Wider bars and shorter stem make my XC 29’er hardtail into an all-mountain bike. Kind of.

My Trek Gary Fisher X-Cal 29'er with wider bars and shorter stemMy 2011 Trek Gary Fisher X-Cal 29’er hardtail is going to have to do duty as an all-mountain bike this year because A) I’d like to ride one or more gravity enduros; and B) I can’t afford full squish yet.

So this past week, I upgraded to a:

(I’m somewhat less than mechanically-inclined so I needed a little rescuing from Stew Moyer & Ryan Hutchinson at Mike’s Bikes.)

I rode all of Lebanon Hills Mountain Bike Trail yesterday and I can tell already: the wider bars and shorter stem is a change for the better.  It felt awkward at first but I quickly realized that the wider bars helped to keep my arms bent and chest down more which translated to more leverage and stability when hitting rocks and roots at speed.  The shorter stem seemed to help me keep my hips ‘hinged’ more instead of crouching.  All that translates to being more in the attack/ready position.

I was a little worried about hitting trees, since my old bars were 625mm.  But it turned to not be a problem, as I’m pretty good at reflexively leaning my bike anyway.

I was most concerned about how it would affect my technical riding. I was relieved when I cleaned Leb’s long, twisting log skinny on my first attempt.  But I didn’t immediately feel confident riding over big rocks and and off ledges.  My timing seemed off.  I’m too worried, though. It’s a big change and I should be able to adapt.

Lots out there on the interwebs about these changes. Just search on the words ‘wider bars shorter stem’ to get started. Blog posts by mtb instructors Lee McCormack (here) and Gene Hamilton (here) helped convince me. Another good blog post here on the topic by AimFor Harkor.



  1. Jake said:

    Sounds like a good move Griff! You can always cut the bars down a bit too if need be. I’m running 720mm and about to bump up to 740mm. Happy trails.

    April 19, 2015
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Jake, it probably would have been better for me to move up to wider bars more gradually like you rather than the big jump from 625mm to 780mm. But I got a good deal on these bars (slightly used) and you’re right, I can cut them down a bit. But right now, I’m enjoying the difference. Feels like a new bike!

    April 19, 2015
  3. JD Dallager said:

    Griff: I like the AimForHarkor idea of getting the wider bars and then slowly moving the grips/brakes/shifters inboard BEFORE deciding what works best for you. THEN CUT.

    Also, the “measure your shoulder width in centimeters and then add 30 cm. as a starting point on bar width” worked well for me.

    April 23, 2015
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    JD, I’ll measure my shoulder width to see if I’m close on that rule of thumb. But after riding some difficult rock drops over the weekend, I’m not likely to go smaller. Huge difference in stability and I’m comfortable with the width now.

    April 27, 2015
  5. David said:

    What do you think so far? I did a very similar swap going to a 730MM wide bar last spring and 60MM stem (same as yours) this spring I came from a 680mm bar / 90mm stem, so it was not a drastic change. Here are my pros / cons…

    – Really sharpened the handling and allows me to get the bike leaned over in the corner. Perfect for all things Theo, especially the North Loop.
    – Just feels better. After riding lots of demo bikes and getting a 730MM bar on my fat bike, I really like how my riding position feels.

    – My technical ability on this setup has gone downhill in a really bad way. Rock gardens are especially difficult as I have a hard time leaning the bike when it wants to steer so quickly. This wasn’t a problem until I got the shorter stem.
    – Handling feels very twitchy on climbs, especially any climb where I need to lift the front end like at the Leb staircase in the XX loop.
    – 730MM seems plenty wide for some of the narrow openings we go through at Murphy especially. I’d be afraid of going much wider.



    June 2, 2015
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    David, I continue to be pleased with the change. I’ve nicked a few trees but no disastrous collisions yet.

    The big test for drops and misc technical downhill terrain was riding Piedmont’s NIMBY cluster in Duluth. Much more stability.

    I rode all of Leb last week and had no trouble on the staircase or my most challenging lines through the X and XX rock gardens. So I’m not sure why you’re experiencing a decline on the technical stuff. Could it be you’ve not yet ridden that type of terrain enough? That’s the trouble I had for the first couple of weeks after I changed.

    I have one other thought but I’ll await your reply first.

    June 3, 2015
  7. David Starrs said:

    Griff, You are probably correct that I’m not riding as much technical terrain on this bike since making the change. I have much more fun and lower crash rate when I use my fat bike for technical riding days. Seems like my skinny bike has been relegated to going fast and making turns!

    However, I’d still like to explore why certain aspects of my handling went to crap when I got a shorter stem…. likely just rider error.


    June 4, 2015
  8. Griff Wigley said:

    So that means we’ve got to schedule a session of sessioning at Leb soon!

    June 4, 2015

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