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Shimano PRO Vibe Carbon Fiber Handlebar
After riding the Look 695 SR and experiencing its terrific handling, it was clear that the 695 SR suited me, but even if I stripped the Shimano DuraAce DI2 parts from one of my Trek Madone 6.9 SSL frames, the changeover would still cost me over $8500 with tax for the paint/finish I would want (matte carbon 25th anniversary). A bit of of a non-starter for my wallet (Look 695 SR frame donations always welcome).
So I put my creative thoughts to work— I wondered if the handlebar might be a factor in the soft handling of my 2011 Trek Madone 6.9 SSL: the Bontrager Race XXX Lite handlebar is an ultralight but flexible handlebar (my 220-pound trusted bike mechanic calls it “noodly”), which sometimes is a plus (comfort), and sometimes not so good (very noticeable flex when sprinting or climbing while pulling hard on the brake hoods).
As perspective on my personal requirements, I weigh ~170 pounds when lean, my lactate threshold is about 340 watts, and I regularly ride at 400+ watts for several minutes at a time while yanking on the handlebar. I prefer an ultra responsive bike that makes me feel like no effort is being wasted.
And so I had Palo Alto Bicycles install the Shimano Vibe Pro handlebar, a considerably more stiff handlebar which shows a definite improvement in handling and in any effort which involves pulling hard on the bar (aggressive stand-up climbing and/or sprinting).
I weighed my prior Bontrager handlebar along with the Shimano Pro VIBE (both 42cm width):
Bontrager Race XXX Lite: 175g
Ritchey SuperLogic II: 194g = +19g
Shimano Vibe Round UD Carbon: 222g = +47g
Shimano Vibe Compact UD Carbon: 208g = +32g
That extra 32 grams adds a lot of stiffness, which I could feel immediately just in the shop (testing for flex). Subsequent rides confirmed that the Shimano handlebar is indeed much stiffer, and I greatly prefer the feel.
Note that a 2nd layer of handlebar tape (for comfort on long rides) adds another 50g or so, so this change is most definitely not a way to lighten up a bike. But I deem the improved performance worth the weight penalty.
After some weeks of use, I really like this bar, but the 'Compact' model, NOT the 'Round'. It rides great, it makes the bike feel super solid.
The Shimano Pro Vibe handlebar affords a big improvement in sprinting and stand-up aggressive climbing where one is pulling hard on the brake hoods or handlebar drops: I was quite impressed on the first ride after switching from the 2011 Bontrager Race XXX Lite handlebar.
Handling is also somewhat improved over the Bontrager Race XXX Lite bar I had been using. The Shimano Pro Vibe handlebar upgrade was definitely worth the money, since it narrows the gap between the Trek Madone 6.9 SSL and the Look 695 SR, and a $300 handlebar is a lot more palatable than swapping parts to the Look 695 SR frame for $8500. Still, it didn’t really address the handling issue, just helped some.
The Shimano Pro Vibe handlebar definitely needs some extra padding, because the added stiffness also translates into more road vibration into the bar. After adding a 2nd layer of handlebar tape (alas, about 2 ounces more in bike weight), the handlebar comfort is much improved.
To be clear other riders with this bar might feel no need for a double layer of handlebar tape, but my hands are critical to my comfort (and my living) so I don’t mess around there with marginal solutions.
In the drops
I tried the standard 'Round' curve first, and it was not comfortable in the drops for my hands. The 'Compact' bar was more comfortable for my hands. It has to do with the curvature of the handlebar and how the hand fits that curve.
Weak link: the stem
With the Shimano Pro Vibe installed, a clear weakness emerged: the Bontrager Race XXX Lite stem clamp design is clearly inadequate for the torque I exert on the handlebars; I can see and feel the bar pivoting around the wimpy clamp area of the Bontrager stem.
Possible upgrade: the 105mm Shimano VIBE SPRINT 'Mark Cavendish' stem, available in mid-January 2012. Those seeking the ultimate in stiffness might use the Shimano PRO Track stem, but its shortest length is 110mm.
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The Shimano Vibe Pro incorporates cable routing holes through the bar for brake cables and DI2, a nice touch. But this integrated cable routing is also a drawback: if the handlebars are turned fully to one side, this puts stress on the brake cable housing.
The Shimano Vibe Pro handlebar comes in “anatomic”, “round” and “compact” bends; I chose the “round”. Which is best I cannot say as it is strongly personal, but I think I would dislike the “anatomic” (which forces hand position to be modal), and that I would prefer the “compact”.