Carbon or Aluminum Handlebars?
There’s a reason why many pros still compete with aluminum handlebars
By Mon Garcia
Welcome back to another installment of Common Cents Cycling, a series dedicated to proving that cycling doesnt have to be as expensive as you think it could be. This time around, we’ll take a look at something a little less glamorous but one that all pros still use: aluminum handlebars. While handlebars made of carbon fiber have been around for more than a decade, we still see professional riders insisting on riding with aluminum handlebars. Let’s take a look at why.
Price. Off—or rather, still on—the shelf, aluminum handlebars are generally less expensive than their carbon counterparts. That is, unless you go with the trend of buying cheap, imitation carbon parts, in which case, just don’t, as I’ll explain later. Proper carbon handlebars can cost up to six times more expensive than common aluminum models. Locally, that translate to P1,500 to P3,000 for aluminum bars, and around P6,000 to P12,000 for carbon models. If you realize that you may have to replace your bars when you crash, those numbers add up.
Weight. The lure of expensive carbon handlebars, aside from bragging rights, is their supposed lighter weight, which, for a weightweenie like me, makes them quite irresistible. While true for most models, the lightest aluminum handlebars can match the weight of most mid-level carbon bars, and the lightest carbon models aren’t that much lighter usually because they still have to reinforce the design to be able to handle the stress and abuse of daily use. Think a difference of about 20 to 40 grams for the top-end aluminum bars versus top-end commercially available carbon ones. There are boutique brands that will push the limits of how light carbon bars can go, and the limits of your wallet as well. Want to know by how much? Here…
Safety. And here we get to the most important point and why professional cycling teams still use aluminum handlebars at the highest levels of competition. Carbon is a material that can be engineered and manufactured to be very light. It’s a great material for bike frames, which can distribute the stress over a large area, and can more readily show cracks and imperfections in the material. However, every serious cyclist knows how rough the sport can be on equipment and the handlebars are load-bearing components tied in to bike control. Failure of such a component will have disastrous results on the safety of the person. That extra level of safety is well worth the few grams of extra weight that an aluminum model has, in my opinion. Most professional athletes and mechanics agree, too. The fact that handlebars are usually covered with bar tape means you may not see small cracks that develop after a crash (or simply the bike falling over) and would not be able to tell if the bar needs replacing. Obviously, you should not ride with cracked bars.
Aerobar compatibility. Something to consider for triathletes and sportive riders who like to attach aero extensions to their bars: most super light carbon handlebars are actually not engineered to handle the stress of the aerobar clamp, and the full weight of your torso on the flat area of the bar tops. Sadly, some bike shops will not tell you this. They will let you buy their expensive carbon handlebar and willingly add aero extensions at the risk of your safety. Some people assume that by buying all the expensive stuff, they ensure durability. These high-end components are purpose-built and you risk your own safety if you don’t heed the manufacturer’s claims. Bike shop employees can sometimes forget. Like I said in a previous article, caveat emptor.
Skip expensive carbon handlebars and choose aluminum. You’ll be safer and be like the pros. Safety over bragging rights, guys. See you out on the corsa!
Common Cents Cycling is a series dedicated to reviewing cycling-related products that give great bang-for-the-buck and marginal utility.