Tuesday, September 28, 2021

First Impressions: Surly Corner Bar handlebar


Surly Bikes is known not only for making versatile and durable bicycles, but also for making weird and unique parts. The new Corner Bar handlebar is no exception.

The story with these handlebars ... suppose you have a mountain bike or hybrid bike with a flat or upright handlebar, but you're curious to see what a road-bike or "drop" style of handlebar feels like. This is usually not as simple as just swapping the handlebars, because the brake and shift levers made for flat handlebars do not work on drop handlebars. Making the switch can involve lots of expensive upgrades to your levers and/or your drivetrain components.

Enter the Surly Corner Bar. It's got a drop section on either end to get your hands in the "down and dirty" position, plus nubbins extending forward that are compatible with your flat bar controls.

(Note: Yes, it's a more common issue that many people want to trade their drop handlebars for a more upright handlebar. The reason this is difficult is the same--incompatible brake and shift levers. But designing a handlebar to get around this problem is a trickier thing to do.)

The Corner Bar is made of 4130 Chromoly steel for that Surly durability, which means it ain't light. It comes in three widths (46cm, 50cm, and 54cm). It's rated for "ASTM Condition 3 Intended Use," which means that if hucking off-road jumps is your thing, it can handle it, as long as said jumps are two feet tall or less.

The stem clamp area of the corner bar works with 25.4mm stems found on many older bikes, but the handlebar comes with a set of shims so that you can use it on 31.8mm stem clamps found on many newer bikes.

Here's Surly's Product Info Page for the Corner Bar, plus their blog post about it for their take. There's also two video reviews out there, from Bikepacking.com:

And from Path Less Pedaled:

When I first learned of the Corner Bar, I knew I had to try it on my Surly Bridge Club, just because I'm a sucker for trying new and weird things. Mind you, the ironic part is that I already had a drop handlebar on this bike, when I set it up as a super-commuter-touring-bike earlier this year:

This setup worked well and was pretty comfy. With the Bridge Club being billed as "a highly versatile bike that hits the sweet spot spanning on-road and off-road excursions," you might even call it a perfect, dare I say it, gravel bike. I resisted the urge these past several months to throw on some 29er wheels with 700x40-something tires. I figured the Bridge Club was the perfect bike to try out the Corner Bar, something with a "road" feel and a "mountain" soul. Those previous handlebars, brakes, and shifter are set aside for a bicycle project to be named later.

Cutting right to the chase, here's the bike with the new Corner Bar installed:

And a close-up of the bars from the front for ya:

I opted for the widest 54cm version; I figured go big or go home.

As the video reviews above indicated, there are a number of ways you can #MakeItYourOwn in how you setup the Corner Bar. I opted for a pair of ESI Extra-Chunky Xtra-Long silicone grips on the drop sections, and a short stretch of bar tape on the "hoods." The hood area is not quite as comfortable as what you'd find on a "true" drop handlebar, but I didn't feel I needed to employ more pieces of grip in these areas, or other "hacks" as outlined by the other reviewers. One roll of bar tape was enough for both sides, what you'd normally use for just one side of a regular drop bar.

You can put your brake and shifter levers both on the extended nubs, or on the other side below where the drop part meets the hood, or a combination of the two--whatever floats your boat. I suggest doing a dry run by testing out a couple different configurations to see what feels right for you before you connect your brake and shifter cables and finalize your grips and/or tape.

The cables pointing up kinda give the bike a bit of that old-school 10-speed look; not sure how I feel about that yet. Since I had to swap brakes and shifter, I had to install all new cables and housing anyway. If you're swapping from your flat or upright handlebars, you MIGHT be able to get away with using your existing cables and housing, but depending on your setup, you may need to replace them with longer cables.

I wanted to get a setup that allowed the use of both the brakes and the shifter in both the drops and hoods hand positions. I have a traditional mountain bike trigger shifter that would work with this setup, but I found that it was easy to shift from the drop, but impossible to shift from the hood. So, I went with this thumb-style shifter. It's a compromise, but I preferred to have so-so shifting from both hand positions, rather than great shifting from one position and no shifting from the other position.

Moving the shifter clamp way up from the brake lever gave me better hand clearance, but still allows me to reach it, from the drop:

And from the hood:

My favorite bell is the Mirrycle Incredibell Brass Duet, and placing it on the left in this nice jaunty angle gives me the same benefit as the shifter: hand clearance but still easy to reach from either hand position:

The trickiest part was picking the right stem to attach the Corner Bar handlebar to the bike. I had five in my parts bin to choose from, and settled on the Salsa Guide Stem with 80mm length and +15-degree angle because it provide the best balance of comfort and aesthetics. And, it plays well with my Topeak Freeloader Stem Bag. My other choices were (from top to bottom):

  1. Salsa Moto-Ace SUL 80mm length/+35 degree angle - Pros: most comfortable, 25.4mm clamp so I wouldn't have to use the adapter shims. Cons: I didn't like the look of that big chunky steerer tube clamp, plus the high angle didn't play well with my stem bag.
  2. Thomson X2 110mm lenght/+6 degree angle - Pro: 5 stars for the aesthetics (duh, it's a Thomson), 25.4mm clamp meant no adapter shim. Cons: Way too long and way too flat. I bought this for a mountain bike I rode 18 years ago. Mountain biking was a lot different 18 years ago, plus I was, well, 18 years younger.
  3. Salsa Guide 60mm length +6 degree angle - Pro: Nice and short. Con: Still too flat.
  4. Sale Moto-Ace SUL 80mm length/+25 degree angle - Pros: comfy; it's the one I used on the previous drop bar setup. Con: Can't quite put my finger on it; some older Salsa stems look a little too "road"-y?
Finally, getting to the question of the day, "How does it ride?" Pretty nicely, I must say, although I wouldn't say I'm in LOVE with it. I've ridden it on two commutes to and from work, plus a 57-mile lunch/coffee run into the city. The drops position feels the most comfortable, but after riding that way a couple of miles, I do need to relax a bit and hang out up on the hoods for a while. Occasionally, though, I got a bit of tingly hands if I stayed on the hoods too long.

Is the Surly Corner Bar for you? If you're in the target audience, a flat-bar user who is drop-bar-curious, then I'd say yes. It's the least expensive way to test out a drop handlebar setup without too much commitment. Or if you're just a bike freak/weirdo who likes to experiment, have it it. Will I be keeping it? Probably until at least next Spring. I've owned this bike a little over a year, and this is the fourth handlebar I've had on it, so don't be surprised if it's different the next time you see me...

As of this writing, Century Cycles has got the Surly Corner Bar in stock in 46cm width only. We had a few of the 54cm, but they sold out quickly. We'll keep an eye out on Surly's distributor for the 50cm and more of the 54cm!

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