Zipp's SL80 Road Bar is An Obvious Product

Pity the poor brand managers at Zipp who for years have had to listen to me drone on about the road handlebars they make. Not that they didn’t make great bars! They did (and do). Just, they also made hoods (or their parent company does). So, why not make a bar that matches the ergonomics of your sister-brand’s hood?

This has been a head-scratcher for me (and an opportunity for me to nag Zipp) because SRAM’s superpower is acquisition integration. I mean, if you consider the two dominant component brands – SRAM and Shimano – Shimano has not done well with acquisitions. Pearl Izumi? I think the only one that really seems to have worked is Lazer but even that is not a brand where the parts have to work together in a system.

Contrast this with Sachs-Huret, Truvativ, Quarq, Avid. Every one of these acquisitions was accretive to SRAM RED AXS, the groupset SRAM just launched today. Every part made by every one of these brands had to handshake with the other brand’s parts.

One step removed are RockShox, Hammerhead, Time (pedals) and Zipp. That latter brand is very important to SRAM’s OE business and one aid to this would be a road (or gravel) handlebar that specifically worked with the ergonomics of the lever. Drumroll please…

I built up a Specialized Aethos because I kind of fell in love with the idea of this bike and I needed a frameset on which to mount a new RED AXS groupset for testing. So, Aethos on the workstand, I set to hanging parts. But the parts sat around for a week unhung because, honestly, the most interesting part of the whole build was this handlebar, bearing in mind the theme of the Aethos. That bike was Specialized’s thought experiment: What if you built a bike and the only thing you wanted out of that bike was the perfect road cycling experience?

This meant that you give up certain things, such as an integrated front end and/or hydraulic lines through the stem. Because that’s just a stupid design decision anyway. (In my opinion.) If you want the perfect riding experience you need, for example, the perfect points in space where your contacts points sit. You need perfect ergonomics. You can’t get that unless you have the option to place your bars at exactly the right place in space. Right tilt. Right width. Right everything. Within, say 5mm of right in every plane. Which means the ability to make a change in minutes. And that means hydraulic lines external to the stem.

The SL80 is not the first handlebar with grooves to accept a hydraulic line. But it is the first bar that I’ve seen that begins this process so close to the hood. If you look at the attached images you’ll see a shelf that begins close to where the hydraulic line runs into the brake lever. Your line runs under that shelf and is ported into the indentation that runs underneath the bar.

You run your hydraulic line as I did, to the point just before the stem and then the lines fly into space, commando, until they enter the frame (rear brake) and fork just below the crown (front brake). Or, the lines run just under the stem and enter the frame at the top cap of the headset (Cervelo R5 and Soloist; Specialized Tarmac). If you just can’t stand ever seeing a hydraulic line – ever – and you want your lines to run through the stem, these grooves head right there and you can bury these lines into and through the stem using this handlebar. (Which is not the thing a wise cyclist does; you know how I feel about that.)

That flat shelf underneath which the brake lines run offers a hand rest and I don’t want to make too much of this, it’s not going to change bike riding forever, but it does help create a smooth transition from bar to hood. It’s probably the cleanest I’ve yet seen. There is 5° of flare and 8° of outsweep. In my opinion this is just about perfect, whether for road or gravel. This bar weighs 250g and that’s very light for a bar with hydraulic line grooves. Any road handlebar between 200g and 250g is quite light.

I placed a bar 40cm on center at the hoods in my Aethos and I thought it might be a little narrow but I’ve got 40cm with flare on my gravel bike and I’m used to it. The drops don’t feel too wide and the hoods are find when I’m out of the saddle. It’s 47cm max width at the drops with handlebar tape on. Therefore, max width for this bar in the peloton in a sanctioned race is this size I’m riding or the 42cm size. Just, make sure you aren’t riding a road race with a bar that measures more than 50cm total width (unless they’ve changed that rule).

This bar has a flat section on the top that’s quite comfortable and I use it quite a bit even if hoods are now the by-far dominant position. Which is a good time to get to my small gripes about this bar because one of them s flat section . The extra front-to-back material is all behind the centerline of the stem. Nothing in front. I’m okay with it. but it’s a kneecap biter for the wrong person. Someone built like me but who just wants a centimeter or two shorter cockpit. Contrast this with a handlebar made a dozen or 15 years ago by Oval Concepts, inset in the image above, with all the “aero” flat section in front of the centerline. I wish handlebar companies would consider this motif when they design their bars.

Second, this bar is the SL80 because (I presume) it has 80mm of reach. I prefer the 70mm of reach in the Zipp Short and Shallow. This bar has 80mm and 125mm of reach and drop and because it’s got flare you could get away with 120mm or even 115mm of drop without your wrist hitting the tops when you’re in the drops. Zipp knows that the shorter and shallower it makes a bar the more riders like it. In fact, Zipp discovered this before anyone else did. So… stay the course, Zipp!

But for all that, this is still my favorite current road bar because of that shelf at the point the hydraulic line reaches the hood, and the inset flesh hydraulic lines, and the flare, and the light weight notwithstanding all that extra good stuff.

The SL80 retails for $340 and while that's a bunch for any handlebar it's in-line with what one should spend for a carbon bar like this and of this weight (in fact it's even kind of a bargain compared to those in its competitive set). I have this bar on the new Aethos and with a $60 Zipp Service Course stem and the combo it's still light. And it fits perfectly. And it's very comfortable.