No we aren’t talking about life, even though I do narrowly have a handle on that, lets talk handlebars. I will go over drops and other types of bars and how I use them. I will save the life stuff for my therapist.
The bike industry is not kind to small people. Handlebars are no exception. I should have a width of 36cm but very few come below 40cm. Plus god knows large bike companies put average size bars even on their extra small size frames which leave us with aches between the shoulder blades or on the front armpit area.
So what are some good bars for people with narrow shoulders?
With swept back or flat bars you get a little more play compared to drop-bars as far as width, especially of you are set up pretty upright, but size still should be somewhat relative to the width of your shoulder for comfort.
Touring: Soma Sparrow
I cant say enough good things about the Soma Sparrow bars. I rode them from Banff Canada to New Mexico through mountainous single track, paved highways, and everything in between. They comes in three sizes, small, medium, and large. What is especially great about the difference in size of these bars is that the whole bar gets smaller. The angles and curves change not just the arms getting shorter, unlike some bars with different sizes (cough Jones cough). They can be flipped to be more of a riser bar (my touring preference) or angled down for a sleek racy look.
It’s got the main hand placement at the bar ends but also comfy at the curves. If you want to get aerodynamic, bend down and resting your forearms on the bars. Its great to have that other position to completely redistribute your weight when doing long rides.
They are wide enough that they have great leverage for barreling down a bunch of sketchy single track. You can set them up with mountain bike shift levers or classic bar ends.
City Riding/Randoneering: Mustache Bars
While Nitto has come up with a multiple “improvements” of these bars (Albatross, Albastache) I found the classic mustache fit the best for me. They have a narrow profile that works well for small shoulders and have more hand positions then you can shake a stick at. The non-traditional placement of the brake levers gives small hands an unparalleled leverage which is not something we get when riding on the hoods with drop bars. Most are traditionally set up with bar end shifters but I have seen them with integrated shifters at the curves which seemed crazy talk to me but they liked it, (shrug) who am I to judge.
These should be very relative to the width of your shoulders. You basically want them as wide as where your hands naturally hang down for max comfort, a bit wider to make the bike more stable, a bit narrower if you are nutball into aerodynamics. Measuring your shoulders (even better have a profession do it) will take out a lot of guess work.
Dirt/touring: Salsa Cowbells
They come as small as a 38cm width with really comfortable curves. What makes them stand out is the 12 degree flair that adds leverage and control when riding in the drops which make them great for gravel.
City riding/long rides: Zipp Service Course SL
These are the only drop bars that I have found that come in 36cm. That’s right 36CM!!!! Not only do the come in a crazy range of widths but also in three different reaches with proportional drops. You can 100% get these comfortable.
Racing: Ritchey Superlogic Evocurve
If you are a giant weight weenie and have spare money to spend on something silly like handlebars then the Ritchey Superlogic Evocurve might be for you. They are the only carbon handlebars that come as narrow as 38cm, luckily they are pretty rad. The no-slip grit at stem and brake lever area makes them real easy to set up. The thicker area at the top and 4 degree sweep keeps your wrists and hands comfy in multiple positions. Drops are also pretty shallow and I like that.
I REALLY wanted to like them. I mean REALLY REALLY bad. Everyone says they are the ultimate bikepacking bar and god knows I like to ultimate bikepack. I just could not get them set up so between my shoulder blades did not hurt. The loop was just too wide even if the levers were as far in as they would go. They come in two sizes but the only thing that changes is how long the arms are, the loop is the same width whether it’s the 660 or 710mm bar. If you send them an email suggesting they make a smaller size you will get a terse email saying it fits all sizes. 😐
All that being said….
I know some small people who rock really wide bars and like them. You just don’t know how something will work out unless you try it. So take everything I said with a giant grain of salt and hit some miles on various things.