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Understanding Bar Width - The Science Behind It

Posted January 30, 2015 by Lorraine Blancher . Filed under Coaching, Cool Happenings

How wide is too wide and when is it too narrow?

This is something I've been known to discuss with my guest right from the start, whether I'm coaching a complete beginner or I'm refining the highly advanced.  Next to SAG and a personal favorite of rider reach, this is probably one of the more important topics to understand before we can work on their desired skills.  

" How can I make them a better rider when their bike or body setup suggests they struggle or flail?"  - lb

Bikes; their geometry, suspension, reach, etc has come along way since our sport gained traction.  Even tire technology ... our shoes !! There have been so many advancements since the Girvin Vector fork and big seat craze.  Teaching my guests how to ride their bike like it's designed to be ridden - staying centered, getting the most out of technology, etc is what I'm about when I guide them through their mountain bike experience.  I'm constantly refining that within myself and I attribute this to my continuing advancement with the sport.  

I'm also big on body longevity.  Figuring out how to ride the most bio-mechanically efficient was sparked by a vetran Mountain Guide during a summer guides training with CMH.  We had flown in a helicopter to spectacular location in the remote Bugaboo Mountains of BC where Thierry Cardon went over techniques to efficiently move through the mountains.  He had climbed, skied, played in the area for decades plus many other mountains around the world just as grand.  It was there that he taught me a variation of the rest step, a way of efficiently and beautifully moving through the mountains - fast or slow - for longevity to summit a big peak. A simple ascending step that primarily stacked all long bones so only the muscles that needed to work, worked.  I used that concept on my bike.   

Bar Width. So how wide is too wide?  Any why don't I like too narrow?  

Having support from Race Face, I've been able to refine my bar width over the years to came up with a width were I felt was my ultimate.  A sweet spot where lap after lap, I felt like I maintained structural strength and was in my favorite position to efficiently initiate all mountain bike moves.  (I felt like I was stacking of my upper long bones, efficiently hinging at their joints and in a riding position where my strongest, upper body muscle group was the one to keep me solid and stable, all angles - and only when it needed too.)    

STOKED when I put the bar width question to Fraser Sprigings, BScPT, CAFCI and EMR at Helios Rehabilitation and Performance in Revelstoke, BC and he informed me his father is a published and BioMechanic Professor.  Together with their network of brilliant minds are putting the science behind what I'm feeling and saying.  

Even more STOKED when measured, I was pretty much bang on to the where preliminary research and science says my skeletal systems functions the strongest too.  We played with too wide, too narrow and are continuing to work on this even further. 

Two angles create my ultimate bar widthPlaying with angles and fact checking with science.

"There are a lot of variable to consider (geometry, muscle physiology, 'rider feel', direction and size of forces interacting with the bars, etc)."  informs Fraser Sprigings

Fraser and the group also validated other key points; elbows hing 'out', the lining up of our carpals as part of structural strength (determining lever angle) and has even come up with a unique program so we can recommend what bar width your body will function the most bio-mechanically efficient too.  

Rider preference will always prevail, but this will be a valid starting point for those looking to refine.  

"Mountain biking is really simple once we allow the bike and body to preform as they are mechanically (bike) and bio-mechanically (body) designed."