Crust Towel Rack Bar Review: A Drop Bar for Bikepacking
Available in three versions maxing out at 660mm wide with a 25° flare and shallow drop, the Crust Towel Rack Bar is the original super-wide drop bar. They show a lot of promise as comfortable dirt-road-ripping and bikepacking handlebars. After a few months of testing, find Miles’ thoughts on why they might just be his new favorite curly handlebars here…
I generally prefer running flat bars when riding off road, and usually feel like I have more control and better stability when navigating high-speed chunk and singletrack. In most cases, I’ll take the confidence flat bars provide over the potential comfort of multiple hand positions on drop bars. This thinking was disrupted during my review of the Chumba Yaupon, which came equipped with the Ritchey Beacon XL handlebar, a super-wide drop bar with a 36° flare and shallow drop. After almost giving up on drop bars entirely, the Beacon XL opened my eyes to the potential of wide bars with a specific assortment of specs: shallow drop, wide stance, flare, and short reach. Even when compared against other off-road drop bars, the Beacon XL set itself apart with its super-short reach and drop numbers. What does that look like while riding? More upright, less stretched out, less aero.
Until this fall, if you were to ask me for my favorite drop bar for off-road riding and bikepacking, it would have been the Ritchey Beacon XL, hands down. That was until I picked up the Sklar Super Something for review. The build Adam at Sklar put together for me was a bit of a surprise, but was modeled after his Tour Divide setup, complete with the Crust Towel Rack Bar. I remember chatting with Adam at the MADE Bike Show about how natural the bar felt after a quick rip around town, and he echoed my initial feelings about it. Riding in the hoods felt relaxed and comfortable, and riding in the drops felt totally realistic, which is more than I can say for most drop bars.
If you read my recent review of the Sklar Super Something, you’ll know I was under-equipped for most of my rides, but the bike handled everything I threw at it surprisingly well. While I think the bike’s big (for a gravel bike) tires and well-designed geometry played a significant role in this, it’s hard not to give the Crust Towel Rack Bar at least a little credit.
A Closer Look at the Towel Rack Bar
According to Crust, the Towel Rack Bar is the original extra-wide drop bar, released even before the Curve Walmer Bar. It’s now in its second iteration, with a shorter reach and shallower drop than the original. It comes in three widths: 600mm, 630mm, and a massively wide 660mm, measured from end-to-end or full width. From hood-to-hood, they measure out to 515mm, 535mm, and 555mm wide. The Towel Racks are made in Taiwan from heated treated 7075 Series Aluminum, come in black or polished silver, and use a 26mm clamp diameter, which was once the Italian and road cycling standard but is far less common these days. When I asked Crust about this decision, they explained that a 26mm clamp offers more compliance and allows it to work with quill stems without having to run an adapter.
|Crust Towel Rack||555mm||25°||105||100mm|
|Ritchey Beacon XL||520mm||36°||80mm||65mm|
|Ritchey VentureMAX XL||520mm||24°||102mm||75mm|
|Curve Walmer Bar||600mm||29°||110mm||60mm|
|PNW Coast Handlebar||520mm||20°||105mm||65mm|
|Spank Flare 25 Vibrocore||520mm||25°||110mm||65mm|
They have a medium-high 25° flare, relatively shallow 105mm drop, and a 100mm reach, which on paper is actually significantly longer than the Ritchey Beacon XL and other comparable bars such as the Curve Walmer Bar or PNW Coast Bar. However, there are some other unique measurements that help offset these numbers, including a 10° upsweep and a generous 12° backsweep. So, while the reach and drop might make the Crust Towel Rack Bar look somewhat aggressive when compared to the Ritchey Beacon XL, those numbers don’t take the upsweep and backsweep into account, effectively changing the real-life riding position into something that’s more relaxed and less aero that what you might think.
26mm Clamps and Room for Bags
I didn’t give the 26mm clamp size much thought until I was bombing through rough rock gardens and found I wasn’t wincing with every nerve-destroying vibration in my hands. The generous width paired with the smaller-than-average 26mm clamp size result in a more flexible handlebar, and that translates over to more comfort and vibration absorption on rough terrain. I never felt like there was too much flex, and I found the bar to be surprisingly comfortable in the rough stuff, especially considering how thin the bar tape was.
Although the 660mm wide version I used will probably be too wide for many folks, it was also one of my favorite things about the bar. Not only does a wide bar pair nicely with a short stem, which makes for better off-road handling, but it also opens up much more real estate for oversized handlebar bags. In my case, that meant plenty of room for my large Bags by Bird Piccolo, which expands right up to 16.5” (42 cm) wide when fully packed. It would even leave more than 60mm of clearance on either side for the gigantic Fab’s Bikes Fabio’s Chest that Logan reviewed here.
Just like the Beacon XL, the mix of angles and specs worked wonders for me. The shallow drop made it easy to transition between riding in the drops and hoods. The unique shape of the bar also made for several distinct riding positions, which is ideal when riding back-to-back days or through changing terrain.
The only real negatives in my eyes are that 26mm clamps and quill stems aren’t as common these days compared to 31.8 and 35mm bars, and the price tag. You can pick up a double butted Ritchey Beacon XL or Salsa Cowchipper bar for $60, whereas the Towel Rack Bar costs over double that. If you’re on the hunt for a new ultra-wide drop bar, it’s worth doing your research and making some comparisons before dropping that much of change on an aluminum handlebar.
- Wide enough to offer enough control and stability for off-road ridin
- 26mm clamp size improves compliance, flexibility, and overall comfort
- Three width options to choose from
- Plenty of room for handlebar bags and accessories
- Not quite as shallow/short as the Ritchey Beacon XL
- No ergonomic profile built into the top section
- Expensive compared to the competition
- 26mm clamp size
- Width Tested: 660mm
- Material: 7075 Series Aluminum
- Weight: 414 grams
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Price: $125 USD
- Manufacturer’s Details: CrustBikes.com
What are my two favorite drop bars? The Ritchey Beacon XL and the Crust Towel Bar Rack, hands down. The Towel Rack Bar offers more flex and a slightly more relaxed riding position thanks to its 26mm clamp size and unique mix of rise and backsweep. In my eyes, these qualities make it a great choice for multi-day bikepacking and even riding singletrack. There’s no denying it’s a massively wide handlebar, which won’t work for everyone, but I’d say the Towel Rack has everything I need for drop-bar bikepacking bliss.
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