Our love for riding gravel bikes grows with every adventure. From mountainous railroad grade to local trails in town, our gravel bikes are there for it all and the Coast Bars give us the confidence to tackle anything that lies ahead. While wider bars are the norm in mountain biking, they're still gaining steam in the world of rigid frames and narrow tires. Our friends at Road.CC find out once and for all if wider bars are beneficial for gravel and road biking in this review of the Coast Handlebar.
Road.CC Review: The Coast Handlebar
PNW Components hails from Seattle, Washington; surrounded by awesome trees and trails, it's the perfect place to hone gravelly products. Its range includes dropper posts like the suspension dropper that Stu really liked back in the summer, as well as stems, handlebars and grips. The Coast lineup also includes a matching stem (review to come) for $69, meaning you can have a PNW combo for $138.
The Coast Handlebar is, on the face of it, a simple idea: go wider and shallower, to give more stability and more comfort. PNW does a range of mountain bike bars, where wider has been better since the world got over the 1980s' addiction to bar ends and realized leverage is king in keeping your wheel tracking through the rough stuff.
PNW took that thinking to the Coast Bar, with two options – 480mm hood to hood as tested here, and a massive 520mm for the longer-limbed. Out at the ends is where things matter in a drop bar, and PNW has gone for a short reach (65mm) and a short drop (105mm). This means you don't have to move your hands far at all to change positions for better braking, grip, comfort and so on, and if you do need to get in the drops for braking or to be a bit more out of the wind, 105mm isn't likely to overly extend your lower back.
There's a 20-degree flare at the ends, which adds another 40mm to either side past the hoods for the ultimate fast, low control if you need it. The flare also means you can have your forearms headed straight down to your wrists for better support if you are spending a long time in the drops – maybe battering into a headwind on a long straight.
In the center of the bar there's the 31.8mm diameter clamping area, which measures 120mm wide. This gives you a whopping 40mm either side of the Coast stem for lights, computers or whatnot.
There are some subtle graphics that allow you to align things perfectly, without leaving the bar looking like a science project. You don't get any guide markings on the hoods' curve for aligning your levers, though, so "Mk I Eyeball" it is.
On the front of the tops there's a slight indentation for cable housing and brake hose and when wrapped with reasonably chunky bar tape it measures 31mm in diameter. For those wanting more comfort, that leaves room for a second layer of tape without making the tops too fat once wrapped.
PNW recommends shortening your stem by 10mm for every 20mm you add to your bar. I was running a 440mm bar for a year, paired with a 100mm stem. The change to a 480mm Coast Bar with an 80mm stem felt easy, with no issues, and I now have about an acre more to plant gadgets on.
There's an awful lot going on in your wrist, with eight bones and six tendons in a small space. A drop bar has a multitude of positions on offer, favoring varying quantities of control, grip and comfort. Calling out any one over the other is a bit of a mug's game, as individuals' riding styles and terrain will all influence priorities, but for me the Coast in its 480mm guise was a transformation. I'm 6ft tall with long arms and shoulders that measure 440mm across the protuberances. Traditional roadie thinking says I should be happiest on a 440mm bar, but the Coast proved that wrong.
Whether climbing, descending, or on long, flat runs, I felt comfortable and in control. Once trails turned rowdy, the feedback to the bar and propensity to deviate from chosen course was markedly reduced – something I could scarce believe was afforded by a mere 20mm extra either side.
Having XL-sized hands I could do with a second layer of bar tape underneath to increase grip on the tops, but that's more about my personal ergonomics, and in opting for a narrower diameter, PNW has given me that option.
With width comes leverage, which can then be a drawback if it leads to bar flex and fuzzy steering feedback. Suffice to say, the hefty 31.8mm clamping area and materials didn't give any notable sensation of flex, even under wrenching climbs or bombed descents. In Craigvinean Forest above Dunkeld there's a long gravel road descent that averages 7% and hits over 15%, with predictable sweeping turns of varying sharpness. My first outing on the Coast Bar was later than anticipated, leaving me descending in freezing air through semi-darkness with a meager 'be-seen' light doing next to nothing to aid navigation. Local familiarity with what was coming up and supple 55mm tires biting into the surface certainly helped, but what led me into temptation was the sense of control the Coast afforded. Hitting 57kph in semi-darkness should be pant-filling, but the Coast kept things under a level of control and gave my brain confidence to deal with more pressing issues of physics than steering.
Another benefit of being w-i-d-e is the ability to carry luggage up front in a bar roll, and you'll be hard-pressed to max out the storage space afforded with the Coast. The wide clamping area also helps here for fixing straps.
PNW is – I believe – the first bike component manufacturer to offer a lifetime warranty on its entire range of alloy components. Lifetime warranties are usually reserved for high-end carbon components, so this is a good thing for consumers, and a sign that PNW is confident about quality. The T&Cs (terms and conditions) exclude normal wear and tear as well as impact damage, as you'd expect. How exactly you calculate 'normal wear and tear' on an alloy handlebar or stem I'm not sure, so you should be good forever, basically.
There's an excellent roundup of the current wide-bar herd over at off.road.cc – and as you'll see from the prices, the Coast at $69 is one of the cheapest wide bars. Indeed, $69 is a cracking price for any drop bar. Factor in the lifetime warranty and it's very hard to look past the Coast for your gravelly-bikepacking needs.
The PNW Components Coast handlebar is an instant classic: wide, shallow and stable, it's perfectly suited for long days on rough roads and trails. It's affordable too, and has a lifetime warranty. An excellent way to get more control and comfort for rougher rides, with lots of space for bar toys.
Want to get wide with one of our Coast Handlebars? Check them out here on our website and find out if they increase your confidence and comfort.