Before mountain bikes appeared, I had never thought of positioning my handlebar other than in alignment with the steering axis; it was what I was used to from my motorcycling background.
However, there they were, these off-road bikes from the yew-ess-ov-aye, with handlebars extended out over the front wheel. Everyone raved about them, who was I to contradict the experts?
Try as I may, I simply could not get used to handlebars with a forward extension, nor could I figure out why such a relatively small aspect of a bicycle’s design should make riding it so very unwieldy and uncomfortable.
Anyway, it took me years to eventually analyse the mechanical dynamics of the tiller effect and consider why this design practice had come about in the first place. The experts are clear in their view; you cannot control steering unless your weight is over your front wheel. If this is true, then logically it should be impossible to pull a wheelie and ride on your rear wheel only, or successfully ride a unicycle. Since steering and balancing are basically the same action; you must be able to steer in order to balance, if you can’t control steering, logically you can’t balance.
This illustration shows a handlebar that is not as wide as the typical with a 100mm forward extension. When the handlebar is turned, notice how the centreline of your hands is shifted away from the centreline of the bicycle. The positions of these centrelines give an overall indication of the position of the centre-of-gravity of you and your bicycle; as you may well understand by now, controlling your centre-of-gravity is key to controlling your balance and steering.
Every time you turn a forward-extended handlebar, the tiller effect results in an unavoidable shift of your upper body, exacerbated by the typical mountain bike stretched-out posture, where both arms are fully extended.
Steering left, your left arm can bend as the handlebar moves towards you. However, your right arm, already fully extended, has to stretch further forward, pulling your shoulder and upper body with it, thus forcing both an unwanted centreline sideways shift and forward weight shift.
This handlebar forward extension idea comes from cycle racing on a smooth race track or road; it was what mountain bike innovators were used to with their roadie backgrounds. In that context a ‘fixed’ rider position is most efficient and speed the imperative. This centreline sideways shift is advantageous; the rider can initiate a turn without altering their body position very much, allowing them to maintain power input and speed output.
Riding relatively slowly on uneven terrain is a different matter altogether. For instance, you may wish to wiggle around a rock, but continue in the same direction. If, when doing this, you also shift your centre-of-gravity, you’re initiating an unwanted turn, which you have to fight to correct. Could it be that many riders prefer a bit of a battle with steering? Certainly their excessively wide handlebars which exacerbate the problem whilst giving the illusion of greater control, will make their rides seem more dramatic.
The Landseer’s handlebar is aligned with the steering axis, so there is little, or no, sideways centreline shift when steering, with the minimum of effort your centre-of-gravity remains where you want it.
Additionally, the Landseer’s hand position is fairly close to the saddle; there’s plenty of flexibility in your arms. Whether you’re just keeping balanced when almost stationary, avoiding a small hazard on a downhill thrash or hanging a corner at speed, you always have that same flexibility and centre-of-gravity control; you don’t have to fight for balance.
What about steering geometry?
Click here to go to the beginning of the whole story.