New Handlebars and Stem

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One of the all-time favorite handlebar shapes is the Philippe Professionel. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, you found them on the bikes of professional racers (below), randonneurs, cyclotourists, even track bikes.

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Their flat ramps provide plenty of hand positions, rather than forcing you onto the brake hoods like many modern bars. The medium-sized hooks provide enough room to be comfortable, and the long drops not only look great, but also allow you to roam in the drops. Few handlebars that are as comfortable, especially if you spend long hours in the saddle.

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A few years ago, Grand Bois reissued these bars as their “Maes Parallel” model. They’ve become my favorites, too, equipping my 650B randonneur bike and even my cyclocross bike. (The bars on the Weigle at the top of the post also are Grand Bois version – you can’t tell them apart, unless you look at the logo, which is hidden under the bar tape on the Grand Bois model.)

Mid-century racers and riders (and the BQ crew) aren’t the only ones who like these bars: They have been one of our more popular products. However, many customers have asked for versions that are either narrower or wider than the 410 and 420 mm we’ve offered. That is where our new 400 and 440 mm-wide models come in. The widest bars are heat-treated for strength, and all pass the stringent EN “Racing Bike” standards for fatigue resistance.

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We have many friends who ride modern bikes, and they were frustrated by the lack of similar handlebars for modern 31.8 mm clamps. So we worked with Nitto on making the Compass Maes Parallel 31.8 mm handlebars. Same great shape, but with a 31.8 mm handlebar clamp diameter. They are also heat-treated and tested to the highest standards.

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To go with these and other modern handlebars, we now offer a stem for bikes with 1 1/8″ threadless steerers. It’s fillet-brazed from lightweight steel tubing. The stem is designed to provide a little extra height, so you don’t need to run a stack of spacers underneath. The clamp is on the front, which provides a cleaner, more elegant appearance. The stem is available in lengths from 80 to 120 mm.

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The new Compass stem integrates seamlessly with the Grand Bois decaleur. This finally provides a reliable off-the-shelf decaleur option for riders of modern bikes, without bolts that come loose or parts that break off.

To clear the larger-diameter handlebars, you need to use a decaleur drop kit as shown in the photo above. We offer these drop kits with between 10 and 30 mm, so you can get the decaleur to match the height of your handlebar bag. (The decaleur does not replace a front rack; your bag still needs to be supported from below.)

I am excited by the possibilities that these new components offer. You can install the 31.8 mm handlebars on a modern racing bike to provide comfort for your hands, wrists and shoulders. Or you can use the stem and decaleur together with modern carbon-fiber handlebars on a randonneur bike. And you finally can get these bars in the width that works best for you, both for classic 25.4 mm and modern 31.8 mm stems.

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All these products are made by Nitto in Japan. Nitto offers different quality levels. All are safe to use, but there are real differences in weight and finish. For all Compass components, we’ve chosen Nitto’s highest quality level, because we want our parts to be as light, as strong and as beautiful as possible.

I hope these new products will bring your dream bike one step closer to reality!

Click here for more information on our handlebars,
and here for information on our stems and decaleurs.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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33 Responses to New Handlebars and Stem

  1. Andrew says:

    Do the stems have a threaded hole to attach a bell?

    • No hole for bells on the first batch, since we want them to be useful on a variety of bikes, not just randonneur and cyclotouring bikes that often are equipped with bells. We may offer the bell-hole option with future production runs.

      • jimmy says:

        I’d imagine (have not done this myself) that you could use the steerer clamp bolt to mount a bell. I’m guessing your stem bolts are M6? In which case you’d need a longer M6 bolt plus a male-female adapter to go from M6 to M5 for the bell.
        http://www.mcmaster.com/#92499a595/=v1swn6

        This is big and heavy, but off-the shelf. I suppose someone could also make the bolt itself with a stepped thread from M6 to M5 or any other number of more custome 9but without drilling the stem) solutions.

        The only real problem is making sure the stem bolt stays tight as you are fiddling with bell mounting. That and I guess there would need to be adequate clearance between the bell and headset or top tube.

      • That is an interesting idea. The stem bolt clamps pretty tightly, so it wouldn’t move, but you’d have to make the bolt/bell mount from strong enough material to make sure it doesn’t break.

        Also, the bell would be a bit too low and too far forward to be easily operated while riding.

  2. Dax Soule says:

    How much is the rise?

    • The stems have zero rise, so they are horizontal (on a 73° head angle). For aesthetic reasons, I prefer stems that are either horizontal or match the top tube angle exactly. The latter requires a custom stem, so we chose the former.

      The stem does extend below the forward extension, so you achieve the same thing (higher bars). The distance from the bottom of the stem to the middle of the forward extension is 55 mm.

      • Frank B. says:

        How much of the 55 mm has to be filled with the steerer tube? Or expressed in a different way: Is there a minimum insertion level specified?

      • The total height of the stem is 73 mm, so you ideally, you’ll have about 70 mm of steerer tube exposed above the top headset cup (or top spacer). Since the clamp is near the bottom of the stem, you can get away with a steerer tube that is a little shorter. There is no minimum insertion specified – we’ll ask Nitto to test this and report back. The steerer is needed to support the load of the handlebars. I would not want you to use this stem if you don’t have at least 60 mm of steerer tube inserted.

      • Fred Blasdel says:

        So it places your handlebars equivalently to a ‘normal’ -17° threadless stem with 35mm of spacers underneath, and covers slightly less steerer above.

        Those numbers will help you get a precise answer using BQ contributor Alex Wetmore’s stem calculator: http://alex.phred.org/stemchart/

  3. Chris L says:

    How about offering matching spacers to fine tune bar height? Thick alloy spacers will odd next to the much slimmer stem.

  4. Dan Connelly says:

    I keep hoping the industry will realize the error of its ways and give up on 31.8 mm, but I’m giving up hope… it adds weight to both the stem and the bar, increases the bulge which is uncomfortable (unless you terminate the tape right at the bulge edge) and handlebar stiffness just transmits vibrations more effectively. I never understood why this change has proven so popular.

    • I think it’s a cascade of changes. Start with the steerer tubes: 1 1/8″ steerers are almost a requirement on carbon forks, but even on steel forks, they are much lighter than 1″ steerers. When we looked at making a stem for the larger steerers, we realized that to keep the proportions “right”, we had to increase the handlebar diameter… So we designed the stems with 31.8 mm clamps, and handlebars to match.

      The weight difference is minimal – less than 10 g – and all our bars pass the stringent EN “Racing Bike” tests for fatigue resistance, so the drawbacks aren’t great. The part of the bars that you grip and that provide suspension are the same diameter, regardless of the clamp diameter.

  5. I’m happy to see you chose to use a -17 deg rise (level stem with 73 deg head tube). It’s getting harder to find stems with no rise, most are 6 or 8 deg to match the trend to backward sloping top tubes, which I have always disliked (they remind me of mountain bikes). I imagine I will get used to the aesthetics at some point and will order such a frame with matching stem angle.
    Looks to me like you can’t use a fork with carbon fiber steerer, though. The cf fork companies warn you not to have the stem more than 1 1/8″ above the headset when using 1 1/8″ carbon steerers. How would this affect a longer stem?
    I’m currently using a 31.8 carbon/alloy bar in the summer and a 25.8 alu bar in the winter. I tried using a 31.8 alu bar and found it WAY too stiff and uncomfortable; it’s now on my track bike! (and all my bikes have carbon forks). Admittedly, I’m running 700C wheels with 23mm tires, so YMMV with wider tires.
    From a maintenance point of view, the single handlebar clamp requires threading the bar through the stem, so you have to remove the tape and one brake lever to install the bars However, the stem does have better aesthetics as a result. The bolts on top and bottom of today’s stems are useful for quick bar changes (which I rarely need to do anyway – when I go from road to track bars on my fixie, I just switch the hbar/stem combo) .but are kind of ugly I must admit.
    Maybe one day when I am much older and want a more upright position (instead of my current racing position I’ve gotten used to over 40+ years), I will be glad such products exist!

    • The Compass stem extends only about 30 mm further downward than a more conventional stem, so it should be fine with most carbon forks, especially since it clamps near the bottom. It’s basically the same as if you used 30 mm of spacers underneath the stem, which is only a little bit over 1 1/8″.

      Removable face plates are great when you first set up a bike. You can change the stem length without retaping the bars. So they make a lot of sense on production bikes, where you now can get a better fit, because bike shops are willing to switch stems for you. (In the past, it was too cumbersome, so you often were told that the bike fit fine with the stem that was on it.)

      Once you know your fit, you rarely change stems on your bike. And when you need to change the bars, you’ll have to transfer the brake levers anyhow, and that requires removing the tape. We figure that riders who buy a fillet-brazed stem know the length they need, and don’t plan to change their stem in the near future.

  6. Tim says:

    Any chance that you’ll offer the Grand Bois Randonneur bars in 44cm at a later date? I’d buy at least two.

  7. John says:

    I have a Boulder All-Road with a 1″ threadless steerer, Will it be ok to use a shim with the new stem (as I’m doing now with my original Nitto 1 1/8″ stem)? Similarly, I am using a GB Randonneur bar; will I be able to use that with a suitable shim in the new stem? Will you offer the shims?

  8. Guy Wailson says:

    Jan, for a period it seemed that you favored the Grand Bois Randonneur bars, what is it that now makes you prefer the Maes Parallel model?

    • I still like the Grand Bois Randonneur bars, but I had some issues after a 600 km brevet with numb hands. Switching to the Maes Parallel, which don’t have any “prescribed” hand positions, solved the issue. That said, I am ready to give randonneur bars another try – they worked well for me in 2 PBPs, after all…

      • marmotte27 says:

        Since you don’t discuss this change in your article on the Rene Herse in the new issue of BQ (which I got today) I suppose it happened only recently? Did the change influence you’re position on the bike, since the ramps/drops (?) of the Professional/Maes Parallel are lower than the Randonneur model?

      • It actually happened a few years ago. I mentioned it at the time in my article about the Cascade 1200. I changed the bars the night before the event, as I was getting pains in my hands even after short rides. I think it was more the change of bars than the superiority of one shape over another that was helpful there. My position didn’t change. The rise of the Randonneur model is only about 20 mm, and with so much room on these bars to move your hands around, that small a difference is hardly noticeable.

  9. John Bayley says:

    Jan, if I’m reading your description above correctly, “The medium-sized drops provide enough room to be comfortable, and the long hooks not only look great, but also allow you to roam in the drops,” I think you have the sense of “hooks” and “drops” reversed. The hooks, which might be described as “medium-sized” are immediately under the brake levers while the drops, which might be described as “long,” are the flat portion behind the hooks. Rueda Tropical’s description (http://ruedatropical.com/2009/03/road-drop-bar-geometry/) agrees with my use of the terms.

    Semantics aside, do you feel this ‘bar shape (specifically, the flat ramp) works with modern brake hood shapes? Personally speaking, I find it almost impossible to get the hood angle “correct” (which my hands tell me is angled up, as illustrated on your Alan above) when combining this ‘bar shape with modern levers. To illustrate my point, the Campag. hoods on the Weigle are placed much higher on the ‘bar, yet the tops of the hoods are still only horizontal. My hands much prefer the lower, angled setup on your Alan, which allows a much greater variety of hand positions. Of the current production levers I have tried, only TRP’s delightful RRL levers would combine with these ‘bars to allow a position my hands would approve of.

    • John, I’ll take Ruedo Tropical’s definition, and change the post accordingly.

      Regarding modern levers, the Weigle is the bike we tested in the current (Winter 2014) issue of Bicycle Quarterly. I found that the levers worked well enough with the bars.

      Like you, I prefer levers that angle up a bit more. I think we are the only ones, but the easy solution is to use classic brake levers.

      Most riders seem to prefer a seamless transition from the ramps to the lever hoods. This makes sense on modern handlebars with ultra-short reach, because the ramps are too short to be useful by themselves. By combining them with the brake hoods, you have space for your hands to more around a little.

      • John Bayley says:

        Jan, I think your observation that current ultra-short reach handlebars need to be combined with levers which present a flat ramp, hits the nail on the head. In essence, that combination comes close to giving the position that the flat ramp alone on the Maes ‘bars provides, but lacks much in the way of other options. Thanks for providing those other options.

  10. cpkestate says:

    matching compass stem caps…

  11. Christoph says:

    All the bikes I rode as a junior racer in the early 1980s were equipped with classic Maes bend handlebars because the Cinelli bars which were standard back then were very uncomfortable due to their total lack of proper ramps. The skinny Campagnolo brake lever hoods didn’t provide a comfortable position to rest my hands either, so the long ramps on the Maes bend ’bars were much appreciated.

    I am not as flexible as I used to be when I was 13 years old, though, and my style of riding has changed quite a bit. When setting up my custom bike that was specifically built for brevet riding I found it difficult to dial in a position not too stretched out with Maes handlebars. As it is now, riding with the hand on the ramps feels great, but the brake levers (which are modern SRAM DoubleTap models) are too far away to provide a position I could ride any serious number of miles in. I prefer to have immediate access to the brakes when I need it, in particular when riding in Berlin city traffic, so I use this position a lot, but cannot comfortably do so at the moment.

    Which options do I have? I cannot use a stem shorter than the 70mm model I have, so I’ll probably have to swap the handlebars for modern ones that have about 85mm of reach. As the frame and fork were built to measure it would have been possible to design the frame with an even shorter top tube, factoring in the massive reach of classic handlebars, but that would have resulted in serious toe overlap or an otherwise compromised geometry even with 650B wheels.

    Ironically, the biggest advantage of long-reach handlbars can become their biggest caveat if you’re small (or old, or have long legs and short torso and arms, like I have). It would be great if NITTO would make a range of classic handlebars with reach proportionally adjusted to width. I’d prefer Maes Parallel bend handlebars with 80-90mm of reach to go with modern brake/shift levers over modern shaped road bars anytime.

    • Shortening the Maes bars would negate many of the benefits. Even shorter people don’t have hands that are that much smaller. As far as bike fit goes, I have seen 650B bikes from the classic constructeurs with 52 cm top tubes and no toe overlap. They made the head tube a little shallower, and with a low-trail geometry, you have ample fork offset that pushes the front wheel to the front. If you need a shorter top tube than that, 26″ wheels may be a good option.

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