03 December 2007

bikefix Exclusive Review: Salsa Pro Moto Carbon Riser handlebar

For something that, on the surface, is a very simple product (a tube), there are surprising variety of handlebars on the market. Variations in material, rise, backsweep and upsweep, durability and stiffness mean that there are plenty of choices, some of which will be better than others.

Part of the attraction of carbon fiber as a bicycle and bicycle component material is its ability do damp high-frequency vibration. What does that mean, exactly? Well, depending on how it's used, carbon fiber has the ability to reduce the transmission of (damp) some of the road and trail buzz that aluminum transmits so well. Not convinced? Ride a carbon bar (or fork or seatpost) for a few months. Then put your old aluminum part(s) back on. Things are getting numb a bit quickly, aren't they? Thought so. Of course, carbon fiber parts tend to fail rather catastrophically and dramatically. They're also not very tolerant of ham-fisted mechanics or deep scratches. Less so than lightweight aluminum? We've broken more aluminum handlebars and seatposts than carbon, bit that could just be the industry (or ourselves) maturing.

So, carbon can be a good thing. How about riser bars then? While in theory, it doesn't matter how the grips are connected to the bike, a bit of a rise gives the bar a bit of an opportunity to flex. Compared to most flat bars (Niner, Titec FlatTracker, and Salsa flat bars excepted), risers tend to have a bit more backsweep, or bend. Essentially, your grips aren't parallel to the stem clamp- that would be awful (who owned a USE straight bar back in the day?). Some bars (Jones' and On-One's Mary bars) take this to an extreme- 40 degrees or more of backsweep, which a lot of folks find quite comfortable. Risers tend to have about 5 degrees of backsweep and 2-5 degrees upward sweep. Widths in excess of two feet (610mm) give a bit of leverage and open up the chest for easy breathing.

Which brings us to Salsa's Pro Moto Carbon Riser bars. While we're usually leery of house-brand handlebars, especially house-brand carbon, Salsa's bars are "co-engineered" by Alpha Q, who have a long history in high-end carbon fiber bike parts. This is reassuring. We've heard comments that Easton's 31.8 diameter (oversized) bars aren't as comfortable as their standard sized bars, despite similar (if not identical) geometry. We think that this could be the result of the inherently-stiffer interface between the bar and stem an material at the first bend. While the oversize standard is welcome (thanks to its greater strength and lower required clamping force), it can take away some of the comfort that folks love carbon fiber for (though none of the bling). Salsa have made a deliberate effort to return some of the spring to oversized bars. The transition bit, between the bends, isn't round as one might expect- its ovalized pretty dramatically, imparting a fair amount of flex. Actually a lot. Even the smallest rider can make this bar flex visibly if they set their mind to it. Most bigger riders find it sort of scary. Us? We like it.

Combined with a comfortable 10 degree backsweep and 6 degree up sweep, this flexible flier makes for one of the most comfortable bars we've ridden lately. We soon forgot about the flexiness, and the sweep seemed to take care of some nagging knuckle aches. When night rides rolled around, we also appreciated the wide center section- perfect for mounting lights and having them point forward. If your computer has been awkwardly mounted to a riser bend in the past, it should sit nicely here. It's about 160g light and 680mm wide, which is a lot of bar. We've got several months on ours with no problems to report- no creaking or cracking at all, and the finish seems harder than some others we've used.

Bigger riders who are hard on parts might want to steer clear, but for average weight XC riders would do well to look into the Pro Moto. 29er riders will like the 11 degree Pro Moto Carbon Flat Bar (standard clamp size) or even the aluminum version (which is also available with a 17 degree bend). The bar we rode runs ~$125, which is comparable to the competition...


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