Wednesday, April 3, 2024

FSA Carbon Handlebar

 What were they thinking?
With this handlebar? This thing was spec'd on Zio's new e-gravel bike.

This and the stem are the only things he really dislikes. He understands that "gravel" means ya gotta have a flared handlebar, but this thing? Really?

If you look at the linked page, you can scroll around the image and see all the "features" of this carbon-fiber masterpiece. From the odd hexagon shape on the drops, the strange depressions where top turns into drop, the 5 mm of rise (so you can leave a 5 mm spacer off under your stem?) the forward sweep of the top, plus the "wing" shape that gives the bar its name.

For Zio Lorenzo, every one of these "features" is really a "bug". He'd much, much rather have a simple round (aluminum) drop bar in a reasonable width rather than this crazy thing with an MSRP of over $300! 

The wing shape might look good and make one think it's maybe more "aero" than a round tube, but what about a place to put your hands? It's a HANDLEbar after all! The pros don't even bother taping this part so I guess they never hold-on there, especially without gloves? Even taped, the flat part close to the forward curve feels OK when your palms are flat on it but when you cup 'em a bit the edge of the "wing" made Zio think about sticking some foam padding around it as he did to fill up that odd depression near this area.

What good is the forward sweep? Zio sees no + here, in fact it feels kind-of odd after decades of a straight section on the bar top. Holding-on there skews your elbows out or forces an odd twist in your wrist. Same with the tiny 5 mm of rise...the point is? More "shaping" = more "value"?

Worse, the bike's product manager spec'd it with a stem of just 8 cm! This makes the steering more sensitive than Zio likes, though the odd-shaped bar does put his hands where he wants 'em on the brake hoods and kinda/sorta on the tops (despite the silly forward sweep) though that same shorty stem means hands down on drops is too short...and too wide thanks to the flare. 

These drop are not just flared-out side-to-side but also oddly twisted so they again push your elbows out. Why? The old "hands on drops, front hub invisible" rule still applies for him but the reach to the drops is too short for that.

You might say "You're a mechanic, just swap 'em out!" and with our Bianchi e-bikes it was easy as the hoses/cables exit the frame and then run under the stem and handlebar tape. 

But MV (again in the fashion of the day, just like the too wide and flared-out bar) put all the brake hoses and cables inside both stem and bar, not just inside the frame. Grrrr! This means opening up perfectly functioning front/rear hydraulic brake systems to get the hoses out along with the single shift cable and the wiring for the remote e-shifters!!! 

This means bleeding both front and rear brakes once the hoses are re-routed and Ergopower units installed on a new handlebar, re-inserting a shift cable that one hopes isn't too frayed to go back in and then reconnecting the e-shift button wires.

A longer replacement stem of the same brand/type would allow the hoses, etc. to be run up to and under the stem (through a removable cover) where they can then be run along the outside of the bar/under the tape like back-in-the-day, but what a PITA, not to mention the little bits (called olives) that seal the brake hoses probably will need to be replaced in the process. 

Zio gets tired just typing this! He really didn't want to tear this bike all apart before he'd even ridden it, though if he was able to see (and measure) a size S and M in-person he would have chosen S instead of M and asked the selling dealer to swap the bar/stem. But "that ship's sailed" as they say so for now "it is what it is" (as they also say) but he's almost hoping for another excuse to take the brake systems apart so he can swap the bar/stem in the process!

One other gripe - the 40 mm "aero" wheels. Combined with a 38 mm slick tire, Zio thinks they present too much area for swirling winds to blow against, making fast descending a bit sketchy so far. Maybe that longer stem will help? Perhaps the weight distribution with bars too high and reach too short causes this? Swapping wheels with a motor built into the rear wheel's not gonna happen...but if none of the other changes help, perhaps a lower profile front wheel would help?

Otherwise he's liking the bike - the fat tires make it so he doesn't have to ride the cracked roads of Sicily with one eye always looking down instead of where he's going, the Campagnolo EKAR groupset works well with adequate gearing (some say the 40 tooth chainring's too small but 40 X 9's tall enough as a top gear for Zio) and the rest of the bike seems just fine. 

The electric "granny gear" is nice too, he's decided to bump assist from 0 to 1 any time he's in a really low gear and would have been using the small 30 tooth front chainring on his "acoustic" (as they call 'em now) bikes. He's still hauling the battery and motor around even when not using 'em and they weigh a good deal more than an inner triple chainring and the bits that go with that - so WTF not?

 Handling both on and off pavement is good, but should be even better with a slightly longer stem...maybe 10 cm? Combined with a normal bar (no sweep, flare, rise) he'd probably be exactly where he wants to be position-wise.

So be careful with sizing! Seems like a lot of bikes are spec'd like this nowadays. Both the selling dealer and MV were consulted and supplied with Zio's exact measurements. He asked about XS vs S but both insisted M was the correct size. MV's geometry chart didn't much help so against his better judgement (which might have worked out for the best as the S size would have been worse with it's shorter top tube and shorty stem) he took their advice and went with M. That's one of the risks of online vs in-person purchasing (there was no dealer in the island of Sicily that had these it turns out neither did the dealer in Rome Zio bought this one from!) but he'd have for sure had to endure the PITA swap of bar/stem on the S so maybe he's better off than he knows?

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