Custom, carbon…Handlebars?

WHAT: Calfee BarStem

It takes a special type of person to spend 350 bucks on a bar and stem--a person unrestrained by bouncing checks or mouths to feed. Obviously, Calfee's carbon fiber BarStem isn't for everyone, but for that certain type, it extends from an ordinary bike like a shimmering beacon of speed, of comfort, of hope.

Luxury-sedan tastes aside, the fact is you really get what you pay for. Each BarStem is hand laminated at Calfee's factory in California and customers can choose from two stem angles, two bar-rise options and near limitless stem lengths. Most companies call that kind of work custom, but Calfee doesn't add a $140 up-charge until orders get really intricate. Consumers can even send in their own handlebars, and as long as the clamping surface is carbon fiber and 31.8-millimters, Calfee can morph them into a BarStem within two weeks.

It was no surprise that my 249-gram sample fit perfectly-after all, I told Calfee exactly what I wanted. The 110-millimeter stem with 10-degree rise and low-rise bars were ideal for speed and all-day adventure. I chose a 25-inch-wide bar, which is narrow compared to many high-rise downhill setups, but still wide enough to punish the lightweight bar/stem junction.

The bulbous bond not only withstood months of torque, it felt stiffer than a standard 31.8-millimeter bar with a wide stem clamp. Granted, I am by no means a Clydesdale (160-pounds), but the BarStem platform provided solid stability even when coupled with bigger forks and aggressive riding.

Of course stiffness and aggressive riding are relative. The BarStem is by no means husky enough for the hard charging, big hucking crowd (keep in mind that this combo weighs less than many handlebars alone). But according to Calfee, the BarStem can withstand repeated hard crashes. The one-piece design also boosts strength because it prevents the risk of failure from over-tightening the stem's faceplate bolts.

Although I didn't smash into any rocks head-on or bars-first, I did manage a few good impacts and plenty of mistimed jumps and G-outs. And after months of thrashing, the only damage is a de-laminating clear coat from switching one too many pairs of lock-on grips. Is that reason enough to not buy a BarStem? No, but it reinforces that carbon fiber requires greater care than aluminum and steel. Since all it takes is one over-tightened brake lever to destroy both bar and stem, don't go near these things without a torque wrench.

Even if disaster does strike--be it a cocky home mechanic, a life-threatening impact or a spaced-out collision with a parking garage--all is not lost. On top of a 25-year warranty against defects, Calfee will repair the BarStem for a reasonable fee (between $50 and $120, depending on damage).
When you do the math, the BarStem still costs more than purchasing an ultra-high end handlebar and stem. But the custom factor and extensive weight savings can make this the ultimate finishing touch to your dream bike.