The roadbike’s dropbar shape is like a creme brulee……you can add all kinds of extra ingredients but nothing beats classic simplicity in the end. The elegant, constant curves of the classic dropbar (what was once called a “Maes” style) are the harmonious combination of post-WWII manufacturing techniques and rider function, but it was inevitable that companies would corrupt it in the quest to set themselves apart in the marketplace. Starting in the 80s with brands like Modolo, the “ergo” or “anatomic” styles, with a straightened section on the hook similar to a pistol grip, became predominant on OEM bikes. The 3ttt “Forma” added a subtle compound curve to the hook, which Ritchey exaggerated in their “Bio-Max” series. And then all manner of stupid designs appeared. What was amazing was that some of the designs targeted towards people with small hands and in particular women by having a short reach and drop actually had the worst access to the lever when actually using the drops.
Through it all, the Euro professional riders tended to stick with more traditionally round handlebars with moderate reach of around 80-100mm (longer reach dropbars like the Atax Philippe Professional having faded from popularity after the 1970s). Broadly speaking, handlebars are frequently described as shallow drop “Italian” (eg. Cinelli #64 Giro d’Italia, 3ttt Tour de France) or deep drop “Belgian” (eg Cinelli #66, 3ttt Merckx).
In the last 5-6 years, the “compact” style handlebar has come to largely dominate the road scene for both OEM and premium aftermarket. The hook does not have a simple curve nor a flattened ergo grip, rather a compact bend has something roughly halfway between where the curve’s radius continuously increases until the hook smoothly transitions into the drop. The ramp, or portion of the bar behind the hook, is usually angle rather shallow compared to older designs. Since the top of the hook begins with a very small radius, the newest style integrated levers can mount to the bar in a way that the levers’ hoods and the bars tops form a continuous level grip. Though the reach to the lever from the drop is still less than a traditional, round bend, the issue is largely negated by the fact that current SRAM and Shimano integrated levers have adjustable lever reach. So finally the ultimate handlebar has been acheived and everyone lived happily ever after…except there remains a demand for an unadulterated round dropbar.
At Interbike I saw several manufacturers displaying high end handlebars with round bends. Being at the forefront of the recent move to compact style bars, Deda Elementi seemed to consciously remind show-goers that they offer the Newton bar in both shallow and the now especially uncommon deep drop round styles. A few years ago Shimano’s bar/stem/seatpost brand Pro introduced a round bar that featured a small radius bump at the top of the hook which mates to the shape of modern levers just like compact bars but the lower hook and drop are straight-up traditional in feel. This bar called the Vibe OS Round (available in both carbon and alloy) also has upper section that is 31.8mm round all the way across the tops of the bar for extra rigidity.
Deda Newton Deep
Having gained new owners and a head designer straight out of Formula 1 a few years ago, the resurgent 3T brought their new version of a round bar called the Tornova. This bar incorporates the bump on the upper hook like the Pro Vibe but has a flattened, pseudo aero top on either side of the stem extending out to the shoulders. Arguably the comfort gains of the broad flat tops far exceed any aerodynamic advantage possible. Reach is 83mm with a 139mm drop. Like most 3T products, there are three levels of price/construction for the Tornova. The Team and LTD versions are carbon fibre and premium carbon, respectively, and have internal cable routing (a first for 3T road bars). The Pro version is aluminium.
……….let me just state yet again that Shimano’s marketing team should be beaten with a cane rod for failing to come up with a better name for a brand than Pro. What the hell were they thinking?
Compared to the Pro Vibe, the Tornova is a similar, moderately shallow drop but with about 10mm more reach and much squarer shoulders. This gives a longer ramp behind the levers, which perhaps suits people with bigger hands more, but the trade-off is reduced forearms clearance when in the drops. The Pro Vibe is the closest thing to a criterium bar that will work with modern levers without splaying them outward at a weird angle, suitable for riders who work the bike side to side in a sprint.
Though I once preferred an anatomic bend, I find that the round bend allows my wrist to keep a strong angle to the bar whatever my body position fore and aft over the bike. I’m not sure I could say it’s more comfortable, since I’m mainly in the drops to make shit happen not relax. A compact bend is acceptable to me, but a round bend just feels better in the hand and a little roomier. I cannot discount the idea that aesthetics play a role; but apparently there are other riders at all level of the sport who won’t let a traditional dropbar follow downtube shifters into obsolescence and irrelevance.
Below examples of Deda Elementi round, anatomic, and compact (what Deda calls “RHM”) bend dropbars
Trivia: variously abbreviated as 3ttt, 3TTT, and 3T, the name originally meant Tecnologia del Tubo Torinese; the company being founded in Turin, Italy 1961. For a period of time after the company was owned by the Columbo Group, same parent company as Columbus Tubing and Cinelli. Cinelli and 3ttt had some shared product traits. With the move to Asian manufacturing in the late 90s and early 00s and the rise of Deda Elementi on home turf, Cinelli and 3ttt lost their market. Eventually 3ttt was sold off to a group of investors who brought in new talent, savvy branding, and moved production to Asia. The result is that the new 3T is producing some of the most cutting edge road and triathlon components.