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Carbon Fiber Handlebars
Carbon Fiber is light weight, great strength... but?

Carbon Fiber handlebars are typically chosen by those individuals that are really focusing on weight as their primary objective. Easton puts out a top of the line handlebar that uses the newest in carbon nanotube technology to increase strength and still weighs in under 200g.

An elite Kestrel handlebar made of a carbon-aramid blend, with a full lifetime warranty comes in at 170 g, but of course you may need to win the lottery first... all that being said there is one other feature of carbon fiber that is interesting and that is its ability to absorb vibration. This makes that long trek a little less stressful on the upper body and may justify the purchase of a carbon handlebar.

Here's a list of typical features for the typical bicycle handlebar:

Clamping Area: One challenge of using a carbon handlebar is tightening down the brake levers and mounting on the stem, without using so much clamp pressure that you risk crushing the tube. Slick clear coated carbon fiber bars make the job more difficult and don't provide a nice grabbing surface. They tend to result in your stem and levers migrating out of position at the most inopportune times.

Newer designs include a textured clamping area, often reinforced with fiberglass or aramid fibers to address this issue. Its a feature well worth paying for.

Cabling: carbon bars come with both internal and surface grooved designs to accommodate both brake and derailleur cables. Seems to be more a function of personal preference and manufacturers design.

Clip-on Aero Bars: Not all carbon fiber handle bars are designed for aero bars. Clip-ons require reinforcement of the fiber at the strategic points where the clamps meet the bar.. if the bar has not been designed for this added stress you'll fracture your handlebar in no time.

Kevlar Coating: KevlarŪ is the most common aramid type fiber that is sometimes used as a coating material, particularly in the clamping zones to improve abrasion resistance. Carbon fiber, has poor abrasion resistance and scratches can compromise the integrity of the bar and lead to fatigue, thus kevlar coating of carbon fiber handlebars adds one more layer of protection and gives your bars a longer life expectancy.

Hint: Covering small scratches with a coat of clear nail polish will help protect the carbon fiber below. It is critical that any fixtures that clamps carbon composite components is free of sharp edges and burrs.

Warranty: All over the map, from nothing at the low end, to lifetime on the really expensive $350 versions. Some manufacturers offer a discount on a replacement if you crash, so you may want to ask. Then "when" it happens you'll know if it is worth hauling the broken parts out of the bush.

I've also noticed that some manufacturers have chosen to invalidated their warranty if you don't use their proprietary stem, so once again ask. No point is paying big bucks for a warranted bar only to find out you can't collect because you're using your old stem.

Maintenance/Notes:

  1. as suggested earlier, inspect before each ride for scratches and or fracture lines.
  2. don't over tighten or you'll crush the fiber
  3. don't grease the clamp zone, or you will have to overtighten! Carbon fiber does not tend to seize in the clamp the way aluminum or steel bars tend to.
  4. If you need to cut your bar, support it in an appropriately designed jig (see below) so that you don't damage the tube.
  5. inspect and remove all sharp edges and burrs using a fine emery cloth before clamping.

Weight: from 170 g up to 300g but always less then a similarly designed aluminum or steel handlebar of the same strength.

Pricing: $100-$350. How broke do you want to be?

Related Articles:
Bicycle Handlebars & Their Design: road vs mountain biking
Features to Invest In When Purchasing a Handle Bar
Aluminum Handlebars
Titanium Handlebars

External Links of Interest:
Shortening your carbon fiber handlebars: (Easton Bike's PDF Download)

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copyright Jan. 2007