The Philippe Professionel used to be one of the favorite handlebars of racers and randonneurs alike. In 1951, Hugo Koblet won the Tour de France with these handlebars.
René Herse’s catalogue of the same year shows these handlebars on the Diagonale model (as well as many other bikes):
You even saw them on track bikes!
What makes them special? The long ramps are parallel to the drops. That looks really neat, but more importantly, it provides very comfortable hand positions behind the brake lever hoods. (On track bikes, which don’t have hoods at all, the ramps allow the rider to use that position without risking to slide off the bars.) The long drops also enable riders to move their hands around as they ride long distances.
So why don’t racers use these handlebars any more? The long parallel ramps get in the way of your wrists when you throw the bike from side to side during an out-of-the-saddle sprint. In the 1940s and 1950s, most professional racers sprinted seated, winding their relatively small gears up to 180 rpm and more. When stages became shorter and leadouts became more common, racers began to use larger gears and sprint out of the saddle. Philippe responded to this change by modifying their Professionel handlebars sometime around 1970, increasing the slope of the ramps a bit, as on this 1970s René Herse Longchamps.
Comfort in the “behind the brake hoods” position is slightly decreased, but you now can throw the bike from side to side. With the shorter stages, hand comfort was less of an issue for professional racers anyhow.
Together with the AVA Randonneur, the two models of the Philippe Professionel are my favorite handlebars. I prefer the 1950s version with the parallel ramps, because I rarely sprint out of the saddle. However, my Alex Singer is equipped with the 1970s version, and even those were very comfortable during the 50 hours of non-stop riding of Paris-Brest-Paris.
After years of having to use old handlebars on my bikes, I was excited when Grand Bois began to offer replicas of my favorite handlebar shapes.
- Grand Bois’ Randonneur replicates the old AVA.
- The Maes Parallel is a copy of the 1950s Professionel.
- The Maes 1970s owes its shape to the 1970s Professionel.
- All Grand Bois handlebars are made by Nitto, to their highest “Superlight” specifications.
Grand Bois handlebars have been similar in width to the French originals (40-42 cm), but some North American riders prefer slightly wider handlebars. I finally persuaded Grand Bois to offer a 43 cm-wide Maes Parallel. If that proves popular, we may offer other shapes in wider widths as well.
All images above are by Daniel Rebour.