January 31, 2022
Passchier is a manufacturer of award-winning bamboo handlebars from New Zealand. Bamboo is a versatile and eco-friendly material with natural shock-absorbing and flex properties. It's usage for handlebars almost seems like a no-brainer. Passchier's bars have been getting a lot of buzz lately and we were lucky to try out a pair on our local trails.
My mountain bike life started in the mid-90s in Northern Ontario. I started out riding a rigid Trek 930 STX because well, that's all that really existed at the time. I loved that bike. I rode the hell out of it while racing my local trails and packing to go camping and fishing with friends. Full suspension was in its infancy—something we saw in Mountain Bike Action magazine and was intended for downhillers. In my room, I hung posters of the Trek Y-Frame and the GT LTS but never had the chance to see or ride one in real life. In 1997, I moved to Toronto to go to school and I sadly fell out of the mtb scene for a very long time.
Fast forward 25 years, I'm 43 years old, my little family moves to British Columbia and I'm severely underbiked. I decided the best bike to hit all the local terrain would be a rigid mtb. I wanted something versatile enough to let me ride singletrack but also join friends on gravel rides and bikepacking trips. However, the terrain here is a touch more technical and chunky than the flowy tracks of my childhood. After about 40km of vibrating chonk, I can really feel numbness in my wrists, hands and arms. Lately, I've been asking myself “am I old?” “should I at least go hardtail with some suspension up front?”.
I was super excited to hear about Passchier and their handlebars. Maybe this is exactly what I was looking for. The idea seemed so simple to me—a naturally flexible but strong material used on one of the most rigid and jarring parts of the bike. Admittedly, Passchier's bars aren't actually designed for the type of riding I do daily but I couldn't resist trying them out. According to the team they are targeted at riders that are looking for comfort - tourers, commuters and elderly riders ahem.
Passchier (pronounced “pah-sheer”) was started by two friends, Dirk Passchier and Mike Baddeley. Dirk is a craftsman that started making bamboo kayak paddles in the late 70s. His paddles attracted some prominent figures in the New Zealand kayaking world. 40 years later, Dirk meets Mike, an entrepreneur and consultant focused on product development and strategy who brings his love of cycling into the mix. Together Mike and Dirk form Passchier and focus on handlebars that are designed to let riders enjoy the journey.
Today, Passchier has two products in the market, the Gump 760 and 650 each with a comfy 22 degree sweep. Named after Forest Gump who “ran and ran”, using these bars will allow you to “ride and ride”. The bars have been getting some amazing press recently and featured in the Path Less Pedaled and Bikepacking.com. Even more impressively, Passchier has been recognized with the prestigious Core 77 design award for their efforts and it's not hard to see why.
The first thing I noticed about the bars is how beautiful they are. They are reminiscent of a classic car. Specifically, the wood steering wheels that sports cars donned before synthetic materials from a time when experience and quality trumped profiteering. The bars somehow feel warm to the touch.
The wood is contrasted by a gorgeous piece of carbon wrapped around them to act as a shim to prevent damage to the wood from the stem. It was almost a shame to cover the shim and well-designed Passchier logo with my gonky, factory stem.
Once installed, the overall look of the bars stunned me. The entire front-end looked completely different. My cockpit was brighter and somehow gleaming. My old Salsa bars looked old and tired compared to these beauties. If you are not into the wood finish, Passchier also has a range of colors for you to choose from.
In the cycling world, natural materials still seem to be on the fringe and considered boutique items. Many of us, of course, have seen the DIY bamboo frame projects all reporting amazing successes. The closest I've found to any company looking at proper bamboo production is an amazing effort from Booomers Bikes in Ghana.
It's ok to be a bit dubious about wood replacing steel or alloy in the one part of the bike that keeps your face from the dirt. However, according to Interesting Engineering, bamboo is stronger than steel. At a molecular level, bamboo is more tightly packed than steel and has a tensile strength of 28,000 pounds per square inch vs. steel's measly 23,000 pounds. Tensile literally means the materials resistance to breaking or splitting under pressure.
Passchier builds on this natural strength by using sourced, engineered bamboo. They take 11 3mm sheets of the engineered bamboo and glue them together. They are then shaped in a press and CNC-ed into the final form. Once done, a laminate layer adds even more strength to prevent catastrophic failure. That's strong. Passchier has done extensive research on the strength and durability of their bars. They have been tested to an ISO standard that covers touring and commuting standards.
How bikes and components are manufactured should be important to all cyclists. In a past life, I used to coach companies into doing exactly what Passchier does and encourage renewable and natural resources in production. In those conversations, bamboo kept coming up for good reason—it's list of environmental and manufacturing friendly properties is exhaustive.
Bamboo is not a tree, it's actually a grass and requires next to zero fertilization and pesticides.
Bamboo holds the guinness world record for the fastest growing plant on earth. Some species can grow up to a meter a day.
Bamboo self-regenerates from its roots and can grow almost anywhere and pretty much infinitely.
Bamboo releases more oxygen than many other plants (and traps carbon as a result).
The entire plant can be used for a variety of purposes ranging from construction to deodorants and medicines.
It is almost a wonder how the material has been overlooked by the cycling world. Until now…
Passchier is clear that the Gumps are ISO tested for easy trails, tours, jaunts around town, and daily commutes. The leaflet that accompanies the bars mentions they are not intended for Grade 4 trails and up. I had to look this one up and found that in New Zealand a Grade 4 trail is described as:
“A mixture of long, steep climbs, narrow track, poor traction and obstacles that are difficult to avoid or jump over. Generally exposed at the track's outside edge. Most riders will find some sections easier to walk.”
I knew taking the Gumps on my local loop would be pushing it a bit. My loop hits every terrain our little island has to offer—doubletrack, singletrack, flowy to technical. I have done my loop 100s of times and know every single rock, root and bump. If the Gumps were to make a difference I would for sure know where and what to look out for.
The difference from my Salsa alloy bars was instantly noticeable. I could feel the give and flex in every pedal stroke. This initial feel made me wonder about how much shock my arms must take with the alloy bars.
The 22 degree sweep was new to me. I am very used to my 11 degree risers bars but again I quickly got used to the sweep and rather enjoyed it. My wrists felt like they were at a much more natural angle and my elbows were tucked in. I felt faster. Zoom.
For the first two rides, on the singletrack, I found myself slowing down and being a touch more cautious while cornering. The little bit of flex in bars while turning sent a little caution signal to my brain and I instinctively slowed down. This didn't last long and I was cornering as hard as usual in no time.
Where I did enjoy the flex, surprisingly, was on out-of-saddle climbs. It's tough to describe but the elasticity felt like I could move the bike side to side in a way that felt way more natural and climbing felt easier.
But there is one hill that unlocked the whole experience for me. A quick little blast down a doubletrack that takes me out of the forest and into town at the end of each ride. The track is about 1km long with a 40m drop in elevation. It does however have some decent sized gravel and I've always taken it slower than I wanted as the bar vibration was pretty severe. With the Passchier Gumps the vibration wasn't minimized—it was totally gone. And I mean 100% gone. The feeling was absolutely thrilling and I flew down the hill. Woot.
Passchier mentions that the bars will change the way you ride and I agree with this to a certain extent. There is a small adjustment period but this seems moot for what you get in return—a set of handlebars that are as comfortable as they are beautiful.
Back to my challenge of being old and looking for some comfort, they did that in spades. The bars are obviously not a substitute for suspension but they are a viable option for anyone looking to reduce handlebar vibration for whatever reason.
The company has also told me that they are also developing a riser bar in the near future which I will be very interested in when it hits the market.
I can honestly say, I didn't expect to fall in love with them, but here we are.
Through the process of testing the Gumps and writing this review I came to the conclusion that natural materials have a perception challenge—not a technical one. We as consumers need to adjust where we put our money and show the manufacturers that we care about ideas like sustainability and responsible sourcing. That will not happen overnight, and until it does, companies like Passchier will be filling a much appreciated gap.
Editing: Brigitte Lachapelle
Barry has been cycling and creating digital products around the world for 20+ years. He was a design leader at IDEO, IDEO.org and Nike’s Innovation Lab.