- Not that long ago (this archived photo is from the beginning of the 11-speed cogset era), I not only stuck to classic-bend bars, but I insisted on having the drops be horizontal and the levers be far down on the curve. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
- The next stage in my evolution was to angle the drops toward the rear brake bridge, but you’d still have to pry my cold, dead hands from my classic-bend Deda Campione bar and onto a more modern bend. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
- This carbon IRD bar has the reverse bump in the drop that constrains the hand to only certain positions, and a shape at the top that won’t allow the lever to come up any higher. Needless to say, it’s not on my bike anymore. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
- Now I run my road bars higher, with a level top and levers. I choose bars with a short reach, a shallow drop, and a smooth, ergo bend to the drops. This is a 205g 44cm c-c Ritchey SuperLogic EvoCurve with a 130mm/75mm drop and reach. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
- It used to be that I’d never consider a bar with a sweep to it, because then the center of the stem didn’t uniquely determine the forward position of the hands on the tops. But now I love the position that the 4-degree sweep puts my hands and wrists on this 44cm c-c Ritchey SuperLogic EvoCurve bar. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
- I’m equally happy with the short reach and shallow drop of this aluminum Zipp Service Course SL bar. Set up with the top forward projection level and the SRAM Red 22 HRR hydraulic levers coming straight off them gives me comfortable hand positions. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
- For cyclocross, I have the same saddle and stem position as on my road bikes, but I prefer my levers higher to give more steering control on bumpy descents with my hands on the tops of the hoods. This 195g 46cm (outside-to-outside) Deda Superleggera bar has Deda¹s RHM (Rapid Hand Movement) short and shallow (75/130mm) bend with a smooth curve that I now like. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
- This 209g 46cm c-c Easton EC90 SLX3 bar has the same 75/130mm reach and drop as the Ritchey EvoCurve and the Deda Superleggera with a similar smooth ergo curve. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
- For cyclocross, I like my Easton EC90 SLX3 bars on both bikes tipped up more and the levers high to give a confident steering position more like the bar ends on a mountain bike. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
- Many of today’s pros prefer bars with a classic round bend. Peter Sagan doesn’t insist on the drops being horizontal, however. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
- Just as a smooth curve in a handlebar was all a tube bender could do in Coppi’s day, a lace was the only way to secure a shoe. But having tried to go back to laces for nostalgia reasons, I realized that these modern closures are a big improvement on laces. I am no longer tempted to go back. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
I have long been a stickler about only riding with a classic, round handlebar bend. I knew that there was no need to even try anything other than the “Merckx bend,” because Eddy Merckx knew how to grip a handlebar better than anybody.
Of course, having part of my job the past 30 years be testing bike equipment, I’ve certainly had plenty of “ergo bend” bars on my bikes. But I was always eager to go back to the classic round bend. I also avoided road bars with a back sweep, flare, or raised tops; how could you establish the same position you had before if the bar came back toward you or bent upward from the stem clamp? You’d have to drop the stem around accordingly for the raised sections, and it couldn’t do anything about the sweep or flare …
A couple of things happened recently, however, that caused me to rethink my position (pun intended) on the subject. One is that the bends on the bars got better. I must not be the only one who thought that early ergo bend bars, with the big reverse bump in the drops, were a bummer, because you don’t see any of them around anymore. And when Lance Armstrong started showing up with his brake levers sticking up super high, I cringed at it just like I did at his tall, black socks. But other riders followed, and the bar bends adapted so that they accommodated high brake levers.
The other thing that happened is that I became older, and while that may be a gradual thing, I find that the changes seem more abrupt, almost from one day to the next. One day, you find that your hands, back, shoulders, and neck can’t take what they used to, just like you suddenly find yourself looking for reading glasses when you want to read the length stamped on a crankarm, the recommended bolt torque imprinted on a stem, or the label on a wine bottle.
I never questioned having the drops of my handlebars level and the brake levers clamped well down on the curve of the bar. It seemed fine that my hands slid down the drops to land on the top of the lever hoods, just like Eddy’s did.
Now, however, my hands go numb when they get pinched for a long time in the smooth curve of a classic-bend bar where there is no support under the center of the palm. And I find that I’m happier when the top of the forward projection of the bar is horizontal (rather than having the drop be horizontal), giving my hands a nice platform behind the lever. The lever, which I set to angle up from this platform, I can grab like a handshake, rather than having my wrist bend as my hand slides down the curve to land on the lever hood.
And where I always wanted the deepest drop and greatest reach I could find in a bar, now my back, neck and shoulders are happier with less reach and drop. And I don’t sprint in the drops anymore in a way that causes my forearms to hit the tops in a shallow-bend bar.
To keep up with the times, I of course end up with carbon bars on many of my bikes, but I bemoaned their shapes. I was pleased when Deda came out with the Merckx-bend Campione bar in carbon, and I used that for many years. Now it seems kind of silly to have a bar molded in this shape, because the reason for the shape of a classic bar is that the tube benders back in the day were not very sophisticated and could only bend an aluminum tube in a constant-radius curve.
I had a similar experience of misguided nostalgia when cycling shoes with rigid soles and three threaded cleat holes began appearing. Nostalgic for my old lace Sidis that had always fit like a glove, I got some lace Marresi Eroicas that accepted modern cleats. I was sorely disappointed to discover that laces just don’t do the trick nearly as well as modern straps, buckles, and/or twist closures. I once again recalled that even back in the day, I couldn’t tighten my beloved lace Sidis as much as I wanted to over the instep, because then they would be too tight around the ball of the foot.
After a few pedal strokes, the tension on all of the laces is the same, but if you like some parts of your foot to be constrained more tightly than others, you don’t have that option with a lace shoe unless you lace different sections of the shoe separately, using multiple laces. I smile when I see the current resurgence of lace shoes (in bright colors, no less) in the pro peloton. For fit and performance reasons, I don’t see that as likely to be more than a passing fad.