Debatable: Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Blister Topic of the Week: Bigger Isn't Always Better
David Golay's all-time favorite handlebar — the aluminum Thomson DH

Lots of bike parts absolutely benefit from being stiffer. I’m a big fan of the new crop of burlier single crown forks — including the RockShox ZEB, Fox 38, and Manitou Mezzer Pro. My personal bikes both have carbon wheels on them, and the increase in lateral stiffness you get out of good ones is a lot of why I like them.

Handlebars aren’t one of those parts though. It’s no coincidence that my personal bikes both have 31.8mm diameter aluminum bars. For one, they just ride better — I can’t think of a single modern handlebar that I’ve thought was unduly flexy, but there are many, many out there that are way too harsh. And I just don’t notice much difference in terms of steering precision or anything like that. A little bit of give goes a long way, and less stiff bars really help there.

The same thing goes for carbon. On average, carbon bars tend to be a bit stiffer than aluminum ones, and that doesn’t help the cause any either. Sure, there are some weight savings to be found in carbon, but as we at Blister have been saying a whole lot recently, that’s not such a big deal for most riders, and I’ll take improved ride quality over 100g weight savings, no question.

Less-stiff bars pay big dividends when it comes to hand and wrist fatigue, especially on long, sustained descents. So does getting sweep and roll dialed to your preferences — there’s definitely a Tech Tip article on that whole can of worms coming at some point — but having a not-super-stiff bar to start with makes that a whole lot easier to get right.

Debatable: Bigger Isn’t Always Better, BLISTER

I’m also not saying that every 35mm bar out there is too stiff, or that every 31.8mm bar rides great. But there are way more too stiff 35mm bars out there — especially carbon ones — and far more 31.8mm ones — especially aluminum ones — that I really like. And I just don’t see any upside to going bigger. You make it harder to build in enough compliance to ride well, usually add a tiny bit of weight, and bars just aren’t a place where more stiffness over the median option out there has any performance benefit.

It’s probably also illustrative to call out what is, by far, the best riding 35mm carbon bar I’ve ever tried — the We Are One Composites Da Bar. And it’s probably not a coincidence that Da Bar isn’t truly a 35mm bar. Yes, it has a 35mm bar clamp, but it gets there by using an aluminum sleeve to increase the bar diameter at the clamping area. The carbon itself is much, much smaller in diameter. And it rides really well. It’s definitely possible to make a good 35mm carbon bar, but this comes back to my main point — only really exceptional ones ride well, but I’m usually fine with most decent quality 31.8mm aluminum ones.

Of course, diameter and material aren’t the only things at play when it comes to how a bar rides. But I’ve spent time on a lot of different bars, and all of my favorites are 31.8mm diameter aluminum options.

So what do you think? Is anyone out there really clamoring for stiffer handlebars, or am I right about this one? As always, let us know where you land in the comments.

7 comments on “Debatable: Bigger Isn’t Always Better”

  1. Since I have been riding the SQLab bars with more backsweep, I can’t go back to 8 or 9 degrees backsweep bars anymore. The SQLabs only come in 31.8.

  2. How about the flexx handlebars made by fasst company? Have you had the chance to take those out for a real test? Expensive, but sometimes I wonder if they’d make some rides way more pleasant

  3. What are your favorite 31.8 aluminum bars?

    This is totally on point cuz I have a pair of 35 aluminum e13 bars that have felt really harsh. I thought it was just the bike for a long time but now I’m thinking it might be the bars themselves.

    • The old low-rise Thomson DH bar (pictured) is my all-time favorite, but it’s unfortunately been discontinued. The Renthal Fatbar V2 is my favorite among currently-available options.

      It’s worth noting that I also tend to prefer bars with less backsweep than average, which is part of the magic (for me) of the Thomson and Renthal, at 6° and 7°, respectively. Your mileage may vary on that point.

  4. Have you tested the OneUp carbon bar yet? I’d be curious to know how they stacked up to the We Are One bar or your favorite 31.8 bar.

  5. I actually have a Renthal Fatbar carbon 35mm on my BTR Ranger and it is the best handle bar I’ve used so far on this bike, more compliant than the Thomson I had before…

  6. All true on the whole 35 mm shenanigans. Just silly.

    One Up’s carbon 35s at least have some give engineered into them. Almost like a bit of a Cannondale flexstay.

Leave a Comment