Handlebar selection is often dictated by riding styles, latest trends, and the specific type of bike you're currently riding. However, improperly fitted handlebars can lead to discomfort and pain in the long run. Plus, if your current handlebars are not optimum for your body positioning or match up with your abilities as a rider, you could be limiting your enjoyment of the sport as well as your performance.
Here are some important handlebar fitting factors to consider from mountain biking enthusiast/expert Lee McCormack, author of the book Dialed: The secret math of a perfect mountain bike set up and founder of the Lee Likes Bikes MTB School in Colorado.
McCormack has spent years researching the biomechanical relationships between handlebar width, shoulder function, and riding. He's worked out a "RideLogic" formula to calculate the best handlebar width based on your gender and height. Ideally, your elbows should be directly behind your fists. For this reason, elbow width and handlebar width should be roughly the same.
Getting these dimensions correct and finding your own personal sweet-spot, as discussed in a Pinkbike.com
article, has a number of benefits to your riding including:
Improved range of motion to increase downhill speeds and carving tight turns
Increased stance for more aggressive riding position
Empowered suspension strength for pumping in berms and turns
Recruitment of your torso musculature, rather than the smaller muscles in your arms and shoulders, allowing extended more comfortable ride times.
Protection of your shoulders and joints
McCormack says it's easy to get your sweet-spot handlebar width, also known as your "maximum biomechanically recommended handlebar width based on your height, assuming average proportions."
If you're male, multiply your height in millimeters by 0.440.
If you're female, multiply your height in millimeters by 0.426.
For most riders, McCormick says the usable range is between sweet spot width and about 5 percent less than sweet spot width (for example, 750 to 710mm).
Smaller riders may need to cut their handlebars narrower to make room for all their controls, but taller riders shouldn't have this problem. Riders with shoulder injuries may wish to narrow the width of their bars another 10 mm to provide greater pulling ease during technical climbing, sprinting, pumping, and jumping.
Riders with a more aggressive riding style might prefer wider bars, but do need to consider how wider bars could affect safety in narrower trails.