Versus: Integrated Handlebars
Impractical, restrictive, but irresistibly futuristic
Handlebars that mount directly to the steerer tube are nothing new: The idea goes back at least to Tom Ritchey’s Bullmoose bars, which he was reportedly inspired to make after slipping a handlebar at Repack. But the concept has never really caught on, which is probably why we don’t yet have a good name for these things.
There’s the fatally clunky “integrated handlebar/stem,” which does at least have solid acronym potential when shortened to “integrated bar/stem.” Some feel compelled to append “combo” onto either of these, which is redundant. There’s also just “integrated handlebar,” but, integrated with what, exactly? And it’s worse in plural form. Are the handlebars integrated with each other?
I’ll suggest another that I’m not totally sold on, though it makes some sense: “direct-mount handlebar.” But we already have direct-mount stems, and one might wonder if a direct-mount stem and a direct-mount handlebar would logically have to be two terms for the same thing. Plus, direct-mount stems don’t mount to the steerer tube. Even worse, Gemini makes a direct-mount version of its integrated (or whatever) handlebar, which mounts like a direct-mount stem to a dual-crown fork. Would that be a direct-mount direct-mount handlebar?
They’re all imperfect and I hate each for different reasons. But since it’s short, commonly used, and the most tolerable, I’ll use “integrated handlebar.”
Besides, I’ll be surprised if we ever get to a point at which integrated handlebars become popular enough that we need a good term for them. There are compelling reasons not to buy these things. Handlebar roll, stem length, and stem angle are adjustments that help most of us get comfortable on bikes that are usually not a perfect fit out of the box. Fuse together the handlebar and stem, and these adjustments become either impossible or much more expensive and wasteful. Cut your integrated handlebar too short, and you’re replacing the whole thing. Decide the extension (virtual stem) is the wrong length, and again, you better get to ordering a new one.
Another disadvantage of these integrated handlebars is that, because they aren’t round through the middle, some accessory mounts won’t work: Those that use flexible bands or straps may, but rigid circular clamps generally will not. Both brands attempt to address this with sold-separately proprietary mounts, but they’re really only intended for computers. Gemini’s is $110 and adheres to the front of the handlebar, meaning that once it’s on, it’s probably staying on for a while. Syncros’ $60 mount is a replacement top cap that has a computer mount attached to it, and is thus easily removable.
There are a few reasons why someone would accept the downsides that come with an integrated handlebar. First: weight. An integrated handlebar weighs about the same as a traditional carbon handlebar, meaning that you’re basically eliminating the weight of the stem altogether—around 100 grams. Integrating the stem and handlebar also allows for much shorter “stem” lengths without the need for rise, because there’s no handlebar clamp in front of the steerer tube. The Gemini handlebar, for example, is sold with extensions as short as 10mm.
One can also see how an integrated handlebar could be made stronger than a traditional handlebar, since profiles other than round can be used through larger sections of the bar. That freedom to shape the bar could also provide more possibilities for tuning its flex. And, in terms of reliability, there’s no risk of failure due to an over- or under-tightened stem faceplate.
The integrated handlebar concept is more popular in the XC world, which makes sense given the whole weight savings thing. What sets apart the Scott Hixon and Gemini Kästor tested here is that both are intended for trail/enduro riding.
Both test handlebars had 20mm of rise, 50mm extension lengths, and 7 degrees of backsweep. There are slight variations in upsweep and width: the Kästor is 10mm wider and has a 5 degree upsweep to the Hixon’s 6 degrees. The glaring difference between the two is price: At a shocking $790 (depending on exchange rates), the Barcelona-made Kästor comes at more than twice the cost of the Hixon and makes Enve seem downright plebeian.
There’s also a big difference in how the handlebars are shaped. The Kästor has a more traditional silhouette, with the extension positioned where the stem would be, while the Hixon achieves its extension farther out towards the grips. The result is that, at least in the 50mm extension length, the Kästor doesn’t really change the overall look of a bike. The Hixon, on the other hand, has a way of making any bike look like a 2012 Mondraker.
Differences in handlebar flex are usually subtle, but in this case I felt a significant difference. The Hixon is one of, if not the stiffest bar I’ve ever ridden, while the Kästor is on the opposite end of the spectrum—it provides a gentle flex that most 35mm bars just don’t come close to. Even OneUp’s carbon bar feels comparably stiff.
If you’re looking for a way to drop weight, the Hixon is, relatively speaking, a pretty reasonable purchase. For comparison’s sake, RaceFace’s Next R 35 bar with a 50mm Turbine R 35 stem totals 353 grams. At a claimed weight of 245 grams, the Hixon would save 100 grams for an additional $40. That said, the Hixon weighed in considerably heavier on my scale, at 296 grams. Either way, there are more expensive ways to drop between 50 and 100 grams, and most of them come with greater compromises—especially if you’re sure that the Hixon’s shape and dimensions will work for you.
Gemini’s Kästor bars have some advantages: Their ride quality is more forgiving than the Hixon’s, and their finish is premium, from the way the top cap is recessed into the stem, to the concealed steerer clamp threads. But spending $800 on handlebars is a ridiculous thing to do, so I’m not going to make a case for purchasing the Kästors over the Hixons. Of course, if you have $800 to spend on handlebars, you probably don’t need me to.
810mm width / 5° upsweep / 7° backsweep / 20mm rise / 50mm extension (stem) / 270g claimed, 267 grams actual
- Comfortable flex
- Superior finish and details
- Available with extension lengths from 10 to 50mms
- Shocking cost
- Accessory mount is an additional $110, attaches with adhesive
Syncros Hixon ic 1.0
800mm width / 6° upsweep / 7° backsweep / 20mm rise / 50mm extension (stem) / 245g claimed, 296 grams actual
- Accessory mount for computer is integrated into top cap (available separately for $60)
- Less expensive than Kästor, cost is similar to a traditional high-end bar and stem
- Ride quality is a little harsh
- Only available with 40- and 50-millimeter extensions
Photos: Jonathon Weber