Ah, cockpit components. Never has there been more choice of cockpit and touchpoint components than now. Be it saddles, grips, bars, stems, or pedals the choices are endless, and also confusing. When it comes to handlebars the game has remained relatively unchanged for a number of years now. Rise has ranged from (typically) 0mm to 50mm, upsweep is usually around 5º, back sweep has ranged between roughly 7-10º with most bars landing around 8º, while width slowly crept out to 780-800mm and pretty much stayed there. I want to focus on back sweep, and in particular the SQlab range of handlebars with slightly out of the ordinary back sweep measurements.
To give a bit of background, SQlab is a German company that’s devoted to producing ergonomic components for all types of cycling disciplines, though their handlebar range is primarily mountain bike focused. With a small presence in North America, perhaps better known for their road cycling and touring-specific parts, their products are widely revered in Europe. The range appears to be expanding in the knobby-tired segment, and I like what I’m seeing so far.
So for the last couple of months I’ve been testing the SQlab 30X 12º bar with, you guessed it, 12º of back sweep. Now 12º doesn’t sound like a whole lot when the normal range is 7-10º, but don’t forget that most actually fall at around 8º, and 4º is a decent jump. Just think how much a difference of 4º would affect the head tube angle or seat tube angle on a bike frame for example.
Regardless of conventional norms, SQlab offers the 30X bar in 12º and 16º back sweep numbers for gravity and XC or recreational riding respectively, with a new Fabio Wibmer signature 7º handlebar for those who like to get really rowdy.
The reasoning behind these numbers lies in where your hands typically rest while riding the bike. When you’re sitting on the bike in an upright sort of position, for example when climbing, you’ll find that your hands don’t exactly rest straight out in front of you, your wrists want to bend outward a little. Modern handlebars are shaped to be fairly straight which is great for the descents where it forces your arms into a bent attack position, but not so good for climbing. Many people (myself included) may end up unwrapping their hands and simply resting their palms on top of the bars when climbing. This is fine on smooth terrain, but not practical when it’s bumpy, so over longer rides (and let’s be honest, most of us spend more time climbing than descending), the rider is holding the bars in a sub-optimal position. Staying in this sub optimal position all day while riding up, down, and across can result in discomfort or pain in the wrists and hands.
This is where smart component choice comes into play. Our modern bikes aren’t one-trick ponies. They are great at both climbing and descending. Why not choose a bar that has just enough back sweep to be comfortable while climbing, whilst affecting descending very little? SQlab aims to alleviate hand/wrist pain and fatigue with the more relaxed sweep numbers of their handlebars while still keeping control firmly in the hands of the rider when the trail points downward.
The SQlab 30X bars aren’t just about the additional sweep though. They also come with some nicely thought-out details and finishing touches. They are available in carbon and aluminum and are nicely made. The carbon bars I tested feature a satin clearcoat finish which looks nice and understated and has held up pretty well. There are marks for alignment at the stem clamp area, and cut-line graduations at the end so you don’t need a tape measure. There are also small slits in one end of the bar that a credit card slots into to help get your back/up sweep right. The bars have a textured finish at the stem clamp area to keep them from slipping, which is fairly common, however, they also have this finish at the grip/brake clamp area so your controls don’t slip around. My large hands and SRAM levers with long blades require moving the controls pretty far inboard, and I found the textured area wasn’t quite wide enough.
The bars come stock at 780mm wide which is pretty standard these days, and can be cut down to 720mm. As mentioned above, the 30X handlebars come in 12º and 16º sweep in both carbon and aluminum, priced at $189.99 and $89.99 respectively. Currently, they are only available with a 31.8mm clamp diameter, which may rule out some people running 35mm stems. SQlab says that they have no plans to introduce a 35mm diameter version as in their words, there is no real benefit to doing so and that doing so may compromise the integrity of the bars. Both 12º and 16º bars have rise options of 15mm, 30mm, and 45mm. I tested the carbon 30mm rise bars, uncut. Right now in North America you can either get these through their dealer, direct from the SQlab web store, and Amazon. Their dealer network is fairly extensive and there’s a good chance your local bike shop can get hold of a set.
I’ll get this out of the way early — I like the SQlab 30X 12º bars a lot. With many products, I often feel that descending is prioritized too much over the ride itself. Being comfortable on a bike all the time is important to me, and these bars helped lead me to a really sweet spot in my setup. The exaggerated back sweep felt strange at first. It’s comfortable and natural feeling on the climb, though when the trail pointed down they felt strangely narrow despite coming in at 780mm wide. That’s not to say I didn’t feel in control, it was just a strange feeling, and my first ride on them was certainly a little more careful than usual. By the end of the ride, they felt pretty natural and a couple of rides in I had mostly forgotten about it.
It wasn’t until a little while later I noticed that I’m resting my hands on top of the bars less than usual when climbing, and I’m also feeling a lot less wrist discomfort on longer rides. My overall riding style is mostly unchanged though. I’m still riding technical and fast trails with confidence, hitting jumps and drops the same as before. I’m still able to get my elbows out and ride aggressively without a problem. The 30X felt comfortable and reduced the trail buzz nicely the way most carbon bars tend to without feeling flexy. This may also be attributed to the 31.8mm clamp.
My preferred style of riding is ‘all mountain,’ where I’m happy to gain a lot of elevation, but hit some pretty steep and technical trails on the way down. I’m pretty demanding of my equipment. It wasn’t until I switched back to a ‘normal’ handlebar again that I noticed how comfortable I was on the SQlab bars. The aggressive elbows-out position of a ‘normal’ wide riser bar felt exaggerated and abnormal at times and I missed my comfortable bars. They’re a keeper for sure.
SQlab 30X bars are something a little different from the norm and could be a really smart choice for those who have hand or wrist issues whilst riding, or simply want to get some next-level comfort out of their enduro bike without sacrificing control. They’re certainly on the more costly end of the spectrum for a carbon handlebar, however, touchpoint components can be some of the best places to spend your money on upgrades. Cycling can be truly miserable if you’re not comfortable, and an absolute joy when you are. It’s clear that SQlab put a lot of thought and effort into producing ergonomic components and I’m stoked to have discovered the benefits of running a bar with a little more back sweep.
Thanks to SQlab for providing the bars for testing.