Ritchey WCS OS Carbon Low Rizer Bar
We saw a t-shirt once that said, “Handlebar Mustaches -- Fun for the whole family!” While that may be true, we don't know anyone sporting such a monstrosity so we can't argue the point. You can keep the 'stache, we prefer the handlebars. There are lots of great handlebars from lots of great manufacturers, but this week, we'll take a look at a great one from Ritchey.
Ritchey Design Inc. is a company devoted to bicycle componentry. Most of us recognize the brand because of the company's namesake, Tom Ritchey. When we started mountain biking, Ritchey was synonymous with high end mountain bikes and parts. Tom was still building frames like the classic P-23. He provided bikes for some true superstar cross country racers -- Ruthie Mathis, Thomas Frischknecht, among many others. He was also an integral part of the birth of the modern mountain bike; check out our review of the Klunkers DVD, and you'll see what we mean.
Fast forward to 2008, and Ritchey is still at it. He's no longer building frames with a torch, but he's still involved with product development for the company. Given Ritchey's longstanding support for the top level racers, it's no surprise that the WCS parts are designed with one thing in mind - racing. All of Ritchey's WCS components have been designed to strike a fine balance between strength, durability, and light weight. While it is not the lightest handlebar that we stock, the Ritchey WCS Carbon Low Rizer that we tested is certainly light enough to complement any top level build. It is also sturdy and reliable enough to warrant our confidence. Racers with more at stake than us, like those racing world cups, might also appreciate it for these same reasons.
The name of the bar, Ritchey WCS OS Carbon Low Rizer Handlebar, is a mouthful. What it tells us is that this is an oversize carbon fiber riser bar with a 31.8mm clamp diameter. The clamping surface is textured to provide a bit more security against accidental bar slippage. We found the textured surface to be the exact same width as our Thomson X-4 stem. Only the beautiful glossy finish was exposed outside the stem. Speaking of finish, it was beautiful -- glossy and smooth. The woven carbon fiber showing through the clearcoat appeared uniform, indicating to us that care was taken during the manufacturing process.
The Ritchey WCS Carbon handlebars come in three versions - the low that we tested here with a minimal 15mm rise, a high with a 30mm rise, and a flat bar. The WCS Carbon Low Rizer is 660 mm (26 inches) wide. Most bars can be trimmed to length if preferred. However, the Ritchey bar is a bit different -- the ends of the bar have machined aluminum inserts that provide extra strength to support the clamping force of bar ends should you want them. We don't see why you couldn't trim the WCS bar, you might simply lose the inserts depending on the location of the cut. The Ritchey bar has a 6° upward bend and a 9° rearward sweep. It weighs in at 176 grams on our shop scale.
We tested this bar on a Ventana El Toro single-speed -- there's never a shortage of out-of-the-saddle pedaling with this bike. Having said that, the Ritchey WCS OS Carbon Low Rizer Bar felt at home. We liked the combination of the sweep and the upward bend. After fiddling with the position of the bar for a bit, we found the sweet spot. The hand position feels natural when we have to stand and crank up a hill. The 9 degree sweep was enough to straighten our wrists and subsequently allow comfort for long rides.
Carbon fiber is reputed to have great damping characteristics and can reduce rider fatigue. The Ritchey bar is no exception. Much as we'd expect from a top shelf carbon monocoque handlebar, the Ritchey performed as expected. It buffered us from washboard ripples and gravel laden roads that weren't enough to move the fork, but otherwise might have contributed to hand cramps or sore forearm muscles. The bar didn't eliminate them, but it sure took the edge off. A few of us are planning to race our state marathon series this year, most of which are at least 5 hours. Our training rides will be long and many, so we look forward to the quality and comfort this bar offers.
When we replaced the previous handlebar with the Ritchey WCS Bar, we weren't able to use our existing bar end plugs due to the Ritchey inserts reducing the inner diameter. We were bummed as we looked for a stylish replacement for our trusty Wooley Fab bar plugs. We couldn't find anything that looked cool, so we decided to wait and find something swanky for the Ventana. As luck would have it, we took a spill on the first ride, and the Ritchey bar took it well. Actually, the aluminum inserts have an outer lip that protrudes to the outer diameter of the carbon fiber, so it acted as its own protection from crash damage. While we still need to find end plugs (NORBA rules say so) we feel quietly confident that the Ritchey design is durable.
Lightweight at 176 grams, the Ritchey WCS OS Carbon Low Rizer Bar is still super strong. One of test pilots is a former high school teacher. He claims to have armwrestled many an aspiring young athlete and remains undefeated. He was pleased and impressed with the stiffness of the bar. The Ritchey WCS bar doesn't yield. Even in the most extreme situations where we're grappling up a monster, steep climb, it remained stiff and stable. There is much more flex in the frame and fork system.
The Ritchey WCS OS Carbon Low Rizer Bar is a top shelf handlebar offering that would be a great addition to any high performance mountain bike. It is lightweight, stiff, and strong, and it looks great -- its finish is as good as any, and the rainbow stripes take things up a notch. One thing we haven't mentioned yet about the layup and the finish, is that we appreciated the fact that the Ritchey bar has a woven outer carbon layer. Mountain bikes always take a few knocks here and there, and the woven carbon is more durable than unidirectional carbon fiber. If the handlebar hits a rock or other hard object, any potential damage will be lessened because each strand of fibers is supported by two others in close proximity. We've also found that carbon products with a nice glossy clear finish, like the Ritchey WCS parts resist small nicks and gouges better than those with a thinner, matte style clear finish.