Shimano have been working with the world's top sprinter, Mark Cavendish, on a new super-stiff handlebar and stem in an effort to produce a strong, stiff, and light combination that harnesses the maximum amount of the Manx Missile's motive force as he charges for the line. Cavendish has been racing with the prototype bar and stem since the Giro d'Italia.
The components which bear Shimano's 'Pro' high-end race component branding are made from high modulus carbon fibre for the stem, and 7000 series aluminium for the handlbars – the latter at Cavendish's insistence. The stem is an eye-catching affair, it is extremely wide and deep at the clamping point and looks a very chunky piece of kit. We were unable to take a weight – it was attached to a rather nice race bike, but the Shimano guys we talked to assured me that it came in at around the 170g mark – not bad at all.
The stem is hollow and though it might look chunky, the wall thicknesses are not massively deep, instead the high modululus unidirectional carbon has been laid up to maximise resistance to the sorts of forces that a rider like Cavendish can exert. Particular attention has been paid to countering the torsional twisting forces produced when the Manxman hauls on the bars in the final metres of a sprint. This was an area Cavendish was keen to addres to ensure that the bars and stem gave him the most stable platform from which to transmit as much down force as possible through the pedals rather than being robbed of vital power because of a flexing bar/stem combination.
Shimano and Cavendish used the Pro Track stem as the starting point for the project, itself a chunky affair except made from multi- rather than uni-directional carbon fibre.
Cavendish has been using the prototype bar and stem combination since the Giro – interestingly, the prototypes fitted to Cavendish's bike here at the show were finished in a bright green – obviously Shimano had hoped to capitalise on a win in the Tour de France green jersey competition… well you win some...
Like a lot of top sports people, Cavendish is very particular about the set-up of his equipment to the point where it borders on superstition, and he had the brake position just right on the bars using the original black prototype Shimano supplied him with, so was loath to swap it for the green at such an important race. Once the Tour was over the green stem went on.
Possibly the most striking thing about the bars is that they are so conventional looking, and Cavendish's input does seem to bear out the idea that given the choice, most pros want a simple handlebar without fancy wings, bends or ergonomics – yes, there's a slight ergo bend, and a flat section on the tops, but nothing fancy or extreme.
Shimano say the the new bar and stem should be landing in the UK next February, no word as yet on price, the stem won't be cheap but then if the pricing for the rest of Shimano's Pro kit is anything to go by, neither will it be eye-wateringly expensive – and we wouldn't expect those bars to be expensive at all, which opens up the prospect of equipping your bike with a top pro sprint set-up without breaking the bank.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.