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I’ve been a consistent advocate of road handlebars for bicycle travel for some time. I really like the near/far/high/low hand locations, as well as the slightly different wrist angles. But a handlebar called the Velo Orange Crazy Bar recently piqued my interest – so I bought a set.
This weird-looking ‘alt’ handlebar is a unique combination of a bullhorn and swept-back flat bar. The 400mm wide bullhorn section offers a stretched-out, aerodynamic position similar to the brake ‘hoods’ on a drop handlebar. The centre portion replicates the ‘tops’ of a drop handlebar. And this is all mated to a 45-degree sweptback section that is both ergonomic and wide for additional steering stability.
The Crazy Bar is constructed using heat-treated aluminium which is fine for touring, but not intended for mountain bike use. That said, Velo Orange produce a steel version that is MTB-rated.
Weight is very reasonable at 450 grams. That makes these bars lighter than many alt handlebars including the Jones Loop in both titanium and aluminium. The Crazy Bars come in both black or silver and can be purchased for just US $60.
Head HERE to see all the different kinds of alt handlebar available.
The Perfect Replacement for Drop Bars
The Crazy Bar is a little different to other ‘alt’ handlebars: it’s optimised for bikes that come with drop bars.
Ok, let me explain. Frames designed around road handlebars are ideally shorter than those with flat handlebars. This is because the distance you have to reach to access the brakes is about 50mm further on a road handlebar. Therefore, to get the same overall ‘reach’ we need shorter frames to compensate for this handlebar discrepancy. In fact, Salsa offered their Marrakesh touring frames in both a flat bar and drop bar design to make sure you achieve a comparable overall reach with your desired handlebar.
Given that the bullhorn section of the Crazy Bar matches the brake hood position of a road handlebar, these bars tend to be best fitted to a bike that currently uses road handlebars. If you’re thinking of fitting these to a bike that comes with flat handlebars, you’ll possibly need to lop 30-40mm off the length of your stem to make the bullhorns usable.
The Crazy Bar Geometry
The total width of the Velo Orange Crazy Bar is 666mm. I’ve found this width to offer as much handlebar leverage as I need to tackle even the roughest dirt trails. The distance between the bullhorns is 400mm which feels really natural for me as a rather oversized human. They’re probably going to be on the wide side if you’re a small female, however.
The sweptback section is the same 22.2mm bar diameter as a regular flat handlebar, fitting MTB shifters, Rohloff shifters and all the standard hydro or cable brake levers. The 22.2mm bar diameter extends to the ‘tops’ where it permits you to fit Paul ‘Thumbie’ shifters that use a hinge-clamp design. The bar diameter of the bullhorn section matches that of the ‘drops’ of a road handlebar. You can fit barend shifters to the end of the bullhorns, or perhaps even inverse brake levers (like those on a time trial bike).
The handlebar clamp diameter is 25.4mm. This is the old MTB size while current stems are 31.8mm. Not a huge deal, but it did mean that I couldn’t use any of my spare 31.8mm stems.
Fit and Ergonomics
When I installed the Crazy Bars I found the stem position to be rather different from how I like my road handlebars.
My final position is about 50mm lower and I’ve switched the stem to a model that’s 20mm shorter. This is because I’ve opted for a bar height somewhere between the height of my ‘hoods’ and ‘drops’ of my road handlebar setup. As this lower height increases the reach to the handlebars, I’ve reduced the length of my stem to compensate.
I originally had the Crazy Bars set up to be completely horizontal. This worked out well when using the bullhorns, but the 45-degree section put too much stress on my wrists after a few hours. I rotated the handlebars back and they’re now sitting at 11-degrees from parallel. I don’t like the bullhorn position as much in this location, but my wrists don’t complain in the sweptback position.
Update: After an additional 1.5 years using the Crazy Bars, I found that the 45-degrees sweep was too much for my liking. The grips were running diagonally across my palms, which was causing some hand numbness on long paved sections. I’ve also found the bullhorns are a little bit too long, as I was often holding onto them near the bartops, rather than where they curve upwards. In late-2018, I addressed both of these things in a touring handlebar that I designed! You can read all about the KOGA Denham Bars HERE.
Other Good Things
Compared to my road handlebars, the Crazy Bars offer so much more control. I’ve found I can really load up my front panniers, and be able to steer them with precision on some really rough sections of road. This can be attributed entirely to the additional width on offer.
I have a whole series of articles on this website dedicated to mating MTB derailleurs with road bike shifters to achieve lower gear ratios. I have a page which shows you all the ways to mount a Rohloff shifter on a road handlebar. I talk about the benefits of barend/friction shifters in multiple sections too. But all of these are irrelevant workarounds when it comes to the Crazy Bar – just fit your MTB derailleurs with your MTB shifters and enjoy.
Brake cable changes are a real pain on road handlebars because the brake cables run underneath your bartape. With regular v-brake levers, you can open up the brake cables for a quick lube in a matter of seconds. My brakes have never felt snappier!
Crazy Bars vs. Surly Moloko Bars
The Surly Moloko looks to be a pretty similar handlebar to the Velo Orange Crazy Bar.
Both of these alt handlebars offer a ‘bullhorn’ type section out front to give a similarly extended reach. The rest of the handlebar is quite different though. In the sweptback position, the Moloko has a longer reach due to its 34-degree sweep angle. It’s also 70mm wider overall. There’s not really a ‘tops’ section on the Moloko as there is with the Crazy Bar, but the Surly has its equivalent albeit ~15cm further forward.
Otherwise, the Moloko has more space for accessories, but it won’t take a handlebar bag due to the crossbar.
A few trips ago I couldn’t imagine riding a bike without drop handlebars. But after 4000km+ on the Crazy Bars, I have zero intention of switching back. I’ve still got my aerodynamic ‘road’ position in the form of the bullhorns. The only thing I really miss about my old drop bars is the bike aesthetic, but I’m almost over that now.
The Crazy Bars have got to be the most versatile touring handlebar option. The extra steering leverage makes descending on rough roads easy, even with heavy front panniers. The narrow bullhorn section allows you to cut through the wind. The 22.2mm bar diameter takes away the need to do any workarounds when matching MTB derailleurs with road shifters.
While the handlebar sweep and bullhorn length aren’t quite to my liking, I think the VO Crazy Bar is really onto something good here.
Update: I’ve designed my own touring handlebar based on my experience with the Crazy Bar! My bars have a 34-degree backsweep as well as shorter bullhorns. I’ve also optimised the ergonomics of the bullhorn and bartop sections. It’s more aesthetically pleasing too! You can check my KOGA Denham Bar design HERE.