levers) are approximately horizontal. It is this part that you use most of the time. The brake hood position provides a more stretched-out position, and the drops are lower and even more aerodynamic. Thanks to the large radius of the hooks, I find that hand position very comfortable, too. And the upward angle of the drops may look unfamiliar at first, but it approximates the angle of your hands when riding in that position.
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These bars have generous dimensions, so that each hand position is truly distinct. It means that not just your hands, but also the angle of your back change as you move your hands between the different parts of the bars.
Measured with the bars horizontal, the reach measures 115 mm. It increases when you angle the bars upward. The drop is 140 mm with the bars horizontal. Angled correctly, the reach gets shallower… When angled correctly, both reach and drop work out to about 125-130 mm.
It’s actually a brilliant design in many ways, and it all works out to a handlebar shape that is truly sublime. It’s easy to see now why bars that simply sweep upward from the stem don’t work nearly as well.
The photos show the handlebars with traditional brake levers, but they work as well as with modern ones. Modern levers have slightly longer bodies, so your “on-the-hoods” position will be slightly more stretched out.
We worked with Nitto to make the new Compass version of these handlebars even lighter than the previous Nitto “Superlight” bars. The “Extralight” handlebars are probably the lightest drop handlebars Nitto ever has made, yet they are strong enough for gravel roads and cobblestones. They are heat-treated for strength. They are available in widths of 400, 420 and 440 mm.
We asked Nitto to put our logos on the ends of the bars (as did AVA back then), so they are hidden underneath the handlebar tape. This means that you can use these bars for restorations of classic randonneur bikes, in place of the unfindeable AVA originals.
Click here for more information about these handlebars or to order.

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Handlebar Width

A few people have asked about handlebar width in our handlebar discussion. Compass handlebars come in widths between 40 and 46 cm, which may appear narrow by some standards.

Many riders, even very tall ones, prefer relatively narrow handlebars. Above is my friend Ryan, who is 6′ 4″, riding on 41 cm-wide Randonneur handlebars (click on the photo for a bigger version). On his previous bike, he used 46 cm-wide carbon handlebars, but he loves the improved comfort of the narrower Randonneur bars on 24+ hour rides. (His new bike also has a different steering geometry that requires less leverage to guide the front wheel, see below. By the way, all measurements in this post are center-to-center.)
Ryan’s bars are narrower than his shoulders, but human elbows articulate, and we can adjust to different handlebar widths without restricting our breathing. Otherwise, no racer would climb with their hands on the tops of the bars, where they are much closer together than even the narrowest handlebars. Andy Schleck seems to be breathing just fine in the photo below. He wore the yellow jersey in this year’s Tour de France…

From the 1930s until a few decades ago, most riders used handlebars that would be considered very narrow today. Fausto Coppi was 6 feet tall, and he rode 40 cm-wide handlebars. (My height is similar, and I also prefer narrow handlebars.)
Contrasting this, handlebars as wide as 46 cm were popular in the 1920s, when front-end geometries had a lot of wheel flop. The extra leverage of the wide bars may have helped to keep those bikes on course. By the 1930s, head angles got steeper (which reduced wheel flop), and handlebars became narrower. When I measured the geometries of all the bikes featured in our book The Competition Bicycle – A Photographic History, I found a strong correlation of handlebar width with wheel flop, rather than with rider size. Handlebars became wider again in the 1970s, when wheel flop increased as geometries were adjusted for narrower tires.
Aerodynamics can be another reason to choose narrow handlebars. When we tested “real-world” bicycles in the wind tunnel, we found that frontal area is the most important factor in determining wind resistance. Wider handlebars increase your frontal area, and thus probably increase your wind resistance. Aerobars are so effective because they put the rider’s hands closer together, and reduce the frontal area, as well as shielding the cavity formed by the rider’s chest.
Handlebar width is influenced by many factors, including personal preference. We recognize that many riders today like wider handlebars, that is why we offer 46 cm-wide handlebars. However, we encourage you to try narrower handlebars – you may like them.
Click here to learn more about Compass handlebars.
Note: This post was updated in September 2016.

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Avoiding Numb Hands


Hand numbness can spoil the most wonderful long distance ride. A cyclist’s hands can get numb from vibration and pressure.
The first step is to eliminate as much vibration as possible near the source (road surface). Supple, wide tires, run at moderate pressures, are key. Flexible fork blades and suspension are less effective at absorbing high-frequency vibrations, but they can absorb bigger bumps. Cushy handlebar tape is ineffective at absorbing vibrations, but it can reduce pressure.
Why are vibrations easiest to absorb at the source? It is relatively easy to stop a few grams of tire contact patch from moving up and down. This insulates the rest of the bike from the vibrations at the road surface. If your tire doesn’t absorb the vibrations, then your entire front wheel moves up and down a few hundred times every second as it rolls over rough pavement. These forces are then too large to be absorbed elsewhere.
Imagine somebody throwing a peanut at you: It is easy to catch with one hand. Now imagine having to catch a 5 lb weight – much harder. That peanut at the road level becomes a 5 lb weight at the handlebars, if the whole front of the bike vibrates.
Pressure can cause nerve damage in your hands, making them numb or tingly. When you look at the nerves in your hand, you see that there are only a few nerve endings in the base of your thumb, making this area ideal for resting on the handlebars.

The “on the ramps” hand position (behind the brake hoods) supports your weight with the base of your thumb, and therefore tends to be very comfortable (see photo at the top). This works best with handlebars that have flat ramps to support your hands well in that position.
Moderately soft handlebar tape can help distribute the pressure of your hands as they rest on the handlebars. Also, your hands should rest on the bars, rather than grip them tightly. Wrap your fingers around the bars loosely for safety on rough roads.
Beyond that, it helps to switch hand positions from time to time, so that you don’t put pressure on the same spot for too long. Furthermore, raising your handlebars or tilting your saddle nose slightly upward will prevent you from sliding forward and putting more pressure on your arms and hands. (However, tilting your saddle upward may cause other problems for some riders…)
Numb hands can lead to lasting damages. With the right technique and equipment choices, numb hands usually can be avoided even on rides as long as Paris-Brest-Paris (765 miles non-stop).

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Carbon Fiber Handlebar 911

Emergency Roadside Repair in 3 Easy Steps

Materials required:
• wooden stick
• steel strap
• big rock
• 5 mm Allen wrench (optional)
Time required: 25 minutes.
On a spring-time ride in the Cascades, we took a side road from Sultan to Gold Bar in the Skykomish River Valley. Our destination was Index, and we were looking forward to the fabulous Reiter Road that runs high on the hillsides above the valley between Gold Bar and Index. Presently, the road turned to gravel, and then we found ourselves in the railyard at Gold Bar. Suddenly, Ryan crashed.

His front wheel had picked up a steel strap, which locked up the wheel. Ryan fell over at low speed. He was relatively unhurt, but his carbon-fiber handlebars broke in half when they impacted the ground. (Here is a photo of Ryan on his carbon-fiber bike.)
We were 80 km (50 miles) from home, so our repair had to be durable enough to get back to Seattle safely.

Step 1: We found a stick of suitable diameter and jammed it into the handlebars. We had to remove the rear brake, because the cable was too short to get the broken end onto the stick. Ryan’s handlebars had a groove for the brake cable, so the cross-section wasn’t round, and the stick was not a perfect fit. The stick served only to preserve the alignment; it was not strong enough to support the weight of the rider on the handlebars.
Step 2: We decided to splint the handlebars like a broken bone. Fortunately, a railyard is full of useful materials. A steel strap was perfect for the job.

A big rock served as a hammer to form the strap into an “L” profile, giving it more strength. The gap between two rails served as a vise. (This was a siding, there was no danger of being run over by a freight train descending Stevens Pass.)

Step 3: We carefully removed the handlebar tape and used it to wrap the splint tightly onto the handlebars. Ryan had gel tape on his handlebars, which we used to cover the sharp edges of the steel plate.

We used two toestraps to secure the splint further. It certainly looked odd, but the bike was ready to ride. We didn’t want to press our luck, so we decided to forego the final, most beautiful leg of our ride, and instead turned back toward Seattle.

The ride home was uneventful. Ryan still could use his right shift lever with confidence, but wasn’t so confident resting his weight on the hoods or drops. Fortunately, the lever for his front brake was on the intact left end of the handlebars, so his braking was not impaired. Of course, this is only a temporary fix. Ryan replaced the handlebars for his next ride. Use your judgment before riding with similar repairs.

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