A quick image search for “carbon failure” is enough to make anyone doubt that carbon bars are a good idea. I’ve been a skeptic myself for a long time, and have just stuck with regular old middle-weight aluminum bars. Carbon has come a long way in recent years and so the chance to try out Gravity’s new Gradient bar and stem was my way of dipping the toes in the hot tub of a carbon cockpit.
Gravity Gradient Stem Highlights
- 3D Forged and CNC Machined AL6061, 4‐Bolt UD Carbon Faceplate, and Chromoly Hardware
- Clamp Size: 31.8mm
- Length: 60, 70, 80, 90, 100mm
- Rise: 6°
- 40mm Fork Clamp Stack Height
- Colors: Sandblasted Black Anodized with Gravity Gradient Graphics
- Weight: N/A
- MSRP: $39.99 USD
Gravity Gradient Bar Highlights
- Full Carbon Low Rise and Flat Bar Versions
- Clamp Size: 31.8mm
- Width: 740mm
- Rise:Low Rise: 15mm, Flat: 0°
- Upsweep: 4°
- Backsweep: Low Rise: 10°, Flat: 9°
- Colors: Matte UD Carbon Finish with Gravity Gradient Graphics
- Weight: Low Rise: 0 lb 7.4 oz (211 g), Flat: 0 lb 6.1 oz (172 g)
- MSRP: $229.99 USD
The bars certainly feel very light using the always sophisticated one hand holds the old aluminum bars, one hand holds the carbon bars test. The diminutive stem also felt quite light. Beyond that, the parts are black and the graphics are subtle. Installation went smoothly and torque specs are printed near the stem bolts, which is always appreciated when dealing with carbon. The bars felt flat in their upsweep but on paper, nothing was goofy about the bar geometry. I must say that I was concerned about stiffness of the stem compared to my gold standard of the Thomson X4 50mm stem. I was also surprised by the low cost of the stem compared to the expected cost of the bars.
On The Trail
Gravity provided two versions of the bars for testing, a riser version and a flat version. I started with the flat bar thinking the novelty of something different might be fun. The flat bars stayed on my bike for exactly two rides. The first ride left me feeling like my hands were too low, even with spacers stacked under the stem, and I couldn’t effectively pull up on the front end for hops or get comfortable in turns. The second ride confirmed that flat was indeed whack for my needs. I suspect they would be a lot more useful on longer travel wagon-wheeled bikes with monstrously high front ends.
Swapping to the riser version proved to be a lot more comfortable even though there is not a ton of rise to these bars. As a side note, the lock on grips tossed in by Gravity are great. They are thin without giving a harsh ride and do not get too slippery when your mitts get sweaty.
Things That Could Be Improved
I know that it adds material and thus weight to make a bar wider but 740mm is on the narrow end for some folks these days. Wide bars are also narrow bars with the clever use of a saw but narrow bars tend to stay narrow. That being said, 29” is big enough for most users and crazy wide bars don’t exactly fit on some trails very well anyway. Carbon dorks tend to look at weight in grams rather than in practicality of width options, so I see why the lighter and narrower starting point is where Gravity landed. The stem that didn’t inspire an outpouring of feelings about its sturdiness in the parking lot did its job just fine on the trail, but the controls as a whole felt less stiff than my previous rig. Could be the nature of carbon, could just be “ride compliance” or a combination of both. It’s hard to blame that on only a stem since its little nub is probably contributing an insignificant amount of flex compared to the 14” lever of a handlebar sticking out on either side. Mushy dirt, many inches of suspension, and your own arms moving around also make it hard to say how stiff your bar and stem really are. A higher rise version of the bars (maybe 25mm) would be something that I would switch to if the option were available. I should also point out that throughout testing I was glad that I had left my steerer tube long so that I could play with spacer stacks – cockpit setup is finicky business.
Long Term Durability
My policy on handlebars, regardless of material, has always been the same as for underwear: replace every 12-18 months regardless of any major accidents. I would carry on with that policy on these bars simply because a couple hundred dollars in handlebars is a lot cheaper than a full dental rebuild. I don’t think that the Gradient bar and stem would suffer any more damage in crashes nor wear abnormally quickly compared to my previous gear. The grips, on the bonus side, are holding up quite well for me so far.
What’s The Bottom Line?
Bars and stems are two things that I don’t ever want to worry about. I just want them to put my hands in a comfortable place and keep them there without any sudden changes. If they are black and have clean graphics, even better. So these offerings from Gravity hit those marks right on. The stem does so at a price that is hard to beat and gets a star bump for doing so. The bars did their job just fine but didn’t have me drinking the carbon bar kool-aid. There are more expensive carbon offerings out there and there are cheaper aluminum options, and I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference in a Pepsi Challenge so they get the lower rating due to being less cost effective.
Visit www.ridegravity.com for more details.
About The Reviewer
Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent five good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and Vital MTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.