Is your handlebar position working against you?
At Ride Engineering we pay close attention to handlebar position and bar mount height. You’d be surprised just how much a few millimeters from stock can make to improve your body position and overall control. Keeping the bars neutral is another important aspect. By this we mean keeping the bars parallel to the forks within a few degrees. Drastically changing them by raising the bars 25mm or more or moving them forward that much can have a totally adverse effect. This article’s main focus is to explain where the “sweet spot” is for maximum control reinforcing the proper riding position on track or trail.
The first thing you want to do is pick a handlebar bend that you are comfortable with. Evaluate the stock bar height and sweep (how far the ends come toward you). Generally on current models, the SXFs come with low bars, The CRFs & KXFs with high bars, the RMZs are medium and the YZFs mid-high. Anyone with a little riding experience should have a basic idea if they feel high, low or somewhat comfortable. Protaper and Renthal both have charts to show you all the dimensions. So between the dimensions listed on-line, your stock bars and asking your riding buddies, you should be able to find a handlebar that suites you. Typically a lower bar will allow you to “muscle” the bike more but it should still be relative to your height. For example at my 5’6” stature I like the lowest bends. Currently my favorite handlebar is the Husqvarna bend Pro Taper Evo. It has a 80mm height at the ends and a little less sweep that my old favorite, the Pro Taper Carmichael. If you’re a bit taller you may like the SX Race bend with a height of 87mm. Those over 6’, may like the stock Honda bars at 97mm tall (Renthal 971). Now since each bike is different, your favorite bar may still need further adjustment. For example I love the Husky bar on a Husky or KTM with the stock bar height, but on the 2017 CRF450r, I preferred it 5mm lower. Now on my current 2018 RMZ450, I prefer them 5mm higher. I tried the SX Race bend with the stock bar mount height, but they felt too tall for me even though the net difference was only 2mm more (maybe it was the sweep?).
Click photo to change size and caption
Path to Protaper’s Handlebar Dimensions: https://www.protaper.com/product/36/evo-handlebars/black
In every case due to my short arms, I run the bar mounts in the back position. This gives me a good head over the bars posture and maximum control of the bike. Incidentally the forward holes that come on a stock KXF and YZF triple clamps are too far forward for most riders. Before you start shaking your head and telling me the OEMs wouldn’t design it that way if that were true, let me explain further. Because they use a rubber mounting design, which I agree is way better than the old metal on metal system, they have no choice but to put the forward holes 25-30mm out. The rubber cones are over an inch in diameter so it’s not physically possible to provide a second mounting position any closer than that. Remember KTM used to have two positions. But back then it was only a 10mm bolt hole so it was possible to add a second hole 15mm away. Then by using an offset bar mount you could make changes in 5mm increments. Now that they also offer a rubber cone system, they have eliminated the forward position all together.
All Ride Engineering bar mounts are typically made the same height as stock (except the YZ bar mounts which are the same as the 2017 and older stock mounts and 5mm lower than the 2018) with plus or minus 3mm of adjustability forward or back. We also offer 5mm and 10mm spacer kits to raise our mounts (Ride bar mounts come with posts that unscrew to allow for a height adjustment or to replace in the event they are bent in a crash). Aftermarket bar mounts that are 20 or more millimeters higher that stock are going to put the rider in a less than ideal riding position. Many steering dampers also have this adverse effect. They mount over the stem nut and under the handlebar so often raising the bar is the only way to make clearance (Ride Eng. offers a damper kit that mounts behind the front number plate, allowing one to keep the bar height standard). Some riders like to go on mellow trail rides for a couple of hours and have found really tall handlebars add comfort. The problem lies when you come across a rider heading in your direction or an unforeseen obstacle that needs an instantaneous reaction. A poor riding posture can contribute to a crash or getting injured. If that happens the added comfort will be the last thing on your mind.
Here’s how a few fast guys with a lot of riding experience set up their riding position:
Sean Lipanovich - Pro
5’5” - 150lb - 27 yrs old
Years riding: 12 yrs old to present
Current ride: 2017 KTM450sxf
Sean has raced professional supercross and motorcross, finished in the top 25 at the 2016 USGP, won the 25+ class at the 2017 Vet World championships and now trains young riders for SL MX School. He’s always couching riders to “put your head over the bars, squeeze the bike with your knees and be on the balls of your feet.”
“I run the stock KTM handlebars (78mm tall) in the back position (bar mounts rotated back) with the Ride Eng. bar mount that is the same height as stock with the bars neutral (not rotated forward or back) to the forks. I feel this gives me the most control of the bike to get on the gas harder.”
Kris Keefer - Pro
6’ – 170lbs – 40 yrs old
Years riding: 9 yrs old to present
Favorite bike: 2018 YZ450F
At 24 years old, Kris started his testing career with Yamaha Motor Corporation which led him to a position at Dirt Rider magazine as associate editor, then eventually to Senior Test editor. Today he’s doing his own testing and pod casts as a new business owner for keeferinctesting.com. Throughout his career he’s raced professional motocross and supercross, the Canadian nationals, Vet World and Loretta Lynn’s.
“I use the SX Race bend on my YZ450F with last year’s bar mounts (5mm lower) in the back hole with the mounts rotated forward. I like to keep the bars fairly neutral and coach others to do the same. If you have your bars rotated too far back, it’s harder to get your weight forward on the bike when entering corners. If you have them rotated too far forward where the ends are pointing up, you don’t have the right leverage to initiate the turn.”
Ted Campbell - Pro
6’ – 210lbs – 42 yrs old
Years riding: 12yrs old to present
Current bike: 2017 CRF450r
Ted has traveled the world racing professional supercross and motorcross and has made many lifelong friends because of dirt bikes. He obtained his first pro national number in 1999 and kept a top 100 number for 6-7 years of his professional racing career.
“I use the Mika Metal’s RC bend (this is a tall bar at 105mm), and like to set up my bike with my bars just behind the forks (bar mounts rotated back) in the neutral position so I can get over the front of the bike. I feel I have more control turning and it puts me more in the attack position. I run my bars back further than most being 6’ tall but it gives me the ability to really feel comfortable turning and leaning the bike over as I’m on top of the bars more.” Ted added a set of Ride Eng. CRf triple clamps which did lower the bar position 5mm and moved it 3mm forward from stock.
Cody Webb - Pro
6’ 3” – 185lbs – 29 yrs old
Years riding: 3yrs old to present
Current bike: 2017 350EXC
Cody is the 2010 AMA National Trials champion, 2014 and 2017 AMA Endurocross champion and has finished on the podium or won numerous other off-road races like the 2017 Erzberg Rodeo where he finished in 3rd place.
“I run the PHDS bar mount system (these have +/- 5mm of adjustability) with the Renthal 996 handlebars (93mm tall) on Neken triple clamps with no added bar risers although sometimes I hit my knees on the bars. We place the bar mount in the forward hole (these have two 10mm holes for adjustment) with the bar mounts rotated back. If I have the stock clamps on my practice bike, I run the mounts in the forward position. I also like the bars just a hair rolled back from the neutral position.” Cody’s race results speak for themselves and his “average Joe” set up works great even for a guy 6’3” tall (he only raised his bars 15mm from the stock height).
I hope this helps everyone understand regardless of your stature, you shouldn’t increase your bar height or move the bars forward too drastically. Small increments of 5mm is ideal. In many cases such as mine lowering the bars will be far more beneficial in reinforcing proper riding posture, getting your head over the bars and maintaining optimal control of your dirt bike. Happy riding.