Tumbleweed Big Dipper Review: Reach for the Stars
The Tumbleweed Big Dipper is a new ultra-wide, dirt-centric drop bar that comes in three widths ranging from 510mm to a whopping 570mm and features an interesting combination of angles and measurements. We tested two sizes of this unique handlebar prior to today’s launch for our detailed review. Find it here…
Most of you are probably well-acquainted with Tumbleweed Bicycle Co., the small bikepacking-focused company out of Boise, Idaho. Tumbleweed debuted in late 2016 with the expedition-specific Prospector, made famous by loads of amazing photos and an excellent film from a test trip in Mongolia (if you missed it, be sure to watch Bikepacking the Mongolian Steppe here).
Since then, owner and fellow bike nerd Daniel Molloy has slowly but steadily expanded the brand’s catalog with clever new components, including the popular T Rack and distinctive Persuader handlebar—which was made with the Prospector in mind. Additionally, Tumbleweed introduced two versions of the Stargazer, a drop-bar 29er designed for light touring. It was only a matter of time before Tumbleweed rolled out a drop handlebar—a logical progression for their product line—and we couldn’t wait to see their approach. We had the opportunity to test two sizes of the Tumbleweed Big Dipper before its release for this review.
Big Bar, Big Name
I love digging into the creative titles of bikes and components that people dream up in this industry. To provide some context for this obsession, I worked for a branding firm that specializes in product naming during a different chapter of my life. I don’t see myself as an expert, but two things are certain: names for bike stuff are a lot more fun than tech startups, and it’s hard to top Big Dipper. Not only is the Tumbleweed Big Dipper a notably wide drop bar—already checking off two prosaic analogies—but it was specifically developed for bikes like their own Stargazer. See what they did there?
Furthermore, the metaphorical possibilities around the Big Dipper asterism run deep. The seven bright stars within the Ursa Major constellation are not only one of the most visible groups in the night sky, but their spatial relationship with the North Star makes them particularly useful for celestial navigation. Taking it a step further, this star pattern is known as the Plough in Ireland and the United Kingdom, providing another fitting analogy considering that this handlebar is ISO rated for mountain bike use and designed for dirt riding. Product naming doesn’t get much better than this. But enough with that. Let’s get on to the bars.
Can’t Have Too Many Bars
Do you remember the massive influx of wide gravel bars we experienced a few years ago? The Crust Towel Rack started the trend and then the Curve Walmer came opened the flood gates in 2019. It seemed like newer and wider models were hitting the market every week, and sometimes a couple of times per week. Presto, we suddenly went from one option to a veritable potpourri of widths, angles, and models to choose from. So, why did Tumbleweed decide to throw their hat in the ring at this juncture? My short answer would be that there’s never a bad time. There’s a lot of personal preference involved with bar choice, and experimenting with different handlebar widths and angles is an obsession many of us develop at some point along our cycling journey. You can’t have too many handlebars.
The longer answer is that Daniel wanted a really good drop bar that matches the use case of the Stargazer. Tumbleweed had already designed the Persuader flat bar for their Prospector model, and he tried dozens of drop bars over the years without finding exactly the right one. He had a good idea of what would work well for the Stargazer, so he set out to make it.
That being said, the Big Dipper saw several tweaks and changes from the original design Daniel had in mind. At one point in a long process that began in 2021, he had a full-scale bar 3D printed and installed it on a bike for test riding. Still, the design changed quite a bit before he had production samples made. Even the sample bars were ridden and tested for the better part of a year before he signed off for production. “I really agonized for a long time about the final design on the Big Dipper,” Daniel said. “The tooling cost is super expensive on drop bars, especially on a really high-end bar like the Big Dipper, so I wanted to make sure we had everything nailed down.”
For the Stargazer and Beyond
From my experience, the Stargazer is a pretty versatile bike. As a result, Tumbleweed has had customers build them up as gravel bikes, commuters, bikepacking rigs, and trail bikes. Or, in the case of my personal Stargazer, several of the above. For that reason, Daniel wanted the Big Dipper design to balance all those scenarios—a bar that’s comfortable/ergonomic while riding in the drops with a slight backsweep and wider stance to provide plenty of comfortable real estate in the tops. He also wanted a relatively shallow drop and a short reach to enable a quick transition from the top of the bar to the shifter hoods and then into the drops. As you can see in the comparison below, the Big Dipper has the shortest reach of several popular bars in this category. Otherwise, it’s within the norm as far its angles go. It’s worth noting that it doesn’t have any lateral sweep. That, along with the moderate 20 degrees of flare, keeps the brake levers from being too askew, which is something that often happens with gravel bars.
|Curve Walmer Bar||40-60cm||60mm||29°||110mm||7°||$120|
|Ritchey Beacon XL||52cm||65mm||36°||80mm||4.5°||$110|
|PNW Coast Handlebar||44/48/52cm||65mm||20°||105mm||0°||$59|
|Spank Flare 25 Vibrocore||42-52mm||65mm||25°||110mm||0°||$130|
|Ritchey VentureMAX XL||50/52cm||75mm||24°||102mm||4.6°||$110|
|Crust Towel Rack||515/535/555mm||100mm||25°||105||12°||$125|
*Measured from center to center at the hoods
Wide, Wider, and Widest (almost)
One thing that sets the Big Dipper apart is its width. It comes in three widths: 51cm, 54cm, and 57cm, as measured from center to center at the hoods. There’s only a small handful of “ultra-wide” drop bars that measure over 530mm, putting the Big Dipper in a relatively eccentric niche group with the likes of the Crust Towel Rack (515/535/555mm) and Curve Walmer (550/600mm). It’s not the widest among its peers, but its unique range of widths distinguishes it from others; those three widths are exclusive to the Big Dipper, as far as I know. There are many 520mm bars, but it’s the only one offered in 510 and 540, and the 570mm option is the second-widest bar on the market, only eclipsed by the massive 600mm Walmer. That also speaks to the Big Dipper’s capabilities. With those measurements, there’s no doubt that it’s a dirt-focused handlebar. It’s worth adding that the Big Dipper’s full width from center to center at the bar ends is 595mm, 625mm, and 655mm, respectively.
Simply put, wider drop bars increase control and confidence, which is particularly evident when descending. Imagine going from a 740mm mountain bike bar to an 800mm bar, which is about the equivalent of going from a 48cm drop bar to the 54cm Big Dipper. This has been a game changer for me, especially for riding trails and chunkier dirt roads. I used to just run the biggest bars I could find, which were usually 46 or 48cm options.
One of the other reasons we love the trend of wider drop bars is their enhanced utility. If you’ve used a standard-width 42-46cm drop bar for bikepacking, you know the challenges that come with it if you want to pack anything other than the smallest of handlebar bags and still retain enough space around the levers for shifting, braking, and unobstructed movement. The 54 and 57cm Big Dippers provide plenty of room for large bags like Ron’s Bikes Fab’s Chest or wider roll bags like the Revelate Sweet Roll or Pronghorn. They also have 15 centimeters of 31.8mm clamp area that provides room to mount accessories such as lights, GPS devices, and bells.
On the Trail
I tried both the 54 and 57cm models, first installing the wider of the two on my Titanium Stargazer. I’m 6’0” tall with fairly long arms and moderate/narrow shoulders (17″/43.2cm as measured), and let me tell you, 57cm is pretty wide. I generally liked it, especially for mellow riding with hands on the tops, but I found myself a little too sprawled out in the drops and ultimately switched to the 54cm model. To me, the narrower 54 had more of a natural feel in the drops, allowing a comfortable elbows-out position, which is where I like to be while descending. To be sure, the 54 is also very wide, and I definitely prefer the slightly wider stance it provides over the 52cm bars I’ve tried in the past. The extra leverage is a bonus, and the slight backsweep on the tops feels quite comfy while just pedaling along in an upright and relaxed posture.
Another thing that makes the Big Dipper somewhat unique is that it’s ISO 4210 tested for mountain bike use. Although some gravel and mountain drop bars get certified to this standard, most drop bars don’t make this claim, and some are only tested to a road standard. The Big Dipper underwent 200,000 cycles on a testing jig to achieve this and is made of triple-butted, heat-treated 7000-series aluminum alloy, which is stronger and lighter than the 6000-series that’s used on many lower-end OEM bars. This is the same material that’s used in the higher-end Ritchey “WCS” level bars and “Deluxe” line of Salsa bars. The Curve Walmer bar uses 6000-series alloy, for the record.
Despite the Big Dipper’s testing and materials pedigree, it’s still comfortable and has a little bit of flex, similar to other wide drop bars I’ve tried. If I focused on it while riding, I could sense some give on rough sections of trail or less-maintained forest service roads. I was aware of some movement if I intentionally flexed the bar, but it’s not an overt quality. In short, it’s stiff enough to feel plenty in control and confident while not being overly harsh or jarring. Realistically, it wasn’t notably better or worse in that regard than most of the wide alloy bars I’ve tried, such as the 520mm PNW Coast that I previously had on my Stargazer.
Generally speaking, I like the angles and shape of the Big Dipper. It felt intuitive and natural, and there’s nothing excessive or annoying about any of it. The short reach with a relatively shallow drop is a great combination that allows fluid hand movements from the hoods to the drops and back again without requiring excessive upper body motion or a shift in stance. That’s a nice touch when you’re riding more technical ups and downs and need to change positions quickly and often. Speaking of drops, I found that the somewhat flattened section on the bottom curve makes for a comfortable hand position for long gravel descents. And the conservative 20 degrees of flare keep the levers in a manageable position, too.
It’s worth noting that the short reach and backsweep may have an effect on bike fit. Some folks might need a longer stem to adjust for the reach, while others might be able to use this to their advantage and better fit a bike that’s slightly too large. Then again, moving to a wider bar will negate this; wider bars lengthen your physical reach and make the bike feel longer, and with the Big Dipper, you’ll have a hard time resisting the option to go wider. That might be from a standard size like 48 to 51cm, or from 52 to 54cm, or all the way up to 57cm.
- Model/Size Tested: 54cm and 57cm Tumbleweed Big Dipper
- Actual Weight: 379 grams (54cm)
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Price: $115
- Manufacturer’s Details: Tumbleweed
- A good combination of angles—particularly the moderate backsweep and short reach—provide a nice feel for off-road riding
- Three good widths for folks who prefer wide bars
- Wide clamp area and width between the drops work well for handlebar bags
- Quality materials tested and rated for mountain bike use but still not harsh feeling
- Great name and a nice aesthetic
- Not available in smaller widths
- Short reach and backsweep may require longer stem (this could either be a pro or a con, depending on your fit and preference)
- Hard to find bar tape that will fit the 57cm version
Alongside their two flagship bikes, Daniel and Tumbleweed have steadily grown a concise catalog of components in which one constant prevails: their products are intentionally designed with careful consideration of purpose, quality, and materials. The meticulous attention to detail seen in the Big Dipper is no exception, especially once you consider the thought that went into each and every angle and measurement.
In summary, the Tumbleweed Big Dipper is a well-balanced and comfortable drop bar made to a quality standard, and it comes in a few wider-than-average sizes that work great for off-road riding and loaded bikepacking. There is also truth in their process, and the result makes it clear that they’re not just reeling off products to be quick to market but slowly crafting designs that mean something.
Tumbleweed Big Dipper Review Video
Despite their apparent simplicity, drop bars can be surprisingly complex, especially as the range of available widths and angles continues to expand. In this video review, Neil discusses how the new Tumbleweed Big Dipper is a refreshing take on the drop bar and shares his insights after a summer of riding.
Make sure to dig into these related articles for more info...
Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.