So I’ve decide to change up my cockpit and I figured it was worth writing about. I used to have Genetic Digest bars, which I really liked but I’ve now switched to Jones bars which after one ride I love. So I’m going to tell you why and look at some of the pros and cons of both bars.
The digest bar is a flared drop bar which I ran with Tektro RL-520 v-brake pull levers, bar end shifters and Tektro Spyke brakes. I used an 80mm stem with a 45 degree rise to put the drop part of the bar in a position as to be the main hand position. I really enjoyed this set up and it worked for me. I can’t describe why but the bars made me feel like I was more ‘in’ the bike rather than perched on top. In addition I could have a fairly straight wrist position on the drops which was good for comfort whilst having multiple hand positions available on the hoods/flats. The digest bars have a bit of flex to them but as someone who isn’t heavy this meant comfort over long rides rather than a lack of control.
However the digest bars did have negative points. My bar end shifters weren’t great. This is partly due to them being secondhand units which after use by me are now well used and very stiff/not that responsive. I also found that the bar end shifters had a tendency to wear out/break gear cables every 6 months or so. The position of them on the digest bars was always a slight worry too, stuck out and exposed on the end of the bars. The Tektro brakes whilst good were still cable disc brakes which need to be ‘fettled’/maintained to keep them running sharply. When doing a long day in the saddle – especially in bad conditions with accelerated pad wear – this could mean stopping mid-ride to adjust for pad wear. A simple task but still frustrating. On long descents I found my hands would grow tired from pulling on the levers even if the braking was good and so this would make me nervous and reduce my confidence.
I’ve been curious about Jones bars for a while and so thought I had to try some if just to put that curiosity out of my mind. I bought quite an old secondhand set that are nominally 660mm wide. However they have 20mm control tech bar extenders fitted which mean they’re more like 690mm wide. I think this size is pretty much perfect, not too wide so you struggle to get through train carriage doors but they feel a nice width when riding. They also came with the Jones foam grips that had been cut down a touch and these, although a pain to fit seem to work well. I am however interested to see how the foam grips last/wear in the long term.
Yesterday I gave the Jones bars a maiden voyage/test ride on a 86 mile ride from Bristol to Goring in Berkshire. The route took in cycle path and tow path along NCN 4 to Devizes. Some gravel farm roads and bridleway from Devizes to Overton Hill and then the chalk, grass, gravel of the Ridgeway to Goring. It was a hot day and the dry weather meant the Ridgeway was dry, dusty and bumpy in places. I rode the Ridgeway part of this route in less favorable conditions on my digest bars when leaving to go to Scandinavia last summer so a direct comparison of the bars was in theory almost possible. The negative for the Jones bars is that I found them less comfortable over the course of a long day than the digest bars, however I need to remember that the Ridgeway was wetter and therefore softer/less bumpy when I rode it last summer. The Jones bars weren’t so uncomfortable that it affected how long I could ride for, just that I noticed a feeling of ‘buzz’ in my hands and feet when I stopped. In fairness I still had that buzz when I was doing long days on the French divide over sun baked trails so I’m not overly worried and don’t feel the need to change the grips of position just yet.
Where the Jones bars really won over my heart was in terms of handling. My initial rides up and down the street when I had fitted them and set up brakes and shifters felt a bit odd. I felt I was sat more ‘on top’ of the bike than before despite my hands being in nominally the same place as with the digest bars. I deliberately used a stem that placed the grips of the Jones bar roughly where the drops of the digest bars were previously. The angle of the part of the bar I was gripping was naturally different as the Jones bars are flat bars and not drops. However after rotating my brake levers to point downward more I can still ride with a pretty straight wrist on the Jones bar too. The improvement that I found with the Jones bars in terms of bike handling I’m pretty sure is to do with weight distribution. The digest bars seemed to shift my weight slightly forward from a flat bar but in a way that meant it felt right most of the time. Importantly on occasion though I found it hard to then shift my weight back enough when things got steep. With the Jones bars my position seemed to be more upright despite as mentioned my hands being roughly in the same place, my weight appears to be more on my feet and I feel I can move my weight around the bike a lot more. Suddenly the bike feels more lively and easier to ‘chuck’ about. I actually watched the video below on Friday before going on the ride so maybe it’s my brain trying to fulfill what Jeff Jones is saying but I genuinely found I had exactly the experience that he talks about.
The Jones bars still give me multiple hand positions and putting my hands where the rear curve welds to the front feels really comfortable and about shoulder width. This gives a good ‘on the hoods’ position for me to rest my hands, I need to tape the front section of the bars and around the welds to improve the comfort but already on fast straight road sections it feels good to grip the bars at that point and cruise along. A real benefit of the Jones bars is being able to use trigger shifters and hydraulic disc brakes. Going back to these after cable discs and bar ends was frankly incredible. My old mismatch of Deore/LX and XT 9 speed shifting kit worked really well yesterday and it was almost a pleasure to click the right hand shifter and get a nice responsive up or down shift from the rear derailleur. My front mech is in worse shape and I’m running two rings where I should have three but it does the job, the only place where the friction shifting of the left hand bar end shifter would be vaguely useful. Going back to hydraulic brakes I’m not sure how I lasted so long without them. I felt I was descending faster and with more confidence than I have for a long time. Clearly multiple factors were at play; the handling and control provided by the bars but also the confidence provided by having good, easy to modulate stopping power available at my fingertip. Definitely no hand/finger fatigue on long descents with hydraulic brakes.
So, Jones bars. After one ride I honestly love them. It sounds cliche but they make riding the my bike more fun and that is never a bad thing. For the first time this year I really can’t wait to ride my (touring/mountain) bike again.