Disclosure: Prior to release, I shared and discussed this review with Rick Sutton, COO of Coefficient Cycling. I want to make clear that his feedback in no way influenced my opinion of the Wave handlebar. I do want to thank him though for chatting with me while writing this review. I learned a lot about the Wave handlebar, gained more clarity and facts about the Wave, which in turn went a long way to writing an even better review.
I believe that one of the most overlooked components of a bicycle is the handlebar. Like I mentioned in my post about ergonomic gravel handlebars, ever since I purchased my road bike I’ve been looking a lot at different handlebars to find that magic set that works for both road, gravel, and everywhere in between. So when I saw a press release on the Gravel Cyclist site for the Coefficient Wave handlebar I was instantly intrigued.
I’ve looked at many different handlebars, including those that went completely against the grain and, well, frankly looked really weird. Such is the case with the Soma Condor handlebar along with many other alternative handlebars that attempt to present something far and away different than a traditional handlebar. No doubt the Wave will cause others to do a double-take, as in, “What in the hell is that?!” Some will instantly dismiss it as being just a gimmick. Others will just think its uglier than hell and won’t give it a second thought. But then there will be others like me who will see past all of this and will see it for what it is: a thoughtfully designed bicycle handlebar.
What is the Wave Handlebar?
The Wave is described as being targeted for road, gravel, and endurance. Basically, if you’re the type who likes to ride on mixed terrain then the Wave might be a good fit for you. More specifically, if you’re the type who wants to ride more in the tops but don’t feel comfortable doing so then, yes, you might want to consider looking at the Wave. That’s where the voodoo is: in the tops! The Wave certain has a design that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Now, I’m not a pro; I’m not even an amateur racer. I don’t ride for speed and I'm kind of slow. I’m still technically a novice rider. I still have a lot to learn and lots of training to do to get my fitness up. But I can ride for a long time...and ride...and ride...and ride some more.
The problem I’m trying to solve with my handlebar is relatively simple. My wrists are prone to tendonitis, especially the right one, so having a handlebar that can help with this is critical, especially for gravel and long endurance rides. But alternative handlebar designs that help with this are super rare. There are few alternatives out there...but not many. The Wave is certainly one of the few handlebars out there that goes against the grain of traditional handlebar design in favor of something that could potentially solve many of the ergonomic issues other handlebars suffer from.
Will the Wave solve my ergonomic issues? Will it help with my tendonitis? Would this turn out to be the handlebar I was looking for? Let’s find out.
A Carbon-Only Handlebar
First thing to keep in mind: this is straight-up a carbon-only handlebar. There’s a reason why the Coefficient Wave handlebar costs $329. Carbon fiber, if done right, ups the price of just about any product considerably. Decent carbon fiber handlebars will easily cost you $250 and up. And, trust me, you don’t want to mess with cheap carbon fiber products. It’s a material that, if produced improperly, can result in absolute disaster. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that cheap carbon fiber handlebars are anywhere near the same quality. They’re not. Carbon fiber is getting cheaper to produce and, while newer cheaper materials will likely appear, carbon fiber is still the material of choice to create a highly customized handlebar like the Wave. The cost is justified when you consider the craftsmanship that goes into making a handlebar like this which, hopefully, this review will show.
With other handlebars I’ve looked at, there were always aluminum counterparts so I wondered if perhaps Coefficient was considering a cheaper aluminum version of the Wave. I wrote and asked Coefficient about it and received a very friendly email from the company’s COO, Rick Sutton. He supported the use of a strict carbon fiber handlebar with the following points:
First, there are subtle, yet in their minds important, shape details that are very hard to replicate in aluminum. The tops of the Wave are oval, tapered and bend gentle to and fro — and these details while doable in carbon are much harder to execute in aluminum.
Second, related to the point above is cost, specifically tooling costs to construct an alloy bar that doesn’t compromise what they believe makes the Wave an awesome handlebar. Tooling costs are much, much higher and they would need to commit to super high volumes to provide an alloy bar that competes on price with other alloy bars.
His arguments were, to say the least, very convincing. Most of the carbon handlebars I’ve looked at existed mostly because they were lighter and don’t offer much above the aluminum version other than just losing weight. Great for weight weenies but not so great for those of us looking for the most comfortable yet versatile bar.
But the Wave handlebar is different. To Sutton’s point, you just can’t make a handlebar like the Wave out of aluminum. The affordances that carbon fiber offers just don’t exist with aluminum and, as such, would be super cost prohibitive for Coefficient to produce.
When it comes to installing the Wave handlebar, I will say this straight-up: If you don't have experience installing handlebars, do NOT install this handlebar yourself. Get a skilled bike mechanic to help you. Carbon fiber handlebars require that you use a torque wrench when mounting the stem and levers to the handlebar. Otherwise, you run the risk of over-torquing and possibly cracking the handlebar. Without the right tools, you can seriously damage your handlebars and not even know it.
Getting the handlebar on my bike was relatively easy. The part that is a pain is the cable routing. This is the part I had virtually zero experience with. I’ve never routed cables through handlebars so this was a new thing for me.
Tip: Use the included cable routing guides!
The handlebar came with cable routing guides and, like a dummy, I pulled them out thinking I wouldn’t need them. I spent a good amount of time trying to get new cable housings to go through the cable holes. In fact, I poked and prodded the cable housings so much that I know for certain that I scratched the inside of the bar. Probably didn’t hurt the bar but enough to make it a scary place for a bug to be.
Once I realized that the cable routing guides were there for a reason, I yanked out the few housings I managed to get through the bar and re-inserted the cable guides. With those in place, running a cable through them and then through a piece of housing makes it much, much easier to pull all four cable housings through the bar. If I knew that before I started then I could have saved myself a few hours of frustration.
Once the bar was mounted with the housings in place, I just needed to configure the cables...which turned out to be a pain in the butt. The cables on my bike needed to be replaced, especially the one for the front derailleur. The installation of most of them went smoothly. However, the one for the front derailleur gave me problems. It was super stiff and just wouldn’t shift without some force. Took a lot of tinkering and a trip to the bike shop before I was able to get the front derailleur working right. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was the bend in the bar or just the derailleur itself. Since this is a steel frame bike, I’m not running any cables through the frame itself so that kind of narrows it down to just two thing. There are lots of bends in the bar so, yeah, that can add some friction to the cables. Still, with some adjustment to the derailleur, the problem appeared to clear up. Once the cables were installed and tested the problem was solved and I was up and running.
Tip: Take your time with the bar tape
The last thing to do was to get bar tape installed. I initially purchased some Lizard Skins bar tape which, after just the first attempt, gave up and took it back. This was my first experience with Lizard Skins to be honest and didn’t like the fact that it couldn’t be stretched any. Because of the shape of the Wave, getting the Lizard Skins bar tape just felt stupid hard. This is especially true near the bend between the drops and tops. As such, I ended up going with some Supacaz bar tape which worked out to be much easier to wrap with.
Now, that’s not to say that you’ll have the same issues I had. Personally, I’ve never installed bar tape on anything but a more traditional bar. I’m sure some people will have no problems getting Lizard Skins or similar bar tape installed on the Wave. But depending on the bar tape I would imagine a less skilled person (like myself!) might need to spend more time getting it installed on the Wave. Just sayin’! :P
With the Wave installed and wrapped, time for a test ride!
First Road Ride Impressions
With my first ride, I decided to stick mostly to just simple road rides. I noticed right away that I would need to make some adjustments. The bar needed to be rotated forwards more so that the tops would be aligned for a more neutral position for my wrists and hands. Plus, the hoods felt a little too low. So, I rotated the bar up a little and moved the hoods up. Fortunately, the Supacaz bar tape was pretty resilient to being unwrapped and rewrapped. Suffice to say this wouldn’t be my first adjustment.
Tip: Be prepared for adjustments!
The second ride was better but the tops still felt a little off. I rotated the bar a little more and brought the hoods up even more. Fortunately, the design of the drops makes it so that you don’t have to stretch out your fingers to reach the levers while deep into the drops. The third ride proved to be even better but there were still a few adjustments to be made.
After just a few rides, the Wave handlebars have shown me that the correct orientation of the tops is completely dependent on the rotation of the bar. Since the tops is the primary feature of the Wave, it’s recommended that you pay careful attention to the rotation of the bar in order to dial in the right position. I found that a position that keeps the tops a little bit rotated forward works best for me. This position does cause the tops near the hoods to be angled slightly downward but, from what I can tell, that looks to be intentional by design. Bringing the hoods up more seems to help with this and, when riding off the sides of the bar, the angle does seem to help give my hands a more neutral state when riding in this position.
In fact, Rick pointed this out to me and said that the crown on top (the highest point of the Wave) shouldn’t face straight up but instead should tilt forward away from the rider. A good place to start is with the ends of the drops being parallel with the ground. From there, it’s recommended to go plus or minus 5 degrees of tilt. He even recommends riding the bar without bar tape for a few rides so you can dial in the right tilt. I wholeheartedly agree! I think I went through three or four adjustments and rewraps before I found what worked for me. If I just left off the bar tape initially it would have been easier. Live and learn!
Tip: Don’t be afraid to double-wrap your bar!
At this point, I did notice that my hands still tend to go numb after riding a while. This isn’t a fault of the Wave but more to do with the fact that I’m not exactly a light guy. The best handlebar in the world can’t overcome the effects of gravity...not even the Wave! To combat this, I added an extra layer of bar tape by utilizing the base layer of bar tape from my previous bar. This makes the bar super cushy and does help quite a bit with numbness issues. Even with the extra tape, the features of the bar still work well. The only part that isn’t quite as noticeable is the notch in the drops. It’s still there...but just not as deep feeling with an extra layer of bar tape.
Also, to help alleviate more numbness, I tried riding with some gloves on. I have a pair of Specialized Body Geometry Grail gloves which have special gel padding in the palm. With the flat tops and sides, more of your hand is hitting the bar which is good but for some people (like me!) this does cause more nerves to get hit as well. Wearing a glove like this helps put more even pressure across the hand which, for me, does help quite a bit.
One other thing I did to further evaluate the Wave on standard road rides was to install my 700c wheelset onto my bike. This is pretty much the stock wheelset that came with my Marin Nicasio but with the tires switched out for a set of Continental Grand Prix 5000 32mm tires. With these, you can definitely feel the road and just about every bump. Compared to the various alloy bars I’ve ridden on, it does feel like the Wave absorbs some of the extra vibrations a bit more. Overall, the Wave did make the ride a bit more comfortable.
Tip: Be mindful of your bike fit!
After a few more road rides, I did notice that I was still prone to some numbness. Tendonitis doesn’t seem as pronounced but the numbness does. No doubt the Grail gloves help but I needed to further evaluate and adjust as needed. One of the things I overlooked was the change to the reach of the handlebar. My previous handlebar, a Salsa Cowbell, had a reach of 68mm. My initial bike fit was done using the Cowbell handlebar so we installed a 105mm with a 40 degree rise to get the bar level with my saddle but with a reach that was more comfortable than with the previous stem.
The Wave has a reach of 77mm which means I added 11mm in reach. That likely explains why I was getting numbness. I’m basically leaning more forward onto the bar and thus putting more weight on my hands. As such, I had to counter this and move my hands back to put more weight back on my saddle. I switched out my stem for a 75mm stem with a 24 degree rise. It does lower the bar a little but pulls it back enough to where I’m not placing as much weight on my hands. Plus, with the rising slope in bar, the tops are pretty close to being level with my saddle which, for me, is more comfortable.
That’s not to say that you have to change out your stem like I did though. Just be aware of the specs from your previous handlebar and compare them to the Wave. In my case, I came from a handlebar that had a shorter reach than what is considered normal for a road bike handlebar. The Wave was designed with specs that are close to how most compact drop bars are configured with. But that’s not to say that your existing bar is anywhere close to the same specs. Just be aware of this and be mindful of how the Wave will change things and you’ll be one step ahead.
With simple road rides out of the way, the Wave handlebar is pretty well adjusted for my riding style. The question now is: How well can it handle gravel?
First Gravel Ride Impressions
Here in Dallas, we have some areas that we can go to for some great gravel riding. One of the closest for me is the Trinity Levee which has a good mix of different gravel terrains from loose, light gravel, to heavy gravel, dirt, sand, and everywhere in between. I figure a quick 5 mile ride would be a good way to get an initial feel for the Wave handlebar on this sort of terrain.
To do this, I threw on my 650b wheelset with WTB Horizon 47mm tires. I kept the pressure just a little on the higher side with 45psi in the front and 50psi on the back. Future rides I’ll probably lower the pressure a little to allow for a more comfortable ride.
On gravel rides, the tops are where the Wave really shines. With previous gravel rides I wasn’t at all comfortable being in the tops. Just never felt like I could maintain control of the bike. But with the Wave it’s a different story.
The initial route I took had me on top of the levee which has loose, lightly packed gravel. Once I was comfortable I switched from the hoods to the tops. I was able to maintain a 14mph average speed and not once feel like I had to switch to the hoods. Sweet!
After a couple of miles or so, I rode down to the bottom of the levee to turn around and ride back the way I came. The terrain quickly changed with areas of hard gravel, loose sand, and lots of bumps. Definitely couldn’t ride in the tops and had to spend most of my time in the hoods. (I lost a water bottle too! Tried to reach for it after riding back to the top of the levee only to discover it wasn’t there! Bummer! Fortunately had my second bottle in the other cage.) Compared to previous rides, riding on hard gravel with the Wave feels a little easier than previous alloy bars. I can’t say that the Wave is better than other carbon fiber bars though. Carbon bars in general are better at absorbing vibrations on gravel roads so, yeah, doesn’t surprise me that the Wave would do better than the Salsa Cowbell’s I was riding on before.
I didn’t ride in the drops during this gravel ride but will make it a point to do so in future rides. Definitely need to ride more with the Wave to get a full feel of what they’re capable of on gravel.
After this gravel ride, I was anticipating feeling some tendonitis pain in my wrist as well as some overall soreness. So far, I didn’t have any of that. Might have been a different story in the morning though...but it wasn’t! :P
Big Gravel Ride with the Wave
To really test this bar out, I participated in a gravel ride in Sanger, Texas held by a local gravel group in the DFW area. The ride I went on ended up being a 25K route (just over 32 miles) with mixed terrain consisting of some asphalt, mostly light gravel, with a few areas having some rougher gravel. There were also a number of hills that really test your endurance which in turn helped me test the Wave with climbs.
Fortunately, none of the terrain was as rough as what I endured at the bottom of the Trinity Levee. (No lost bottles! Plus, I made sure to tighten my cages!) The rougher areas were mainly due to larger pieces of gravel and what I call bull pits (which are just the gravel equivalent of a pot hole). Even then, concentration on the road is a must lest you hit a bull pit or a really bad area of gravel and loose control. Overall, the mixed terrain was a perfect test of the Wave’s capabilities.
Right off the bat, with the initial gravel terrain, the Wave showed a little of what it offers. I don’t usually like to ride too much in the full hoods unless I know I need more control along with some shifting. I spend probably more time just behind the drops along the sides of the bar. I switch frequently between that position and the tops. That’s where the sweet spot is I think with the Wave. If you’re the type of rider who, like me, prefers to coast more upright then these are the positions you’ll like the most about the Wave.
As I mentioned before, because of the angle I set for the tops, the sides angle down a little. With gloves on, this isn’t a problem and actually helps me a bit. However, without gloves, I could definitely see how my hands might want to slip a bit. This is something I might address later when I do another reconfig of my bar. In the meantime, the angle does put my wrist in a more neutral position which does help avoid numbness and tendonitis.
The tops continue to show how useful they are on moderate gravel in that I can stay in the tops without feeling like I could lose control. A couple of times while on gravel I had to pull off my sunglasses and wipe my brow. On road, this isn’t even a worry. On gravel though I thought I’d wet my pants and/or crash and burn. Fortunately, the tops helped and I felt more confident that I could maintain control while doing a little self maintenance.
Tip: Play around with hand and elbow positions in the tops
The thing I did notice about the tops with this ride is the nature of hand positioning. When I’m coasting on easy terrain, I tend to position my hands so that my wrists are a little more rotated up on the bar with my elbows out more. This position can be a little awkward with thumb position though and can put a little too much pressure just inside the hand towards the bottom of the thumb. However, after a little practice, I found that if I just rotate my wrists out a little more then it's more comfortable for my thumbs to wrap under the bar. This does result in the bar crossing the hand a little more but, in the end, I got even pressure across the hand which with the right gloves is a plus.
For more rougher terrain, I would bring my elbows in and rotate my wrists in a more parallel position on the tops. My thumbs and hands would be in a more neutral position on the bar and, because of the slope of the bar, felt like I was in more control. I can see how being in the tops with a traditional bar would be scary as hell on rougher gravel terrain, but with the Wave confidence is much higher for sure. Part of that is due to the flat shape of the tops but an even bigger part is due to the angle of them. No doubt the slope and back sweep play a big part in the utility of the tops. Definitely not a one-trick pony. The tops do seem to allow for multiple hand positions which isn’t something I don’t think any can say about a lot of other handlebars.
Also, because of the slope in the tops, you might find more pressure being applied to the outside palm of your hand. I found that if you move your hand closer to the outside of the tops, sort of resting near the sides, that it helps alleviate this feeling and stabilize the pressure. Just need to find a position that works for you.
About 10 or so miles in, I did start to have a little numbness. Like I said before, I can’t really fault the bar on this one. I did switch out the stem and it’s likely that my body and hands are still getting used to the new position. As the ride went on, I kept my awareness of my position on the bike, dropping my shoulders and bending my elbows to help alleviate pressure on my hands. That seemed to help and I didn’t really have any real issues with numbness the rest of the ride.
I spent just a little time in the drops, mostly on downhills to help cut down on wind drag a little. There were but a couple of times on gravel when I was in the drops. To be honest, aside from the notches, the drops don’t feel that much different than most other handlebars. They felt just fine and the notches do help in finding a solid hand placement but, other than that, they just worked. Nothing special really but nothing bad either.
The ride was a success and I do think the Wave had a hand in the enjoyment of the ride. The good news is that, post ride, I didn’t feel like the ride resulted in any pressure to my wrists that would bring on additional tendonitis. Aside from the time spent figuring out ways to use the tops, the rest of the ride was spent just focusing on riding which, in the end, is exactly what you want out of a good handlebar. As such, I was quite pleased with how the Wave performed on this ride. There are some gripes though which I’ll explain in my final thoughts.
A Few More Road Rides
After a big gravel ride, I decided to do just a few more road rides before finalizing on this review. I adjusted the bar a little more, tweaking the angle and position of the drops and hoods just slightly. It just felt like the tops were a little too angled and I was struggling a bit with the lever reach in the drops. Just needed to tweak things a little is all.
Just like the gravel ride, the Wave didn’t disappoint. Like the gravel ride, I pretty much wore gloves on each ride. I did do one ride without gloves and, while I initially had a bit of numbing, it got better the more I adjusted my grip and posture. That’s one of the things about the Wave: it kind of forces you to think about hand position and posture. And, yes, it will take some getting used to.
One particular ride I went on was a 30 mile group ride to downtown Dallas and back. We got rained on a little over midway through so the ride back was wet…like super wet! Definitely conditions that seriously put me to the test with the Wave. After all, when it’s wet AND dark you have to really pay attention.
I found that the sides just behind the drops offered a few more hand positions than I thought. I ride in the corners quite a bit but I do have this one position where I rest my hands just behind the hoods a bit. I noticed one rider riding with her hands rotated a little so that her pinkies and ring fingers were wrapped around under the bar just behind the drops. I tried this with the Wave and it turned out to be a nice position. Pretty much right in the middle between the drops and the corners. It’s a nice way to help switch up your hand position while relieving a little wrist pressure at the same time.
The big question is: Do I think the Wave is better than the handlebars I’ve been using? The answer is a resounding yes. Are they perfect? No, they’re not. And there’s reasons for that.
The concepts and ideas presented in the Wave are by far better than any handlebar I’ve seen or used. The ergonomics are thoughtfully designed and not just thrown on there to earn an “ergo” buzzword in the name. While the notches in the drops are a nice touch, it’s the tops that are the real feature of the Wave handlebar. Because of the way they’re shaped and angled you can actually get multiple hand positions out of them. Pretty amazing really.
However, the nature of the design does require some affordances and compromise. There are aspects of the handlebar that had me saying “I wish...” at times. For instance, I had to rotate the bar down a little to get the angle of the tops where I wanted them. As a result, the angle of the sides along with the drops changed. I wasn’t too worried about the angle of the sides which does help but does lead to a little slippage in the hands without gloves. It would be nice if the angle wasn’t quite as pronounced. Same applies to the drops which resulted in a little bit more of an angle than I probably would have liked. It works and my hand position is comfortable but it’s not quite what I would have wanted.
Rick pointed out that a few professionals have tried out the Wave and have offered feedback. These are riders who would almost immediately respond to the Wave and know what to change to make the bar work better for them. But for a more novice rider like me the differences might not be readily apparent. Like me, you just have to kind of ride with it and, through some trial and error, figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Which brings me to this point: handlebar design is freaking hard! No design is perfect and you would be hard pressed to find a handlebar that is perfect for you. Virtually every bar requires a bit of give and take with its configuration. You basically have to choose which part of the bar you want to concentrate on: the drop, the hoods, or the tops. Which ever part you focus on you’ll likely see other parts suffer a little. Not much, mind you, but enough that you’ll wish you could change it. That’s the nature of the business though. That is...unless there’s a new way to approach it. Hmm...
Tip: Give me the ability to customize my bar
Now, if only some company came out with a fully custom yet affordable handlebar. I think what I’m wishing for is the ability to tweak the angles of the bar. I would love to see a handlebar company (Hint hint!) give customers a way to order a handlebar with certain angles for aspects of the bar. In my case, if I could just angle the drops a little more, add a little more back sweep to the tops, and change the angle of the tops a little as well, I think that would do it for me. No company has come forward to do this but, with the Wave, I’m wondering if that is even a possibility. Maybe? (Hint hint!)
Which brings me to my final thoughts: Is the Wave a keeper? Is it worth the cost? Yes and yes. I still need to ride on it some more but, at the moment, I feel like this bar is a step up from what I was using. Plus, compared to other similarly priced bars, this one offers a far better design than most other carbon fiber bars. I don’t think you’re going to find one that’s that much better than the Wave for the same price. There are cheaper bars for sure but none that have this level of attention to design. Plus, it appears that this bar helps alleviate the one thing I was most concerned about which is tendonitis. Any bar that helps solve that problem is immediately a keeper. Looks like I’ll continue riding with the Wave!