Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Idea of the "All-Rounder" Bar

I discovered the Origin-8 "Adventure Touring" bar while flipping through a catalog at work yesterday.  I immediately started building a bike around them in my head.  To be fair to myself though, they do look pretty cool.  I've been liking the swept flat bars on the Quickbeam, feel like they give that "upright yet speedy" thing on that bike that I was searching for, and now seem to have found.  But being a well-heeled touring cyclist, I'm naturally wary of putting flat bars on a bike that I'm going to ride more than a few miles  "But, but, I need multiple hand positions!!!" my mind says.  Never mind the endurance mountain bikers that do this kind of stuff on flat or riser bars.  I'm not riding as long as them.
Grant Petersen's famous illustration of Moustache bar hand positions from the 1993 Bridgestone Catalog
This is why I think I've always found the Nitto Moustache bar intriguing.  I keep coming back to this idea of the all-rounder and the all-rounder bar, as a basically level and flat bar...i.e. not a drop bar, that can allow good hand and body positions for urban, road, and off-road riding.  Something that is comfortable enough, and has enough variety, for longer rides.

Me riding Midge bars in the Olympic Mountains

I was attracted to flared drop bars, and rode the On-One Midge for a long time, I think, in theory because they in their very description were all-rounder bars, drop bars that could be used offroad.  But they are something different it turns out, and while I now have the tools to fit them correctly (I probably had the reach right on the last iteration of the trek, but not the balance), they aren't really what I'm looking for.   Is it just aesthetics?  No, it's a fit thing too----flared drops need a very specialized reach setup, something that won't work for me on a lot of bikes.

An old Peugeot "PX-3" of Sheldon Brown's, with what he describes as "GB All Rounder handlebars"

I keep coming back to the IDEA of all-rounder bars as what I'm looking for...the ideal handlebar I'm searching for, for the to-be-built custom, whatever it may be.  They are flat so they don't need tons of rise to be comfortable for me.  They are swept back in the primary (braking) grip area so the reach is manageable for me with ~60cm top tubes and level 100-120mm stems.

Writing this now, I look on my last couple of years of hard-core roadie-dom a bit more generously.  Yes, I was a bit more "serious" about it, but being "serious" about it allowed me a couple of things to focus on: first off, it got me off of the flared drop kick, which was making things more complicated fit-and-aesthetics wise, and it allowed me to focus on normal-ish drop bars, just getting fit right on them as a starting point.  Secondly, it allowed me "get serious" about bike fit, and delve into the subject more deeply, which I think overall has had positive consequences.  So taking the Casseroll "seriously" as a road bike was a way to teach myself some things.  And now, I feel like I'm getting a handle on those things, so naturally my mind is wandering on to the next things.  I guess this is what learning feels like. 


  1. This is a long ass comment, sorry for that but It's interesting to hear from someone else who seems to have gone through a somewhat similar thought evolution with regards to fit and trying different types bars. I too was (and still am to some extent) enamored with flared drop bars after learning of them from matt chester and since have mostly moved to more traditional drop bars for my roadish bikes.

    The point of departure for me is that I've always thought of midge bars and other extreme flared drops more as off road specific drop bars that happen to be alright for riding on the road than "all rounders". I was interested in them because I wanted drops that were awesome for more mountain bikey (singletrack!) pursuits because I was just more comfortable on drops and disliked flat bars. I also wanted to be able to comfortably ride the 5-10 miles to the trails and be able to do an all day ride with some relatively serious singletrack and a bunch of fire roads and pavement mixed in.

    The midge bars worked great for this for me for a number of years (having a custom hunter that put them in the right place helped a lot) but when salsa came out with the cowbell bars they seemed like what I had been looking for in the first place. They are pretty awesome for actual singletrack in the drops, while having waaay more usable tops and hoods and allowing for a more standard fit without wacky stem or super long head tubes and have replaced the midges on my monster cross combined with a less risey, 7 versus 25 degrees, stem.

    As far as a flat all rounder bar goes, I have been really into the surly open bar for the past few years for my adventurey/travel bike. I too was initially scared off by the lack of multiple hand positions but for me the angle is just right to avoid numbness and if I do feel like moving my hands around I just put them on the curve of the bar in front of the brake levers. It also seems to dampen vibration pretty nicely being that it's wide and pretty light weight steel.

    1. Hi Miles- No problem at all with the long comment. I want this blog to be a place for discourse!

      We definitely did seem to follow a similar evolution, including being influenced by mc's love of the flared drop (see my earlier "Inspiration: mc" post). I also used had a fixed gear town bike with Nitto "All-Rounder" bars (these guys) that were similar to Open Bars, if not as wide. Loved that thing, and used to use the forward sections of the bar as an "aero" position for battling headwinds down Howard St. in SOMA.

      I 100% agree about the Cowbells too--I just mounted up a pair to my road bike and they're they best drop bars I've tried in a while. It's like salsa combined all of the best aspects of full-on flared drops, rando bars, and contemporary compact bend bars in one awesome package.

      I'm not sure why I have this idea, but I keep coming back to the idea that an "all-rounder" bar isn't a drop bar, but rather a flat bar that allows multiple hand positions. I think that things like the Open Bar and Rivendell/Nitto's new "Bosco" Bar have similar thinking behind them, but like flared drops, both also need a fairly specific geometry (long TT, short HT?) for them to give anything but a bolt-upright position in the primary hand position. Which is cool too, if that's what you're looking for.

  2. Have you tried the jones h-bars at all? I've had the titec copies on my actual mountain bike for a few years now and I love the multiple hand positions they provide. The newer loop version of that bar seems even better ( I haven't tried em on a cross/all rounder bike yet because I've been pretty happy with the open bars, but at some point I probably will.

    Maybe it owes to my being pretty average in height (5' 11") and proportions but I've not found longer top tubes to be totally essential when setting up swept back bars. I just use longish stems, my travel bike when set up with drops uses a 100/7* stem with 50 or so mm of spacers, but when I use open bars on it I use a 120 or 130mm/7* stem with maybe 25-30mm of spacers. I know some people think longer stems can make the bike handle weird (or have an aesthetic aversion to them) but with swept back bars I think it's better to have a longer stem than a super long top tube, because with a shorter stem your hands end up behind the steering axis of the bike which tends to (depends on overall bike geometry of course) end up biasing the weight distribution of the bike too much to the rear. This is also something that I like about that new jones loop bar is that it sweeps forward significantly and then back allowing for a shorter/average length stem than would normally be needed.

    1. I haven't tried the Jones bars and their various licensed and unlicensed copies (Soma just came out with one in 4130 that looks nice), but they have intrigued me. Not just his bars but Jones' overall approach to bike designs definitely jives with my sensibilities. If I did more full-on MTBing I'd probably be looking at one of his bikes.

      I should dig up a picture of my old beater town bike. With swept back bars it fit great, but it had kind of a wonky geometry--72 parallel made even slacker by a longer retrofitted fork. It measured at 62cm but it had a fairly short headtube, and just enough fork extension above the headtube to clamp a stem, that's it. I had those swept-back Nittos on a 135 minus 15 degree stem (IIRC), and that felt good.

      I was hoping to replicate a similar position on the Quickbeam, but with swept-back bars it just felt way too upright given bigger frame and Riv geometry with extended headtube, etc. I was getting problems with the bars I was using having a slightly undersized clamp area and rotating in pretty much any stem. I didn't pursue the swept back bars further since once I put in the current flat bars, it felt the best--as I describe above, upright yet speedy.