The handlebar is somehow like a saddle. You have to find the right one or work a little bit harder to get accustomed to the one you are supposed to enjoy. Wave handlebar is the best example of that idea. It is a revolutionary handlebar that forces you to open your mind and try to change the way you were holding the bars. But when you do that, a lot of good things start to happen!
I am running my gravelbike.cc project for almost a year now and in that time I tested and reviewed dozens of different comfort improving bike parts and bikes. Some of them were easy to evaluate, some needed more time and effort to fully appreciate it and some were plain wrong from the moment I installed them (you can read my reviews to figure it out which was which ?). Reviewing the Wave handlebar was one of the hardest projects I have to take on at gravelbikes.cc because the journey had some ups and downs. It started with great excitement because of the unique shape of the handlebar itself. Then there was some sort of disappointment when I discovered that the slightly flattened tops are shaped in the way that it forces the wrists to bend a little too much for my likings (but nowhere near the almost unusable angle of the Spank handlebar that I reviewed a couple of months ago). Then it was a lot of experimenting with the angle and proper height of the handlebar and many, many hours of riding before I found the best possible fit and then… I started to really enjoy it. Now I enjoy it so much that, unless Rick Sutton, COO of Coefficient that makes the Wave (which I had a very interesting hour-long discussion about the Wave design process) asks me to do so, I am not pulling it off from my benchmark bike. Why? Let’s go step by step…
The unique shape
Wave handlebar shape is a huge departure from what we are used to in terms of road bike handlebars. Normally handlebars differ in terms of reach, drop, and the general shape of the tops. Sometimes there are flatter, sometimes perfectly round, sometimes there is a slightly backsweep, sometimes a more unique forwardsweep but that is it. Then we have drops that recently are more and more flared to give you more confidence in handling rough roads or even singletracks. Apart from an aero shaped handlebars, this is basically all you can expect from handlebars. Or, it was that way until the Wave handlebar arrived. The main premise behind the revolutionary shape of this handlebar is to make holding the tops more natural and riding more effective. How so? When reviewing a Ritchey WCS VentureMax handlebar I was asking you to put your hands before you at the level of your belly. Then we talked about the backsweep / forwardsweep but this time lets focus on the angle of the hand itself. When holding your hands as I asked you, there is some very apparent angle of the hand itself. Thumbs are up and pinkies are much lower in space. It is natural for our hands to be in that position so all of the handlebars are somehow forcing us to change the angle. So we do it and we are so accustomed to it that we don’t even pay attention to it. But Wave handlebar changes that and makes you realize that you should have grip your handlebar differently. More naturally. But the benefits do not stop there. Holding the Wave by tops brings your elbows closer to your sides and not only improves the aerodynamics but also breathing efficacy. It is simply a better way of riding on tops and I, after dozens of hours with Wave, can totally confirm the benefits But when we are on the topic of tops…
I like very much a flattened top on the handlebar. It just makes the grip more secure, more enjoyable. But the flat top section presents a lot of challenges for the handlebar designer. We are different. Each of us has unique preferences and sometimes, like I do, very sensitive wrists. So it is not easy to find the best angle of this flattened tops. Spank with their Wing 12 Vibrocore handlebar got it wrong but Ritchey VentureMax handlebar was, at least for me, spot-on in terms of the chosen angle. Why this is very important? Because when you have rounded tops, you can easily rotate the handlebar to find the best angle for the drops. But with a flat top, your choices are very limited and when flat tops are angled wrongly, you end up with unusable drops or unusable tops. The choice is yours. Now, let’s go back to the Wave handlebar, which has a flattened top but at the same time, it adds the unique angle (elevation) of the tops. Now, the task for finding the best angle for the flat tops is even more challenging (and I know that because I talked a lot about it with Rick). So it should be no surprise that I, and few other users of Wave, found the angle too steep and thus tried to compensate by raising the drops. But, and this is a very interesting thing, after many, many hours of experimenting with the proper angle of the tops I finally settled with the angle that Coefficient is recommending in the first place (which is the drops exactly parallel to the ground). So, yes, at first I thought that the angle of tops is wrong, but now I am not so sure about it anymore and I can definitely use the tops without any wrist issues (caused by too much bend of them).
The reach and drop
Wave handlebar has a slightly longer reach (77 mm) that I was accustomed to and a moderate drop of 120 mm. Those numbers are as significant as with any other handlebar because Wave was designed in that way that apart from the unique shape of the tops, hoods and drops are put exactly in the place where a standard handlebar with 77 mm reach and 120 mm drop would have them. But, with Wave nothing is easy. After a lot of experimenting, I found that I felt best when lowering the handlebar by 10 or even 15mm (by removing spacers). Why? Because the elevated tops make your position much more upright and since holding them is so beneficial, you spend a lot of time on those tops and, at least for me, I wanted them to be on the level similar to the tops of a classic handlebar. What is more: after lowering the handlebar I also enjoyed more the grip on hoods and drops because I put more weight on them now and feel more confident and secure when using them (which also makes me think that up to this point I was forced to have a higher position of drops and hoods because I needed tops higher and now with Wave handlebar, I can have both – nice elevated tops and low, more sporty hoods and drops). The other thing that I enjoy very much when drops are considered, is the fact that Wave has a very moderate, 4 degrees flare. It is enough for me and I really don’t need a more flared handlebar to improve my confidence, even on the roughest terrain.
Loving the tops
Yes, the elevated, uniquely shaped tops are (no surprise there) the most enjoyable thing with the Wave handlebar. But it is not only the shape that you enjoy but even more so, the multiple hand’s positions that these shapes create. You can grip the handlebar at the bottom of the elevation, in the middle, and even at the top (which I find oddly comfortable and many time I catch myself riding on the very top of the tops). So many choices make the hand tiredness a thing of the past because you can (and you will) constantly change the position depending on the situation and your tiredness and in the effect you will prevent hands numbness. But, in order to fully appreciate the benefits of these elevated tops you have to forget about holding them with the thump in an opposite lock. It is not comfortable and, dare to say, kills the benefits of the Wave handlebar. I had some issues with those changes as well, especially when I was constantly realizing that all of my fingers are on top of the handlebar but soon I got used to it and now I find very natural and comfortable. Of course, there are situations when you need a more secure grip and then you will hold the tops more traditionally, but to be honest, I think that in those situations you would be better off on hoods or even drops in the first place. Tops are for cruising and relaxing ride and not for conquering a challenging terrain…
Yes, when reviewing the Wave you have to talk a little bit about the installation process. By this I mean three things: First is the internal cable routing. Yes, Wave comes with tubes that can be used to easily guide the derailleur cables but when it comes to hydraulic cables there is a much harder challenge to overcome. I had to be very creative and use the derailleur cables put inside the hydraulic cables to make them go through the Wave. But due to the unique shapes and angles, it was not an easy task to achieve and what is more, after putting the hydraulic cables in place I found out that it is almost impossible to route though the handlebar the housing for the derailleur lines. So in the end I settled for brakes cable guided inside and derailleur cable guided outside of the handlebar. Not the best solution, but I don’t think I could do more about it. I spoked with Rick also about this and he honestly admits that internal cable routing is easily the biggest flaw of the Wave handlebar and they will try to make it better but due to the unique shape this is definitely not the easy thing to do…
The other thing is wrapping the handlebar with bar tape. Due to the shape of the handlebar, there is more space you have to cover with the tape and because of that, you have to be very cautious with how you do the overlapping. It took me 3 approaches to find the best compromise between comfort and wrapping most of the tops. Of course, it comes down to your personal preferences (how much wrapped your handlebar should be) but bear in mind that wrapping the Wave handlebar is not the straightforward process. But you do it and forget about it (unless you are me and you are testing different handlebars and are constantly adjusting the hoods position ?)
One last thing is the carbon itself (which does not like a strong force applied to a small area, which exactly is what clamps of the hoods are doing). You have to be really cautious of the force you are applying when installing hoods because otherwise, you can make a dent in any carbon handlebar, and especially, in one that is so light like Wave itself.
Would I buy it?
Like I said in the beginning Wave handlebar was the hardest thing I had to review up to this point on a gravelbikes.cc site. There were moments when I honestly thought that I will not recommend it because I was struggling with finding the best fit but after almost 4 weeks something clicked and from then on I am using Wave as my regular handlebar and I do not intend to change it anytime soon. Rick said, that there is a small percentage of Wave users that, exactly like me, need a lot more time to get fully accustomed to this handlebar but I really believe that Wave is worth the extra effort. Yes, I read a lot about social psychology and I am very familiar with the concept of extra hard admission process when for example joining the college fraternity club is considered (when it is very hard and you go through it then you appreciate it more and it is harder for you to leave the club afterward) but I honestly think that with Wave there is something more than just psychology at play. It is a genuinely unique and revolutionary handlebar and as with any revolution, it takes time for everyone to fully appreciate it. I was for sure not in the frontrunners group, but now I am a believer. And I strongly recommend you try one for yourself. Especially, if you already have a hands numbness and still can’t find the proper solution on any handlebar you have already tried…
If you are interested in how compliant the Wave handlebar is, just read the comparison test that I did a couple of weeks ago!