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  1. #1
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    Handlebars for captain: Steel vs Aluminum

    Wondering what people use for drop handlebars up front. Are they aluminum or steel? How wide? Is there a standard replacement interval for Al handlebars on a tandem? Do you use standard road bars or are there models of handlebar that are favored for tandems due to their toughness? Has anybody here experienced a sudden unexpected Al handlebar failure? Does anybody here use carbon bars?

  2. #2
    Senior Member teamcompi's Avatar
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    I like wide bars on the tandem, I use a 46. Aluminum, only broken one set of bars, happened while going up hill but it was still a odd, weird experience not wishing to repeat any time soon.

  3. #3
    Junior Member thalver's Avatar
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    We have AL handlebars on one tandem, and carbon on the other. Niether has a ton of miles on it, but I really can't see any reason to believe they won't have a pretty normal life expectancy. With the benefit of bearings in the steering tube, it seems the amount of additional preassure that might be transmitted through the bars is pretty nominal. That might not be the case on an offroad tandem.

    In the early days of off-roading, wider bars were generally used as it was thought the wider stance gives greater control. I assume that logic might have some merit when applied to a tandem as well.

    Just my two cents.
    Last edited by thalver; 01-04-08 at 09:46 PM.

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    Thanks for the feedback so far. I have had 4 handlebar breakages on the road (single), two of them resulting in substantial road rash, but can't see them getting reefed on nearly as much with a tandem, due to differences in technique. Still, it's a scary thought with regards to tandems and families.

  5. #5
    Captain - 2nd in Command djsincla's Avatar
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    Carbon on both Tandem and Single Bike.

  6. #6
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    Over a quarter million miles on bicycles. Have used steel, alu and carbon bars. No failures (so far!).
    On our tandem have EC90 carbon bars front and rear with 16,000+ miles on them.
    Pilot and stoker use 42 cm dropbars, and that is due to both of us being of small stature .
    Just our experience.
    Pedal on TWOgether!
    Rudy and Kay/zonatandem

  7. #7
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Offroad and I use Full Down hill spec bars for both pilot and Stoker. Nice thick walls that are strong. Can't see the gold plating on them that should have been included in the price I paid for them though.
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


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  8. #8
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    For the broader audience, let me note that selection and periodic replacement of handlebars, stems, and seat posts is pretty subjective. As you'd expect, suitability and service life of these parts is tied to each rider's weight, strength, riding style and past experience. An average or lightweight road riding team that doesn't jump out of the saddles for county line sprints, attacks, or otherwise put massive upper body strength into the handlebars can usually get away with the same types of components they might select for a single bike and may never need to replace them if they are never damaged. By damaged, you can do just as much harm by unintentionally putting deep surface cuts or gouges (which become stress risers that severely weaken the part along the blemish) into a set of bars or seat post as you can in a crash or in any other type of incident where the bars take a blow. Assuming they escape any damage, that same team that may only ride a 1,500 - 2,000 miles a year may never need to replace their bars, stems, or seat posts.

    The flip side of the coin is, heavier than average teams, riders who put massive amounts of upper body power into the bike via the handlebars, off-road riders who do a lot of technical single track or who are aggressive riders that take big hits with the front wheel, anyone that races their tandem, or teams that log very high mileage under demanding training or loaded touring conditions will need to stay away from the very lightweight components and should consider periodic replacement using either the same intervals as they would on their single bikes that see similar wear and tear, or by using a standard mileage milestone, e.g., every 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 miles... or when a part's serviceability becomes suspect due to damage or some observed change that calls their safety into question.

    FWIW, we fall into the lightweight (~160 / ~115), non-competitive, mid-range mileage sport / B-Team category...

    Ok, all of that said, back to the OP's question...

    1. Which bars?
    a. Alu 3T Prima SL handlebars (25.4 clamp) on our '98 Erickson with ~25,000 miles of use. They are approaching the point where I'll likely replace them.
    b. Alu Ritchey WCS bars (25.4 clamp) on our '02 Erickson travel tandem which had about 10,000 miles when we sold it in September. I would have likely used the same 25k benchmark.
    c. Carbon Easton CT-2 bars (26.0 clamp) on our Ventana El Conquistador F/S off-road tandem used for technical single track. This bike doesn't see a lot of use: just the occasional outings in the winter as a change of pace, i.e., maybe 250 miles a year at most and, FWIW, I use a 1/4" torque wrench and gripping compounds when installing carbon parts to mitigate the risk of damage due to over-tightening which is what does in most carbon posts and stems. It's also worth noting that I actually spec'd and ordered a pair of aluminum Easton bars and was shipped the CT-2 carbon bars in error. I would not have spec'd them but once I gave them a looking over I opted to install them.
    d. Carbon E3 Curve wing bars (31.8 clamp) are going on the tandem. These should have a pretty long life.
    e. From the history book... Our Santana Arriva came with Santana / Nitto branded bars which were pretty robust aluminum bars, noting that Santana uses something like a 450 lb team as a design benchmark for their tandems.

    2. How wide? 44cm CTC

    3. Is there a standard replacement interval See diatribe, above.

    4. Do you use standard road bars? Yes, see above.

    5. Al handlebar failures? None personally nor that I can recall of specific to tandems. Single bikes, none personally either but I've seen a few and heard from others who've seen a few go during races which cause them to be more sensitive to periodic bar replacement. Captain's seat posts are a different story: the Zoom models used by Co-Motion weren't the most robust in the world and we've seen a few of those go bad.

    6. Does anybody here use carbon bars? Yes... on the off-road tandem and we soon be using the aforementioned E3 Curve wing bars on our tandem... selected for the ergonomics of the wing & other bar features, not the weight (250 grams).
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 06-09-08 at 05:24 PM.

  9. #9
    Senior Member joe@vwvortex's Avatar
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    My wife and I run FSA K-Wing carbon fiber bars on both our roadbikes and I run em on the Tandem. I love the shape - especially with Campy Ergo levers - it give a completely flat area to rest my palms on. Also the slight drop of the tops of the bars is more natural for the angle of your wrists.
    Administrator and Contributing Editor - Vortex Media Group

  10. #10
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    In our 'younger days' Kay and I were rather aggressive riders, but lightweights.
    At that time steel and alu dropbars were used and both of us would pull hard on the bars when climbing/honking . . . even to the point of once moving captain's seatpost as it was not clamped down
    hard enough to resists Kay's pulling.
    Never had failure of seatposts/bars/stems. Although she did break the rails on a Brooks saddle after 30,000 miles and even broke a pedal. She may be small, but then so's dynamite
    Nowadays we are a bit less aggressive. Hey, growin' old is not for sissies!
    Pedal on!
    Rudy and Kay/zonatandem

  11. #11
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    I use ITM alu bars on my road tandem with my wife (110 pounds)
    Nitto B123 steel keirin bars on my track tandem. These are absolutely necessary when you have two 200 pound sprinters throwing a tandem round a velodrome. (steel handlebar stem too)

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    The Nitto B123 has been a favorite of mine for road (and track) use but does not accept clamp-on aerobars easily. Also, the max width I've seen is 40cm which is what I normally use but too narrow for tandem use, I would think, especially judging from the widths people are using here. Too bad because they are heavy and dependable.

    About 15 years ago I swore off aluminum bars after breaking the third set at 6 months from new and also after switching brands from Cinelli to Modolo, which had a bulge in the center where the stem clamps vs. the sleeve used by Cinelli. The Modolo bars broke during a criterium and crashed me very hard, fortunately not taking anybody else down. But then about 5 years ago I broke the steel ones on my winter bike turning and accelerating from my workplace driveway onto the main road, which also resulted in a pretty harsh crash, tho' not as bad as in the crit. The steel bars were my fault: they were 40-year-old Cinelli track bars which were much lighter than the Nittos and probably weakened further by rust. Still, they served me many times longer than any aluminum road bar I had used. All bars broke off flush with the stem clamp or, in the case of the Cinelli aluminum bars, broke off where the clamping sleeve ends and the bar diameter steps down.

  13. #13
    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aeroboy View Post
    The Nitto B123 has been a favorite of mine for road (and track) use but does not accept clamp-on aerobars easily. Also, the max width I've seen is 40cm which is what I normally use but too narrow for tandem use, I would think, especially judging from the widths people are using here. Too bad because they are heavy and dependable.

    About 15 years ago I swore off aluminum bars after breaking the third set at 6 months from new and also after switching brands from Cinelli to Modolo, which had a bulge in the center where the stem clamps vs. the sleeve used by Cinelli. The Modolo bars broke during a criterium and crashed me very hard, fortunately not taking anybody else down. But then about 5 years ago I broke the steel ones on my winter bike turning and accelerating from my workplace driveway onto the main road, which also resulted in a pretty harsh crash, tho' not as bad as in the crit. The steel bars were my fault: they were 40-year-old Cinelli track bars which were much lighter than the Nittos and probably weakened further by rust. Still, they served me many times longer than any aluminum road bar I had used. All bars broke off flush with the stem clamp or, in the case of the Cinelli aluminum bars, broke off where the clamping sleeve ends and the bar diameter steps down.
    Ok, if you've broken 4 sets of bars (other than in a crash) either 1) you've ridden about 6 billion miles, 2) you weigh 400 lbs, 3) you are the world's most unlucky person, 4) you severely over tightened the clamp, or 5) you need to spend a little more time on maintenence and inspection.

    I'm fairly big, have raced for a number of years, am not festiduous about maintenence, and have never broken a handle bar.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by aeroboy View Post
    The Nitto B123 has been a favorite of mine for road (and track) use but does not accept clamp-on aerobars easily. Also, the max width I've seen is 40cm which is what I normally use but too narrow for tandem use, I would think, especially judging from the widths people are using here. Too bad because they are heavy and dependable.
    In my opinion -- based on over 30 years racing and 25 captaining tandems -- your normal road 'bar width is also entirely suitable for your tandem. I use 40 cm on all my road bikes, including two tandems and a triple. Never had a reason to go wider. Steering a tandem is about balance and finesse, not brute strength and leverage -- same as steeering a single.

    Dave

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    Quote Originally Posted by bikeriderdave View Post
    In my opinion -- based on over 30 years racing and 25 captaining tandems -- your normal road 'bar width is also entirely suitable for your tandem. I use 40 cm on all my road bikes, including two tandems and a triple. Never had a reason to go wider. Steering a tandem is about balance and finesse, not brute strength and leverage -- same as steeering a single.
    That's good news which I'll take into consideration. Thanks.

    Quote Originally Posted by merlinextraligh View Post
    Ok, if you've broken 4 sets of bars (other than in a crash) either 1) you've ridden about 6 billion miles, 2) you weigh 400 lbs, 3) you are the world's most unlucky person, 4) you severely over tightened the clamp, or 5) you need to spend a little more time on maintenence and inspection.
    So far, people have responded mostly with reports indicating long-term lack of breakage, which I find kinda interesting actually, with the experiences I've had. How about riding style? I used to be on the Canadian team for track sprinting, and did strength drills on the road. I think that killed the aluminum bars. It's been a long time since then, and I ride always in aero bars now (once up to speed and up to a certain grade of incline) but my riding style still favors large-gear starts, accelerations and uphill bursts when the situation allows, and this might still probably be enough to exceed the fatigue endurance of aluminum bars after a few years' use. The problem with aluminum is that it fails pretty spontaneously without prior warning, so regular inspections may not be a safeguard.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by aeroboy View Post
    The problem with aluminum is that it fails pretty spontaneously without prior warning, so regular inspections may not be a safeguard.
    We experienced a brake on Modolo Alu bars that we reported here about 2 years ago. The bars were less than 1 year old and the brake came with no warning while on a moderate climb. We read than steel weakens/bends before it fails... is that true? how about carbon?

  17. #17
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cornucopia72 View Post
    We experienced a brake on Modolo Alu bars that we reported here about 2 years ago. The bars were less than 1 year old and the brake came with no warning while on a moderate climb. We read than steel weakens/bends before it fails... is that true? how about carbon?
    I'd completely forgotten about that... That was actually a pretty good thread relative to a couple things, e.g., working back through manufacturer, root cause, etc.
    Broken handlebars; Is it a common occurence?

    As for steel, carbon, and even aluminum parts or tubing failures, it's been my experience that there are all kinds of different failure modes and it's often times hard to come up with a universal rule... aside from the practice of periodic inspection and maintenance. For some riders who know they are hard on bars, bi-annual replacement may in fact be a prudent risk-management approach: I know several folks who've raced that do so. A fatigue failure tends to act differently from one caused by damage -- to include any caused by improper installation (no enough or too much clamping force) -- or undetected crash damage. Also, never forget about the stem and your seatpost(s): we've seen a few of the newer, lightweight stems where pre-failure cracks were thankfully discovered.

    I do know that scoring or putting gouges into handlebars and seatposts as well as the aforementioned over or undertightening are sure-fire ways to shorten their life and that anytime you have a crash or accidentally bash a set of bars into something the bars, stem, and even the fork can become suspect. In fact, that is perhaps the only universal rule: if you crash or bash a bike and the bars take a strong blow, get the bars, stem, and steerer inspected. [edit]
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 01-09-08 at 01:00 PM.

  18. #18
    Co-Mo mojo
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    Quote Originally Posted by TandemGeek View Post
    In fact, that is perhaps the only universal rule: if you crash a bike and the bars hit the ground, get the bars, stem, and steerer inspected.
    George Hincapie, 2006 Paris Roubaix:
    http://www.velonews.com/race/int/articles/9720.0.html

  19. #19
    Senior Member swc7916's Avatar
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    We have the same bars on the tandem that we have on our single bikes: 42cm FSA K-Wing for me and 42cm FSA Compact for my wife.

    Quote Originally Posted by TandemGeek View Post
    FWIW, I use a 1/4" torque wrench and gripping compounds when installing carbon parts to mitigate the risk of damage due to over-tightening which is what does in most carbon posts and stems.
    I purchased a used FSA carbon bar for the build-up of a "winter weather commuter" bike and realized afterwards that the bar had indents from the brake levers. Is this something that I should be concerned about?

  20. #20
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swc7916 View Post
    the bar had indents from the brake levers. Is this something that I should be concerned about?
    Pretty hard to render even a guess without seeing the indentations. If they were simply depressions in the clear coat, probably no big deal. However, if the levers rentention bolts were way over tightened (spec is 60 kgf-cm) and the structure was deformed, that would be some cause for concern.

    If it was me, I'd either call or send an Email to FSA's tech support folks (with a photo that clearly shows the extent of the deformation) and get their reading.

    Here's a cut sheet for FSA's bars that provides some other do's and don'ts plus the torque specs.
    http://road.fullspeedahead.com/downl...dHandlebar.pdf

  21. #21
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    I put a Syntace bar on my tandem. The full carbon front end is noticeably more comfortable than the old. How much is fork vs stem I don't know. Its weight an rigidity are better than anything else I've tried. I am concerned by that, but check it visually quite regularly and put it together with a lot of care. I chickened out of carbon seatposts and installed Thomson Masterpieces instead.

    I bought it because I wanted to try a carbon bar but it was too good to go on my training bike so I put it on the tandem. Also the bar is shaped differently to my road bars so necessitated a different stem and as I was buying one anyway for the tandem it went on there. Also don't plan to crash the tandem (or at least less often than I fall off my road bikes) as I ride it less, more conservatively and don't seek to ride with crazy people so I'm not worried about replacement.

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