Ritchey Beacon XL Handlebar: A Drop Bar for Mountain Bikers
Never quite satisfied with the shape of drop bars, Miles finds curvy bar bliss on the Ritchey Beacon XL, a super wide drop bar with a 36° flare. Find his thoughts on it here…
Over the last four years, I’ve tested and reviewed a total of 10 drop-bar bikes on this site. Over that time, I can say with certainty that I’ve never truly loved any of the handlebars those bikes were specced with. The Ritchey WCS Carbon VentureMAX handlebar on the Ritchey Outback I reviewed a few years back was close—probably the best I had used at the time—but alas, I didn’t like it enough to write a whole article on it. In my eyes, the right handlebar can change your entire experience on a bike. They can change your position and fit on the bike, play a role in what you can and can’t ride comfortably, and even impact what kind of bags you can use, depending on their shape and width.
As someone who often thinks, “Why am I riding this on a drop-bar bike?” and prefers the stability and familiarity of flat mountain bike bars, I find that most drop bars fall short. They are too often narrow, not flared enough, too long, or the drops are too deep. For the type of riding I like to do, which almost always involves terrain that could be considered mountain biking, I’ve learned I prefer drop bars that are wide and tight. That’s where the Ritchey Beacon XL comes in.
I’ll give the folks at Chumba all the credit for this one, as it was the Yaupon build they sent me to test out that introduced me to the Beacon XL. Up until that, I wasn’t paying much attention to the drop bar space and made myself a promise I’d take a break from riding any type of racy drop-bar gravel bike. The truth is, these feelings are all quite new to me. There was a time (I’m thinking back to my original Fool’s Loop scouting trip) when I’d happily fly down rough tracks on drop-bar bikes equipped with nothing larger than a 45mm tire. I think what has really pushed me away from these bouts of self-inflicted torture is the fact that my body has begun to hurt.
Spending most of my days either sitting at a computer, driving long distances in my van, or riding a bike has wreaked havoc on my lower back and neck. While I’ve managed to relax my neck with regular stretching and a more ergonomic work setup, my lower back is still a work in progress. In short, my hip flexors have shortened and weakened to the point that I have some serious muscle imbalance. The last thing I want to do is ride a drop-bar bike that puts me into an aggressive riding position, hinging my already tender back closer towards my thighs.
I’m sure the Chumba Yaupon’s generous stack height is partly responsible for the perceived increase in comfort, taking some of the strain off my lower back, but the Beacon XL feels like a mountain biker designed it. Its 520mm width (from hood to hood) and 36° flare equate to a massive 667mm width from end to end. Riding in the drops, the extra width provides a super stable platform that also soaks up vibrations from the trail. While it isn’t that noticeable, the bar uses Ritchey’s anatomical drop profile, providing two distinct hand positions: an angled part further up and a straight section towards the end of the bar. Although it might not offer the same level of versatility as the bio-bend profile found on their VentureMAX XL, I found it easy to switch between riding in the hoods, on the top section of the bar, and within the two positions in the drops.
Drop, Reach, and Flare
Between all the different specs, angles, and measurements a handlebar can have these days, it can be difficult to discern between them. Ritchey does a great job at making this extra challenging with their different drop profiles and top section shapes. For example, the drop bars can have one of four different top section profiles: aero, ergo-aero, ergonomic, and round. Plus, there are two other drop profiles in addition to the two mentioned above. The Beacon XL has an ergonomic top section, making for a round and wide bar that’s easy to get a good hold on. It also has a slight backsweep, 4.5° to be exact, which helps create a more natural hand position while riding on top.
Ritchey Beacon XL vs The Rest
|Ritchey Beacon XL
|Ritchey VentureMAX XL
|Curve Walmer Bar
|PNW Coast Handlebar
|Spank Flare 25 Vibrocore
Compared to some other similarly shaped bars, the Beacon XL manages to offer a unique set of angles and measurements. Mainly, its drop (vertical distance from the horizontal stem clamp area to the bottom of the bar’s drop extension) and reach (how far the handlebar extends forward from the stem clamp area) numbers set it apart from the others. I consider anything under 120mm to be a shallow drop, and the Beacon XL’s is just 80mm—one of the shortest out there. This is one of my favourite aspects of the bar, as it makes transitioning from drops to hoods quicker and easier, even while riding off road. It also results in a more upright riding position when in the drops, which helps my back and boosts my confidence while riding on trails. I almost never ride in the drops, but the Beacon XL has me reconsidering this. The 65mm reach is also quite short but right on trend with other modern off-road drop bars. Again, the shorter reach pulls the cockpit back towards the rider for a more upright, less stretched-out position.
Truthfully, I’ve never been a huge fan of super-flared drop bars. Awkwardly angled hoods don’t make that much sense to me, and I think a wider bar provides most of what I’m after. However, the combination of the Beacon XL’s drop, reach, and 36° flare works, and I found it incredibly comfortable on all terrain. Paired with some super thick Wolf Tooth Supple bar tape, there was a lot of bar to grab on to on rough trails, and excessive hand-numbing vibrations weren’t much of an issue on long descents. I’d be happy to see a carbon version of the Beacon XL, but for now it’s offered as the Beacon Comp (double-butted 6061 alloy) and the WCS Beacon (triple-butted 7050 alloy). The latter being stronger and lighter than the Comp model tested here.
- Wide enough to remind you that you should probably be riding a mountain bike
- Shallow drop makes for easy transitions and stability
- Double-butted Comp version is only $60
- Bar and drop profile is easy to get a good hold on
- Lots of room for bags and gear
- Only one width, although the standard version comes in 40-46cm
- No carbon option
- Flare might be too much for some
- Material (as tested): Double-butted 6061 Alloy
- Weight: 325 grams
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Price: $58.95 USD
- Manufacturer’s Details: RitcheyLogic.com
When the Beacon bar was released back in 2020, it caught our attention. Even among an overwhelming number of handlebar options out there, it managed to provide a unique shape that looked really nice, at least on paper. The downside? This first batch topped out at 46cm, which wasn’t quite wide enough for bigger, rowdier riders. Installed on a drop-bar mountain bike like the Chumba Yaupon, the Ritchey Beacon XL lives up to the hype. The shallow drop is easy to use, the width feels natural for someone more comfortable on wide flat mountain bike bars, and the super flared profile works, even if it looks kinda funky. Wrap these things up in some thick bar tape and you’ve got yourself a drop-bar setup that even the most dedicated of mountain bikers can get behind.
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