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Shimano Vibe Pro Carbon Handlebar on The Trek Madone 6.9 SSL

After riding the Look 695 SR and experiencing its terrific handling, I would really like to buy the 695 SR right now, but the frameset costs US$7500 in the matte finish that I’d prefer (and a still lofty $6000 in the unappealing standard designs). Worth every penny, but it’s a ton of money.

Instead, I wondered if the handlebar might be a factor in the inferior handling of my 2011 Trek Madone 6.9 SSL; the Bontrager Race XXX Lite handlebar is an ultralight and flexible handlebar, which sometimes is good (comfort), and sometimes not so good (flex when sprinting or climbing while pulling hard on the brake hoods).

Shimano Vibe Round UD Carbon handlebar

And so tonight I had Palo Alto Bicycles install the Shimano Vibe Pro handlebar, a much stiffer handlebar which I hope will improve the handling and sprinting performance (sprinting with hands pulling hard on the brake hoods).

See Shimano Pro Vibe handlebar at Amazon.

The Shimano Vibe Pro has cable routing holes through the bar for brake cables and DI2, a nice touch, but also a drawback: if the handlebars are turned as far as they’ll go this puts stress on the brake cable housing.

The handlebar comes in “anatomic”, “round” and “compact” bends; I chose the “round”. Which is best I cannot say as it is strongly personal.

I weighed both handlebars (both 42cm width):

Bontrager Race XXX Lite: 175g
Shimano Vibe Round UD Carbon: 222g = +47g

That extra 47 grams adds a lot of stiffness, which I could feel immediately just in the shop (testing for flex). Note that the weight is a full 32g more than claimed by Shimano. On the other hand, a single wrap of the Pro HB handlebar tape dropped about 22g off the dual-wrap I had been using.

I’ll have a report on the ride experience soon. If it perks up the handling, it will have been worth it, and then perhaps the ultra-beefy Shimano 'Mark Cavendish' stem might be in order. If not, then I’ll have learned something important about the potential of my Trek’s handling.

UPDATE Dec 7, 2011: the Shimano Pro Vibe handlebar affords a big improvement in sprinting and stand-up aggressive climbing, wow! Handling is also improved. This was worth the money, and narrows the gap considerably between the Trek Madone 6.9 SSL and the Look 695 SR in the areas previously discussed (the 695 SR is still sturdier in feel, but now the difference is acceptable, and I don’t have $8500 for a frame burning a hole in my pocket).

But the Shimano Pro Vibe handlebar needs some extra padding, because the added stiffness also translates into more road feel, so I’ll be adding some extra padding to compensate.

With the Shimano Pro Vibe installed, a clear weakness emerges: the Bontrager Race XXX Lite stem clamp is clearly inadequate for the torque I exert on the handlebars; I can see the bar moving left/right, pivoting around the clamp area of the stem. So the 105mm Shimano 'Mark Cavendish' stem is not available until mid-January 2012, when I will install it also.

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