Compass Randonneur Handlebars

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Handlebars are one of the most important parts of your bike. As one of the three “contact points”, the handlebar shape determines whether you are comfortable on the bike or not. After every Paris-Brest-Paris, numerous cyclists complain about numb hands. Some riders take weeks until their hands feel and work normally again.

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When we rode the 2003 edition of Paris-Brest-Paris on a 1946 René Herse tandem, I realized that hand problems were not inevitable. Despite having to hold onto the bars for 1200 km (765 miles) – riding no-hands on the tandem was possible, but I didn’t do it very much – I had no hand problems whatsoever. The old tandem was equipped with AVA Randonneur handlebars.

Ever since, I have tried to replicate that comfort, but currently-available randonneur handlebars did not live up to their promise. The upward curve of the “Randonneur” shape provides three-dimensional support for your hands, rather than the two-dimensional shape of “normal” handlebars. However, to fit into the palm of your hands, the bars must be shaped just right. The upsweep of most “Randonneur” handlebars does little except raise the bars a bit. Many of these models actually are less comfortable than standard handlebars.

After a decade of trying many different handlebars, we gave up trying to find a new shape. Instead, we decided to replicate the original AVA handlebars. We made detailed measurements of an original and then had Nitto make us a few prototypes.

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To test the prototype handlebars, I mounted them on my “Mule” and took them to Japan, where I rode them in a Flèche 24-hour ride. Riding for that long, almost non-stop, at relatively low speeds, meant that a significant portion of my upper body’s weight rested on my hands. At the end, my arms and shoulders were tired, but I had no hand problems at all.

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I then took the “Mule” on a multi-day camping trip on rough gravel roads in the Cascades, and the handlebars worked great in that challenging setting, too. The handlebars flare at the bottom, so it was easy to access the drops despite the long reach. (Click here for Lovely Bicycle’s explanation of the hand positions on drop handlebars.)

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This persuaded me to use the new handlebars in Paris-Brest-Paris, where they excelled once more. After this much testing, we were confident to offer them to our customers.

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With these bars, it’s important to angle them upward, so that the ramps (the top portion behind the brake levers) are approximately horizontal. It is this part that you use most of the time. The brake hood position provides a more stretched-out position, and the drops are lower and even more aerodynamic. Thanks to the large radius of the hooks, I find that hand position very comfortable, too. And the upward angle of the drops may look unfamiliar at first, but it approximates the angle of your hands when riding in that position.

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These bars have generous dimensions, so that each hand position is truly distinct. It means that not just your hands, but also the angle of your back change as you move your hands between the different parts of the bars.

Measured with the bars horizontal, the reach measures 115 mm. It increases when you angle the bars upward. The drop is 140 mm with the bars horizontal. Angled correctly, the reach gets shallower… When angled correctly, both reach and drop work out to about 125-130 mm.

It’s actually a brilliant design in many ways, and it all works out to a handlebar shape that is truly sublime. It’s easy to see now why bars that simply sweep upward from the stem don’t work nearly as well.

The photos show the handlebars with traditional brake levers, but they work as well as with modern ones. Modern levers have slightly longer bodies, so your “on-the-hoods” position will be slightly more stretched out.

We worked with Nitto to make the new Compass version of these handlebars even lighter than the previous Nitto “Superlight” bars. The “Extralight” handlebars are probably the lightest drop handlebars Nitto ever has made, yet they are strong enough for gravel roads and cobblestones. They are heat-treated for strength. They are available in widths of 400, 420 and 440 mm.

We asked Nitto to put our logos on the ends of the bars (as did AVA back then), so they are hidden underneath the handlebar tape. This means that you can use these bars for restorations of classic randonneur bikes, in place of the unfindeable AVA originals.

Click here for more information about these handlebars or to order.

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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81 Responses to Compass Randonneur Handlebars

  1. Ryan says:

    Will these work well with modern brifters like Ultegra 6800? My current road bike (Riv Roadeo) is using these shifters with a Nitto m178 bar, but am not that impressed when I ride on the tops and am thinking that an upsweep there would really help.

    • Yes, these work with modern brake levers as well as with traditional ones. Modern levers have slightly longer bodies, so your “on-the-hoods” position will be slightly more stretched out. Thank you for asking the question – I added this information to the post.

      • Ryan says:

        Thanks, Jan. I will probably try these out soon…they look great.

      • John Duval says:

        A word of warning is that modern brifters are designed mainly for bars with a very sharp bend in the attachment area. This bend is to make the top of the bar flat with the hoods, replacing the ramps. Round bends fit differently.

        When you mount brifters to bars like these, the levers tend to bottom out sooner than they should. Or more correctly, the shift paddles. A few shims between the bar and the lever below the strap will angle the levers out, giving more useable lever travel. Angling the hoods slightly inward also helps the paddles bypass the bars on the outside.

        My SRAM red 10 speed shifters work well with these adjustments.

  2. John D says:

    Very nice. I would like to put them onto our tandem. Do you think these are robust enough for a tandem?

  3. cbratina says:

    Do any of the Compass handlebars have cable grooves? It would be good to note if they do or do not.

    • None of our handlebars have cable grooves. I don’t think anybody ever has been bothered by the cables running under the bar tape. In fact, modern handlebars exaggerate that shape (too much for my taste).

      • I first experienced significant hand numbness when I rode a continuous 1000 km brevet on an aero carbon fiber handlebar. It had the flat wing-shaped section in the middle, and I did a log of riding on the tops. My left hand hasn’t been the same since. I now avoid the wing-shaped bars!

      • I agree that those modern wing-shaped bars are not comfortable, but I haven’t had any problems with just a small bulge from the brake and shifter cables under the bar tape. Beyond that, you might want to look at your bike fit. If you ride that much on the tops, perhaps your reach is too long.

  4. Jorge Acosta says:

    Help…..How are these different then the GB Randonneur bars?
    Thanks.

    • Very different – the Grand Bois handlebars lack many of the subtleties of the AVA shape. The GB bars are nice, but both I and Theo had to take them off our bikes when we experienced hand problems. On the other hand, BQ contributors Mark and Ryan both like the GB Randonneur handlebars.

      • Dan says:

        I wonder if Jorge was referring to the Gerry Burgess rando handlebars that came on 1970’s fillet-brazed Schwinns, and which had a GB insignia. Unlike your AVA’s, they are not difficult to find.

  5. Mark says:

    I hope these are successful and you can offer them with an 31.8 size. If they are anywhere near as good as the Barlow Pass tires, I’d love to have these bars!

    • We offer our Maes Parallel handlebars in 31.8 mm diameter. We’d like to offer the Randonneur shape in that diameter, too, if there is enough demand.

      • 31.8 is probably a requirement for carbon fiber handlebars in order to maintain structural integrity for the thinner and thus lighter material. However, I have found that aluminum bars in 31.8 tend to be TOO stiff. I used a PRO alu 31.8 handlebar once on chipseal and my hands, arms, and shoulders felt so uncomfortable that after the ride I immediately removed the bars, replacing them with a hybrid alu/carbon Ritchie handlebar. The PRO bar now is on my track bike, a much more appropriate use for alu 31.8!

      • The handlebars are the same diameter everywhere except in the center section, so the stiffness isn’t very different. It may be that just the individual bars you tried in 31.8 mm were stiffer than the others you are used to. The “superlight” bars are made from thinner material, so they are the least stiff – something that might be a concern for track sprinters, but a benefit for the rest of us!

  6. Antoine says:

    Hello Jan,
    What are the differences with the Grand Bois Randonneur handlebar in Compass catalogue ? I remember an old post where you already explained that it was a copy of the AVA. Is this new handlebar a lighter version or is the shape different ?
    Thank you for your answer.

    • We were told at the time by Grand Bois that their bars were a copy of the AVA shape… and since the originals are so hard to find, we couldn’t compare. When we finally did ride them back-to-back, we realized that there were many subtle differences. So we investigated further… and the new bars are the result.

  7. Steve`Brown says:

    I recently returned from PBP with the numbness you describe. Unfortunately I am familiar with the phenomena and have learned that points of contact are part of the picture. The other cause seems to come from the angle of the wrist and its effect on the carpal tunnel. So maintaining a neutral wrist angle is important. How do these bars fare in terms of wrist angle? Along these lines, an in-depth article on cyclists palsy would likely help a lot of riders with this vexing issue.

    • The Compass Randonneur handlebars have generous, sweeping curves, so you can easily find a position that matches your wrist angle. Most modern bars have a rather “square” shape that doesn’t allow this. Perhaps the worst bars were the “anatomic” bars that had one prescribed position for the hooks and drops combined…

  8. Mark says:

    Maybe a better question is whether there would be any problem using a commercial shim for use with a 31.8mm stem.

  9. aztris says:

    I’ve been intrigued by randonneur style bars recently for their upward bends and curves. These look to be the best yet. I do have a question though. I’ve spent much of my time on flat bars and finds myself routinely using the flats on drop bars. Is it possible to use the flats comfortably on these bars since the flats curve upward?

  10. David says:

    What kind of stem do you need to use these bars on an Ahead threadless fork? My current bars are all 31.8mm.

  11. Stephen says:

    Jan, could you please tell us how and where the bar width is measured, and also the width (C-C) where the brake levers attach. Thanks.

    • The widths is measured at the drops (bottom), center-to-center. The tech specs on the Compass web site also lists the width at the top. The width where you attach the brake levers will be roughly half-way in between, depending on where you attach the levers.

      • Stephen says:

        Thanks Jan. Seems like the 420 bars should be the right width at the hoods for me. The only randonneur bars I’ve used were SR, and they were 420 C-C at the drops but only ~360 at the hoods. I’m currently suffering hand problems after PBP too, probably largely Ergopower related, but the bars may have been a contributing factor.

      • Yes, these don’t flare as much as many others. I am not sure why some makers flare their handlebars so much. With a very long reach, you need a little flare to prevent your wrists from hitting the upper curves when you ride in the drops, but it needn’t be excessive.

  12. Rob Harrison says:

    Could you compare and contrast the shape of these new bars with the similar Grand Bois Randonneur bars?

    • The curves are different. A curve that doesn’t fit your hand (most “Randonneur” bars) or one that “almost” fits your hand isn’t as good as one that does fit your hand. Beyond that, the AVA shape accounts for the fact that these bars should be rotated upward, so the reach is shorter and the drop deeper when they are flat, but when you tilt them, they become perfect.

  13. Joel Niemi says:

    How do these compare to Nitto’s Noodle bars, as judged for comfort among your panel of users?

    • The Nitto noodle were a first attempt to get flat ramps, like the old Philippe Professionels (and their modern copies, the Compass Maes Parallel). The shape of the AVA/Compass Randonneur handlebars is much more complex to provide better hand support on the ramps.

      And of course, the Noodle is Nitto’s budget handlebar, and much heavier than the Compass bars. Think Shimano 105 vs. Dura-Ace… both made by Shimano, but to different quality standards.

      • Joel Niemi says:

        One feature of the noodles is the slight back-bend between the stem clamp area and where the curving starts. Does this new bar have that? (Can’t tell from the photos, and no straight-down photo which would show this.)

      • Our handlebars don’t have the backward sweep. I never could figure out what the backward sweep was supposed to do. Perhaps compensate for the longer ramps? I prefer getting a slightly shorter stem, if needed.

      • Thomas says:

        I like a slight backward sweep; it’s how my hands naturally fall when I extend them to grab the bar. A straight top pushes my elbows out a bit.

      • Interesting! For me it’s the opposite: When riding on the tops, my elbows are further apart than my wrists. So the backwards sweep of the Noodle bars is not very comfortable.

      • Conrad says:

        I’m wondering if the back sweep of the Noodle bar is an attempt to compensate for the generally long reach of the bar on the ramps compared to a typical modern bar. I absolutely love the Noodle and can’t stand the typical modern bar. Haven’t tried any of the bars from Compass but if I did I’m wondering if I would have to get a shorter stem.

      • I think that is the reason. However, I find that I prefer to keep the stem almost at the same length, since I mostly ride on the ramps. The hoods then provide a more aerodynamic position, and the drops an even lower one. And the tops stay where I need them.

        If you like the Noodle bars, then you would want a slightly shorter stem with the Compass handlebars to replicate your positions…

  14. Mark says:

    How wide is the center bulged section? I’m looking at my 31.8mm stem thinking that it could be OK with a shim if the center section of the bar is at least as wide as my clamp.

  15. Cecile says:

    Any plans on a bit more shallow drops for women/more tiny people (130 max, type TTT Morphe), especially since you are building 40 cm wide bars (which is my own maximum)?

    Oh, and you say that those bars are different that the GB but did not elaborate: I found for instance that the angle of the “horizontal” part of the GB was twisting my wrists. Would you kindly show us a picture of the bar as seen from the cyclist’s point of view, angled as you advise? Thanks!

  16. Clayton says:

    the problem with the non-sleeved center combined with many threadless stems is that they tend to crush the clamp area of the bar when tightened to the where they don’t slip. This is a function of the hollow stem end that clamps the bar which severely limits the area that makes contact, thus it starts to dig into the bar. Happened on my GB rando bar. A sleeved clamp are would be much preferred.

  17. Clayton says:

    Was a deda newton stem.

    Crushed carbon bars are not uncommon.

    A simple sleeve would fix the issue.

    Used 24.5 to 31.8 shims for the next GB rando bar to provide a more even clamping surface. It worked but was inelegant. Now I use PRO vibe7 round bars in 31.8.

    • A sleeve is a cheaper way of making bars. Rather than swaging the diameter down from 25.4 mm to 22.2 mm, you just put a sleeve over the center. The disadvantages are a) added weight and b) a stress riser at the edge of the sleeve, which means you cannot use the sleeve with a superlight bar.

    • Gert says:

      I use the Deda Newton 26 stem with Deda 215 anatomic bars on one bike and with Nitto dreambar on the my cross/brevet bike.
      When I bought the first stem and bar in 2005, I chose the Deda Newton and 215 anatomic bars because tests in Tour Magazine showed that this combination was reliable (and the stem was available in 140mm),
      Not all combinations were even though the measurements (26 mm) of stem and bar should be the same. The point being that with the Deda Newton, You should not exceed 6Nm torque, and if that does not hold the bar in place, then You can not use that combination.
      I was then lucky with the Dreambar. It fits to

  18. Antoine says:

    Hello Jan,
    I have a question which is not related to handlebars. On your bike, you seem to use a threaded headset with a clamped Rene Herse style stem. I assume you also use an expander bolt. So my question is : how do you run the wires to the cap light switch through the expander bolt ?
    Thank you very much if you take on your time to answer this.

    • The stem clamps to a smaller-diameter tube that is brazed into the fork’s steerer tube. The constructeurs used to do this – it effectively brazes the quill into the steerer tube, and the forward extension clamps to this. There are two advantages: 1. The diameter is smaller, so the stem can be smaller and lighter. 2. The steerer tube/extension is empty, so you can put the switch for the lights inside. (In the 1940s, Camille Daudon put his toolkit there…)

      • Steve Green says:

        With a careful choice of tools, they can be stashed in all sorts of otherwise empty parts of the bike; Sunbeam used to supply an oil gun and a compact toolkit, one in each end of the handlebar.

      • Faure also put his wrenches and tire lever into the end of the handlebar. They were attached to the bar plug and folded out like a Swiss Army knife… Really cool solution.

      • Antoine says:

        Good solution, light and reliable, but if you want to rinko your bike the steerer is a bit longer (no longer that with a threadless headset).

        Thank you for taking on your time to answer all our questions.

      • if you want to rinko your bike the steerer is a bit longer

        How to translate all the features of my favorite bike into a Rinko-compatible package is something I am thinking about. It’s not easy, because there are many things to consider.

  19. Gert says:

    These bars will be on my list of future upgrades. If I can find a long enough stem.
    I think I have done permanent damage to my hands over the years, my little fingers always feel as if they sleep.
    I usually get problems with my hands on brevets. Only on this years P.B.P I had none or almost none.
    The only thing I changed was the tires. I switched to Stampede Pass and rode them with 4 bars in the front tyre, 4.2 in the rear tyre at 100kg rider-bike-etc. Apart from rolling like a dream, It also gave only were little soreness behind and as said no problems with my hands.
    So I think tire pressure is also a great factor
    It must also be said that this year I have been working on getting to ride much more in the drops. Both to get more variation on hand position and to be more aerodynamic. I still assess the tires to be the main reason though

  20. Frank says:

    Hi Jan.
    Can I please ask a question on a slightly different topic?
    The 3/4 pants you are wearing in the Paris Brest photo … you wore them for 1200km? Can you please share the details of these? (… for those of us who prefer something besides lycra)
    Thanks. Frank

  21. Peter says:

    The Mule, painted, looks terrific. Beautifully utilitarian.

  22. Waldo says:

    25.4 clamp only? Shaking my head.

    • 25.4 mm works with all stems – you can shim to 26 mm or 26.4 mm. (You cannot reduce the diameter of the bars.) We carry Nitto’s excellent shim to use these bars with 26.0 mm stems.

      Furthermore, the original AVA were 25.4 mm, and many people will use the Compass bars for restorations of classic bikes.

      • Christoph says:

        Most of the AVA handlebars I measured when I did restorations of classic French bikes as a bike mechanic in the early 1990s were 25.0mm (25.2mm at most). Even back then it was difficult to obtain matching replacements for some French parts, so we saved the few NOS AVA handlebars we had for those special occasions, and replaced the stem along with the bars on the lesser bikes. Some wholesale dealers still had nice stems with a 22.0mm quill and 25.4mm clamp diameter in stock, so ordering one of those was the easiest option. Some customers even asked us to do so, partly because AVA stems were prone to failure, partly because they wanted to replace their handlebars with something more modern (or fashionable, or comfortable).

      • The AVA company that made the original randonneur handlebars in the 1940s was owned by Mavic. Beyond the name (sold by Mavic?), there was no connection to the maker of cheap stems from the 1970s.

        All 1940s AVA Randonneur bars I measured were 25.4 mm, which was a surprise, since French handlebars usually measure 25.0 mm. Maybe AVA used tubing sourced from the UK or USA.

  23. Phil Adams says:

    They look great! Look like a useful improvement on the other models out there. What are your sizing recommendations? Would you recommend most people give the 400mm ones a try in view of your handlebar width article?

  24. Jeffrey says:

    Hi Jan — I’m not sure I recognize that stem — is it a tapped Nitto Pearl (for the bell) or some other stem that Compass does not offer on their website?

  25. gasconha says:

    Great idea to reproduce those handlebars. I have the original AVA on my randonneur and it find them to be perfect. Love the flare on the drops but was getting worried not to find anything for my all road…

    How much weight do you carry on your mule (I am reffering to the pic when fully loaded)? Those GB panniers look like they are going to burst! Why did you decided not to add eyelets for a rear rack?
    Il like that grey too. Surprise you didn’t choose a blue like herse bikes…

    Kee the good work (any plans for a new nivex – 8sp compatible by chance?)

  26. Michael says:

    What is that thing that is brazed onto the decaleur on the Mule bike?

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