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Wide bars. Fashion or function?

Morgan Hampton is a hardtail/4x/DJ rider with a lot to say. RedHill Extreme in Gloucestershire is his natural habitat and if you’ve been you’d probably have met him and had an earfull.

This then is the first of what might be a regular rant from Morgan on his specialist subject ” the hardtail/4x/DJ scene”, that we will provisionally call “RedHill Rant Pissing On A Wasps Nest ” but may change when we think of something better.

MINE’S BIGGER THAN YOURS

Ok, this is a bit of a pet hate of mine. Bars. Fashion or function? Are wide bars just a cool, chauvinistic penis extension, or do they serve a purpose?
Over recent years bars have got wider and w i d e r and w i d e r and w i d e r still; a trend pioneered by DH riders, namely the likes of that bloke Sam Hill. Then suddenly all the kids though that by having bars as wide as him they’d be as good as him. And so the trend was born. What many people didn’t realise is that Sam Hill cut his stock wide bars down from 750mm to 730mm [I think], so they weren’t much wider than most regular 710mm bars on the market at the time. What a few also failed to realize is that Sam Hill is just plain better than them. Having the latest epileptic nightmare’s race kit, or the most fashionable crack-in-a-can energy drink, will not make you fast, it makes you a sheep. And everyone knows that sheep are only fast when a Welshman’s in pursuit, eh Jonesy?!

Let’s look at some of the facts. The concept behind modern wide bars is to lower your center of gravity, and to put more weight over the front wheel, allowing for more control and better tyre traction. Bars have also got lower in terms of rise height to aid this. Simple bit of physics in motion. In principle this is all well and good, but there are drawbacks to it too.
As head angles get slacker to aid stability at higher speeds, and centralise body weight on steeper tracks, so the steering response slows down. That’s why when you ride a modern DH bike around a car park it steers like a Russian oil tanker, and is as floppy as overcooked spaghetti. Get it up to speed on a steep track and the slack head angle makes sense, as you’re not being pinballed around, nor are you trying to see what triple compound Minion DHF tastes like.
Now to speed up steering, while keeping the advantageous slack angles, there are two main things you can do. Fitting a shorter stem is the first step, and is de-rigueur on a DH bike now. Long gone are the 100mm tillers of old, and 40mm reach direct mount stems are the sensible option for most. I wonder if Goldtec will soon re-release their zero reach Stub stems of old, where the bars mounted on top of the steerer tube. That will combat the slow steering slack angles!
Alternatively fitting narrower bars will speed up steering too. The trade off will be less stability as speed increases, a tendency for your bars to rip out of your hands when your wheel hits a few stones, and you can’t ever fit brake levers far enough inboard.
Also wide bars seriously inhibit your ability to squeeze through small gaps. I’m sure there’s a race winning line at Shladming between some trees that would shave 5 seconds off, if only someone had the guts to run some 680mm bars. Or even if you’re not going between trees, you’ll be able to get that tiny bit closer to the tree on the apex of the corner. It might mean you can avoid that wet off camber root, and instead sink your wheels into that little rain rut that just slingshots you round the corner in such a way that makes the aforementioned Mr. Hill look like a cow trying to corner on ice.

So wide bars increase stability at speed, but slow steering down, that much we have gathered. But what about rise height then? OK, if I’m honest I think flat bars look shit, but a mere 20mm of rise makes it look cool and fast, but that’s just personal opinion. Hell, some people fancied Jade Goody.
But on a DH bike with 8” forks the front end is going to be pretty high as standard, and anything that helps to reduce this height is going to aid in front end traction and control. Hence the abundance of internal headsets, flat crowns and minimal rise bars seen on DH bikes of today. I have no real issue with low bars on DH bikes, as it makes sense.
Then can somebody please explain why oh why are people fitting low and wide bars to 4X and DJ hardtails?! They’ve got a pretty low front end as it is, especially if you have an integrated headset and only run 80mm or even rigid forks (buy a bmx instead if you don’t want suspension! I’ll address this issue another time ). Couple this with comparatively steeper head angles on these hardtails (69-71 degrees as opposed to 64-66), and you soon end up with a bike that just wants to throw you on your face over the bars. And to top it off the extra wide width of some of these ape-hangers is getting your weight even lower still, as your arms are spread and your chest is closer to the ground. In some cases I swear it would only take a small stone to stop the wheel on some people’s bikes and they’d be sniffing the ground faster than you can say “stupidly low center of gravity!”

I can understand for 4X purposes that it may be beneficial to have slightly wider bars that allow you to get your elbows out wide and block your opponents. And with a few bike manufacturers slacking their 4X head angles as the tracks get faster and steeper, random acts of soil inspection will lessen because the extra control wider bars offer will make sense on these tracks. But seriously guys, 777mm bars in minimal rise, with no headset spacers and an internal headset? A bloody orangutan would straggle to turn those bad boys quickly, and he wouldn’t get a chance because as soon as his front wheel touches a spot grit he’d be scorpion face grinding in the dirt. Anybody wonder why Affy’s PRO 4X bar has a higher rise than the DH bar? Because he only has 4 bloody inches of travel not some massive twin crowns that’s why!

But as far as I see, low and wide bars in DJ serve absolutely zero purpose. None, nil, nada. They’re like skinny jeans: a few people think you look cool because they too have them, while the majority thinks you look like a dick. Hey, do an x-up. Oh wait, you can’t without dislocating your knees. How about barspins? Oh that’s right, you have to feed the bars round because you can’t spin those bargepoles fast enough to sling the B’s like a real man (Youtube BMXer Edwin Delarossa to see B’s spun properly). Ride trails? No, that’s just a damn fine Captain Nosedive impression you’re doing there. A simple tabletop? Some style? No? Oh, you can get the back end kicked out by an extra three degrees because you’ve got 80mm wider bars. Well done, I hope you feel proud. Now go play on the swings with the rest of the children.

As some of you may be aware, I’m one of the main locals at Redhill Extreme. We see all sorts of bikes and riders over a weekend. We see the fashions come and go, and more often than not we’re happy to say what we think. Ok, I say we; it’s mainly me who’s happy to slate everything in sight. In fairness, I think I can usually justify my somewhat critical judgments. Some things have their place (pivotal saddles are genius); whereas others are just plain stupid (plastic saddles more akin to a rectal probe than a place to rest your arse). But wide bars are up there on the list of things that I really can’t get to grips with. Try watching some kid repeatedly nose dive into the knuckle of a landing because he’s too cool to admit that his 745mm 1” rise bars are not suitable when combined with no headset spacers and 80mm forks. Or watch the young lads on their mighty full suss bikes, all decked out in the latest moto-inspired kit, resplendent in an obscenely priced piece of plastic strapped to their neck which serves little purpose (yes, those bloody trendy neck braces), crank into the final 35 foot table. Watch as they hit the lip and pull up. No…wait a second…. They can’t pull up as their arms are so far apart holding onto some 800mm strip of scaffold pipe, so that when they inevitably stiff out and nosedive about 10 foot shy of the lander, they cannot bend their arms any more to absorb the impact. Watch as they plough through the travel on their silly overpriced forks, because they didn’t realise they needed air preload, and watch as their shoulder blades touch in the middle of their spine, while their arms are still locked 90 degrees at the elbows. Ok, it’s not quite as bad as that all the time, but in the last three years as bar width has gone up, so has our collective heart pressure from watching all these horrendous nosedives.

I’m sure many of you might now wonder what bar setup I choose to run. Well, for DJ and general prattling about at Redhill I like somewhere between 660mm and 685mm, in a three inch rise, with Fit BMX drop stem and 3mm spacer, 100mm forks and 24” wheels. For 4X and hardtail blatting around the woods I’m currently enjoying 710mm width, 2” rise, with zero rise stem, 10mm spacers, 120mm travel, 26” wheel. I might be tempted one day to go up to 730mm, but only because I can’t run my brakes far enough inboard on my current bars.

So there we go. A pretty sceptical, if not somewhat justified (at least to myself anyways) view on the current trend of obscenely wide bars. Some say may distaste for wide bars stems from my apparent lack of shoulders, and that I supposedly can’t hold anything wider than two foot, and thus all my arguments don’t count as I’m a freak of nature.

Wide bars eh? You can shove ‘em up yer arse. Sideways!

Cheers for reading
Morgan

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