Mountain Gear

Wrenched & Ridden: Ritchey and Bontrager Handlebars Tech Editor Zack Vestal takes a look at two bars with big backsweep: Ritchey WCS Carbon 10D flat bar and Bontrager Race Lite Big Sweep flat 12 degree handlebar.

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What’s a WCS Carbon 10D flat bar, you ask? It’s a flat mountain bike handlebar made from stealthy carbon fiber that looks like a batwing. You’d pretty much have it to see to believe it.

Viewed from above, it's readily apparent the need to change stem lengths if your want to preserve grip location and reach to the bars. Photo by Zack Vestal
Viewed from above, it's readily apparent the need to change stem lengths if your want to preserve grip location and reach to the bars. Photo by Zack Vestal

In a world dominated by riser bars, which combine 20-70mm of rise with 5-8 degrees of backsweep, this unique Ritchey handlebar has a distinctive look and an even more distinctive bend. From the stem clamp, it actually arcs forward before angling back at 10 degrees to provide a straight grip and control clamp section. There’s no rise, so it’s level with the stem clamp along the entire length of the bar.

Sweep It Back, Baby!

I’ve been a fan of big backsweep on mountain handlebars for a few years now. That is, if you consider 12-degrees to be “big backsweep.” Bontrager actually makes their Race Lite Big Sweep flat bar in a 17-degree back bend, at 710mm wide. But the one I’ve been using for the last few years is the 12-degree, 640mm wide version.

Plenty of other component builders make bars with a high degree of back bend. For example, Salsa’s Whammy Bar bends back at 11 degrees and a whopping 780mm wide. Rody Walter over at Groovy Cycleworks makes the Luv Handles handlebar with 4 degrees of rise and 21.5 degrees of back bend, a position that he says mimics the natural anatomic position of a human hand and wrist in the cycling posture.

Ritchey WCS Carbon 10D flat bar – $170
The Scoop: a sweet, carbon fiber batwing of a handlebar.
Pros: Looks rad, gives 10-degrees of backsweep without moving grips far behind stem clamp
Cons: If you’re accustomed to a rearward position, the 10D moves you forward.
Bontrager Race Lite Big Sweep flat bar – $60
The Scoop: an aluminum flat bar available in 12- or 17-degree back bend
Pros: Traditional look and shape, reasonable price in aluminum
Cons: Moves hands behind steering axis, which can contribute to “beach cruiser” feel.

What’s the deal with backsweep? For starters, it does what Walter says it does – it puts your hand and wrist in a more natural position to accommodate a reach to the bars from the seat of a bike. It also gives a feeling of more steering and climbing leverage on the front of the bike. Remember that powerful pull you could get on the bars when you had Onza bar ends on your flat bar? Well, it’s not that much leverage, but it feels like more than you get from a short, 5-degree flat bar.

Different Bends for Different Friends

After seeing the Ritchey 10D at a show last season, I knew I had to check it out and compare it with what I had already experienced. For starters, it’s available in Ritchey’s SuperLogic, WSC, and Pro carbon trim levels. If you’re not familiar with Ritchey carbon, SuperLogic is the lightest and most expensive, and Pro is the least expensive. The WCS 10D bar I rode weighed 175 grams at 660mm wide and retails for $170.

It’s nice. I can’t say that I noticed anything particular about its ride characteristics, other than it’s plenty stiff, looks sweet, and rides just fine. I totally dig the 10-degree backsweep and the hand/wrist position it accommodates.

What I did notice was how the bar’s significant forward arc at the stem clamp area moves the grip portion of the bar farther forward than I expected. Most bars with a lot of backsweep position the grips at least 4cm rearward of the stem clamp. The 10D bar on the other hand keeps the grips almost even with the stem, so I found myself needing to find a shorter stem to maintain comfortable reach to the bars. Additionally, the grip position relative to the stem clamp felt like it somehow quickened steering input, which I actually liked on my Gary Fisher 29er.

Of course, my frame of reference is Bontrager’s $60 Race Lite Big Sweep bar, which is made from aluminum, weighs 175 grams, is 640mm wide, and sports 12 degrees of backsweep from a more conventional shape. From these specs alone, you can see that it’s a potentially much more cost effective solution for adding some backsweep to your ride. But on the other hand, it does move your hands rearward of the stem clamp by several inches. It’s not exactly a beach-cruiser feel, but if you’re accustomed to a more forward position, it might feel strange. Because your hands are farther behind the steering axis, it tends to give a feeling of slower, more relaxed steering input.

Bending Reality

What’s the right choice for you? It will depend on your fit. If you’re riding a bike that feels too short and you’ve got a long-ish stem, consider the 10D bar and a shorter stem. It will tighten up your cockpit and add a dose of quickness to your ride. Plus, it’s the coolest looking handlebar I’ve ever seen.

On the other hand, if like mine your bike is pretty long and rangy as-is, the more forward position of the 10D might be too much. I would have had to change my 100mm stem to a 70mm piece in order to preserve my position. Such a radical change in stem length felt like it would alter the handling of my bike too much, so I’m going to stick with the Bontrager bar for now.