What's Cool In Road Cycling

Carbon Bars Within Reach: FSA K-Force Compact

I’ve been a fan of compact cranks since I tried ‘em 2 years ago, and when I saw FSA’s K-Force Compact Bar at Interbike – it was at the top of my new-item test list. Just like there are different frame sizes for different riders, FSA introduces their carbon handlebar designed for riders who prefer a shorter reach and more a shallow drop… Comfort at last…!

I’ve often wondered why there was so little choice offered in bar shapes and sizes. I know carbon moulds are expensive, but that never really explained the small size range of aluminum bars. I first tried a shallow drop bar about four years ago, when I saw Bontrager’s Race-Lite Flat bars – that was the last time I tried to over-stretch my reach to fit any handlebar that was too large for me. But offerings in the ‘compact’ arena for bars – ie: shorter reach and smaller drop – have been slim – so my hat goes off to FSA for once again bringing something to market that should have appeared a long time ago. These are by far the ‘most’ compact road race specific carbon bars I’ve seen.

To the untrained eye they look like normal road bars – curves, grooves, carbon – nothing outta the ordinary here…

Tuning the Bar
Working with carbon is a tricky business, because as manufacturers learn to push the boundaries of carbon’s capabilities, there are also increased dimensions for error – more balls to juggle (if you will…). This ain’t like sticking a tube of aluminum into the press and bending it.

FSA’s first intention was to meet their test standards for impact and fatigue – so make sure the bar had enough material, and the right kinds of material to be strong and durable enough for pro level road racing. Next was the weight criteria – it’s gotta be light enough to meet today’s accepted standards, and that means finding ways to reduce materials without sacrificing the strength and durability criteria. Third was price – you can do almost anything with enough money, but that doesn’t mean the public will buy it.

On closer inspection, it’s much easier to see the shallow reach formed by a tighter curving drop. It measures 125mm drop and 78mm reach (the standard K-Force is 147mm drop and 95 mm reach). The shape came about partly in response to the growing trend among pros to use a more classically shaped bar curve (versus ergo beds), which allows for more hand positions, especially in the drops.

The K-Force Compact bar is a mix of high, med & low carbon, plus spot specific Kevlar to tune the blend for the ideal strength, shock absorption, the desired ratios and placements of each determined by FSA’s engineer’s and the company’s experience working with carbon materials.

Without giving away any secrets, the carbon is layed up in a mix of patterns, weaves, and moduluses (moduli?) – figure 8’s, directional wraps, layed-on strips. All this amounts to what FSA believes to be the optimal mix of strength durability, weight, and affordability – the FSA K-Force Compact carbon handlebar.

Mount ‘Em Up!

I clamped the bars into FSA’s sleek and light aluminum OS115 stem – which weighs in around 138 grams thanks to some serious CNC detailing to reduce weight. It also has Length-specific wall thickness to meet FSA’s strength criteria. As much as I like carbon bars because they offer me more comfort than alumium, I still prefer an aluminum stem which eliminates the risk of crash-induced cracking, weighs less than most carbon stems, and keeps the front-end stiffness where I want it – through the steering column. The carbon face-plate gives up none of the stiffness and completes the carbon look.

• The in-moulded cable guides are deep enough to discreetly run both cables tucked away. FSA says it also adds to the stiffness and reduces fatigue of the bars.

• The 31.8 center section of the bars (on these 42’s) offers about 120mm of mounting space for computers and clip-on bars – an option not available everywhere. The center section then flanges out to a wide, flatter platform that provides a nice grip on the tops – and it can be even wider if you use fat tape and padding.

My one complaint was the position of the grippy section to mount your levers. I prefer to set my levers higher, and create a long flat platform from the center of my bars around the bends and out to the hoods. So I mounted my levers above the grippy part – I’ve seen this on other brands as well… I tightened the lever pretty good and did not get any slippage, but with carbon you don’t want to be reefing down too hard – I’ve seen it crimp and crack on other bikes where the front derailleur mounts to the downtube. That said, I do prefer to mount my levers higher than some folks, so not everyone will experience this issue.

But for those of us who, there’s…

…FSA’s Install Compound carbon goo – it’s like fine grains of sand in glue that adhere to the carbon and prevent slippage of parts like levers. This item is sold separately, although including it would be better.

They weigh in at 220 grams, which is not the lightest carbon bar I’ve tested, but puts ‘em in the ball park for acceptable lightness of bars.

How stiff are they? In the words of Spinal Tap, let’s start with some “ f**king perspective”… As a lightweight 139 lb climber, I’m not the ideal candidate to be flexing and stressing bike components. In fact, my usual complaint is that everything is too stiff and it’s hard to find parts that flex enough under my fighting weight. For me the bars were plenty stiff so I always felt solid control over the bike. I could feel some flex in the drops while jump-sprinting, but there was no detectable flex while climbing out of the saddle on the hoods.

Mounted up and ready to ride. I wrapped ‘em in FSA’s own tape which was nice and fat – just the way I like it. Notice the wide platform at the tops – this is created by both the bar shape, which is flatter and wider up top, and the thickness of the bar tape. I also increased the width of the platform leading to the hoods by routing the Campy shifter cables around the outside edge of the bars. If you like a solidly wide area to steer your bike with, this should do the trick.

I like to set mine up as a nice flat platform – maybe a throwback from riding steerhorns in my mtb days (remember when steerhorns were cool?) I also added bar-gel to the inside of the drops to create a slight ergo curve for the palm of my hands.

The guys at FSA were on a high this morning as they just won ‘Class Act’ for their booth at the Seattle Bike Expo (March10-11, 2007), and I’ve been on a high since November when I bolted these onto my Seven. I can reach the drops no problem and don’t experience the same soreness in my back, neck, and shoulders that I’ve had from deeper section bars. Bar shapes are a totally subjective experience so I won’t pretend to know what works for you, but these are a great option for guys (and girls) who feel like their current set-up is just to far a reach.

MSRP: US$ 259.99
• See the website: FullSpeedAhead.com

Where To Buy ‘Em

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