Skapegoat Bob Bars And The Case For Bike Fitting

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I’ve been holding off writing anything about Skapegoat’s Bob Scerbo bars for a little while, not least for their rich yet turbulent history that has already been well documented (let’s break it down briefly for anyone who’s not up to speed; GT made them originally, Bob had his Animal signature bars made in their image, Animal made them bigger for the masses, Bob didn’t like that, 7.8″ versions stopped being made, everyone missed them, a few imitations and variations got made, Bob didn’t like that either so he had some made by S&M under his Skapegoat brand) but because I knew a follow up to the original DIG Bob bar article would surely surface sooner or later.  In said ‘Opinionated‘ article, Brian Tunney brings up some interesting points about bar sizes and angles and speculates as to why some people may or may not still be into these iconic street-specific bars.  While there are things in his article I may disagree with to a small degree, the discussion about bar sizes and angles is a subject often avoided that I and many others take a great amount of interest in.

The 7.8″ rise is something that is seen as relatively low these days but when first released, S&M’s Slam bars were pretty much the biggest bar available and they were only 8″ high and generally seen as huge.  As far as ‘small’ bars go; these are actually on the larger side.  With the aide of a riser stem, a headset spacer or two, a low bottom bracket and a short, snappy rear end, there’s no reason the low rise of Bob bars should deter anyone with concerns about getting a bad back.   The slightly ‘aggressive’ upsweep of 5 degrees could probably be attributed to the slacker head angles of the early 2000’s where 75 degrees was pretty much dubbed ‘flatland geometry’ for a while (75.25+ degrees was just plain obscure) Mellower head angles would have meant 5 degrees of upsweep would have followed the angle of your arms to your shoulders better as you pulled upwards on them in hops, icepicks etc…  This could lead to feeling rather odd on a frame with a steep head angle as the upsweep would be angled more vertically rather than towards your shoulders, not to mention that some people ‘Chicago’ their bars. This might be why people’s wrists start feeling a little battered when putting bars with more upsweep on their newer frames, wrists get bent like you’re tossing salad…  This could quite easily be remedied with a larger front tyre and/or a smaller rear tyre to counteract a frame with a steep head angle.  Another reason for the slightly atypical angles could be the influence of x-up grinds/manuals on Bob’s riding, of which are made a lot less uncomfortable by having less sweep and an upsweep to better follow the unusual hand position of such tricks.

Most people have a good idea of what size bars or frame fits them and how the different angles and measurements effect their riding; little charts are popping up everywhere in catalogues, retailer’s websites showing what frame sizes are best for which body types/ heights.  We’ve come a long way from the days of ‘oh, that’ll do’ to something more coherent and professional but there is still a long way to go.  The measurement that I feel goes unmentioned a lot (in regards to how a bike ‘feels’ rather than how it ‘rides’) is the difference between your bar height from the floor and your bottom bracket height to the floor; essentially the vertical distance between your hands and your feet when your cranks are level.  I have no clue what this measurement is called so I’m just going to call it the ‘effective height’.  For example; my bike’s bars are around 39.5″ from the ground and my BB is 11.5″ high giving an effective height of (39.5-11.5=) 28″.  To give a comparison as to what that might be like, I run huge 9.6″ high bars with a 36mm rise stem and headset spacers a’plenty accompanied by a super low BB (that would translate into around 27.4″ if you were running a slightly more modest 9″ bar) You get the idea… I am far from hunched over.  I’d even say it was too high for my average 5ft 11″ frame.  Let’s say I wanted to reduce the effective height from 28″to 27.6″, I could take out a 10mm headset spacer.  Bringing it down to about 27.4″ would require a front load stem instead, the two combined would bring it down to 27″.  A frame with a 11.8″ BB height would bring it to 26.7″ (or 26.1 if you run 9″ bars)
OR I could have just thrown on some Bob Bars and just lowered it by 1.8″ to 26.2″ and thrown on a bigger front tyre for good measure.  With good, strong riser stems coming onto the market, if there ever was a good time to ride smaller bars, it’s now.

Tunney mentions in his Opinionated article that in his conversations with a bio-mechanist that having your bars too big can mess up how you absorb shocks from hard landings, arguing that with smaller bars you’re more likely to dissipate the stress equally over your body rather than taking the brunt of the impact with your arms, shoulders and back.  While I am inclined to agree 100% with Tunney’s theory, in my personal experience large impacts where always hardest on wrists and ankles whereas all the back problems I ever had were due to straining on manuals, taps and hops on an unsuitably heavy bike with low bars, a high BB, short TT and a long rear end rather than from heavy impacts.  I think the main lesson that you can take away is that the small child riding a bike with a set of Perfect 10s and a 21″ TT will probably suffer just as much as the 6ft5 behemouth riding a bike with low bars and a high BB, which exacerbated by a long rear end creates a ‘short lever’ effect that requires more effort to lift the front end up.  That said, there is always a good and a bad way to set up your bike, and it’s different for everybody.  Some people will have almost identical body types and even ride exactly the same way but will have totally different feeling bikes as everybody holds their weight differently.

While we generally know what our bikes are going to feel like on a component-to-component basis, putting them together to actually compliment the other parts of your bike and body to create a safe, enjoyable and beneficial ride is another kettle of fish altogether; and one we’re only just starting to get the hang of.  Our bikes are made to such a high quality now, the only real room for improvement is in the fitting of them to increase the amount of time we can ride for in the long term (aided by some sound dietary advice; but I think that’s an article for JJ Palmere to write…) While in road cycling and even race BMX, bike fitting is a lot easier due to the simplistic ‘go fast’ nature of the riding itself, freestyle BMX is never going to be as simple due to the numerous sub-disciplines of riding, not to mention that everybody utilises the angles on their bikes differently for different tricks, styles, speeds, terrains and body types.  It’s hard to find any exact science behind what kind of bike you should ride but at the same time it’s good to add to the conversation and that’s why I loved reading Tunney’s article.  If I had to give any advice on the matter I’d say; trust your own judgement rather than following what your peers might say, so the chances are if you really feel like you could benefit from riding a set of Bob Bars because yours are too tall or too wide, then you’re probably right.

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