|Curve Cycles' Walmer Bar- Just an example of our drop bar rich times.|
Back when I started riding off-road, it was shortly after the 'drop bar craze' in MTB in the mid to late 80's. There were a few well known choices then. You could get maybe three, maybe four different bars, all based around the customized Cinnelli bars that Charlie Cunningham was making for his own custom bike line. Eventually, WTB, the comapny Charlie helped found, made a version of his bars, Specialized used something Nitto made, I believe, and there may be something I'm not remembering, but the off-road drop bar was a rare bar even then.
WTB continued to produce their off-road drop bar well into the 1990's. I recall putting a few on one particular guy's bike back then. He got a new WTB Dirt Drop every year. Had I known then what I know now I would have hoarded all his take-offs! It wasn't maybe five years later, after WTB ceased production of the Dirt Drop, that the prices for used ones were around $150.00! This, in turn, prompted On One of the U.K. to collaborate with a few riders to develop the On One Midge Bar, a design with its roots in the WTB Dirt Drop and those older, 1980's dirt drop designs.
Now by this time I had gotten on the internet and read up on all the old mountain bike stuff I could find. I was aware of the old dirt drop craze as I was heavily into mountain biking magazines back then. So, I sought out more information on folks like Charlie Cunningham, John Tomac, the Specialized Dirt Drop, Ibis, Salsa Cycles, and any other brands involved in the off-road drop bar craze. What I found and read up on changed my mind about using drop bars for off-roading.
|My Karate Monkey, circa 2006, with On One Midge Bars|
I then took my Karate Monkey 29"er, which had flat bars originally, and I set it up with an On One Midge Bar. This would have been around 2005 or so. I was hooked, and with Trans Iowa sparking a love for gravel riding, the idea stuck with me as I found myself doing more gravel riding every year. My love of the off-road drop bar deepened then, and I was trying every new flared drop bar I could. There weren't many either.
There was the original Gary Bar from Origin 8, a fairly close rendition of the Midge, but with even more flare! There were maybe a couple of other odd-ball ones early on in the late 00's, but there wasn't a lot of traction behind the idea until late in the decade. This all started with a very influential bike model introduction.
Around 2006-2007, some in the gravel/MTB community were asking for something with big volume tires and a flared drop bar. Now, I was getting a ton of questions about my Karate Monkey set up with drop bars. I decided that I needed a 'real off-road drop bar bike', so in 2007, I decided to have not one- but two custom bikes made! Each would address issues I had with drop bars on a MTB-able bike. Well, as it turns out, I wasn't the only one thinking along these lines.
You may have guessed it, but when Salsa Cycles came out with the Fargo, it was this bike that forced Salsa to design their own take on the flared off-road drop bar. At first, they had the old cyclo cross design called the Bell Lap Bar on the Fargo, but within two years the Woodchipper debuted and the race to develop bars with flare and sweep was on. Shortly thereafter, the Ragely Luxy Bar, the Origin 8 Gary II Bar, and the Salsa Cycles Cowbell appeared. Gravel cyclists gravitated to these bars and subsequently, any bike claiming to be a 'gravel bike' had to have a flared drop bar. It was one of the identifying characteristics of a gravel bike.
The scene, and the bikes to support it, blossomed wildly in the late teens until we reached a point several years ago that there were so many new flared drop bars at every price point that it became bewildering. You can get cheapo, heavy aluminum dirt drops all the way up to high-zoot, ultra-light carbon flared drops. Widths between 40mm and 60mm are out there too. heck when I started out with these flared drop bars there was one width and we liked it! (HA!)
Oh! And those two custom bikes? One was my Badger and the other is my Pofahl, both of which I still own. Both have Luxy Bars too, which is pretty oddball. But anyway, I find it amazing that in 2021 we have all these choices. It truly is the golden age of flared drop bars.