There's no denying that handlebars made from bamboo split opinion. I asked my Twitter followers what they thought about them, and the response was pretty much 50-50. My initial scepticism had to be kept in check: how could wood be a sensible choice for handlebars? Surely they'll snap. But Barry tested Passchier's Gump bars and that didn't end with a face full of splinters. In fact, he quite liked them… and surely he wouldn't want to take out one of his new writers… I'll be okay. Still, doubt was on my mind; so before fitting the bars, I thought it would be sensible to do some due diligence. How strong is bamboo? I asked Google. And the trusty source of all knowledge put my worries to bed. Bamboo reportedly has a higher tensile strength than steel… although I'm not quite sure what that really means. It's also used as scaffolding in all sorts of places around the world. That's got to count for something, right?
One thing is for certain: these bars are beautiful. Photographs don't do them justice, and the finish is impeccable. A piece of art in their own right, it felt almost criminal knowing that I was going to take them off-road with the potential to be busted up. The minimal look seriously appeals to me and they're a head-turner. Some riders might be used to the little alignment markers most bars nowadays come with to allow for centralised and perfectly rolled bars, but I was happy to swap these out for the perfectly unspoiled wood instead.
With my doubts somewhat eased, it was time to fit the Astaires on a bike. My rigid alloy gravel bike would have been my first choice, but review gear doesn't often stay on my bike long before being switched out again. The drop bars, and accompanying hooded brakes/gears weren't going to make for an easy swap, so the gravel bike was ruled out. Instead, I chose my steel hardtail—a Stif Squatch. I stripped the bike of the usual bars, taking care to slide my brake levers off and onto the Passchier bars without scratching the finish. Finally, it was time to tighten the stem. Except it wasn't. The 31.8mm diameter of the bamboo bars (obviously) didn't fit the 35mm stem clamp I already had fitted. And I didn't have a spare. Thankfully, next-day delivery meant that I had a stem quickly enough to complete the test, but I was also reminded to be better prepared. I can also confirm that the Astaire bars are indeed 31.8mm in diameter, despite not being listed on Passchier's website.
After fitting the bars and reading the accompanying information, my first question was: who are these bars for? The instructions made it clear that the bars aren't made for trail riding, and their narrow 620mm width confirmed this. The vibration dampening properties (more on this soon) suit off-road riding, but the bars' narrowness offers less control than I'd have liked, when riding on double track. Perhaps I'm so used to 800mm handlebars on my mountain bikes that anything much smaller feels twitchy and less stable.
I left the house and firmly stuck to the 'no jumpy stuff' rule that I'd read on the leaflet. Instead, a local loop would let me ride road, gravel, double track, and even a ribbon of grassy singletrack. The road riding didn't seem to feel any different at all, aside from the bars being narrower. My alloy Burgtec bars, which were fitted before the swap, felt very similar. I honestly felt quite deflated, thinking that I had wasted my time swapping in the Astaire bars only to find no difference... at least to begin with.
When it was finally time to ditch the road in favour of gravel, I stood to climb a small bank and that's when the bars seemed to come alive. The definite flex was noticeable without being unnerving. Both the tarmac and gravel climbs were subject to the dampening that Passchier had promised. They seemed, as advertised, to 'soak up the road.'
The definite flex was noticeable without being unnerving. Both the tarmac and gravel climbs were subject to the dampening that Passchier had promised.
As my ride progressed and I left the gravel, with the tracks turning to dust and dirt, the vibration of the bars again seemed similar to alloy bars when unweighted. A slight change to my usual relaxed riding position, and a little weight through the arms and onto the bars, brought them back to life again.
Eventually, I found some familiarity with the width of the bars and started to find comfort in tighter turns again. After that, I felt duty call. I'm definitely an off-road rider, so if the bars have come to me, they must be put through proper riding, right? A couple of short descents gave me a chance to hop and skip the bike around a little. Some bunny hops and small pops from roots and rocks were my usual level of playfulness during a ride, and the bars didn't seem to mind. They offered no disconcerting give on larger impacts but continued to soak up the finer vibrations. It was both pleasing and reassuring to know that the bars are strong even while under flex. I purposely didn't take them on the trail; when I spoke with Passchier they were keen to let me know that their intended use is not on downhill trails, but for usual gravel riding and bikepacking.
Several more test rides and I found the same result—the Passchier Astaire bars were at their best when weighted, even slightly. The reduction of buzz through the bars became noticeable only when at least some pressure was on them, and it was certainly pleasing when it happened.
Because I used them with a suspension fork, I wasn't able to feel the full benefit of the bars; also, the width isn't my personal preference. So, who are these bars for? In my mind, they are for riders of fully rigid bikes who already suffer from regular arm and hand fatigue when riding. Commuters and tourers who aren't riding twisty trails might find the width more to their liking, and with a rigid fork you'll feel more of the bamboo in action.
The Astaire bars go for $185 CAD / $140 USD / £185 - get them here.
|Noticeable flex and reduction in vibration when weighting the bars|
|Head-turning beauty and simplicity|
|A sustainability-conscious brand that is already aware of its environmental impact|
|One option for width in this model—at 620mm it's quite narrow|
|Expensive when compared with alloy, equal to a carbon handlebar in price|