We’ve reported extensively on gravel cycling for some time now at Slowtwitch, including several relevant handlebars (see the links at the bottom of this page). Gravel introduces some unique demands for your bike, fit, and bars, and I suspect we’ll continue to see an evolving variety of bar shapes, angles, and drops.
In general, gravel bars tend to feature shallow drops, and those drops tend to have some degree of outward flare. The intent here is that you’ll actually be open to using those drops – and won’t be banging your hands or wrists on anything while doing so. Many of you also opt to buy a wider size in a gravel bar than you would for road, for added comfort and control over rough trail sections (a la mountain-bike-handlebar). Finally, many gravel bars also feature some amount of rise, which we call a “riser drop bar”.
Today’s subject is a unique gravel-focused drop bar from FSA, called the K-Wing AGX. It’s a high-end carbon affair, weighing 205 grams (42cm width), and will set you back $290. They offer a huge range of sizes, from 40cm all the way to a titanic 48cm width.
If you’re on a tighter budget, FSA also offers an alloy version called the A-WING AGX, selling for a much friendlier $116 (and also available in the mega size range). We only had a chance to try the carbon version, so that’s what we’ll focus on for this article.
The K-Wing AGX features a shallow 115mm drop and 75mm reach, putting it on the compact end of the spectrum. Those drops feature a 12.5 degree outward angle, resulting in 25mm of offset per side. Also note that they’ve flattened and sculpted the transition point to the hoods, for a more hand-friendly and gravel-friendly shape.
FSA does not list the amount of rise that this bar has, but my visual estimation is in the range of 10-15mm. It’s not a ton of rise, but gives you a little boost for better visibility (and a break for your back) while cruising with your hands on the bar tops.
The bar also has a unique 10-degree forward angle for the bar tops, providing a natural angle to match your wrists. Why didn’t we do this sooner?!
It’s 2020, where bars have been Swiss-Cheesed to accommodate every possible configuration of mechanical, electronic, and hydraulic systems you could dream up. Please thank your bike mechanic for making everything look so nice when using all of these secret trap doors.
The stem clamp even includes a cavernous hole to be used with FSA’s ACR stem – making your cables and hoses completely hidden on certain bike frames. Also note the relatively low maximum torque listed for any clamp-on accessories. That means: No clip-on aerobars for this bar (clip-ons have become increasingly popular for gravel and ultra-distance off-road cycling events).
FSA also sent a stem along for us to try – the K-FORCE -12 MTB stem ($184). It’s not uncommon to use a more mountain-bike-focused stem for gravel, and this is something I’ve been doing for years. Personally, I don’t like trying to save every last gram when I’m riding on rough trails, and prefer the peace-of-mind of a product designed for abuse. You can decide whether this makes me a Scaredy Cat or a Smarty Pants.
The K-Force features a 12-degree rise/drop. This is more than I generally prefer, but does offer a wider range of handlebar height for the user. My personal bikes tend to end up with a ~6 degree stem on most occasions.
No gap! It’s not uncommon to see instructions or requirements that are more stringent when dealing with carbon material in stems. In this case, you’ll want to ensure that – just as it says – there is no space on that side of the stem clamp.
Also note that the K-Force stem is actually aluminum on the inside, and uses what FSA calls Carbon Structured Integration (CSI), which we take to mean a carbon wrap for both cosmetic and structural reasons.
A unique X-shaped face plate rounds out the package, along with full titanium hardware.
Finally, FSA sent us a package of their Powertouch handlebar tape ($37). This 3mm-thick tape is made of a synthetic / natural cork hybrid, and includes gel padding and a fully textured grip surface. It’s available in a full range of colors including black, white, green, red, blue, neon pink, neon orange, and neon yellow. This author approves of gaudy neon, and encourages you to not be shy. I’m also a huge fan of the new crop of grippy bar tapes that have emerged in the last 8-10 years, and refuse to spend my money on anything else.