Yep, Mathieu van der Poel’s handlebar broke, but it’s not what you think

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The finish of Belgian mid-week race Le Samyn was quite dramatic, not so much because of the sprint victory of Tim Merlier, but rather because his Alpecin-Fenix teammate, Mathieu van der Poel, helped to lead out the field sprint with one of his brake levers dangling in the breeze.

Like the rest of the team, Van der Poel is racing on Canyon’s new Aeroad aero road racer, which admittedly has had some fairly major teething issues since its debut a few months ago. Although plenty of people have questioned the adjustable, multi-piece handlebar that Canyon uses on that bike, the problems thus far seem to be limited to the seatpost, and that handlebar design doesn’t appear to be at fault in the case of Van der Poel’s broken bar.

The adjustable width feature on Canyon’s new Aeroad cockpit may seem very weird (and it is in some ways), but this isn’t where van der Poel’s handlebar broke. Photo: James Huang.

Broken handlebars are nothing new, of course, particularly with carbon fiber handlebars when crashes are involved. However, there were no reports of Van der Poel crashing during the race, and there’s also a visible crimp in the carbon fiber where the lever was once attached. And unusually, if you look closely at the remnants of Van der Poel’s handlebar, you can see that the lever isn’t just flapping about; there appears to be nothing attached to it at all.

Although there currently isn’t any visual or video evidence of when the ultimate failure actually occurred, the crimp suggests that Van der Poel’s lever was overtightened to the bar, and at some point — likely when his hands were in the drops — that side of the handlebar snapped in two right at the clamp point. As for the missing pieces, Van der Poel could be seen in video footage of the race pulling them off and casually chucking them off to the side of the road with about 1.5 km to go.

Shimano’s instructions seem pretty clear here, although it’s certainly possible Canyon obtained explicit approval from Shimano before swapping clamp bands. Either way, the indentation on van der Poel’s bar seems to match up nicely with the shape of the lever body. Photo: Shimano.

There’s another potential issue here. Shimano is very specific about the recommended tightening torque for Dura-Ace Di2 levers — 6-8 Nm — and also that the lever should only be used with the stock titanium band clamp. The cross-section of the Aeroad drops don’t work with the stock clamp band, however, so Canyon instead uses a three-piece clamp of its own design.

Could this non-Shimano clamp have been a contributing factor? I can’t say at the moment given that I can’t inspect the actual clamp in question firsthand, but one would hope that if the company were to go to the trouble of using something other than stock that it’d be to make the installation more safe and secure, not less. If nothing else, you’d certainly wish that Canyon’s engineers would have thoroughly tested this before sending it out into the wild.

Regardless of the specific details here, what’s nevertheless clear is that this failure has nothing to do with that adjustable bar width feature that Canyon has incorporated into the new Aeroad, so we can all stop pointing fingers at that specific feature. What’s also clear is that Mathieu van der Poel has once again shown himself to be a stellar bike handler given that he didn’t crash when half his handlebar fell off.

So what’s the moral of the story here? Manufacturer recommendations are there for a reason, folks. Heed them — or potentially pay the consequences.

(Or then again, maybe the bars are just defective. To be continued…)

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