BONTRAGER RSL MTB HANDLEBAR/STEM REVIEW
Review by Nic Hall
Bontrager’s RSL line (Race Shop Limited) are their highest end carbon components with crossover products in road, gravel, and mountain biking. We received their latest integrated bar/stem combo to put to the test. Being that it is e-bike certified, we stuck it on one of our test e-mtbs and got to work.
RSL components have been an enviable piece of kit we have seen on several XC and gravel bikes, but now Bontrager is bringing the line to enduro and trail bikes. The newest MTB bar/stem combo is laid up in OCLV carbon, which is Trek’s proprietary layup that is supposed to offer extremely light weight while retaining compliance and strength. The combo is available in several sizes from XC specific 90mm stem x 750mm bars with a 13 degree stem drop to the more gravity focused 35mm stem x 820mm bars, and comes in every color as long as it is matte black.
Bontrager has designed the stem to work with both their Knock Block system headset, as well as a standard unit. Cut guides are printed on the bar to allow you to customize your length, along with shifter and brake position lines to get a perfect cockpit setup. All hardware is titanium, and the decals are a sweet premium-looking gloss gold over the matte carbon. They also feature Trek’s Blendr integration – a small screw port on the front of the bars that allows the integration of Blendr lights and computer mounts that are available separately.
Leaving the bars at 820mm is a bit wide for our preferences, so we cut them down to a still wide 800mm to see how they would fare on our Specialized Levo SL. Our bar had a 27.5mm rise, 35mm stem, and 7 degrees of backsweep and 6 degrees of upsweep – numbers that are quite different to “standard” bars, but proved to be comfortable still. Since the stem is integrated, install and setup time is minimized but of course you lose bar roll adjustability, so you better be happy with the angles. Once installed, the combo looks amazing – It is clean and svelte without looking too far from the future.
Weight is considerably lighter than comparable high end separate bar and stem combos at an impressive 247g. For comparison, the RaceFace Next R bar is 215g for just the bar and 160g for the Aeffect R stem. This comes at a price though, with the RSL combo coming in a good amount more expensive at $350 in the US or a whopping £399 in the UK.
Once out on the trail, the RSL bar has a good feel, with enough damping to keep your hands from taking too much abuse. It provides this reasonable comfort while remaining stiff enough to yank around an e-mtb without issue. The sweep and rise were comfortable for my taste as I usually run a slightly forward roll on my bar, but it won’t suit everyone. The bar survived a full week of trail work and e-shuttle abuse with no noticeable damage, but we will need more time with the bar to really put it to the test.
The Wolf’s Last Word
If you are looking to save every ounce of weight, or just like the ease and compatibility offered by the RSL bar/stem, pull out your wallet. The bar is a good blend of strength, weight, and damping, but you do have to pay for that premium combo. We think 820mm is wider than most riders need, but we would rather have the option of cutting them down than them coming too short. So far, the future is light and super smooth, but certainly not cheap.
Price: £399.99 /$349.99
Weight: 247g (820mmx35mm tested)
Simplicity of install
Compliance and durability
Angles may not suit everyone
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