When I first read about the release of the Ritchey Beacon handlebars, I was intrigued. Ritchey labels them as “super-wide” due to the 36 degrees of flare on them. However, with an available max width of 46cm, is it really a “super-wide” bar? And is 46cm enough for most riders? That was what I wanted to find out with this handlebar...so I gave in and ordered a set to try out.
The Beacon is labeled as a gravel handlebar, but it’s actually more than that. With wider stances in the drops and hoods along with a really short drop and ergonomic tops, it’s designed for comfort and stability across different types of riding.
Except racing...well...maybe. I suppose you could race on it but I don’t think many racers will like this bar primarily because of the short drop, which doesn’t lend itself to a heavily aero position. Anyways...
The Beacon is available in four sizes, ranging between 40cm and 46cm, in two different grades of aluminum alloy: the WCS Beacon, priced at $99.95, made from a triple-butted 7050 alloy, and the cheaper Comp Beacon, priced at $46.95, made from a double-butted 6061 alloy.
I opted for the Comp Beacon which, honestly, was my only choice anyways. The higher quality WCS was sold out, which makes me wonder if there was a shortage in the 7050 alloy needed to manufacture it. I’ll likely revisit the WCS later when they’re back in stock in order to test how much of a difference the higher quality alloy makes on the ride feel. For now, we’ll be testing with the 6061 alloy Comp version.
Before we get into how the Comp Beacon feels, let’s first look at the specs:
- Width: 460mm
- Reach: 65mm
- Drop: 80mm
- Drop Flare: 36 degrees
- Outsweep: 6 degrees
- Back Sweep: 4.5 degrees
- Clamp diameter: 31.8mm
These specs are vey similar to one of the first road handlebars I rode on, the Origin 8 Flare II Ergo, a handlebar that I really liked and probably would have kept riding on it if it had more flare in the drops.
The main difference with the Beacon is the drops, which have a lot more flare and outsweep as well as a much shallower drop with a different shape to them. The drops are similar in that there’s a straighter section near the bend where your hands are normally sit while accessing the levers. In many ways, this is a more extreme gravel version of the Flare II Ergo, which is quite a surprise. No wonder I was intrigued with this bar!
With many of the handlebars I’ve ridden on, including the Salsa Cowbell and Cowchipper, the bar is tapered down from the clamp area to the same diameter as the drops. Not so with the Beacon. Like the Flare II, the tops maintain the same 31.8mm diameter as the clamp area from end to end. It’s not until that first bend that things are tapered down. With the tops flattened and swept back a bit, this creates a more ergonomic surface for the tops. It’s one of the features I missed about the Flare II and glad to see in the Beacon.
How Do They Feel
The feel of this bar is a bit of a departure from the Salsa Cowchipper I was riding on before. While they’re both 46cm wide bars and have things that are in the same vein...they’re also quite different. In some ways, it’s almost what you’d get if the Flare II Ergo and Cowchipper had a baby.
To cover the unique properties of these handlebars, let’s talk about ride feel in terms of the three main areas: drops, hoods, and tops. I’ll be comparing them mainly to the Salsa Cowchipper, which is the handlebar I primarily rode on prior to installing the Beacon.
Riding In The Drops
The first major feature of the Beacon is the 80mm drop. Compared to the Cowchipper, which has a 116mm drop, that’s a 36mm reduction. Huge difference...and it’s definitely noticeable. I like it though. Riding in the drops for me isn’t about being in an overt aero position. It’s about gaining more stability on faster runs and technical areas where control and braking ability are critical, especially when going downhill.
The drops on the Beacon don’t make me feel like I’m totally bent over. Plus, the transition between them and other parts of the handlebar don’t feel drastic, which is precisely what Ritchey was going for with this bar. Everything is about easy transitions when changing hand positions while maintaining stability.
The high amount of flare of the Beacon is one of the other defining features of the Beacon. At 36 degrees, it has more flare than just about any handlebar out there....which is why Ritchey put the label “super-wide” on them. However, you have to put all the specs together to get an idea on how this much flare really impacts the bar. While it might have more flare than the Cowchipper (24 degrees) it has less outsweep (12 degrees on the Cowchipper). Add to that the short drop and you end up with a bar where the flare really doesn’t feel that drastic when you get into the drops.
Where the Beacon really shines is with the shape of the drops. The bend and return of the drops start really sharp at the lever clamp area. From there, it straightens out with a more ergo position for your hands, followed by another short bend on the return.
Now, looking at something like the Ritchey VentureMax, which has what Ritchey calls a “bio-bend” in the drops, the Beacon isn’t quite as extreme. I’ve looked at the VentureMax and I just can’t get over that hump in the drops. Not sure how I feel about it. In fact, I’m not even sure adding something like the bio-bend would even work on the Beacon. The position the bio-bend would need to be would likely nullify the impact of the drop position. Because the drop is much shallower, adding the bio-bend would only complicate it.
One detail that I should point out though: lever accessibility. When installed, if the ramp of the bar is pretty level and the hoods are positioned slightly angled up, then levers end up being perfectly accessible. Now, I do have pretty long fingers so results may vary. But I do find that the levers are pretty close to the bar...strangely enough, they feel closer than they even were on the Cowchipper. No problems changing gears and/or braking while in the drops for sure.
Basically, it adds up to this: short drop, high flare, mild outsweep, with an ergo bend. End result? A very comfortable drop that gives you lots of stability.
Riding In The Hoods
With the flare and outsweep of the drops, I was a bit concerned about the width of the hoods. I purposely chose a 46cm wide bar for the Cowchipper precisely because of the 24 degrees of flare. With the levers angled in, the center of the hoods ended up being right at 45cm. Going from that to a 36 degree flared bar does require angling in the levers more which made me think a wider bar would be necessary. Fortunately, the result was a 44cm width at the center of the hoods. A little tighter but still within reasonable limits.
Riding in the hoods feels as natural as it did on the Cowchipper even with the extra bit of angling needed. The only thing that I noticed is that my wrist angle is more pronounced when resting my fingers on the levers which puts a little more stress on my wrists. If I curl my fingers all the way around the hood then the problem goes away. So I’ve learned to only rest my hands on the levers only when I know I need to change gears and/or brake. When I do, I tuck my elbows in a bit which helps alleviate the weird angle my wrists are in.
Typically, my favorite position is one where my hands are resting in the middle between the hoods and the ends of the bar. Because of the shorter reach of the Beacon, I find this position to be even more comfortable than the Cowchipper. Much of that is also due to the extra angling of the hoods. It creates a different space for your hands to rest just behind the hoods. Wrapping my fingers around that area just feels nice.
Another position is right at the ends. I’ll rotate my wrist out a bit and tuck in my elbows for a position right at the curves of the bar that helps relieve some pressure off my hands a bit. Because this is the area of the bar where tapering occurs, it has a bit different feel to it than the Cowchipper. Not bad, mind you...just feels a bit different is all. It’s thicker just before the bend and then curves into a taper. Strangely ergonomic for hand placement.
Riding In The Tops
The other major feature with the Beacon is the tops. Now, like I mentioned above, most tops are tapered right after the clamp area so that the top of the bar is the same diameter as the drops. Ritchey keeps the top of the bar the same 31.8 diameter the full width of the tops. Once flattened for a more ergonomic feel, this results in a fatter area for your hands. Add some backsweep and you have a pretty darn comfortable area for your hands to rest on.
I think the only improvement they could make would be a deeper groove under the tops so that cables are less noticeable after adding bar tape. Like it or not, you’ll feel a groove under the bar where the cables are. It’s not horrible though...nothing that you likely wouldn’t experience with other alloy bars.
I find myself riding in a few different positions in the tops. One near the ends with my pinkies touching the inside of the ramps. Another where my hands are closer to the middle with my elbows tucked in more. And a more relaxed position where I rest my palms on the top giving my fingers a rest. With all these positions, the size, shape, and backsweep of the bar, all lend to a more comfortable position for my hands...far more than the Cowchipper for sure.
With the thinner tops of the Cowchipper, I always felt like I would struggle a bit to find a comfortable position. So riding with the tops of this bar kind of spoils me really. I doubt I’ll go back to one with a smaller diameter in the tops. It honestly makes that much of a difference. Now, granted, some folks might not like that. If you have smaller hands and/or shorter fingers you might not like it. It’s kind of a subjective thing so mileage may vary.
With the thicker diameter of the tops, I do wonder how much of an impact this has on vibration absorption. A thicker bar does add stiffness so there is that. I’m super curious if the more expensive WCS version is any better in terms of vibration dampening. Will the higher grade alloy make a big difference with the thicker tops? Guess we’ll see!
The Beacon has proven to be quite a versatile bar. While it’s not going to appeal to those looking for a good handlebar to race on, it’ll definitely win over folks whose bike is used in more ways than one. It’s a bar that’s good enough for multiple styles of riding: road, gravel, bike packing, touring, and more.
I really wish Ritchey would add wider versions of the Beacon. I think many people would consider picking up a set if they were available in 48cm, 50cm, and even 52cm versions. This would allow folks more room to overcome some of the limitations that exist with things like hood position, stem angle and length, body geometry, and such. Till then, if a max of 46cm works for you then definitely give the Beacon some consideration.
So far I’m super happy with the Beacon. But there are two things I really want to try. First, I want to get the WCS version and test the ride quality compared to the Comp version. Second, if Ritchey releases wider version, I want to test the impact it has on the comfort and handling of my bike. So, once the WCS versions are back in stock and/or wider versions come out, expect a follow up review. In the meantime, time to hit the trails and break in the Beacon!
Keep calm and pedal on! :)