Handlebars for Big People
After years of experimentation, 6’5″ TJ Kearns finally found three handlebars that fit his three preferred styles of riding. In this roundup review, he takes a look at the high and wide ENVE M9, the big touring-friendly Tumbleweed Persuader, and the ultra-wide Curve Walmer bars—a trio of handlebars that just might be the holy handlebar trinity for big folks…
As a tall person at 6’5″ with a 36-inch inseam, finding a bike that fits correctly has always been a struggle. I’ve usually resorted to finding the bike with the highest stack and longest reach, which until recently was a tall order. Looking back at my first bikepacking bike, the original Surly Krampus, and now comparing it to the current Why Cycles Wayward, it’s hard to believe I put so many miles on such a small bike. The Krampus was an XL frame in name, but if you look at the geometry charts, my XL Krampus is more like a Large Wayward. To compensate for such a short bike, I would have to run the maximum amount of spacers under the stem, or worse, one of those goofy looking riser stems. Not ideal. I tried a set of 3″ rise aluminum bars but found them to have to have a scary amount of flex to them. Then I tried a set of steel Surly Sunrise bars, which have 70mm of rise and look like a motocross bar, crossbar and all. Those bars were so stiff I wondered if I had just ridden a jackhammer down the trail—not to mention they weigh as much as one.
I have had similar problems on all my bikes. For a long time the widest bars I could get for my Fargo were the 46cm Woodchippers that came on it, so I just dealt with feeling a little cramped and having my shoulders slump forward during long days in the saddle. But now that the wide bar craze has entered the drop bar scene I’ve found a solution for the Fargo.
The three bars in this article are my personal favorites and are what I’ve found works best for my size and the bikes I ride. The Tumbleweed Persuader bar has made my Why Cycles Wayward—which was already very comfortable—fit like a glove and ride equally well. The ENVE M9 50mm carbon bars helped me get the bar height on my Why S7 to the perfect height for riding the rough trails here in Pisgah. The Curve Cycling Walmer bars transformed my Salsa Fargo into an all-day, all-terrain riding machine by allowing me to get comfortable on drop bars. Here are the details on each one, along with pros and cons.
ENVE M9 Carbon Handlebars
ENVE Composites is a brand that doesn’t really need an introduction. The high-end wheel and component manufacture has been outfitting folks with top-tier taste for over 15 years. Best known for their boutique carbon wheels, they also manufacture handlebars, stems, forks, hubs and seat posts, all made out of fancy space plastics. I’ve known about ENVE for some time but had never owned one of their products, mostly due to the price tag. I’ve also been a little wary of anything carbon, especially when it came to parts that keep me on the bike. I’m familiar with the carbon debate—that it’s just as strong, if not stronger than alloys—but that was my preference. However, this bar came recommended as “the best wide high-rise bar out there,” so we reached out to ENVE and they sent us a set of their M9 50mm riser bars for review.
ENVE label the M9 as a “race proven downhill handlebar.” It’s available in 30 and 50mm rise options, and designed to handle the roughest downhill tracks, but still be compliant enough to reduce upper body fatigue. ENVE claims, “Carbon fiber is the ideal material for a gravity bar because fiber orientation and bar shape can be controlled independently and developed in unison, resulting in a tuned flex profile that cannot be achieved with aluminum. This bar is tuned to be precise and responsive, while absorbing fatigue-inducing chatter and taking the sting out of the biggest hits.”
The M9 replaced an aluminum Spank Vibrocore bar that I had been riding for several months previously. Spank’s Vibrocore technology is said to have all the benefits of carbon but at a much cheaper price. I will say that I could feel a difference over a standard aluminum bar but it was nothing compared to what was offered by the M9.
I mounted the M9 on my Why Cycles S7, my current trail bike and the one I choose when heading out into our local rough and rowdy trails. I find the bar to be extremely comfortable, and its high rise has made riding the S7 much more pleasurable with a more upright climbing position. On the descents, the higher rise makes it easier to loft the front end up and over obstacles, manuals are made even easier, and the bike just feels like it fits me better. Pisgah is known for long and rough descents—the type of descent that when you get to the bottom your whole body is sore and the distinct smell of burning brakes fills the air. Hand fatigue is common on trails like these and any little advantage helps. I can say that after running these bars for a while now that I have considerably less hand fatigue and upper body soreness after a ride, as well as a major reduction in hand numbness on long days.
Overall, I have been very happy with the ENVE M9 bars. Their 50mm rise combined with the wide 810mm width fits my extra-sized body. It has allowed me to be more comfortable on the bike, both climbing and descending, which in turn makes me want to ride longer and harder. At $170 they’re not cheap but they also aren’t the most expensive option on the market, either. Sure, you can buy some aluminum bars for half the price and be perfectly happy, but it’s hard to put a price on comfort and the ENVE M9’s tick all the boxes for me.
- 50mm rise provides a comfortable upright position
- Carbon fiber’s damping properties help alleviate numbness and fatigue
- 810mm width equals more control
- Expensive compared to aluminum
- Only available for stems with a 31.8mm clamp
- Material: Carbon
- Width: 810mm
- Rise: 50mm
- Sweep/tip: 8° / 4°
- Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm
- Weight: 265 grams
- Place of Manufacture: China
- Price: $170
- Manufacturer’s Details: Enve.com
Tumbleweed Persuader Bar
Tumbleweed Bicycle company is a small operation out of Boise, Idaho, that specializes in making bikes and components for off-road touring. While they don’t produce a large number of products, they do make well thought out items such as frames, racks, and bars, all designed and tested to endure the most rugged and harsh conditions. The Persuader bar is a mountain-oriented touring bar focused on comfort. It has 50mm of rise and 30° of backsweep, allowing an upright seating position, as well a very comfortable hand position for longer rides. Tumbleweed produces these bars out of triple butted chromoly steel with a flared 31.8mm clamp area so you don’t have to run shims like many small-batch steel bars require. Coming in at 638 grams, they are not light by any means, but I’ll trade some weight for comfort on a touring bike.
The shape of the bar is unique in the sense that there’s a very wide straight section on either side of the bar clamp. This allows plenty of room to mount bags, lights, and other accessories. The grip area of the bar also provides enough room for multiple length grips to be installed, which opens up multiple hand positions when running grips such as the ESI 8.25” long chunky grips. I’ve been running the Wolf Tooth Fat Paw grips, which measure 5.3” long, but will switch to the longer ESI grips after I wear these out to give my hands some more real estate to work with. The 50mm rise gives a nice upright seated position, and combined with the 30° sweep puts my wrists in a more natural position than riding a normal mountain bar that has 8-9° of sweep.
The best thing about the Persuaders is the 800mm width. Bars this wide allow me to open up my chest and keep my shoulders back once fatigue sets in. I rode Jones H-bars for a long time before realizing that they are just not wide enough for a big person like me. I liked the sweep and rise of the Jones, but the width was making me feel cramped.
The Persuader bars felt natural on the trail. The bar’s steel construction has a certain amount of flex to it, which helps when running a rigid fork. And despite the alternative hand position, it still allowed me to ride at a normal pace on singletrack over rough terrain, which surprised me. I thought for sure that I was going to struggle a little with the 30° sweep but that wasn’t at all the case. The first ride felt very natural and I didn’t have any of the hand soreness or numbness that came with running the Surly Sunrise bars I had on the bike previously.
Overall, the Persuader bars are a perfect fit for my Why Cycles Wayward. The 800mm width allows for better posture on the bike and combined with the 50mm rise puts me in a proper upright seating position for multi-day adventures. The 30° sweep allows my hands and wrist to be in a more natural position over a standard mountain bar. From dialing in the right rise, sweep, and width, to being able to have plenty of space for accessories and hand positions, it’s readily apparent that Tumbleweed put a lot of thought into these bars. With that being said, the only real negative I can come up with is the weight. At 638 grams they are just under 2.5 times the weight of the ENVE M9 carbon bars on my S7, but I would take the weight of the Persuaders over the ENVE’s every time for long multi-day adventures.
- 30° sweep puts hands and wrist in a more natural position
- 50mm rise gives a more upright seated position
- 800mm width opens up chest for better breathing and posture
- Large amount of area for accessories
- 638 grams is heavy for a handlebar
- Material: Steel
- Width: 800mm
- Rise: 50mm
- Sweep: 30°
- Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm
- Weight: 638 grams
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Price: $135
- Manufacturer’s Details: Tumbleweed.cc
Curve Walmer Bars
Named after a narrow pedestrian/cycle bridge on the Yarra River in Melbourne, the Walmer Bar is an ultra-wide, off-road-specific drop handlebar. According to Curve, “There’s little room for anything else if Walmer Bars are crossing.”
Right now, the Walmer Bar is the widest drop bar on the market, although there are a lot of wide drop bars being released. It comes in four widths: 460, 500, 550, and 600mm (at the hoods), or 610, 650, 700, 750 (at the drops). It also has some interesting and unique angles. Each features 7° of sweep in the flat section, which shortens the reach to the hoods and counteracts the wide grip. The Walmer Bar is constructed from Curve 6066 alloy with a 31.8mm clamp and retails for $189AUD (about $129USD).
First off, these bars are WIDE. Almost comically so. When I first mounted these bars on my Fargo I laughed at how ridiculous they looked, but then I rode them around for a bit and immediately took them seriously. These bars are awesome! Finally, a set of drop bars that are comfortable for me. The 600mm width opened up my chest and brought my hands out to a comfortable position. I couldn’t wait to get them out on some gravel, but I was most interested in trying them on singletrack. For years I have been limited to 46cm wide bars on my road bike and Fargo, and I always felt cramped. After a couple hours, fatigue in my shoulders would set in and cause a lot of discomfort for me and I would spend a fair amount of time stretching and on the foam roller to get my shoulders pulled back to a normal position after a long ride. Having a wider position in the hoods as well as the drops has definitely helped alleviate those issues, in addition to increasing stability and control when riding rougher terrain.
It’s not just about comfort with these bars. The wider bars place the rider in a more aggressive position for descending rough gravel and technical singletrack. The increased leverage that you have while descending gives you greater control while steering and leaning the bike, which comes in handy when navigating slow technical terrain on a loaded bike. That extra width also comes in handy while climbing out of the saddle where you are more likely to be pulling up on the bars for extra power. The Walmer’s have plenty of real estate for mounting bags, lights, a GPS, and any other accessories you might want.
Overall, I am very happy with the Curve Cycling Walmer bars. The wide nature of these bars, combined with multiple hand positions, allows for all-day comfort in a variety of terrain, from buff gravel to technical singletrack. If you’re looking for a new drop bar for your bikepacking setup, the Curve Walmer bar is a great choice. The only negative I could think of is for those concerned about wind resistance and drag. The added width hinders any kind of aero position.
- Extra wide allows for stability and control
- Plenty of room for mounting bags and accessories
- Doesn’t come in carbon (for those who care)
- Could be too wide for some
- Material: Aluminum
- Width (hoods): 460, 500, 550 (tested), 600mm
- Width (bar ends): 610, 650, 700, 750mm
- Flare: 29°
- Backsweep: 7°
- Drop/Reach: 110mm / 60mm
- Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm
- Weight: 417 grams
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Price: $189
- Manufacturer’s Details: CurveCycling.com.au