Doom Bars: Forged in the Fires of Hell
Keaton Haire is the master bender behind DOOM BARS, a brand from Albuquerque, New Mexico that prides itself on creating stunning, hand-crafted handlebars. In this interview, we chat about what makes a good set of custom handlebars, how Keaton got started, whether cycling is a cult, and how he sources materials from hell.
Recently, I've become enamored with custom riser bars and the community of bespoke makers behind them. To be honest, I had no idea that custom handlebars were even a thing until I started to explore the topic. I always thought that handlebars were made by robots in Taiwan and that was just the way it was. But of course, they can be made to fit any rider, because why couldn't they be?!
Coincidentally, around the same time Nick from Send It Safely introduced me to his friend Keaton Haire, the master bender behind DOOM BARS in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For the past three years, Keaton has been bending bars at his one-man workshop and has managed to build a strong community of supporters and fans around him. Not only are Keaton's bars stunning, but his brand stands out with its unique designs and a slogan, "Forged in Hell," that gives us a small chuckle. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak with Keaton about how he got started and how he creates his beautiful bars.
So, forged in hell?! 🤘
We talked with God, but they thought there were already enough handlebars, and they really prefer drop bars anyway. So we had to make a deal with the devil. Now, all of our material is sourced directly from the fires of hell.
How did you get into bending bars for bikes?
I have been a bicycle mechanic for most of my adult life, and an amateur frame builder for quite some time. I've made seven frames now for myself and close friends. I don't know if I'll ever try to make frames for money, but building frames is amazing and I hope to keep it up as a hobby, if nothing else.
My first bar-bending experience was when I built a subtle, swoopy mustache handlebar for a sport-touring gravel frame that I built for myself. Patrick Franz, the owner of Terracycle, was gracious enough to allow me to use their tube bender. With his help, I was able to bend a few batches of handlebars to my desired shape and spec.
DOOM BARS officially started in 2022 during the pandemic. I found a tube bender at a local used tool shop right after my work shut down for a couple months. I had a lot of time, and wasn't sure if I was going to have any income, so I started cranking out bars.
In the beginning I was doing a lot of stuff by hand, and DOOM BARS are still a very “hand-crafted” product, but I've started collecting tools and working to make my processes more efficient. DOOM BARS acquired a lathe last fall, which has allowed me to face and debur tubes more easily, as well as pre-sanding tubes to help speed up finish work.
I also ended up with a mill recently when Dillen Maurer from Baphomet Bicycles moved out to the west coast. He lost part of his leg in an accident, and it wasn't feasible for him to transport his mill in the move. It's a really horrific situation. Dillen, good luck with your recovery, and thank you for the mill. I'll do my best to put it to good use. Dillen will be back building frames soon. Keep your eyes peeled for some sweet bikes in the near future.
How does a DOOM BAR come to life? What's the process?
Each DOOM BAR starts as a dream. Through witchcraft, trigonometry, and time; they become a reality. Our custom bars generally start with an email or DM. Some people have a dream handlebar nailed down, and we're able to bend it for them. Most of the time, we help sort out a design and dimensions. From there, we usually take half as a deposit, and it's about a month turnaround.
I also try to keep at least a few production bars on the website. We have a few different production models and there are some great options for folks. Our production bars generally ship in 1-2 business days for those who aren't as patient.
Honestly, we thought handlebars were more of a preference than something that can be customized. Is there an ideal width, sweep and rise for each rider or is it all subjective?
There are definitely some general trends, basic realms for dimensions, and standard designs. But, everyone is different. Their bicycles and riding styles will vary. We put a lot of thought into designing ideal bars for specific riders, bikes, and types of riding. And there's always room for personal preference.
I'm a huge fan of a bar with 13-20 degree backsweep. This seems to be a sweet spot for a bar that puts your wrists in a comfy position, and that can still be ridden aggressively. Rise really varies a lot depending on the rider and their specific bike. I have a bike with a 4” rise bmx bar and another with a 15mm rise bar. Both bikes work great, and the amount of rise seems appropriate. It just depends on the bike and the application.
No bar is perfectly symmetrical, but we don't let anything out the door unless it's pretty damn good.
What's the holy grail of bar bending?
I guess a perfectly symmetrical bar is sort of the holy grail. It's the kind of thing where if you measure precisely enough, no bar is perfectly symmetrical, but we don't let anything out the door unless it's pretty damn good. We keep both sides of the bar within .2 degrees of each other in both the vertical and horizontal planes. This works out to both sides being within 1-2 mm of each other over the full width of the bar. Every once in a while we'll get a bar where there is no discernible difference between the two sides. That always feels good.
How do you measure and find the right fit on a pair of custom bars and what do my nipples have to do with it?
According to the internet, the ideal nipple width is 21cm, measured center-to-center. Everyone should check their nipple width, and compare themselves with this standard. Then, you should buy whatever DOOM BARS you want. I would share my nipple width, but you've got to keep some things a mystery.
The DOOM bars site clearly states no drop bars. Tell us more.
There are several reasons why we have refrained from making drop bars. Firstly, we prefer the setup of mountain bike controls over that of road bike controls. Secondly, drop bar controls are designed to be mounted onto 15/16" (23.8mm) material, which is different from the 22.2mm standard that we use for all our handlebars and that mountain bike controls mount to. Finally, the spacing between bends in our setup is 2.5 inches, meaning that any drop bars we would make with our current setup would be gigantic. As a result, we have decided to hold off on making drop bars for the time being, but there is always the possibility that we may consider it in the future.
Do you think cycling is a cult?
I think the beautiful thing about cycling is that there are 100 different cults. There are the casual believers, the weekend warriors, and the fair weather riders. You've got the roadies, the gravel folks and the mountain bikers. Within mountain biking there are cross country riders, downhill, enduro, all-mountain, and single speeders. The commuters, recreational riders, and die-hards all have their own sects. The followers of Jan, Grant, and Sachs may overlap at times, but they all have their own traditions and beliefs. DOOM BARS has built quite a following, but we're not trying to convince anyone to do anything. We just make handlebars.
Any other makers out there making things that inspire you?
There are too many makers out there that inspire me to list them all, but I'll start at the top with people that make bikes. James Bleakly from Black Sheep first introduced me to hand built bicycles. Todd Heath from Moonmen introduced me to James and has gone on to build amazing bicycles. Sean Burns of Oddity has more style than anyone I know. Cjell Mone is always coming up with something unique and new, and those filets, damn. Joseph Ahearne is a wizard. Jackie Mautner of Untitled Cycles puts a ton of thought into some really unique bikes. Marc from Belladonna Bicycles is somehow punk rock and rando at the same time; he keeps cranking out classic beauties. I could keep going, but you get the idea. There are a ton of amazing makers out there. These are some that I've been fortunate enough to know.
What DOOM bars do you ride?
I've got DOOM BARS on all of my bikes at this point. The first bar I bent, before DOOM BARS was a thing, was a subtle mustache bar with 20 degree backsweep. It was a great bar for my Sport Touring (gravel) bike, but I trimmed it down to 765mm wide, which seemed plenty wide at the time. I recently replaced it with a 875mm titanium version, which is a little overkill, but it feels amazing. My 29” wheeled bmx cruiser has a 4” rise bmx bar on it. My old Black Sheep 29er has a 3.5” rise bmx bar on it, but I've also run a 3” rise titanium bar on that bike for some comfort in the chunk. Finally, I've got an old Schwinn Le Tour for a rainy day commuter, and it has some big swoops on it.
How do we get some DOOM BARS?
We try to keep at least a few production bars on hand, and Doombars.com has all of our production bars on the shop page. It's about a month turnaround for custom orders. Email/DM for custom orders.