If you look at the current crop of purpose-built gravel bikes, you’d be hard pressed to find one that’s not equipped with drop-style handlebars. Since the gravel bike evolved from its ‘cross and road predecessors, it’s no surprise that drop bars would be the handlebar-of-choice. But what if you don’t actually like drops? Fear not, because Jeff Jones‘ Loop bar offers a viable alternative to the ubiquitous drop handlebar.
Since welding his first bar back in 2002 (which he dubbed the H-bar), Jones has expanded his handlebar offerings to include three models in two materials. In the summer of 2013, the Oregon-based inventor announced the release of an updated version of his popular Loop H-Bar. According to Jones, this wider bar (710mm vs 660mm) came about when Surly requested a custom bar for some of their 2014 bikes.
The updated bar retains the same hand, stem and brake lever positions as the original H-Bar, but the cross bar now sweeps forward to allow the controls to be mounted behind the cross bar. This forward sweep–combined with the additional width–creates more room for the rider’s hands, as well as improving compatibility with trigger, twist, and thumb shifters. Under the covers, the Loop bar features butted grip tubes, and the cross bar is both tapered and butted. All Jones H-Bars exceed the Europe EN 14755 safety standards for mountain bikes.
For GRAVELBIKE’s testing, the Loop bar was paired with Thomson’s Elite X4 stem (90mm x 10°). On Jones’ recommendation, the bars were with equipped with ESI‘s extra chunky silicone grips (6.75″ length). Brake levers used during the review period included Avid Elixir, FSA Afterburner, and TRP Carbon Dash (all paired with their respective hydraulic calipers). Shifting duties were divided between microSHIFT and SRAM triggers.
Having logged many on- and off-road miles on the Titec-licensed version of Jones’ original bar, I was really looking forward to see how the updated Loop bar would perform. The new Loop-Bars’ uninterrupted real estate made positioning the controls much easier. With the original model, balancing stem length with the brake and shifter positions always felt like a compromise. The updated Loop H-Bar, by comparison, felt more integrated with the bike’s controls.
With a drop of only 13mm, how does the Loop bar compare to a conventional road handlebar (with a drop of 130mm)? While Jones’ H-Bar doesn’t offer the variable height of a drop handlebar, the generous fore/aft range proved very comfortable for paved and gravel riding. Despite having a radically different appearance, many of the Loop bars’ hand positions are quite similar to those offered by drop handlebars. For technical, off-road riding, the H-Bar easily outperformed drops. The Loop bars’ 45° angle felt extremely natural when descending, but also worked well for climbing steep, rocky pitches.
The Loop H-Bar is available in 660mm and 710mm widths, and comes in silver or black anodized finishes ($120 MSRP). A titanium 660mm version is also available ($380 MSRP).
Disclosure: Jeff Jones Bicycles provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.
From a cyclist’s perspective, gravel biking is often open to interpretation. For purists, it means riding gravel, and only gravel. At the other end of the spectrum are those riders who consider gravel biking to be riding anything other than perfect asphalt. Most of us, however, tend to fall somewhere in the middle–happily riding a mix of paved and unpaved roads. To address the needs of riders seeking adventure on- and off-road, Panaracer has introduced the Gravelking tire.
At first glance, the Gravelking appears similar to dozens of other training or endurance tires. Don’t let looks fool you, though. Panaracer didn’t simply rebadge one of their existing designs. Each component–from the tread compound to the casing–was chosen to blend performance, comfort, and durability. The ZSG (Zero Slip Grip) Natural Compound utilizes a higher natural rubber content for low rolling resistance and improved wear resistance, while a new, more supple breaker belt complements the 126tpi casing.
All that technology sounds good, but how do the tires actually ride? In short, wonderfully. On pavement, there’s that faint, but tell-tale whoosh that’s associated with high-quality tires. Cornering is predictable, wet or dry. Hit the dirt, and the ride is lively, but not nervous (even if you forget to let out a few psi). Lower the pressure, and you’re rewarded with a ride that rivals tubeless setups.
Make no mistake, the Gravelking is not intended to be substitute for a typical ‘cross or knobby tire. The file tread doesn’t offer the same level of traction, and the 28mm width can’t deliver the flotation or rim protection found on higher-volume tires. That’s not to say that the Panaracer needs to be babied, however. After several hundred miles, the tread shows very little wear. In addition, the tires have sustained several deep tread cuts without puncturing.
If you want a fast, comfortable tire that can also hold up to off-road use, the Gravelking is a good choice. The added protection greatly reduces the risk of casing damage and punctures, but at the same time, doesn’t compromise ride quality.
Panaracer offers the Gravelking in 700x23mm, 26mm, and 28mm sizes. Suggested retail price is $49.99. The company will be adding a 700x32mm size, which is expected be available mid- to late-summer 2014.
Disclosure: Panaracer provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.