The Carbon Conundrum
To C, or not to C? When I bought my newest bike, I was living and riding in British Columbia. I’d been looking at the various carbon offerings coming to the knobby world over the last few years, but I always assumed they were the sort of upgrades you’d get if you were a weight-weenie riding purely XC – the sort of thing that would go on the modern-day equivalent of my lovely Veronica (the fully-rigid aluminium Klein Attitude I’ve almost killed myself on multiple times up here). As it turns out, I was dead wrong! I went carbon, and I love it.
I never thought that I (a 175-pound anything-but-gentle rider) would say it, but: hot damn, I love riding on carbon bars. To vaguely adjust the maxim you hear all the time, “Steel is real, but carbon is arden(tly adored by me)!“ Currently, I’m rocking a pair of the yellow-hybrid 24” LP Composite XC Risers – I don’t have any experience with other carbon bars to offer a comparison but, considering all the abuse these guys have taken without breakin’ (I couldn’t help myself, sorry), I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. These things have been through a lot. I would estimate they’ve seen about 500 hours of ride time up here in BC (I managed to swing my school schedule to get a three-day weekend), and probably another 100 or so down in Central Oregon. So far, I have nothing but praise – they have a remarkable amount of flex, but I really don’t notice it while I’m riding. Switching to someone else’s bike during the ride immediately points out the differences, though: as it turns out, they actually do absorb those smallish bumps that are usually ignored by the suspension (which I tend to run a bit over-pressure anyways). I’ve also had a few really good wipeouts with them as well and, other than a couple spots where the outer layer of resin has scraped off, there’s nothing that concerns me. I have heard great things about what the folks over at RaceFace have been doing with their carbon bars, but I have yet to actually see any in the wild, so unfortunately I can’t comment on those.
I’ll admit it: if something looks cool, there’s a good chance I will give serious consideration to buying it and sticking it on/around my bike. If something looks cool and is surrounded by astounded comments like “holy crap these things make such a huge difference”, it’s a sure bet I’m going to buy one. That’s sort of what happened when I bought my carbon bars – woefully unhappy with the stock bars on my Camber, I decided I wanted something narrower and flatter. Somehow or other (I believe it was mentioned by the kind people over at reddit.com/r/MTB), I found the LP page, and ended up taking the plunge. Initially, I was a bit concerned that carbon was a bad choice for my riding style and terrain – I tend to do a lot of fast, technical descents, the sort where even on an FS rig your arms have that shaken-to-oblivion tingly feeling afterwards. As it turns out, not only are they strong enough to survive those runs, they actually help! I hate repeating myself in my posts, but I’ll say it again: everything you’ve read about carbon bars absorbing the small, high-frequency bumps is actually true. It’s not just something people use to justify spending $134 (in my case) on a handlebar.
I’ve been riding on these bars since December of 2011, and I have to say that of all the various bits and pieces I’ve upgraded/swapped on my bike, these have probably been my favourite change. I’ve spent $50 on a chain guide, $40 on a bash guard, $400 on brakes, $250 on pedals, and $200 on various saddles (that’s the first time I’ve written it out, no wonder I’ve been eating so much oatmeal the last few years), and the bars really are my favourite. I imagine them sort of like heated seats in a vehicle – sure, they aren’t really important, you can get along perfectly well without them, they cost a premium and are definitely a cushy luxury item, but when you’re on them, they’re the best thing in the world. Readers: if you’re lucky enough to have a hundred bucks laying around and want to spend it on your bike, get yourself some carbon handlebars!