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Let’s be honest, integrated bar/stem combos aren’t for everyone. They’re not even for most. Some folks vehemently hate them. A few years back I had one on a bike of mine up at Crankworx Whistler and a former coworker got wasted and picked an actual fight with me over my cockpit. It was a full-on attack over a bike part. I get it, that’s how I get when I see a fork with a lockout.
My former colleague’s passionate dislike of these futuristic pieces of kit are not unfounded. The downsides of one-piece bar/stem systems are not small. Both reach and bar roll are fixed on these things, and those are things people really like messing with. Plus, they’re usually very expensive, don’t come in very many configurations, and can’t fit standard accessory mounts because they’re never round like normal bars. Bontrager’s new RSL bar/stem combo does not solve any of these problems. It’s not going to convert the haters. But I don’t care, I dig it anyway.
I’m not very picky when it comes to bar roll and with regular bars I tend to set the roll in a pretty standard position. That makes me sort of the perfect candidate for integrated bar/stems. I like the Syncros one just fine. The Canyon one, despite looking odd, also doesn’t bother me. So it’s really not surprising that I get along swimmingly with this new Bontrager offering. But there is one thing about the RSL bar/stem that does stand out to me: It’s beautiful.
And let’s face it, aesthetics go a long way with riders. Out of all the integrated bar/stem things I’ve tried, the Bontrager RSL is the most ‘normal’ looking. It still has a cool futuristic look, but it’s not too out there with its shape. With both the Syncros and Canyon versions, you look down and almost take pause before putting your hands on then grips. They’re very different looking, and frankly can be kind of distracting. The Bontrager RSL has a classier, more subdued shape that really draws me in. And the pinch bolts are titanium. Bonus!
From a performance perspective, I’m satisfied. I’m not picky about bar shape, but I am about bar flex. Bars have to be strong and solid, but they need to have a little give to them to take the edge off. Bars that are too stiff wind up fatiguing my hands and forearms and are generally just uncomfortable. Luckily the RSL bar/stem combo has the right amount of flex to make them precise while still taking the edge off.
They come in five sizes. There are three cross-country ones with long, negative rise stems and zero rise 750mm-wide bars, and two trail versions with short, zero-rise stems and a 27.5mm rise on 820mm-wide bars, all of which go for $350. The one pictured is the 45mm stem length, and I trimmed the bars a bit. It’s great that they come so wide. It’s almost like an integrated seat post where it comes too long for anyone and is always trimmed to fit.
I’d love to see the trail offerings expanded with more options for rise. It’d be great if they offered the same two stem lengths in multiple bar rise configurations. 27.5mm is on the low end for me, as witnessed by the giant stack of headset spacers I’m running.
The RSL bar/stem combo is also compatible with Trek’s Knock Block system, which comes as no surprise considering Bontrager is Trek’s component brand. The way Knock Block is integrated into the RSL makes the steerer tube hold not a circle, requiring one of two aluminum key things that come along with the bar, depending on if you’re installing it on a Knock Block bike or not. It works, but I can definitely see those aluminum keys disappearing, since they simply just rest in the notch without actually being fixed to the stem in any way. That’s really my only gripe with the RSL bar/stem combo. Other than that, I’d say they perform admirably.
My old coworker would probably get fired up about these, and I’m sure he won’t be the only one. Integrated bar/stem combos are not for the masses. They’re not for practical people, either. But they’re irresistible nonetheless.
Bontrager RSL MTB Handlebar/Stem Stats:
– OCLV Carbon construction is the benchmark for durability and light weight
– Compatibility with Knock Block and standard headset types (adapter included)
– Seamless accessory integration with Blendr (mounts sold separately)
– Shifter and brake lever position lines for spot-on control setup
– 40mm trim lines allow for a personalized fit
– Titanium hardware is lightweight and long-lasting