29 Mar 2016
WIDTH, DROP AND REACH: ROAD BARS EXPLAINED
Handlebars look and sound simple – and in essence they are, but consider those simple component elements and there’s a lot of choice involved in getting the right bars for your riding. Every angle, radius, dimension and wall thickness counts, because every one affects how well it does its job.
Modern bars, such as the K-Force Compact TdF LTD Edition, are built to surprisingly complex specs – and that’s before you even get to the advanced carbon fiber it’s sculpted from. The K-Force Tour de France caters for riders who run accessories or clip-on aero bars by running an unusually wide central section, while the clamp areas are reinforced and finished with an anti-slip texture. It has double-width cable grooves for tucking away the controls, and the tube shapes are customized for both comfy ergonomics and slippery aero performance. You should make sure any bar takes such important details into account.
There’s more than one size, of course – like most, the TdF comes in 400mm, 420mm and 440mm widths – while the reach, drop and bends differ from design to design. How do you know which one is right for you? First, let’s quickly define the parameters:
The distance the bar drops from the clamp area. A bigger drop leaves you flatter-backed for aero performance, but it’s hard on the body. The very flexible or performance-oriented will want something like 150mm, while less bendy or competitive riders will prefer a smaller drop around 125mm.
The distance the bar extends from the clamp area. This overlaps somewhat with the drop, as a long reach serves to pull you forward and down, but reach can be tuned with longer or shorter stems. A reach of 80mm is right for most things – you want an angle of roughly 90 degrees between your torso and arms when seated.
Traditional bars followed a constant curve into the drops, but modern designs such as the Extra Light New Ergo curve back harder at first to create a flatter, more comfortable hand position. Other bars, such as the SL-K Compact, offer flattened areas for extra comfort on the tops. Choose according to your preferred/most common stance.
Typically measured center to center, rather than between external extremes, widths generally rise in 20mm increments. Broader-shouldered riders can go for wider (up to 440mm) bars and enjoy the stability and breathing room, though beware – if they’re wide enough to push your shoulder blades inward, you’ll find neck and shoulder aches follow.
So which bar should you choose?
If you’re racing, are very flexible and/or tend to ride a lot with your hands near the bar end plugs, a traditionally curved bar with a big drop will suit you well. It will pull you down into a deep tuck, and comfort on the flat ends of the drops is fine. If you’re more casual, less flexible or generally less confident, a bar with a less extreme drop and an ergonomic design will make you happier. Note that just holding your head up to see from an extreme bend can get tiring! You won’t automatically go faster on a racy bar – you might even end up going slower. As for width, get a friend to measure you between the centers of your shoulder sockets, and try to match that. Smaller men, women and juniors can go as narrow as 380mm, while larger riders have up to 60mm extra to play with.