The handlebar is a very interesting bike part when comfort is considered. You can look for more flexy, carbon handlebar for better vibration absorbing properties but you also have to choose the one, that you will feel the most comfortable with on a daily basis. Finding the best one for you is not an easy task but if you like heavily flared handlebars, you should at least consider this handlebar from Ritchey…
A couple of weeks ago I made a short handlebar shootout where I tested 4 different, both carbon and aluminum handlebars in terms of their abilities to absorb shocks and vibrations. Ritchey carbon VentureMax handlebar was overall the best in that regard but the difference between the best and the worst in my tests was not that huge so I would strongly recommend focusing more on the handlebar ergonomics than vibration absorbing abilities. The lack of compliance from the handlebar you can easily resolve by using the Redshift suspension stem. The bad ergonomics is much harder to overcome. This is the area where VentureMax handlebar shines the most. I am also currently testing carbon Wave handlebar and to be honest, it took me a couple of weeks to finally appreciate its unique shape (more on that in the upcoming review). With Ritchey’s handlebar I felt at home the moment I grabbed it. The reach is quite normal 76 mm and the flat top section is in a perfect angle so you can comfortably hold the tops and still use the drops without any issues (which certainly was not the case with a Spank Vibrocore handlebar that I tested a couple of months ago).
Then there are drops with its unique two-step shape. I was a little bit skeptical about this design choice and without the bar tape I was not enjoying it that much (this weird bend forced me to hold the drops at the very end of it which was not comfortable at all). But when I wrapped the handlebar with nice cushy bar tape, the problem disappeared and I was able to hold the drops like I normally would (the nice, shallow drop of 102 mm definitely helps in achieving a comfortable position on drops). What is more, I found that this bend makes you hold the handlebar more confidently (your finger grabs this bend and use it as an additional hook). Yet this unexpected advantage comes at a little price of a harder installation process (you have to almost totally unscrew the levers to pass the bend but it can be done and, unless you test the handlebars as I do, you will only have to do it once.
The BIG flare
For me, the most crucial feature of this handlebar is the big flare (24 degrees). I was not a big fan of this kind of solution and to be honest, although I can live with it, I am still not convinced that I need that much-flared handlebar. I know, that many of you can’t even think about going back to the „normal” handlebar after trying a flared one, but for me the benefits of better grip and control when on drops costs too much when you try to ride fast on the road. When using VentureMax on drops, I was feeling that my body is like a parachute that is holding me back from going faster and on difficult gravel roads I usually don’t feel the need for a bigger flare when I am riding on a „normal” handlebar. So for me, big flare is more like an interesting trend but I don’t think that we should all use it to make our gravel rides better. Fortunately, I usually ride on hoods, then tops and drops are used by me only from time to time so like I said, I can to totally live with a 24 degree flared handlebar. What is more, I think that this kind of flare makes the riding on hoods slightly more ergonomic. Why? Just try, when sitting, to put your arms before you at the level of your belly. You will quickly notice that you hold your hands at the angle very similar to the angle the levers are positioned on a heavily flared handlebar. It is just my theory, but subjectively I think that this is a more natural hand position when riding on hoods.
Is this a perfect handlebar?
No. Nothing is perfect. For me the backsweep on the tops (which Ritchey is using on their handlebar for quite some time) is something that I would change. Again, try to hold your arms before you at the level of your belly, but this time quite close to each other. What do you see? Your thumbs are closer to you and your pinky fingers are further away. So, at least in theory, you should have something like forwardsweep and not a backsweep there (like FSA K-Wing AGX handlebar has). Backsweep is more beneficial on a wide MTB handlebar, where indeed when you hold your hands far away from each other, the pinky fingers are the closest fingers to your chest. Please note that this is only my subjective feeling and on a daily basis you will not have a problem with this backsweep thing (especially because the backsweep is rather modest at 3 degrees).
Would I buy it?
If I was a huge fan of a flared handlebar then easily, no questions about it! You just grab it and enjoy the ride. No need for extra time or effort to find the optimal fit. Believe me, this in terms of handlebars, is an advantage very hard to beat! But I think that I would not buy the carbon WCS version, but aluminum one. It is much, much cheaper and the difference in compliance will not be huge (and you can always use something like suspension stem to achieve a great level of comfort on almost any handlebar). The weight difference is there, but when gravel bike is considered, I would definitely not be bothered by 50g or so… As I said, the overall fit and ergonomics are much more important and the Ritchey VentureMax handlebar is hard to beat in that department!