Big, Wide and Ever-so-Carbon-ey

WHAT: Bontrager Race XXX Lite OS Carbon Riser
HOW MUCH: $130

The latest craze in handlebars is sort of a two-headed fashion beast: oversize mid-sections and carbon fiber construction. Bontrager has conveniently wrapped up both trends in a single handlebar.

The Race XXX Lite OS Carbon Riser is Bontrager's top of the line, pimp-daddy, impress-your-poor-relations carbon riser bar. The bar is constructed from "high-compression superlight carbon fiber with 15K weave". It measures 630 millimeters from tip to tip, sports a healthy 7-degree bend and 40-millimeters in rise. The Race XXX Lite hits the scales at an impressive 180 grams.

For all you weight weenies out there...the Bontrager is about 55 grams heavier than Easton's EC90 Monkey Lite SL (though the Easton bar features a 25.4 bar clamp and is thus, NOT oversized sexy) and about 20 grams heavier than Ritchey's WCS Rizer (yes, this one is oversized). Of course, I'd also be the first person to tell you that basing your parts purchasing decisions on grams alone is a pretty foolhardy thing. But on with the review...

So, here's why I don't do a lot of handlebar reviews: there ain't a whole lot to say.

Handlebars break or they don't. That's about it. Sure, I could tell you that I like the bend and sweep on this bar, but that's really the extent of it. Bars don't shift, they don't feature complex spring rates, they don't heat up and fade--they just work or they snap and send you plummeting to earth. The Bontrager worked. I liked it. That much, I can tell you.

I can't, however, tell you that bars featuring 31.8-millimeter midsections ("oversized bars") are really noticeably stiffer, on the whole, than the traditional 25.4-millimeter bars we've been using for years.

Personally, I think this 31.8-millimeter clamp business is merely one of those trends that just happened in the bike industry without any real merit behind it. I don't have a problem with oversized bars--they're just as sturdy as the models they replace and they look nifty….I’m just not sure it was necessary to create yet another standard…

I also can't tell you that you need to scrap your new aluminum handlebar, so that you can replace it with a pricier carbon version. Carbon bars are light, sure, and that may matter to the more racer-oriented types, but they do require greater care and attention from their owners. Freeriders, folks who crash a lot, and heavy-handed, shade-tree mechanics should probably stick with heavier aluminum bars. Carbon might become more impact-resistant in the future, but that future is still some ways off.

Having said all of that, I will pay this particular bar an additional compliment: I have great respect for both Trek and Keith Bontrager's attention to detail and commitment to product testing. Both brands routinely go above and beyond that normal call of duty to ensure that their products are safe. Knowing this gives me an extra bit of confidence in the Race XXX Lite bar--which is good, considering that it's the only thing that keeps my face from plowing the earth at very high speeds.