I have carbon-based frame and fork on my CX bike (used also as road bike and gravel) and I make a lot of experiments with it – changing chainrings, wheels, derailleurs, tires. One of interesting test was carbon-based handlebars. I decided to buy it and try, on road cycling, but also on light terrain. After few months I really can’t recommend this solution, because of many disadvantages and a lack of real life advantages. Maybe you can say something different about that, but I don’t have great opinion about carbon in this place.
Why I decided to buy carbon-based handlebars? It was curiosity. Some people said, that it is more comfortable than aluminium handlebars, and it means a lot in light terrain with CX bike. Some people said, that thanks to less weight, we can be faster. Finally, I didn’t use carbon-based handlebars even before, so, it was a matter of time to try it. Here was first real life difference – price. Carbon handlebars was about 5-6 times more expensive than aluminium! It’s huge difference, because you can buy good aluminium version for about $20-25 and must spend more than $100 for carbon version. But that’s not the end of costs.
I bought Accent Execute Road Carbon handlebars. I don’t know, if you know Accent company, but they make a lot of bicycle parts, in aluminium, but also on carbon. Maybe they are not the best, but also not bad, it’s a middle segment of bicycle parts manufacturers. Also, I didn’t want to buy only for a specific name, brand, because I think it’s stupid. Noname? Of course not, but I don’t need to have “true-cycling”, italian sign on my handlebar for additional $100-200. Weight? About 200 grams in 420 mm size, about 100 grams lighter than aluminium version. It’s real difference? I think, no, because we just can’t feel it during ride. On light terrain, we have to use different tyres, and this difference is completely invisible.
Advantages of this handlebars: yes, it’s lighter, but as I wrote, it doesn’t matter. Second good thing is construction with internal cable routing. It’s very nice, because we can hide all cables from shifters inside handlebar, and make it more comfortable for gripping. But… it isn’t free-price. Because of internal routing, mounting that type of handlebars is much more complicated and I had to mount wires again. It isn’t a problem with mechanical brakes, but with hydros… Uhh… not good option and I need service help with that. Third and last advantage (yes, last!) is comfort, but only in very limited way. Carbon handlebars can suppresses inequalities, but only very small, we can feel it on bad road, no on terrain. Also, this difference is not worth this high price.
This handlebars has also flare construction – small angle to “outside”, something for gravel and better grip in terrain. Yes, it’s very nice and real help during ride, but I can’t say, that is advantage. Why? Because a lot of aluminium handlebars also offer flare. Disadvantages. First: price. As I wrote before, high, and completely not worth. It may be good option for time-trial, triathlon bikes, when we need bike as light as possible, but not on standard and mix cycling. Second: very small difference in comfort. Aluminium handlebars can also be good, but better option is to exchange bad tyres to better, or use lower pressure. But the worst thing is durability. I damaged my carbon-based handlebars in only about… three months?
Everything was ok, handlebars was mounted by professional service, using special grease for carbon (yes, it’s additional cost in that type of material to avoid looseness). My rides also were ok, because I didn’t have any big falls, any collisions on road. Just standard riding, on road, but also on gravel, forest roads. But handlebars broke, and I don’t know why – maybe it was factory defect, but it was near shifters. Looked like bad assembly, but it wasn’t that. It’s carbon property: it’s light, it’s very elastic, but not durable if we use only thin layers… And more durable handlers will be much heavier, similar to aluminium, make all completely nonsense.
Going back to aluminium handlebars was also difficult, because of internal routing about I wrote earlier (the same issues with hydros). Summarizing: I spent a lot of money for carbon, a lot for service and I did not get any significant advantages in return. I think, carbon-based handlebars do not have sense in gravels, cyclocross and also on road-amateurs cycling. Better option is to spend this money for efficiency tests or training plan, than to “improve” your bike.