31 March 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: Syntace Vector Carbon handlebar

After a season riding Salsa's wide, 10 degree sweept Moto Ace carbon bar on my geared bike, I got back on the single speed and, well, the old MonkeyLite carbon bars weren't feeling so great. I caught myself rotating my hands on the bar to relieve pinkie numbness, and with my half of a 24 hour race rapidly approaching, I bit the bullet and ordered one of Syntace's sweepy (12 degree) low-rise Vector Carbon handlebars.

You don't see much Syntace stuff in shops, and it's really a shame. While their adjustable rise/reach VRO system never quite caught on, they make some really well thought out and built components. Being German (not to stereotype or anything), they're also quite vigorous about their testing. The company spends quite a bit of time on product development, testing and certification and the result are some almost worryingly light stems and bars that actually seem to hold up very well in use. Case in point: their downhill approved stem (the Force 139) weighs in at 128g (90mm length). While folks regularly cast aspersions on carbon fiber components' strength and durability, Syntace has thumbed their collective nose at the naysayers and produced a 190g carbon fiber handlebar that is 4-bolt stem friendly and is certified to the German VR-3 downhill mountain biking standard. Did I mention that it's 680mm wide? With 12 degrees of backsweep? That's right. A 190g, wider than wide sweepy downhill bar made of plastic. Awesome.

While 31.8mm bars are less prone to crushing than standard 25.4mm diameter bars (thanks in part to the lower clamping force needed to keep them from moving), Syntace have gone one better wrapped the clamping area in a titanium lattice to resist even moderately ham-fisted mechanics. The remainder of the bar is made up of a rather nice looking carbon fiber without the cosmetic woven carbon fiber layer that people commonly associate with the material (see the headset spacers in the top photo). In this particular bar, Syntace have chosen not to reinforce the ends with the Ti mesh, so bar ends are a no-no. The rise is almost nonexistant at about 10mm- this is good for people with 29ers or plenty of steerer tube, but not so good for boulevard cruisers or those who've cut a bit too much from their steerer. Unless you're coming from a flat bar, some adjustment will almost certainly be needed. All of this adds up to one stiff bar. Compared to the Salsa or even the industry standard Easton MonkeyLite, there's no noticeable flex- even when hauling on the bars single in a speed stylie. Counter intuitively, the glossy finish seems to hold onto non-locking grips better than Easton's matte finish, and after installing some used Ritchey TrueGrip V's on them with an air compressor, they haven't budged.

As you can see from the pictures, there's a lot of bar here. There's plenty of room for brakes, shifters, lockouts, computers and bells. Unfortunately, though, from its center the bar tapers for quite some distance. This meant that my lights don't have great purchase on the bar no matter where I put them and I needed to move the computer to the stem. As far as complaints go, that's fairly minor (but also easily fixed on Syntace's end). On real stuttery trails, I do miss the visible give in the Salsas, but it's not a huge issue, and they're still better than aluminum bars in that respect (actually, they're better in all respects save price). Finally, with around 60mm of backsweep, you may want to pair them with a slightly longer stem than you're used to to get your hands in the same place. They're priced at about $130, which is comparable to other good quality carbon bars. The hardest part about buying them is finding a pair. My local shop ordered them from BTI, but I had to wait a month while they were out of stock. Ultimately, I'm glad that I did.

marc

www.syntace.com

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