Right to Roam?

I have been musing about land access and the “right to roam” enjoyed by outdoor users here in Scotland.

This can be a thorny issue for all users and commercial operators in the countryside. However, this is only made worse by the common misconception that we have the right to roam when what we have is “the right to responsible access“.

A right that has been challenged recently by Scottish National Heritage on a few fronts. With the recent embargo on camping at Loch Lomond and this winters fracas between the Scottish ski touring fraternity and the ski resort management. They also named mountain bikers as one of the user groups infringing on the wrong side of the access code. Whilst the instant response is “what have we done!” when you consider wild trails dug without permission, they have a point that is hard to argue against. Especially when they use arguments framed around preventing injury to riders and damage to sites of archaeological interest.

How do we progress without running the risk of losing the support from the public to access our wild spaces freely? That is a question without and easy answer, but we aren’t going to find it without a free and open discourse on the matter.

Further information and reading on our access rights can be found on these sites; https://www.nature.scot/enjoying-outd…

https://www.scotways.com/faq/law-on-s…

https://www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/

Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About Handlebars

This article was originally written and published on Singletracks.com

Handlebars are perhaps the single most important point of contact on a bike. However, it can be easy to overlook this crucial element and its impact on bike fit, steering accuracy, and comfort on the bike.

The first thing to realize is that mountain bike handlebar size and shape can be a personal choice. What might work for one person might not work for another. And as a part of the bike fit equation, what makes for a good comfortable fit on one frame might not work as well on a different bike since the geometry and sizing will be different. The main thing to understand is that it might take a bit of experimentation with your setup to find the ideal sweet spot.

Mountain bike handlebar geometry

No, this has nothing to do with your favorite watering hole, though geometry can get complicated after a visit to your local hostelry. When it comes to handlebar geometry, there are two main numbers to consider: rise and sweep.

Handlebar Rise

Rise is essentially the height differential between the center of the bar, where it attaches to the stem, and the center of the 22.2mm diameter just after the taper and transitional bend. Mountain bike handlebars are typically configured with zero rise (flat bars) all the way up to 100mm (roughly 4 inches). Bars with 100mm rise aren’t very common anymore, so these days, “high-rise” bars are usually in the 40-50mm range (about 1.5-2 inches).

Choosing the right amount of rise usually comes down to rider position on the bike. If the cockpit feels too low (for a taller rider, for example), a riser bar can get grips up into a more comfortable position. A riser bar will naturally have a bit more flex than a straight bar, assuming both bars are made of the same material and have identical diameters and widths.

Flat bars tend to be found on XC-oriented bikes while riser bars are used on more gravity-oriented setups. Since gravity bikes are optimized for riding downhill, a riser bar keeps the rider’s head and torso slightly higher on the bike for better control on the descents. Finally, some riders just prefer the look of one style over the other, so again personal preference plays a big part.

Sweep

After the rise, the next thing we need to think about is bar sweep. There are two measures of sweep: upsweep and backsweep.

Upsweep

Upsweep is the vertical angle of the bars at the grip. Upsweep does affect the overall rise of the bars, and is a separate measurement that affects rider comfort more than anything else. Most bars, if they list an upsweep measurement at all, will fall between 4° and 6°. This tends to provide a good, neutral wrist angle for riders.

Backsweep

Backsweep refers to the angle at which the bars swoop toward the back of the bike. This angle can range from 0° for a completely straight bar to 45° for a specialty bar like the Jones H-Bar. Again, sweep comes down to rider comfort and preference ahead of any other considerations like performance.

Bar Diameter

Thankfully, mountain bike bars come in just one width at the grip: 22.2mm. This means grips are interchangeable with any bar on the market. When it comes to the stem clamp, that is a different story. The most common diameter is still 31.8mm, but older bars can be 25.4mm.

More recently an oversize 35mm standard was introduced by Easton that promises even greater strength and stiffness. With a larger clamp area, the bars tend to be stronger and stiffer. Larger clamp diameters also provide increased surface area for the stem connection, resulting in lower clamping pressure requirements, which is a good thing for carbon bars.

However some riders prefer the flex and lower weight that is associated with 31.8mm bars. The comparative increased strength and lack of flex of the 35mm clamp diameter bars can sometimes lead to a harsher ride feel than the narrower diameter bars.

Bottom line: if you’re upgrading your bars but keeping your stem, make sure the new bars will fit your stem clamp diameter. If buying both, ensure they will play nicely together.

Bar Width

For the past several years mountain bike handlebars have been trending wider. The wider, the better.

Now this is actually true for most modern riders, as wider bars slow down steering input for added control, especially when paired with a short stem. The longer a lever, the easier it is to move a weight, and since handlebars are a lever, the same rules apply.

Wider handlebars can even make breathing easier on the climbs. (Think about taking a deep breath with arms wide vs. arms crossed in front of your chest.) Now the crucial thing is to have a bar that is wide but not too wide. A handlebar that is too wide will stretch a rider out on the bike, ultimately limiting the range of potential motion on the bike. A bar that is too narrow has the opposite effect; while it increases the rider’s range of movement, it does make steering heavier and less stable feeling.

Beyond control considerations, wider bars can make navigating dense forest trails more difficult. But also keep comfort in mind. If you have short arms, you may not want the widest bars available, even if you are a super aggressive gravity rider.

These days, mountain bike bars are available in widths ranging from less than 600mm all the way up to 840mm or more. When shopping for mountain bike handlebars, it is important to note the width of the bars but keep in mind that you can always cut the bars down. Unfortunately you can’t safely add width to a set that are too narrow to begin with.

Cross-country riders will usually prefer narrower bars compared to trail and downhill riders.

Handlebar Material

Now bar material is conventionally thought of as a binary question: you either run aluminum alloy, because you’re not rich or you don’t trust carbon; or, you run carbon, knowing those fears of a bar failing are unfounded and you like a bit of black glossy bling. But these are not the only options available on the market. Titanium and steel bars are also on offer for the discerning and offbeat rider.

Aluminum bars are generally the least expensive but are heavy. Titanium bars can be more expensive than carbon, and are generally heavier than carbon as well.

Titanium offers the least “harsh” ride feel in terms of impact and vibration, with carbon bars providing some forgiveness as well, and aluminum bars being the stiffest and harshest. Steel has some natural spring to it and offers a feel that some riders prefer.

Each of these four materials offer various and differing amounts of these key characteristics:

  • Strength
  • Flex
  • Weight
  • Vibration damping

In addition to these characteristics, there is also fatigue considerations, a specification seldom listed for a bar. But the number of hours of expected use is something to consider.

Some aggressive riders shy away from carbon bars, thinking they’re not as strong as aluminum. The fact is, carbon bars are often as strong, if not stronger than their aluminum counterparts. But aluminum fails in a much more predictable manner (bending or yielding), which is significantly less dramatic than a carbon bar snapping in combat.

The crucial factor for all bars is to ensure they are correctly installed with the proper torque, which will help prevent a catastrophic failure. It is also vital to inspect and perhaps replace any bar that has taken a mighty pounding in a bad crash. If in any doubt, see you local bike shop mechanic and get them to inspect or fit any new bars for you.

Shape

Most mountain bikes utilize a standard straight bar, but these days, mountain bikers are experimenting with other shapes like the Jones H-Bar and road-style drop bars. Many of these choices are based on extreme use cases like bikepacking and ultra-endurance riding where riders want to utilize multiple hand positions throughout the ride to avoid fatigue. In general, these types of bars trade comfort over trail handling

So there you have it, the 101 intro to mountain bike handlebars. Let us know which bars and widths you’re running in the comments.

The Geometry Spectrum

In recent years bike geometry has become a big talking point among riders.

Longer reach, slacker head-angle, steeper seat tube, longer wheel base and the perpetual argument about if chainstays should be growing or shrinking. These are but a few of the aspects that make-up a good balanced frame design. But the numbers tend to be discussed in isolation from one another by riders when contrasting and comparing geometry tables. That being said, the more experienced (generally speaking) a rider is, the more of the geo-chart they take into account when making bike choices. However, the conversation rarely expands into how one element affects the other, and that is truly the crux of the matter.

But regardless of how informed the general biking public is to the finer points of frame design, the trend is that geometry is getting slacker, longer and lower.

The first thing we have to accept, is that there is no single magic set of numbers, no magic bullet, there is no such thing as “perfect geometry“. Geometry gives a set of characteristics and a certain feel to a frame (not withstanding the suspension platform if applicable). It will bias a frame to be better suited for certain types of riding and certain types of terrain. Whilst sharing the share same DNA, we can all agree that XC race bikes are different from DH rigs.

Whilst the “Enduro Bike” did start life as a beefed up trail bike, it has become a identifiable niche within the market and one where geometry is arguably, king.

It is also a perfect balancing act, If you change one thing you have to change it all, you cannot simple extend one aspect in isolation. A bike designer once described it to me as spinning plates.

For example if you extend the top tube and thus the reach, that will move the riders weight forwards and this may imbalance the ride.  So a designer may choose to shorten the chainstays to account for that shift in the riders weight. If they don’t, then the back end may become unweighted more easily and be prone to breaking traction.

Now if we take the view that the best riding position is central on the bike (and ignore the impact differing wheel sizes have to the equation). Then we can make some objective observations on how frame geometry has evolved over the last 10 or so years.

To illustrate this, I will track the evolution of a fairly critical and influential bike, the Specialized Enduro. Whilst the “Enduro Bike” did start life as a beefed up trail bike, it has become a identifiable niche within the market and one where geometry is arguably, king.

But I thought the top tube and thus the reach, was meant to be getting longer as well?

Now lets have a look at some key figures, the headliners if you will.

  • Head Angle
  • Top Tube Length
  • Wheel Base
  • Chainstay length

The trend has been for the head angle to slacken, the wheel base and reach to grow and the chainstays to be kept as short (or as static) as possible.

year Head Angle Top Tube Length Wheel Base Chainstay Length
2005 68º 623 mm 1156 mm 424 mm
2009 67° 620 mm 1177 mm 421 mm
2010 66.5° 620 mm 1185 mm 419 mm
2014 66.5° 617 mm 1183 mm 419 mm
2017 65.5° 604 mm 1201 mm 425 mm

All of these sizes are taken from large size frames.

So whats actually going on here?

The head angle is consistently getting slacker and the wheelbase is getting incrementally longer. But I thought the top tube and thus the reach, was meant to be getting longer as well?

The wheelbase is being extended in two ways, by throwing the front wheel forwards from slackening the HA and latterly by extending the chainstays. But if we look closely, the reach is actually contracting, in a size large, it shrinks 7mm from 2010 to the current year model.

Specialized has a secret sauce in the Enduro, and people like it.

But if longer and slacker leads to a more stable and therefore, faster platform then why are the big S shrinking the reach of their race happy Enduro? Why not go all in and extend the top tube and the reach aswell? In my mind it comes down to two things, the elusive “ride feel” and the rider that they are selling this bike to.

Geometry gives a certain feel, some riders prefer a bike that is not to long as a shorter bike feels more “playful“. Specialized has a secret sauce in the Enduro, and people like it. They don’t want to move the position of the riders weight on the bike as that will change that feel. But riders have also drunk deep of the Enduro cool aid, so Spesh needs to not only make a bike that still feels like an Enduro, but also appears to be following the trend of longer slacker bikes being better without changing the taste of the secret sauce.

The second point that I feel is pertinent is the market that they are selling the bike to, or more accurately how broad that spectrum of riders is. A bike that is genuinely longer and slacker, regardless of what the chainstays or top tube are doing on paper, will appear to be very different to what has gone before. It will also feel different, and that will put some riders off.

Now there is no getting around it, if you are designing a race specific bike that is built around 160mm of travel, then you will probably come up with some more aggressive numbers than what the Enduro has. But the vast majority of riders don’t need a race specific bike, they would find it harsh and beyond what they were used to. So when your objective is to sell as many bikes as possible, which approach do you take?

Now this is by no means an attack on the abilities of this very capable bike or the riders who choose them. Change is generally slow and usually has interim steps, hybrids before full electric cars for example.

but when looking at geo tables and comparing bikes that are on the market, maybe compare them to previous iterations as well, to get a sense of how a frame has been evolving to see whether it is indeed the frame for you.