From my experience in bike fitting, till date most issues related to arms and shoulders are directly affected by handlebar width. The effect is so great that 20mm width difference (basically 1-size up-or-down) can throw off a properly fitted posture, the strain on upper body and arms will not go away regardless how well a posture is fitted.
When a customer comes in, I would measure shoulder and handlebar widths first. If the handlebar width is not suitable for the rider, this information will be used as baseline to analyse customer’s feedback on discomfort for upper torso and arms for the rest of bike fitting session.
It is the bike fitter’s duty to inform customer on a suitable handlebar width, regardless whether the handlebar is to be supplied by bike fitter or sourced separately by customer.
NOW, here comes the confusing part for the customer. Time to pay great ATTENTION.
If your bike fitter says you’ll be fine with a 40cm handlebar, most probably you’ll end up NOT fine if you buy a handlebar on your own. Why? Main reason is different manufacturers designate handlebar widths differently.
It is important that we measure handlebar width based on ACTUAL DISTANCE between center-to-center (C-C) of the brake hoods. However, most manufacturers do not specify handlebar widths this way. Some do, but not all.
Here are a few examples: (samples from 2013-era)
Brand Model Marking Actual
Zipp Service Course SL 40cm 40cm
3T Ergonova 40cm 38cm
3T Rotundo 40cm 40cm
FSA K-Wing Compact 40cm 39cm
If you noticed, even 3T has different width designation for different models.
So what’s the safest way to protect your wallet when buying a handlebar?
Step 1: Do not guess. Bring a tape measure.
Step 2: Always refer to brake hoods center-to-center measurement.
Step 3: Buy from a local shop so you can measure it on the spot.
Step 4: Don’t be blinded by good deals. If the shop does not have the size you need, do NOT be tempted by handlebars of next size up/down. The handlebar goes onto your bike should be of correct width as recommended by bike fitter. If you’re in doubt, double check with bike fitter, make sure you get the right info from him/her.
*Disclaimer: I use brake hoods C-C as most riders spend most of their time there, if you're a drop rider, then measurement might take a different approach. I’m open to suggestions and opinions, but will not debate on this in comments section. However, contents of this article will be updated when reasonable suggestions are being put forward by readers.
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