Review: Titanium Handlebar by Thomson

L.H. Thomson has two sides of their business: contract manufacturing, mostly for the aerospace industry, and producing their own line of cycling components.  In the cycling world they are well known for their beautifully machined aluminum stems, seat posts, and seat post collars.  Thanks to the top notch quality, riders have long been asking for more Thomson products, and during my plant tour way back in April of 2011 I was told they were working on some handlebars – titanium handlebars.  They even told me I could get a set to review once they were ready and I was stoked!

Fast forward 18 months and the bars finally arrived on my doorstep.  Why did it take so long?  Because Thomson doesn’t put stuff out into the market until they are 100% certain it is ready for prime time.  But, not only did they introduce a titanium flat bar, but they also introduced a carbon flat bar, a carbon riser bar, an aluminum DH bar, a carbon CX bar, and a carbon road bar.  Some of the other Singletracks bloggers are reviewing the other bars, so keep an eye out for those reviews soon.

The raw finish goes perfectly with silver Thomson stems and seat posts.

A Departure

All the new handlebars mark a departure for Thomson.  Previously all of the company’s parts were made in the USA, however, the handlebars required work with overseas manufacturers, for several reasons.  The titanium and aluminum bars require some specialized, and expensive, machinery which the company doesn’t have.  They also require heat treating, which needs another expensive piece of equipment, and would need a separate building to house it if Thomson did it themselves (they couldn’t put it in their existing building because it’s climate controlled to maintain precision on the aerospace components they produce).

With the carbon bars there were several additional hurdles to producing in-house.  Thomson didn’t have the uber-expensive tooling for one, and it’s also not a cheap manufacturing process due to the hand labor required – it’s hard work, and requires skilled labor which is expensive.  And of course most of the expertise is in Asia anyway.  However, they do plan to bring the carbon manufacturing in house in a few years–2015 is the goal.  With the aerospace side of their business, in-house carbon manufacturing capability makes a lot of sense, but it will take some time to get there.

Titanium – The Other Metal

Thomson has two titanium bars on offer at the moment.  Both are flat, 730mm wide, use an oversized 31.8mm clamp, and have a claimed weight of 295g (mine’s actual weight was 315g).  Both carry an MSRP of $250. Yeah, there’s a little sticker shock there, we’ll talk more about that a bit later.  The difference between the bars is the sweep: one has 6o of backsweep, the other has 12o.  I stuck with the more traditional 6o sweep for my test bars.  A riser version will be available sometime this summer.

The bars can be cut down to a narrower width if you want, they even have cut marks on the ends.  Be sure you have a good sharp blade–titanium doesn’t cut as easily as aluminum.  They also have marks in the stem clamp area that perfectly match their own stems so you know the bars are centered.  Officially you’re not supposed to use bar ends, but I did.  Do as I say not as do, yada yada yada.

This isn’t the first titanium handlebar ever made for mountain bikes, but it is the first and only (so far) wide ti bar with an oversized clamp – all the others currently available use the older 25.4mm clamp diameter.  Last I looked around there was a narrow 31.8mm clamp ti bar available on eBay, but, would you trust your life to a no-name handlebar?  Not me!

The Ride

The Thomson Titanium bars are billed as ‘the best bar you can buy for a rigid MTB.’  Why?  Because over the years titanium has earned a reputation for being flexy and springy, and the bar is designed to have some give to smooth out the trail.  I happen to have a rigid mountain bike, so that’s where the bar was mounted.

The bars have just enough give to take the sting off rougher terrain when paired with a rigid fork.

So, how does it all work when it comes time to hit the trail?  Rather nicely.  The bars do have a bit of give, but it’s not something I really noticed for the most part – and that’s a good thing.  The bars are on my single speed, and I was worried they’d be too flexy and feel weird when I was out of the saddle and really torqueing the bars hard. But that is not the case–I didn’t notice them flexing at all.  If you’re built like a linebacker you might feel them move, but I haven’t.  The upshot: they ride a little more comfortably than the carbon bars they replaced on my bike, especially on bigger hits, where they take the sting off.  It’s a great compromise; they’re comfortable, but not so flexible that they give a vague steering feel or unpredictable handling.

They're wide.

Speaking of handling, I love the width on these things.  These are the widest bars I’ve ever had, and they’re much wider than the bars I replaced.  The bike feels much, much more planted and stable at high speed now and there is no feeling of skittishness or nervousness at all.  Through rough terrain the extra leverage means it’s easier to hold the wheel on the line you want, especially with a rigid fork, which is more easily knocked off line than a suspension fork.

But, 730mm is really wide, and might be too wide for some.  There are a few spots on my local trails where these barely fit through the trees, and I do not want a bar any wider.  Like I said earlier though, you can trim them down if you want.  Before trimming any bar down though you should ride it for a while at full width and see if you like it.  ‘Cause once you cut them, you can’t un-cut them.  I’ve got around 200 miles on this set and still can’t decide if I want to trim them down a little or not…

Maybe too wide for some riders.

About the Cost

At $250 there is no denying that these bars are on the upper end of the price range.  Thomson’s carbon MTB bars retail for $100 less, and weigh about 100g less.  Aluminum bars cost even less.  So why would anyone want titanium?  Well, it looks cool for one–there’s just something about that corrosion-resistant grey metal some of us love (my wedding band is even titanium!).

Longevity and durability are less vain reasons to choose titanium.  Of the three materials, carbon is the most susceptible to damage in a crash, and aluminum has the shortest fatigue life.  Titanium weighs more than either, but has a longer fatigue life than aluminum and is less vulnerable in a crash than carbon.  Most manufacturers recommend replacing handlebars every one to three years to prevent fatigue failure.  Thomson recommends three years for their aluminum and carbon bars, but seven years for the titanium!  In other words, in the long run, the titanium bar costs less since it should be replaced half as often.

If you can't fit all your accessories (bell, lights, GPS, etc) on these bars, then you've got too much crap!

The Take Away

The Thomson titanium handlebars are pretty sweet, but won’t appeal to everyone.  The quality is typical top-notch Thomson, even if they are made overseas, and they match the Thomson stems and seat posts perfectly (especially if the stem and post are silver). They’re more expensive than carbon or aluminum bars, and weigh a good bit more than carbon and a little more than some aluminum bars.  But, they should have a much longer lifespan than either of the other materials.  The width is as wide as most riders will want, and can be trimmed down if needed.  There are two different sweep options that should please most riders.  They have enough give to take the sting off bigger hits on a rigid bike, but they aren’t so flexy you notice it when attacking steep sections of trail out of the saddle.

And, they’re titanium, which is pretty cool.

I’d like to thank Thomson for providing these bars for review.  Want to know more?  Check out their website right here.

This entry was posted in MTB Gear and tagged , , by dgaddis. Bookmark the permalink.

About dgaddis

I live in North Augusta, SC, and the Sumter National Forest is my home MTB shredding grounds. I love racing, even though I'm not that great at it, it's a lot of fun and good motivation to put in lots of miles. By day I'm a mechanical engineer and by night I run my own wheel building business, Southern Wheelworks.

8 thoughts on “Review: Titanium Handlebar by Thomson

  1. I didn’t realize the fatigue life of titanium was that much greater than aluminum–good selling point.

    I’ve experimented with wide bars myself but for the type of riding I do (XC) it just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense–but maybe I’m doing it wrong. :) I think coupling wider bars with a shorter stem might make things better but I’d still have to contend with narrow trails where I ride.

    • I’m maybe not ready to have an opinion on bar width, but for sure can say that a couple of my more painful wrecks have come from ticking a tree with the handle bar. Lets just say that I learned well the distinctive abrasion pattern left by tree bark, and how do you get a thumb nail between the bar and a tree while in forward motion anyhow?? It’s cool that you can cut them down but it’d freak me out to take a saw to something that nice.

  2. Nice review Dustin. The bars are indeed gorgeous, and I know that you made it very obvious in your review, but it just flat kills me that they are out-sourced. I have run Thomson stuff for years, especially after getting the impressive shop tour. The allure has always been, at least for me, that quite possibly the most high-quality stems and seatposts known in the cycling world were made right here in the USA, and actually right here in our back yard. Hopefully they will be successful at bringing some of the manufacturing back here.

    MD

  3. Just started riding a Stumpjumper SS with Thomson seatpost and rigid carbon fork. Bar is wide Ti 31.8mm from Carver Bikes USD99 with Portland Design Works Whiskey grips, hands and wrists are lovin’ the new found comfort. Thanks for your review.

    • Interesting, didn’t know about that one. It’s a lot lighter than the Thomson, which can only mean the walls are thinner, and it will have more flex than the Thomson…but I don’t see any mention of it passing any sort of industry standard testing. The Thomson bar is EN certified and tested to DIN+

  4. Huh. So, they bought some handlebars from China, and had their name stamped on them? I’m underwhelmed. I could respect a manufacturer of quality bike parts, but it’s hard to get wood for an importer of bike parts. Why do I need to pay for the Thomson name, when they’re actually made by a contractor?

    Nice bar, and excellent review.

  5. I’m using the 12 degree sweep version on my rigid El Mariachi single speed and personally feel your critique is weak and that Thompson made a mistake lending you the bars to test. Plagiarizing Thompson’s instruction manual and blog site bits about why they manufactured overseas is hardly insightful advise. Maybe a Ti frame might flex or feel “springy”, but certainly not this bar and so even though you did not experience flex, such liberal use of the word in your review can be misleading. The dampening effect that this bar’s material exhibits truly can be felt and it is this way for the same reason steel is so comfortable a material for example on a road bike. The material is less brittle than aluminum but malleable like steel only lighter. This bar is dead stiff and its benefits are more aptly described with how it resonates when ridden over chatter or hammering through and over rough single track or fire roads. Riding my same coarse and with both materials (aluminum and titanium) extensively, afterwards, with the Thompson bar my hands do not nearly have the soreness they had with my Crank Brothers 28.5″ aluminum bars. The awesome stiffness feature combined with its 29″ width offers noticeable leverage when cranking up the steeps and pulling the bar with all your might. While descending, this same attribute freakishly instills more confidence holding a line as commanded with a wide posture and solid bar to maneuver. The icing on the cake is that the bar looks extremely good with my black Thompson 4x stem and black Thompson masterpiece seat posts!

    other notables: my frame is a large 2011 El Mariachi 1-1/8″ steerer tube paired with Salsa’s steel grande 20mm thru maxle rigid fork.
    I’m running WTB frequency i23 rims with 29 inch Continental 2.2 race kings. Chris King head set, Hadely 20mm front hub, GS1 Ergon
    grips. Gives you a little insight into the quality set up I’m using that is only enhanced by this bar!

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