These sharp looking bars are 750mm long with a 35mm clamp area and carbon composite construction. Easton goes so far as to call them “the perfect handlebar.” My first impressions were shock at how light they feel in the hand and the readily apparent quality of the finish. These things just look nice!
I spent about 5 months putting the Haven bars through their paces. From the onset, there was a positive effect of my ride. However, I had to overcome a bit of a carbon stigma before installing the Havens and heading out to the hills.
The issue of carbon fiber and bikes is undeniably divisive, with enthusiastic individuals aligning themselves on either side of the issue. I am among the reluctant holdouts when it comes to composites. This is especially pronounced when considering control point components. The possibility of failure strikes me as consequential to say the least, especially when traveling at the speeds and over the type of terrain common to mountain biking.
There is a certain mysterious element with space age materials like carbon fiber, which lends itself to uncertainty regarding a component’s unknowable insides. Composites don’t necessarily adhere to the classic logic held by previous generations in their garages. These were simpler times — when tight was gauged by hand, strong meant heavy, and parts were likely to give warning before failure. But with carbon, incredible strength is being achieved at ridiculous low weights, while reliability hinges on both consistent manufacturing and proper installation, and even then, it can be difficult to detect damage that might lead to complete failure.
Of course all this is somewhat unsettling, especially given the number of horrific stories and photos circulating the web and online forums. However there is a growing track record thanks to ample science and engineering based evidence of the successful and safe use of carbon in about every aspect of biking imaginable. Some of the most convincing of this evidence comes from Easton’s in house testing and associated marketing materials. At some point while pondering all of this I recalled that I have been running a beat up old set of carbon fiber Easton MonkeyLite bars on my get-around-town bike for many years. Despite being from a time before the clamping diameters of handle bars crept into the 30mm range and their being thoroughly “charactered,” they have yet to thwart my style in any way or send me spilling face first onto asphalt in front of oncoming traffic.
So, I overcame my apprehensions and swapped Easton’s Haven bars and stem onto my heavy-duty rig. I was meticulous in the set up of the bars using an appropriate assembly compound in conjunction with a quality torque wrench capable of mitigating any heavy-handedness on my part. To cover my bases I looked up all the official material on the both the stem and the bars. This happened to be fortuitous as I learned that the Haven stem has an interesting and unique feature, which Easton has appropriately termed “Top Lock” technology. Essentially the stem has been designed so that the top two clamp bolts are meant to be torqued first and torqued down completely, mating the clamp plate with the stem. It makes a lot of sense to do this as it ensures even torque on all four bolts with much less room for error. It also makes for a smoother interface between the clamp and the bar, reducing potential for damage to the bars.
The first thing I did after installing the bars was to turn them parallel to the frame and feel for flex and creaking. There was no creaking, but this was the point at which I came to appreciate how both stiffness and forgivingness can be properties of the same object. When putting even pressure into the bars they gave noticeably more than the Chromag bars they were replacing. However, once they were pushed to a certain point they became very stiff.
With this small formality out of the way I geared up and pedaled out for a spin. I do as much up-riding as down-riding and I have come to find that bar selection plays a distinct part in being able to do both well. The bends of nine degrees up and five degrees back, combined with the slightly narrower 750mm width on the Haven bars felt immediately familiar and comfortable despite being 30mm narrower than my standard setup. The slightly narrower stance made for more efficient body positioning on the ups and had negligible impact on the downs. I also noticed that my hands were less fatigued at the end of rides. This could be attributed to the forgiving nature of the bars allowing me to use a lighter grip and the vibration dampening characteristics of the material itself.
After this first ride I spent five months going up and down a wide range of challenging terrain; steep loamy sled rides, substantial drops, lots of hard climbing and plenty of rough rocky descents. Easton’s claim of making “the perfect handlebar” was starting to seem very possible.
Then, many rides later, there came a crash. Then there was a noise — a subtle creak. All carbon paranoia rushed back into my psyche. The phenomenon was hard to replicate but is undoubtedly coming from the front end. It wasn’t my frame; it is made of burly steel, designed in the UK, and by all accounts indestructible. It wasn’t my fork, as everything was freshly serviced and equally bomb proof as the frame. I inspect everything, taking it all apart, applying lube to all possible points of binding, checking cables for hang-ups.
The bars looked great, some small scuffs in the topcoat due to the crash moving the controls a bit, but nothing that would indicate trouble. After putting it all back together and contemplating the potentials, I decided it was most likely something minor and that a light afternoon ride couldn’t hurt anything. After all I have ridden many a mile on noisy bikes in the past, usually the worst thing that can happen is a long walk home.
To make the story a bit shorter, I went for that ride and nothing happened. The noise persisted and I returned home wet and happy, as per usual. The bike got a wash and went into the garage until the next time. A few days passed before I went up again but when I got the opportunity, I spent another 15 minutes looking over the bike for the source of the noise.
Then I saw it, just as ray of sunlight pierced the clouds to perfectly illuminate a rusty hairline crack, wrapping its way around nearly the entire circumference of the top tube of my “indestructible, burly, steel bike.” Damn. In this case at least, the carbon fiber wins. As it stands, I am currently I the market for a new bike and seriously considering carbon as an option. Whichever way I go, the Easton Havens will be installed for many more miles of fun.