If you want a bar that’s ergonomic, gives you control in almost every situation (except extreme mountain biking), gives you multiple hand positions, and looks rad… read on!
Time is a memory-eraser. The progression of time clouds our link to the past. Studying the past doesn’t have to be about nostalgia, it should be about realizing that many of the problems we currently face have already been solved. Often the solutions are all but forgotten. We are not revisionists. It is dangerous to view the ideas of history in a glorified light. Revisionist thinking can be the seeds of some pretty un-rad thoughts.
We should take the lessons and ideas of the past and keep the best bits, swirl them with our leaps in technology, and make super sweet bikes. Attain new heights by standing on the shoulders of giants. Some examples of past solutions that still make sense today: Passive heating and cooling of housing, achieved by paying attention to wind patterns, air flow and sun exposure. Wool clothing. Leather shoes. Composting toilets. The list goes on. Bikes can, but often don’t, make use of this concept. Here’s a few examples of the industry failing to learn from the past: paired spoke wheels (100 year old concept, failed then and guess what? Fails now.), oval chainrings (ditto), hyper proprietary frame designs (ditto2).
Handlebars are a prime example of where we often overlook great designs in favor of what can only be described as a plethora of crappy designs. Almost every road bar currently made is lacking in some way or another, and the same is true for mountain bars. The height of the bars is awful too, but that’s explored in another article. 100 years ago riders rode steel bikes on terrible, awful terrain. Rocky, muddy, steep roads. They rode long distances with simple equipment. But they already knew what a drop bar should look like. Then we forgot until the late 1980’s. And then we forgot again for 20 more years. Now, finally!, we’re remembering what makes a good bar. The industry is marketing an old idea (drop bars with flare) as a new one. Nonetheless, adventure bars, gravel bars and dirt drop bars are an old idea that we’re super delighted to have back around.
Here’s a quick primer on drop handlebar anatomy.
Road bars can be lumped into 3 basic categories: (brace yourself) retro-styled-randonneuring bars (Nitto Noodle, Compass Bars), contemporary-compact-bars with short reaches and mid-depth drops, and then there’s crappy, horrible, awful (yikes, we get the point!) 80s, 90s and early 2000s bars. Rando bars are nice, if you like a ridiculously long reach, with brake levers in the next state. Rando bars actually work fine for athletic folks, who are also yoga masters, and happen to have long arms and torsos.
Contemporary compact are are the best of the lot, but they often have a few issues: ugly finish (can’t get around that sometimes), and often no flare in the drops. No flare means when you are in the drops, the tops of the bar bruise your forearms. Never had that happen you say? That’s cause you only ride in the hoods. If the tops of your bars were high, like seat level or higher, you could ride in the drops and not be gasping for breath like a goldfish that decided to check out what life was like outside the bowl.
Finally there’s those ungodly 90’s bars that had one or more terrible features: steep ramps, ugly finishes, deep drops, non ergonomic ergo bends, long reach and a real lack o’ strength.
Here’s what flare should look like: