Cool Gear: Bontrager Race-Lite Flat Bars & Race X-Lite Stem
I first spotted these babies at Interbike, while mid-tour with Ryan Atkinson at the Lemond/Bontrager booth. So surprised was I to see what I had only imagined before, that I rudely stumbled away in a stunned trance while Ryan explained their latest and coolest offerings. The drop on these bars looked a lot more shallow than anything I had seen…
I’ve been called a lot of things in my day (you try getting through 8th grade with a last name like “Pestes”…) but “stubby arms” was never one of them. Regardless, I’ve never been comfortable reaching for the drops on any pair of handlebars. That is until now.
This was the first time I’d seen a set of drop bars that looked like I might actually fit ‘em – or they might fit me.
Here’s the deal. Keith Bontrager has long been an innovator in the bike world, starting way back in 1980 with his ultra-lite, high-end steel mtb frames and bikes. Keith’s success caught the eye of Trek, who know something good when they see it and encouraged Bontrager to join the Trek family of bicycle companies. This move expanded the resources, r&d, and production capabilities available to Bontrager, allowing more development of their high end components for road and mtb – primarily wheels, cranksets, seat posts, and bars & stems.
Have It Your Way
As much as we might look the same, we’re all “different” – different sizes, shapes, and arm lengths (just to name a few…). Handlebar set-up is one of the key ingredients in on-bike comfort. A lot of us have spent the last few years (maybe all of our riding years?) adapting to handlebar shapes and sizes that are okay but not perfect. Problem is, it costs money to make a special set of custom bars for every different person, so a lot of builders have limited offerings.
Look Madge – you can see the difference – and wait till you FEEL the difference! (Standard drops on left, Flat-Tops on right)
Enter Bontrager and their Flat-Top handlebar design. The bar is shaped differently in two ways – first, it has a “flat-top” like the name says – the reach to the curve where the lever mounts is flatter than standard shaped bars, and second, the drop itself is shallower, so you don’t have to reach as far as before to get into the drops.
What’s In A Bar?
Cool design features include oversized stem-clamp area to increase stiffness, brake lever position lines (that are laser-etched on!) so you can perfectly align your levers, ergo-bent 7075 aluminum construction, depressed cable guides, and drilled out ends to save more weight. The bar is made from a piece of aluminum that is actually longer than the standard designs, which ultimately provides more length to the drops, and increases hand position options. I trimmed off about 1 inch from each bar end, as I just didn’t need the reach, and I had visions of impaling a knee cap…
But the best part is in the fit. I’m finally riding in the drops – something I only did under protest before, and the flat tops allow the perfect set-up for my preferred hand position when riding on the hoods. For this test I moved to a slightly wider 44cm version, (I usually ride 42’s) and found even more comfort from the extra stability and control offered by the wider platform.
Sizes come in 2cm increments from 38cm – 46 cm, the 44’s weigh in at 235 grams, and they cost about $90.00
I paired the bars with Bontragers Race X-Lite stem, which weighs in at 145 grams. It’s cold-forged and machined from 2014-T6 alloy that allows for thinner walls that are just as strong as the Race Lite stem, but weighs 25 grams less (in the 90 mm length).
Finally, I like the aluminum construction because I don’t have to worry so much about a prang or crash that could destroy carbon fiber with even a hairline fracture. For real life riding, this is a good way to go.
Sometimes we get grief from readers looking for us find flaws in certain products we test. In this case, there just aren’t any. Their handlebars, pure and simple, made from proven materials, and designed with some smart thinking, that cost what they should cost for something of this quality. They may not be suitable for everyone, and that’s why Bontrager (and a host of other manufacturers) make a slew of bar and stems to choose from.
Check out the Bontrager website for more info or to find a dealer near you: