Monday, January 23, 2012

The Albatross Handlebar

Over the past several months, I've had a few individuals contact me with various questions about the handlebars on the Sam Hillborne, so I thought perhaps a post was in order. I did write about them briefly when changes were made several months ago, but because I've had time to ride with them now, I feel a little better equipped to evaluate how they are working for me. The most common inquiry asks if they are Nitto Mustache handlebars. To put this misconception to rest, they are not. I did briefly try mustache bars, but found the stretch on a bike that's bordering on being too large for me was just too much. The handlebars are in fact Nitto Albatross bars. Before I get into it too much, if you are looking for these particular handlebars, I would advise doing some research for the lowest cost. Depending on your preference for aluminum or chromoly, I've seen price differences of up to $45 (just on new handlebars - I imagine it would be even greater on used), so there is some savings to be had if you look around.
I believe the reason that these handlebars are mistaken for mustache bars on the Hillborne is because they are mounted unconventionally (or upside down), which gives them more of a similar look to the mustache bars. Why did I do this? Well, I really didn't want to ride in a position so upright that I felt like I was on more of a city-type bicycle. I wanted to use this as a long-distance bicycle, and while the bars aren't that much lower turned upside down, I do think it provides enough that I get some lean into the handlebars. I'm sure they would work just fine mounted as intended though. Of course, these feel nothing like a drop bar on a bicycle, so the rider should be prepared for a completely different feel. While I wouldn't recommend them for those looking for extreme aerodynamics, if you're looking for an alternative that places you in a manner to see the road from a more upright position, these could do the trick.
I should point out that if your bike requires a 26.0 handlebar, from what I've found, these bars come only in a 25.4 size, which will require the purchase of a shim to make up the size difference. I have these handlebars on two bikes (the Hillborne and the Surly) which both take 26.0 bars. On the Surly, the shim was needed to make the handlebars secure, however, the Hillborne was barely able to squeeze the bars in to the stem. I don't know if it's the difference in stem types, or if I just happened to get a handlebar that was a bit larger, but I was warned that it isn't safe to ride without the shim because of the size difference, so I pass along the same to you.
One potential hazard of note is the length of the side portion of the bars. I have found that mounting these bars upside down has created a bit of a problem with "thigh strike." If I am trying to make a turn and the leg in the direction I am turning is in the up position, there is often an issue with the bar hitting my thigh making it difficult (sometimes impossible) to complete tight turns. It's particularly bothersome on this bike because it has bar end shifters and I often unintentionally move the shifters while turning. Perhaps this would be less of an issue for riders who 1) have bigger bikes, and 2) have less substantial thighs, but I suspect regardless of these two possibilities there could be an issue for other riders as well. We did remove a good portion of the end of the handlebar to help with this problem, but in reality I still need to take another inch to inch and a half off to avoid the problem completely. I don't really want to remove the handlebar tape again, so it has stopped me for the time being from doing what needs to be done. However, it is a bit unnerving when trying to take a tight turn, so I find I get off of the bike and remount after the turn to avoid any potential for a crash.
The albatross handlebars work well for both city riding and longer distances. I haven't done a tour with these handlebars, but for me I am relieved to have a position that allows my hands to be comfortable and change positions without needing the drop bars. I enjoy the positioning so much that I opted to do the same for the Surly Pacer. I haven't regretted the switch, so I do think it's possible for these handlebars to work on a variety of bikes since the Pacer has a bit more of a compact feel than the Hillborne. I will note that I don't have the same problem with "thigh strike" on the Pacer, however, we did need to remove a portion of the ends on this bike as well.  It could also be that the shifters are a part of the brake levers on this bike, or that it just has a different geometry.
Ultimately, these handlebars work for me, but hopefully this is beneficial to anyone else looking for a switch. I don't dislike drop bars, but personally I found it difficult to utilize each of the places for my hands because of the sizing on the Hillborne. For me, it was about finding comfort over long distances, and these albatross bars seem to have done the trick.

14 comments:

  1. If I am trying to make a turn and the leg in the direction I am turning is in the up position, there is often an issue with the bar hitting my thigh […].

    I had the same problem on a Linus “Gaston” and on my Guv’nor (both have inverted “Townie” aka “North Road” handlebars) but after a while some kind of unconscious coordination occurs where I keep my left knee down if I turn left and my right knee down if I turn right when I need to initiate a relatively sharp turn.

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    1. I think I'm just adjusting to the set up, but I do believe if I can take just a bit more off, it will just about perfect.

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  2. Why do they call it an "Albatross" bar? I'm not sure it really looks like a fish? I have always wondered.

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    1. Umm...I'm fairly certain "albatross" are birds not fish. It can also be a source of frustration, so maybe that is the reason?

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    2. Well that makes more sense, it is indeed a bird, so it's like the birds wings...

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  3. BIG OOPS! So sorry to Jon... I accidentally hit "delete comment" instead of publish... but, here's what Jon added:
    I have the same bars, mounted the same way, on my titanium all-rounder. I have found them to work great for everything from paved centuries to epic (70 mile) off-road rides.

    They look great on your bikes. I find that another good reason to mount them inverted: the looks just appeal to me.

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    1. Just wanted to say thanks to Jon, and also add that it's nice to know these bars do well on longer rides as well!

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  4. I have had Albatross bars on a few of my bikes, beginning about 10 years ago. They've become my all-time favorites. I don't have any problem with thigh strike, but my bikes are considerably larger than yours and my bars have always been mounted right side up. I think that the upright mounting brings them out of the strike zone, but the bar end shifters may also contribute.

    An alternative bar that you might consider is the Surly Open Bar, which comes with or without a rise. I recently put an Open Bar with a rise on my Surly Cross-Check, and I may actually like it better than the Albatross. Coupled with Ergon grips, it's great.

    For what it's worth, a couple of years ago I did an Olympic distance triathlon road race on an Albatross equipped bike. I didn't win, but I didn't come in last, either.

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  5. Big DD - Thank you for the info about the handlebars (both the Open Bar and your experience with the albatross bar). I think it's definitely beneficial to hear from others who have utilized them on much longer distances.

    While I really do need to leave the bikes alone, I am tempted to look into the Open Bar. :O)

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  6. Was there any fiddling to get the brake levers to work? Most of what i read for the Albatross bars, and the Soma Oxford bars suggest that you must use MTB style levers - but obviously you're not.

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    1. There wasn't any special adjustments to get these brakes to work. They were simply loosened as much as possible and they went on without issue. You might have a problem if you wanted to get all the way around the bend of the bar, but other than that it's worked well and went on easily.

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    2. Yeah, but this may be why ppl had mistaken them for Moustache bars. Also, the road levers should, in theory, run loose on the 7/8" diameter Alba bars. It doesn't surprise me that you needed to dial them out to clear the curves, but you must've had to either shim them or tighten the F out of them to keep 'em tight...

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    3. I'm sure they were tightened extremely well (the house mechanic is known for over-tightening everything), but I do know they weren't shimmed, so that is odd. They definitely work though and don't move around.

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  7. Great - thanks!
    I might give this set up a shot on my cross-check.

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