How Much Difference Does Handlebar Width Actually Make?

How Much Difference Does Handlebar Width Actually Make?

Should you swap out your bike handlebars to something narrower? Over the last few years, there has been a trend in pro cycling to more compact riding positions using narrow handlebar set-ups. The claims are that it’s more aero and therefore faster, but how much so? Ollie wind tunnel tested three different bar widths to find out how much difference it really makes!

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  1. gpersonaltrainer1 on April 4, 2023 at 7:36 am

    A few years ago, I watched a documentary about Sir Chris Hoy, in which has been said that if in the wind tunnel engineers where saying he was faster using a 36cm handlebar, he would have trained (night and day) to adapt his position to it. I believe if you are competing on a track, you can do that (with a lot of training and sacrifices), but if you are "racing" on a road (especially at the Etape du Tour), it would ve better to have a bike with a handling suitable for your riding skills. I heard a lot of stories about accidents in that "sportive", especially going downhill. A narrow handlebar on the bike of an inexperienced cyclist could be one of the reason. Before being faster, be safe and go home in one piece.

  2. Anton Richter on April 4, 2023 at 7:36 am

    How much does the ever lengthening groove on top of the bars affect the drag as you widen the bars? Surely it creates turbulence around the edges of the groove.

  3. Cristiano Vicente on April 4, 2023 at 7:36 am

    I’ve chosen the bar width my bike fitter told me to get, 42cm and it causes me no pain or discomfort so I do prioritize that over marginal aero gains.

  4. matt kerr on April 4, 2023 at 7:37 am

    Greater leverage aka flared drops for sprints and skinny hoods sounds good to me

  5. SCOTT PARKINSON on April 4, 2023 at 7:39 am

    I’ve gone from 40cm bars to 34cm. Mainly because I’ve always thought my arms were short and I kept getting neck/shoulder pain but after watching a bike fit video where the fitter suggested measuring between the acromion I found I just have really narrow shoulders (31cm at 180cm height). Once I switched to the 34cm bars (31cm at the hoods as they are turned in) I needed a longer stem and could remove some spacers. Bike looks like a proper racer now and I’m a lot faster on my normal routes. Handling unaffected but comfort has gone through the roof! I’d suggest more people measure their shoulders and compare to bar width if they are having shoulder/neck issues.

  6. Joe Hiatt on April 4, 2023 at 7:41 am

    I took my bars off ,now Im very aero

  7. cycling2005 on April 4, 2023 at 7:45 am

    The narrower you go the more twitchy the handling gets. Not mentioned in the video. Just went from 44cm to 40cm. Handling is much faster.

  8. ormcqu on April 4, 2023 at 7:45 am

    As your average joe rider that doesn’t care about saving 1 minute on a hundred mile ride, I am more interested in comfort.

  9. The True AP on April 4, 2023 at 7:48 am

    Oli! Like you, I love experimenting. I have moved from 44 to flared 38/42 noticeable different but my curiosity became focused on tops vs drops and found that on the 44/44 the drops were usually 2KPH faster on a flat road but when switching to 38/42 and keeping low on the hoods I found no difference in tempo speed. Traditionally hoods have been more comfortable so could in theory the correct flared bar be the answer to comfort and handling at a consist aero speed?

  10. Chris Harvey on April 4, 2023 at 7:48 am

    Can you get Feather to do a similar test up a climb, once in his normal set up, then again with narrower ?

  11. Mohamad Jamil on April 4, 2023 at 7:48 am

    Am changing my handlebars to a narrower one to for a bike fit and handling reasons and not aero gains. I believe that you can go faster if you are more comfortable

  12. Per Svedensten on April 4, 2023 at 7:51 am

    Thought about switching from 42 cm to 40 cm but I will save my money for something else now. Great content as always, thank you!

  13. Henry Kloepper on April 4, 2023 at 7:52 am

    This is the best type of content GCN makes besides the epic rides. Ollie is good at presenting the content too.

  14. Richard Stokes on April 4, 2023 at 7:53 am

    Have you thought about doing the same test with a rider that has man sized shoulders and hips to see if that makes a difference?

  15. Lorenzo Violões on April 4, 2023 at 7:55 am

    I, as a non competitive amateur, don’t think i’d benefit from a narrow bar, i’d rather be more comfortable

  16. 13leepiper on April 4, 2023 at 7:56 am

    Will you start the fans please!! Classic 😂

  17. Dan Bateman on April 4, 2023 at 7:56 am

    Are you facing away from the fans? If so, why?

  18. GCN Tech on April 4, 2023 at 7:57 am

    How wide are your handlebars? Let us know in the comments below! 👇

  19. Catherine Macalisang on April 4, 2023 at 7:58 am

    nice dropbar and retractable depending on how wide you wanted to use.

  20. woofenzo on April 4, 2023 at 7:59 am

    Wow. So sacrifice comfort to achieve 10 seconds on a TT or a minute over a 6 hour ride….. No thanks. How applicable is this test to probably 95% of viewers if recommending those gains…. I doubt pro’s get their advice from GCN…

  21. JM A on April 4, 2023 at 8:03 am

    Wish I could do a 24 minute 10 at 260W!

  22. Jon Eaton on April 4, 2023 at 8:03 am

    I went from 42 to 38
    Helped with upper back strain initially for then wanted areo speed gains. Thought it would be more of a aero gains in this testing but for me since changing , feels faster and more comfortable and fun and combine with my upgrade tyres, I’m winning.

  23. Branko Dodig on April 4, 2023 at 8:06 am

    36 for me, although fit wise I could go with 38-39 without any issue. Everything wider feels wrong.

    Even on my gravel bike 36 is perfectly fine for handling.

  24. Gargolas Gaming on April 4, 2023 at 8:08 am

    I’m very far from a prolific climber and to be honest, climbing has always been a glaring weakness. But I think I can relate to Andrew Feather on this one. I can imagine myself being far-far worse at climbing if I had narrower handle bars.

  25. Keith Cottongim on April 4, 2023 at 8:09 am

    As a total package for the average Joe or Jill bar width ain’t going to matter, as long as you’re comfortable.
    I’m 6’ 2” I like 46cm, 44cm is ok. Wouldn’t want to go narrower

  26. Sylvain Carrel on April 4, 2023 at 8:09 am

    Well, for 99% of cases there is no need to get narrower bar. That’s interesting to see the difference, but for all the Sunday morning coffee riders, well it’s kind of showing off😂

  27. Kelvin Handley on April 4, 2023 at 8:09 am

    Great video Ollie. I run 42s but didn’t realise how small the different was. Could GCN do an experiment on a fast loop to see whether it’s quicker to have a cross-wind there and back, or with a headwind there/tailwind back? Try it with box section and deep section wheels for a constant power output?

  28. FunMushizzle on April 4, 2023 at 8:10 am

    Love you too!

  29. Al Swearengen on April 4, 2023 at 8:11 am

    At what yaw angles did you test? Does it matter much over say 0-15 degrees range?

  30. Rob Lucchetti on April 4, 2023 at 8:11 am

    As others have commented here, and I have experienced for myself generally, any benefit I have had from downsizing bars has been due to A) better handling feel, B) shorter overall reach; yes, when you widen bars, you increase your reach to the hoods C) less stress on my hands and elbows from being at incorrect angles.

  31. Alexander Polta on April 4, 2023 at 8:12 am

    MTB vs Gravel vs Road vs Track makes obvious that the longer you go, the less width you need to feel comfortable. As narrow as is comfortable is the answer.

  32. Marc Granado Gonzalez on April 4, 2023 at 8:12 am

    Very nice! It would be interesting to know the whats you are saving though! As in, in order to get the same time in the 10 miles TT how many whats would we be saving with the 39 cm compared to the 43 cm given the 43 cm is riding at 230 W?

  33. Air Force Cyclist on April 4, 2023 at 8:13 am

    Unless you’re a very large person, 44cm bars are not a good idea for the road. When I first asked about bar width at my local club, one gentleman (a former USA Cat1 racer no less) asked me, "What’s your suit jacket size?" I told him it was a 42 regular. He said, "Then you’re probably around a 42cm bar. Suits are measured in cm at the shoulder…make sense?" Learned two new things that day lol.

  34. MtKrybnik13 on April 4, 2023 at 8:15 am

    I’ve start my cycling in XC, when 560/580mm flat bars was a standard. I was one of the first to move to 635mm/15mm raizer Easton EC90SL bar, and everyone was talking that it’s so wide. Now we have 750-800mm bars on XC bikes xD
    On a road bike I always stay with this shoulders to bar ratio, which for me is 420mm. I’m pretty sure that all gains on areo that I will get by having narrower bar, will be compensated by capability on wider bar to be faster in corners etc. And I’m not against aero, cause I have a lot aero equipment(Canyon Ultimate CFR eTap with 50mm DT Swiss ARC1100), but I believe that there should be a balance between aero and other stuff 😉

  35. Mike Lohmeyer on April 4, 2023 at 8:15 am

    So they all have the same bars and now it back to the rider !!

  36. Tony McCann on April 4, 2023 at 8:16 am

    I’ve switch from 42cm to a narrower 40cm bars, but done this for comfort rather than speed. Interesting to see the minimal difference in aero benefit, for swapping to narrower bars.

  37. Warren Ayen on April 4, 2023 at 8:17 am

    Tried it, hated it, went back to the normal width for me

  38. Philip Pang on April 4, 2023 at 8:19 am

    I’m 6ft and ride with a 42-110mm bar-stem. Lovely vid as always from Ollie and team. Thank you so much for great content.

    Tempted to try 40mm, which I did for a short spin, with a 120mm, and it felt perfectly fine and comfortable. But I hadn’t
    tried this combo for a long ride. So, inconclusive for me, will speak to my bike fitter.

    Quick thought after watching the vid was, if the speed / time gains are marginal, and we’re not racing competitively,
    fit and comfort are key over narrower bars for the sake of being just a tad more aero. Position on the bike, cycling wear
    including socks, and shoes, all add to the aero advantage but as a recreational enthusiast for gran fondos, don’t think it
    makes that much of a difference.

    Quite another thing to be racing competitively.

  39. Alastair Mackinlay on April 4, 2023 at 8:19 am

    Oli may well be a looser, but his Richard O’Brian Crystal Maze reference was on point. Never change please Oli. ❤

  40. sixy69 on April 4, 2023 at 8:20 am

    Sound lad, I’ll stick to my 42s

  41. Donald Rieger on April 4, 2023 at 8:21 am

    Greetings tech overlords, The Doctor reccommends waxing your chain every 400-800km. Normally not a problem. What lubrication method would you reccommend for extended bike touring where carrying your slow cooker is impractical?

  42. Oscar Varona on April 4, 2023 at 8:23 am

    What I’ve learned from this video: Wind tunnel time is really expensive 😂 Great content, keep it coming

  43. Larter on April 4, 2023 at 8:23 am

    Please everyone, like the video so GCN Tech can get more wind tunnel time!! 😉💨💨💨

  44. RTW on April 4, 2023 at 8:24 am

    The marketing industry has us believe we need to make all these changes… The numbers speak for themselves and we can each decide!! Liked the video 👍👍

  45. James HH on April 4, 2023 at 8:24 am

    GCN with more wind tunnel time than McLaren for their 2023 F1 car.

  46. leighton Davies on April 4, 2023 at 8:27 am

    230 watts , an output many can do on a climb ?!?! Are you having Giraffe 🦒 Mr B ?

  47. timbo on April 4, 2023 at 8:27 am

    A meaningless test.

    The majority of time is spent on the hoods,run the test again with the aero hoods position,very maintainable unlike the drops,this is the data point of interest.
    If that doesn’t show dramatic benefits I’d be shocked.
    I’ve used multitudes of bars over the years,currently on FSA wing compacts,42 at drops,40 hoods,36 with in-turned hoods. Extremely efficient with the stability maintained in the drops.

  48. Nelson Francisco on April 4, 2023 at 8:31 am

    I am too in the group that finds those gains underwhelming. First, unless your handlebar was too wide for you to start with, you’re unlike to be able to drop more than 2cm without having bike fitting issues. Like Ollie mentions, he was fine going from 40cm to 38cm, but 36cm was causing him discomfort. Then, I understand the choice regarding the hand position during testing, but this is pretty much a worst case scenario. In real life, you will be on the drops while descending, but on those cases your speed is more likely being limited by your skill, the road, etc. In the flats, you will probably use a more aero position anyway, reducing the advantage of the narrow handlebar and uphill, the narrow handlebar will probably be detrimental due to the reduction on leverage. So all in all, you are realistically looking at a fraction of that minute over a 6h30 grand fondo. Unless you are a pro fighting for every second and looking to better cut through the peloton, it is not really something most people should worry too much about.

  49. JM A on April 4, 2023 at 8:32 am

    They are definitely more dangerous. Might be a bit faster, but…

  50. Swen Vonk on April 4, 2023 at 8:32 am

    I have 36cm bars with the shifter way to the inside and inside inside shifters is 22cm and i love it, maybe 18 cm i would also ride it, more narrow is just to uncomfortable