Passchier Gump bamboo handlebar review: Oh so comfy
A unique flat bar that's designed to smooth out rough surfaces.
A unique flat bar that's designed to smooth out rough surfaces.
Update (02/11/2021): We continued to use our test sample after this review was written and the product has since started to fail. A report about this can now be found at the bottom of the original review, below.
In recent times the cycling industry has paid an increasing amount of attention to unwanted vibration and how to reduce it. Just in the last few years, we’ve seen a number of interesting products try to address the issue, such as Spank’s Vibrocore handlebars, low-rebound bar tape from Silca, and the re-invention of suspension stems, too.
And now, you can add a handlebar made of bamboo to the list.
Speak to any of the select few bike builders who have experience in using natural materials such as wood or bamboo and they’ll tell you that they offer the ideal properties for vibration damping and general cycling comfort. And New Zealand-based Passchier (pronounced “Pas shi er”) is a company that’s aiming to make these properties applicable to more bikes.
Passchier produces flat-style handlebars made with an engineered bamboo laminate. The bars are designed to reduce potentially hazardous vibrations that in the short term produce rider fatigue and discomfort, and potentially far worse effects in the long term. I’ve had the Passchier Gump bars fitted to my get-about e-bike over the past month and can confirm that there’s far more to these bars than just unique aesthetics.
Having started in the 1980s by making Kayak paddles from bamboo laminate, Dirk Passchier turned his attention to handlebars a few years back. He quickly realised that the material could produce a bar with noticeable comfort benefits while being strong enough for the purpose.
Each handlebar is made with 11 layers of engineered bamboo laminate (similar to a sheet of plywood) that are glued and pressed together into the desired shape. These shaped blocks are then cut up into pieces that each make a handlebar, and then shaped with a CNC machine. Hand sanding brings the bar to its finished shape. The bars are solid in construction, not hollow.
I first came across the Christchurch-based handlebar manufacturer at this year’s Handmade Bicycle Show Australia, and Passchier’s product line-up has changed in the few months since then.
The company had initially launched with three distinct models. There was the big-sweep “Couch” which looked almost like a handlebar for a beach cruiser. There was the “Scoot” that had the wide and relatively straight dimensions of a modern flat bar belonging to a cross country mountain bike. And then there’s the “Gump”, a 22º back flare flat bar intended for comfortable commuting, flat-bar gravel riding, and bikepacking.
Both the Couch and Scoot have been taken back to the drawing board, with the former said to be a little too flexible (comfortable) for stable bike control while the latter will be re-released in a shorter 620 mm width and for those that want a straighter shape.
That of course leaves the Gump, a bar that is offered in either 650 (tested) or 750 mm widths and a number of coloured lacquer options in addition to the tested raw finish. Those widths can be customised with a hacksaw, although you’ll need to pay attention to ensure you’ve left enough room to slide the controls onto the tapering shape of the bar.
What’s obviously missing from Passchier’s range is a drop handlebar, and unfortunately, it’s just not something we’re likely to see anytime soon. According to Mike Baddeley of Passchier, the bamboo laminate just isn’t conducive to making the tight-radius turns required by a drop handlebar. Damn.
Given the Gump was designed with bikepacking, flat-bar gravel riding, and urban use in mind, this bar is not going to please the performance-focused user. Rather the noticeably flexy bar with a 22º bend is intended to offer a more comfortable hand position for a more laidback approach to cycling.
The bars feature a regular 31.8 mm clamp area for use with the vast majority of stems. This clamp area is reinforced and protected with a thick wrap of carbon fibre. The bar tapers to an industry-standard 22.2 mm diameter for use with mountain bike-style shifters, brake levers, and grips. The bars are capped off at the ends.
Despite being made of composite material the bars aren’t all that light. The 750 mm-wide version sits at 311 g, while the narrower 650 mm version is 252 g.
Installation is much like any other flat handlebar but there are a few quirks. Firstly there are no useful markings on the bar centre for aligning it in the stem clamp. The logo would typically perform this function, but it wasn’t perfectly aligned on my sample and so instead I used a ruler. Secondly, Passchier supplies little grip stickers to go under your brake levers in order to protect the slick clear coat – these do the job but are a fiddle on setup. And lastly, the bamboo construction has a slight amount of settling compression to it, so it’s important to re-torque the stem faceplate bolts a week after first installing.
From the first few pedal strokes, my mind fluttered between uncertainty and awe. Push down on the bars and you can feel the angle of your hands change with the enormous amount of flex in the bars. It feels like there’s one to two centimetres of the flex there. Likewise, slam on your brakes and you feel your shifting mass flex the bars forward. Sprint out of the saddle and you’ll feel the bars spring up and down as you weight and unweight either side. According to Passchier, that flex is mostly linear till a point, with the brand quoting 20 mm of flex at 40 Nm load, and 40 mm of flex at 80 Nm load.
I briefly used a Passchier bar (the discontinued Scoot) on my 29er hardtail mountain bike and could feel the bar flexing before the stiction in my suspension fork broke free. And in this case, the handlebar was noticeably more reactive to the finer irregularities in the trail than the rather stiffly sprung fork. Even with soft grips, a big-volume 29er tyre, and a suspension fork already present, the bamboo bar made a noticeable difference in isolating my hands from the terrain.
The flex isn’t extreme to the point that you feel your hands feel entirely disconnected from the wheel, but it’s enough that it feels like you’ve got some suspension beneath your hands. The trade-off is that on a performance-focused bike, such as my hardtail, I found the flex gave up a level of laser-like handling precision or ‘snap’ when powering out of the saddle. Yes, it was comfortable, but this performance-focused scenario had me wanting to go back to the comparatively stiff carbon handlebar.
Such worries about steering tracking are of little concern on my city-focussed e-bike or a more adventure-style bike and here the Gump offers an unexpected addition to comfort and a unique look. Coming from the previous MTB-style low rise bar on my e-bike it took a few rides to get accustomed to the more upright position that the 22º of back sweep provides, but I soon took a liking to it. Likewise, I had to get accustomed to the feeling of flex when pushing the bike hard into turns or climbing out of the saddle, but the reward is a night-and-day difference in the shock experienced by your hands and arms.
To put this flex into perspective, if Passchier hypothetically offered a drop bar handlebar then I’d be keen to run it on an adventure-style gravel bike that’s going to see some horrible corrugated and broken terrain. However, I would rather have something more direct feeling for pure road and performance gravel purposes.
Unfortunately, I personally don’t love how these bars look on my Specialized Vado e-bike (but then, this bike is more function over form), but I can certainly think of a few more classically styled bikes where it would look like pure class. And the bar quickly had me Googling for a used Cannondale Woody (not actually made of wood).
I’ll admit that the material itself had me nervous from a safety point of view, and that concern only grew when I initially felt the sheer amount of flex on tap. However, Passchier does appear to be taking the safety side of things seriously. The bars pass the ISO testing standard related to adult city and trekking bicycles, and Passchier is confident in the bars being up to the task of flat-bar gravel and bikepacking needs.
In other good news, according to Baddeley, the failure mode of these bars is not catastrophic. Rather, the way the bars are layered with multiple laminates means you’ll see cracking and then splitting well before failure. A warning is always a good thing. I’ve subsequently stopped worrying about the strength of these bars.
It is worth noting that these bars aren’t rated for use on mountain bikes where drop-offs and jumps are a regular occurrence. Similarly, while Passchier doesn’t officially have a weight limit, Baddeley has suggested that this isn’t the ideal product if you’re over 120 kg (265 lb). It’s also worth noting that such guidelines are pretty normal amongst a lot of cycling products we use and trust.
I was initially keen to test this product to see just how much room for improvement there is in handlebar comfort. And as it turns out, there are substantial gains on offer here.
With a Passchier bamboo handlebar the ride becomes noticeably smoother, more comfortable, and silkier. And it’s not a subtle difference that only the fine-tuned will feel – the comfort-inducing flex should be obvious to all.
Unfortunately running the most comfortable handlebar won’t be for everyone. Firstly you need to have a bike that suits this style and shape of handlebar – perhaps it’s a mountain bike used for rail trails, or a flat-bar randonneur or gravel bike. Then you need to be content with gaining comfort at the expense of a little bit of razor-sharp handling or efficiency when reefing on the bars up a hill. And then you and your bike need to get on with the unique aesthetics.
And if you get past all of those barriers, well, you’re left with having to justify the AU$295 / US$250 price tag plus shipping from its place of manufacture in New Zealand. All up that leaves a rather niche market. That said, this bar does what it claims and that’s sure to attract a small number of loyal followers.
More information can be found at passchier.co.nz.
The Gump 650 mm handlebar remained in use following the conclusion of this review, and this sample has since cracked on the left side. The crack is delamination between two laminate layers and was found through a creaking noise emitting from the handlebar. As Passchier had previously suggested would be the case, the handlebar did not catastrophically fail and even a few forceful attempts couldn’t get the bar to fail.
While I’m happy to confirm that the handlebar does in fact hold together after a crack appears, I also can’t comfortably recommend buying this product until Passchier can confirm it has wholly resolved the issue.
Below is Passchier’s response to the issue. They’ve asked for the bar to be returned for assessment to confirm the cause.
“Looking at this issue, this will create a problem with moisture getting in rather than compromising strength, given that the bar has 11 laminates of 3 mm bamboo.
“This set of Gump 650s that you have was an early set that was glued and sprayed with a polyurethane at room temperature. Now we use an automotive coating where 2 coats are applied and it is heated in an oven. The gluing process in the press is now also done at a specified temperature.
“Continual improvements based of testing and rider feedback has been very much part of the journey over the past 2 years.”