A hands-on guide to steering componentry

Monday, 07 August 2017 13:48

A hands-on guide to steering componentry

Our fourth blog gives you an insight into handlebars and stems. Often the most overlooked components on a bike, bars and stems can affect your comfort and speed hugely. Getting them right is crucial if your bike is to feel like an extension of you. The first step towards this is having your Dassi properly fitted before you buy it. Within the parameters of a fit, however, there are still choices to make.

These choices are centred around comfort and performance.

Comfort

Road handlebars offer three hand positions: the tops, hoods and drops. The tops give the most upright, least aerodynamic position whilst the drops are lowest and most aero. The hoods are a happy medium and most riders spend most of their time there.

The key considerations regarding fit at the front of a bike are the length of your torso, the length of your arms and your flexibility. The longer your arms and trunk in relation to your whole body and the more flexible you are, the greater the distance between your saddle and bars.

Properly chosen bars should mean that you never undergo any lower back, wrist or shoulder pain while riding. All too often, riders unwittingly find themselves staying away from the drops because the position is too low and long. Bars with a shallower drop (the vertical distance from top to bottom) are generally comfortable for riders who cannot reach far. Vice versa with a longer drop. Most handlebars used today are ‘compact’, with a short drop relatively small distance between the various hand positions.

Stem length mostly relies on the same considerations as handlebars. The longer your reach, the longer your stem should generally be. As the fastest, most flexible riders in the world, pros often have no spacers between their stem and headtube. This gives a fast, aggressive, ‘slammed’ look. Many also have their stems angled strikingly downwards. Trying to replicate this is rarely a good idea as comfort is king—you will always go faster if you’re not in pain. Well, not in the wrong sort of pain.

Performance

This is where materials come into play. Like most cycling components, handlebars and stems are divided between carbon fibre and aluminium. Top-end components tend to be carbon, but this distinction is blurred with handlebars since many pro riders still use aluminium out of habit.

A carbon bar will almost always be lighter than its aluminium equivalent. Its stiffness-to-weight ratio will be better too, and many manufacturers also build in some vibration damping effect. The same is true of stems. It brings up a compromise, however, since a stiffer, more efficient bar will almost always be harsher to hold over rough surfaces than a more compliant bar. Again, quite what ends up on your bike depends on what is best for you.

The handlebars and stem have a huge effect on the overall aerodynamics of a bike—up to 30% of the frame’s drag, according to some tests. Many carbon bars and stems are made with narrower frontal profiles to reduce drag. In recent years we’ve even seen one-piece bar and stem combinations introduced into the market, and although these are generally very fast and stiff, you need to make sure your bike is perfectly fitted before choosing one.

The last point is bar width. Wider handlebars allow more control over the bike’s steering and are often more comfortable to ride. Narrower bars force you into a more aerodynamic position, so are faster in the wind tunnel, but not necessarily out on the road if they leave you uncomfortable.

Here’s a look at the steering componentry most commonly used on our bikes:

ENVE

The SES Carbon Aero handlebar is a top-of-the line component designed for racing performance. The tops are flattened to give a slim, wind-cheating frontal profile. The hoods, meanwhile, are tucked 1cm or so further in than with an equivalently sized handlebar, i.e. a 40cm bar will measure 40cm horizontally across the drops, but 38cm across the hoods. The idea here is to force the rider to tuck their shoulders in slightly for a more aero position. On top of the performance, the bars look simply gorgeous.

ENVE’s standard carbon handlebar seems at a glance to have none of the frills of its aero cousin, though under the skin it is a serious performer. Built for comfort, stiffness and reliability, it mixes ENVE’s first rate carbon composite expertise with solid practicality. The bars are far from run-of-the-mill and do it all.

ENVE only make one model of stem. As you would expect from such a premium brand, it is a high-quality carbon fibre product that performs at the top level and looks superb to boot.

Zipp

The SL-70 Aero bars are the criterium rider and sprinter’s choice. Extremely stiff and aero, it looks to maximise speed at the sharp end of racing and is said to save 6W or so over a traditional, round-topped bar.

The Contour SL handlebar is also a lightweight, stiff racer’s handle bar, save that it looks to maximise comfort as much as possible. It is perfect for long days in the saddle. The tops have an ovular shape to spread vibration from the road over a large area. This makes them very comfortable over rougher roads, ensuring that the gradient is the only thing tiring you out.

The Sprint SL stem will be famous to anyone who keeps an eye on the professional peloton’s bikes. It is built to be the stiffest stem in the world, with strong aerodynamic credentials to boot, and it looks the part as it is quite frankly massive. Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish, though not sponsored by Zipp, have all been spotted using a Sprint SL with the logo taped over. One for the fastest riders.

Zipp’s Service Course range offers high-quality alloy bars and stems. A cheaper alternative to carbon componentry, Service Course components still offer excellent performance and are raced at the World Tour. There is a range of bars and stems to suit all rider geometries.

3T

Though they make frames and wheels too, 3T are a finishing kit specialist, especially renowned for the steering componentry. They have a range of products to suit every rider’s need. Their top-end line, LTD, is amongst the most frequently chosen by our clients.

The Aeronova has everything you would expect of 3T’s top handlebar. It has an aero cross-section to minimise drag and is plenty stiff for even the most demanding sprints. In a similar manner to the ENVE aero bars it tucks the hoods 2.5cm further in than the drops to pull the rider’s shoulders and elbows in. Unlike some aero bars, there is enough of a round section in the middle of the bar to mount triathlon extensions, should you wish.

dassi graphene handlebars 3T

The Rotundo is somewhat different. It combines up to date, modern carbon technology with a traditional, almost semi-circular bend to the drop. Intended for a rider who wants to combine classic feel with modern performance, once wrapped up in bar tape it looks like something Eddy Merckx might have used.

Comfort is the first priority of the Ernova. The tops and hoods have an ergonomic, ovular shape which sits more easily in the hand than a traditional bar. This is combined with compact geometry and, of course, light weight, to make for one of the most comfortable handlebars on the market.

The Arx stem is ubiquitous in road cycling. Designed to be versatile, light and stiff enough for any use, it compliments 3T’s vast array of handlebars perfectly.

3T’s Integra stem, meanwhile, is their latest and greatest contribution. It is a sprinter’s dream. Though almost 50% heavier than the LTD Arx—or precisely because of this—it is hugely stiff. Coupled with its aero profile, it makes it the ideal partner for the Aeronova bars. The Integra can also be bought with an inbuilt Garmin mount, offering a more secure, aerodynamic way of collecting your ride data.

ax-lightness

This German manufacturer is famous for its extremely light, strong carbon fibre parts. Whenever a manufacturer tries to get a bike under the 5kg mark, ax-lightness handlebars, wheels and other components adorn the frames more often than not. If you’re looking to make a super-light build, this could be the brand for you.

The ax4200 Ergo handlebar may not have the catchiest name, but it isn’t lacking in allure. It is optimised to give a balance between comfort, stiffness and aerodynamics, making it a true all-rounder. The internal cable routing lends a clean look too. Given their light weight pedigree, it is quite something when ax-lightness state that low weight was only one of several boxes they sought to tick with this handlebar. The ax4200 Ergo is a super light, super high performing piece of kit.

Simply named, ax-lightness’s only stem is the Rigid. Stiff and light—a quite astonishing 66-82g depending on size—it would perfectly compliment the stiff, lightweight Dassi Interceptor.

There are many other brands available. Deda SuperLegerra components are some of the most popular amongst our customers, offering extremely light and good value kit.  FSA are a similar proposition to 3T, with a range of handlebars and stems to suit every need. Their Plasma integrated bar-stem combination is particularly attractive and provides excellent stiffness and aerodynamics. Shimano subsidiary Pro also have a one-piece unit in their Stealth EVO model and Cinelli go space age with their RAM 3. Fizik offer a range of steering components to match their excellent saddles, whilst Lightweight make top level bars to sit alongside their wheels.

As pointed out at the start, fit is almost everything with handlebars. The majority of comfort and performance comes from this, and it is where having a bike measured and tailored for you is crucial. We can advise you on whether your handlebar should have compact geometry or not, and which brand to choose. This is your Dassi, so should be nothing less than perfect.

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