Friday, June 24, 2011

Salsa Cycles Cowbell II Handle Bar: First Impressions

Salsa Cowbell 2 On The BMC "Orange Crush"
The new Salsa Cycles Cowbell 2 has been getting some rave comments from folks I trust and respect lately. Now I know why.

I've got my 46cm Salsa Cycles Cowbell 2 bars mounted and ridden and here are my impressions of the bar so far.

Mounting And Taping: Unlike some other off-road drop bars, the Cowbell drops are pretty typical road-like fare to deal with, in as far as how you will want to have them set up. I like "traditional" placement of the levers and drop extensions- Meaning, level drop section, parallel to the ground, and lever tips hanging just below the drop section. Call me "old skool", but I think it looks far better and not only that, it rides better in all hand positions. I'll get to that later, but just know that these bars will be familiar to set up and tape for anyone that has done road bike bars before. No funky "point-the-drop-extensions-at-the-rear-axle", no weird sweep, and no weird lever angles.

Salsa put some sweet graduated lines on each hook on the outer side of the curve to help with lever placement. Ever obsessed about which lever was higher? too! With these simple graphics on the bar, the guess work is gone. Thanks Salsa for that thoughtful touch! Saved a bunch of fretting and time for me, I know that much.

Looks pretty normal from here
Ride Feel: Okay, I've a confession to make: I don't like traditional road bars at all. They feel all wrong to me, and not comfortable at all in the drops. (No wonder people never use their drops on road bikes. It feels all constricted down there, at least to me.)

The minimal sweep and flare of the Cowbell bars is so subtle, you almost can not see it when the bars are mounted and taped up. (Salsa claims 12 degrees of flare) That said, it was "just enough" to make me not hate on these bars.

My first ride was not all hearts and roses. I felt the Cowbell was too roadie-ish for my tastes. (This may be all you need to read to be a fan of these!) However; I knew I was coming off some pretty radical drops in the Ragely Luxy Bar, and anything with less sweep than those was going to be a huge departure for me. So, I gave it some time.

The Cowbell does have an excellent transition from the ramp section to the hoods. Very comfy place to grip there. The variable radius bend of the drops was great too. This is something I would like to see more of in the swept, flared off road drop bars. Variable radius bars just fit into the hand better, with a great perch for the butt of the palms to sit into. Super comfy and secure grip there. The drops reach to the levers is perfect. I could easily brake and shift from the drops at will.

The tops have a wide enough section that makes it feel good to climb there and cruise there without making you feel that your grip is too narrow. Going from up top to the drops is easy since the drop is shallow. Overall, every traditional hand position is very useable with this handle bar.

Traditional set up: There is a reason this works...
On rough stuff, like grass, and pot holed, cracked pavement, the bar felt reasonably smooth. Salsa says the Cowbell 2 is double butted. If I push hard into the drops, the bars flex a bit. Nothing radical. I can't discern it while climbing and honking on the levers. That said, it feels smoother than the Luxy Bar that came off the "Orange Crush", so I'm going to say it is the double butted stock and design of these that gives them a bit of a sweet ride feel.

Conclusions: What about that "roadie-ish feel"? Well, I did have some of that sensation disappear. On the last ride before I wrote this, I found myself shooting up a steep embankment in the drops. Rocking the bike slightly from side to side, out of the saddle. Then it dawned on me. "Hey- these are not all that bad for being so "straight" in the drops!"  The minimal sweep and flare seems to be "just enough" to make them work for off road, and yet they don't look "nontraditional" in the sense that they have a very normal drop bar look and feel for most riding.

I won't be rocking these on my mountain bike, but I do like these for gravel, and if I were a cyclo cross kind of guy, I would seriously look at these. They afford much more control in the drops than a traditional road bar can when descending, and you can power up climbs and short chutes while in the drops and not break your wrists. The variable radius bend is great for your grip as well.

These bars can accept bar end shifters too. "Brifters" should set up really well for folks on the Cowbell bars, and if you need to mount gadgets, there is plenty of room on the tops for that non-sense.

I think Salsa has designed another great product in the Cowbell 2 bars, and I'll be sticking with these for the "Orange Crush" for a long time. I just wish they came in silver! (There! A criticism!) I'm not much on these for real rough off roading, but they weren't really aimed at that activity either. Road bikers, tourists, and anyone not satisfied with wonky drop bar designs prevalent today should look hard at these.

Happy Trails all! Have a great weekend!

UPDATED: I've gotten some questions about what the difference is between the Cowbell 2 and Cowbell 3 bars is. I e-mailed Salsa Cycles for an explanation Here is what they shared with me.....

Here is the skinny on our naming. This is new for the future and these are the first products coming under our new format.

1 = BEST (equate to product like Pro Moto Carbon bars and Pro Moto Ti stem)

2 = BETTER (equate to product such as aluminum Pro Moto bars)
3 = GOOD (equate to product formerly known as Moto Ace)

Each of these levels will be differentiated by features, materials and finish quality. All of our core components will come this way eventually. We will have 3 level of components in bars, stems and seat posts. 

So, there ya have it folks! Thanks for the comments and for checking out Guitar Ted Productions!


1234567890 said...

Hey G-Ted,

These look like nice bars. Glad to see they make a 46cm as well. Thinking about grabbing a set for my crosscheck.

What's the deal with the two versions of different aluminum alloys? Is one cheaper, better, lighter...?

Guitar Ted said...

@1234567890: Salsa has always done two levels on their components, (especially stems and bars), which were denoted as "Pro Moto" and "Moto Ace". Usually Moto Ace stuff was cheaper, heavier, and didn't look as nice in terms of graphics and finish. Functionally, it usually was the same as the lighter, better looking Pro Moto stuff, which cost more, was lighter, and generally made from a different alloy, or material all together.

The Cowbell models follow this to a degree with the distinction being made with a "2" or a "3" behind the model name.

The Cowbell 2 is a 7075 T75 alloy, while the Cowbell 3 is a 6061 T6 alloy. Some weight difference is there, I am sure, and some roadies will actually prefer one over the other in terms of the alloy used.

Hope that helps (and is on target!)

Doug Idaho said...

Just got a salsa casserrol the bike but HATE the roady bars.....bars are so skinny and I hate the drops....constricted is a good word to describe the sensation for sure. Luckily I have some woodchippers I can toss on.

MG said...

I'm holding my new set of Cowbell 2 bars in my hands, and they feel very nice. I'll hold off on making any proclamations until I ride them, but based on how they feel in my hands, how they look on your bike, and what you're saying, I suspect I'll be a fan.

Salsa's Bell Lap 'cross bar was one of the best handlebars for its intended purpose, and these refinements make sense. They'll allow us to ride in the drops on our cross bikes more comfortably, with less of a change from the position on the hoods, giving us more control, speed and a smoother ride on rough courses. These are all good things.

Nice work Salsa.

David said...

After reading your initial review and because I'm just not as satisfied with the woodchipper bar I managed to take a spin on the new Vaya which have the cowbell 2/3 bar stock now and felt that the bar appears to be what I am looking for. Thanks again for keeping us informed about new products.

MMcG said...

Those bars and that frame look like a match made in heaven. How bit are the tires on that Black Mountain CX frame-set?

Awesome configuration right there!!!

Guitar Ted said...

@MMcG: Those tires are Bontrager XR-1's. They are about 47mm wide on the Velocity A-23's I have them mounted on.

Jason said...

I gave in and ordered the Cowbell 3's for my Cross Check, along with a matching stem. I didn't care for the Bell Laps, and I currently have Woodchippers. I loved the tops/hoods of the Bell Laps, but didn't like the drops. I like the drops of the Woodchippers, but hate the hoods (my favorite riding position). Hopefully the Cowbells will be the best of both worlds. Thanks for your review GT!

Jason said...

Just an update, I have 50 miles on my Cowbell 3 bars now and I am absolutely amazed by them. Great design by Salsa yet again. Most comfortable my bike has ever been, and I didn't have any of the hand numbness issues I've had in the past. The quality of the Cowbell 3's is already very impressive, I'd like to see how the finish on the 2's compare.

Mike V said...

How would you describe the difference in feel between these and the Woodchippers? I am putting drops on a Surly Troll to make a touring bike. The Troll's geometry isn't ideal for drop bars obviously but I have Woodchippers on it now and it's not too bad but but I will need a pretty short and upright stem angle. I believe I would mostly be on the hoods while touring and I'm wondering if the difference in reach when on the hoods is noticable/significant. Ultimately I'd like to go with as long of a stem as I can get away with to make the steering more stable.

Guitar Ted said...

@Mike V: I think the reach to the hoods feels longer on the Cowbell. (I don't have a measurement to compare with for you here though)

It seems the longer stem would work better with a Woodchipper, since it has a shorter reach anyway.

Mike V said...

Oh, from reading the descriptions and measurements I figured that the defining characteristic of the Cowbell was it's short reach. I definitely don't want to go longer than the Woodchippers. They seem to put the hoods further away the way they angle down.

Good to know, thanks.

Guitar Ted said...

@Mike V: Well, the Cowbell is shorter reach than many road bars, but the Woodchipper is unique in that it is an off road design. If you keep the levers up a bit on the Woodchippers it will help with the angling down. Of course, your set up will be driven by a want to be on the hoods most often, so getting the lever from the drop to your index finger tip is not an issue here. For your set up, I would experiment with lever positions before wrapping the bars to see just where you want them first.

thesnowleopard said...

Hey, can I ask what kind of bar tape that is you're using? I've been looking for just that color.

Guitar Ted said...

@thesnowleopard: That is Bontrager Gel tape. It's a standard Bontrager color that any Trek dealer should be able to order, if they do not already stock it.

Rick Fee said...

I see this review was conducted some time ago. Any long term observations or assessments? Do you still ride these bars?


Guitar Ted said...

@Rick Fee: I am still riding these bars and I still like them a lot. When I get my next BMC, (soon), it will get these same bars again.