From Wide to Narrow: Professional Track Racer’s Bars Dec 10, 2010


If you pay attention to professional track racers then you’ve noticed this shift in cockpit width. For years, track racers have gone with a wide and flat bar. Also used in madisons, these bars still clear the forearms during sprinting and allow the racers to use leverage at its optimum positioning. Now recently the shift has gone back to a 39cm bar. Why? My guess is that it’s more aero and actually allows the racer to concentrate his power. But that just doesn’t make sense.

Chris Hoy sprint.jpg

We all know that sprinting is a fast-twitch muscle action. Similar to dead lifts and hang cleans in weight lifting: exploding at the maximum capacity for a short amount of time. Track racers are now some of the worlds top athletes. When you dead lift and clean, you’re told to keep your grip as wide as your shoulders. So why not use this same ideology for sprinting? Sprinting is a high output along a narrow axis. Similar to why track Q-Factor is so slim, the bars of your bike, when closer together allow you to snap at a higher concentration with little or no energy loss. Your body is in a line, pushing forwards.

Looks like Cinelli had it right the whole time: 39cm is the way to go.

  • Moneyfire

    Love that the Japanese rider trailing Hoy is using cages and double straps.

  • Toe clips aren’t cages. Cages are the metal plates on the front face of pedals and hold water bottles.


    He’s still using a clipless pedal system. Most sprinters use a foot retention system like that to ensure they don’t clip out during their sprints.

  • daniel

    The analogy is a little off. Power cleans and DL’s are great exercises for a strength and conditioning program for cycling, but the biomechanics of these lifts is completely different from the actual movement of spinning. I would guess (not a CYCLING COaCH) THAT OBSERVATION OF race TIMES AND EQUIPMENT has led people to theorize that the boost you get from a fully tucked position for the majority of the race is more helpful than the boost you get from the enhanced leverage of a widened hand grip which most will use to get up to speed.
    Or, you could also argue that the easiest way to sell a product to a million people is to convince everyone that the shit they already have is not as good as the shit that they dont have

  • Talk to any track racer and they’ll tell you otherwise. Sprinting isn’t about “spinning”. It’s about maximum output. Digging and sprinting is the same in a clean. It’s a power move, not a strength move.

  • zapr

    anything narrower than your shoulders seems counter productive, no?

  • Moneyfire

    I believe there is an old saying along the lines of, “track racers are power lifters who ride bikes.” Always enjoyed that one.

    Clips/Cages: knowledge broughten.

  • daniel

    And if you ask that racers coach he will grin and say something like at least hes fast on the bike. Biking is a unilateral push pull motion dl and pc are not. The athlete is rarely the person to trust. Seriously would you trust an NFL linebacker or his coach if you wanted to get big and fast? Strength coaches have a career and make good money for a reason. BUt you do this type of stuff for a living so who am I to argue.

  • Daniel, track sprinting is definitely not about spinning as you hypothesize. It’s absolutely analogous to a power clean. The only difference is that since you are hunched over the bars, you don’t get as much hip extension.

    Watch guys doing standing starts. Or the finish of match sprint. They are getting as much hip opening as they can.

  • First two pictures scream: Stereoids!!

  • Luke is saying what I’ve heard national keirin champs say frequently.

  • jason

    daniel have you ever raced at a velodrome or watched a match sprint? riding a fixie on the street is nothing like racing.

  • Albert

    I’m fairly sure the reason that the SkyHD track team is riding Nitto bars is because they had to conform to the UCI’s policy that you can’t ride parts that aren’t available to the general public.

    But, that’s all hear-say, so I can’t say for sure.

  • There are plenty of wide carbon road / track drops that are found commonly in UCI-sanctioned events. There’s something else going on here re: width. And Nitto makes those in 42cm. Why would a hoss like Hoy be riding 39cm?

  • K

    i was seriously gonna post the exact same thing on RTBL about Hoy’s new bar.

    John, wide and flat bars are popular for Madisons and Points races but sprinters have never used that style of bar. they’ve always used the proper pista bend which gives you enough clearance for the knees when you’re mashing out of the saddle.

    Albert, i heard the same thing about Sky conforming to UCI regs but that doesn’t explain why Hoy’s bar is narrower this year. my theory is that he’s going to focus on the Team Sprint and Keirin for 2012. Hoy is the anchor (second man) in the Team Sprint which means he has to draft behind the first rider for the first lap, bringing the arms in to get more in that slipstream. in the Keirin, he needs to be able to nudge through reaaally tight spaces and a narrow bar helps with that too. watch his Keirin from the last World Cup in Melbourne — in the last lap, he works his way from the back of the pack to the front to take the win.

  • zfree

    But where does the meat go?

  • Callum

    Having seen chris’ and jason kenney’s bars they are actually 36cm !!

  • Another interested thing (in picture 1) look how much lower he is with the 38cm Nitto Drops. His Nitto and stem are quite a bit lower than the custom designed UK funded SKY carbon/stem bar combo (which are still UCI legal… 3 to 1 rule). I think the overall point is with different disciplines of track racing, racers will use different handlebar/stem pairings. A madison racer will use a road bar, or even something similar in a scratch race. In a Keirin or match sprint is way shorter thus a more aero but uncomfortable setup is ok.

  • rdrey

    I’m with what daniel said first in post #3. In everything, there are tradeoffs. Shoulder width bars are the most biomechanically efficient. A narrower (than shoulder width) grip is more aerodynamically efficient. There exists a bar width which has an optimized combination of the two for overall performance (power out / resistance experienced).

    What I’m trying to say is that the bro with the 39cm bar can totally cut through traffic better on his ride home from the track.

  • Kayce

    I know in lower ranks many people choose a smaller bar because it means your shoulders will bump into the other riders in a close sprint before the bars. I doubt that translates too much in the world cup, but its a real concern in local races

  • Boo

    Shoulder width also affects breathing, doesn’t it? Being extremely aerodynamic doesn’t mean much if you can’t get that oxygen to feed the engine.

  • Narrow bars make it easier to ride in between cars. Everybody knows this. Even the roid out tarck riders!

  • Peter

    I am a state and American record holding powerlifter… some of the things you said about the deadlift aren’t always true. People aren’t told to keep their grip a shoulder width apart… people train in a stance that is easy for them to lift the most weight… and for some, that means a wide stance with the legs, and a super narrow grip with their hands… or just the opposite.

    I can also assure you that the way you grip the bars and drive your pedals doesn’t feel JUST like deadlifting or cleaning… when you lift, you are using your legs and your hips in a much different manner compared to when you pedal your track bike…

    at the end of the day, having great strength and using lifts like the deadlift can help you pedal fast… there’s no doubt.

  • This one is for Daniel and Peter – as an extremely successful mediocre track racer and someone who is lucky enough to rub shoulders with people way faster than me, standing starts are a lot like a clean. Watch Hoy here for an example

    As for the finishing sprint, watch this video Hoy also carefully rocks his hip to fully open them and engage at top speed.

    While the posture may be different than a clean, the muscles engaged are largely the same. Again, I say this as someone who can barely power clean much more than my bodyweight and never had a kilo below 1:19, but Hoy and many between him and me in talent agree with me.

  • Peter

    I totally hear what you are saying, and I don’t disagree. All I am trying to say is that it’s not so technical as it was originally made out to be… I am sure that the best racers could do very very well on bars that are a little wider, a little more narrow, etc.

    I think this type of stuff gets looked at/talked about a lot… but at the end of the day, as I said before, being strong, having good form, and going fast all work together…

    I think we can all agree that these athletes are using what is comfortable to them/what they are most confident with… not because the bar width matches their deadlift grip…

  • Luke S

    Peter – we do agree. Strength, conditioning and good technique are a sure bet. And perhaps more importantly, someone once said strong people are harder to kill and more useful in general.

  • Gustav