The Pro Vibe Aero Carbon handlebar is a stunning piece of design and engineering, in form and function. Both shape and material have been developed to create a watt-saving front end without sacrificing stiffness or comfort. This level of excellence costs, though, and is probably the Vibe's only downside.
In the professional peloton everything is about performance and integration, which is exactly why the Pro Vibe handlebar was found on so many bikes at the Tour de France. Designed with aerodynamics in mind, the Vibe uses various ways to cheat the wind by profiling certain areas and some pretty well-thought-out internal cable routing.
With the majority of top flight riders using electronic groupsets, it is no surprise to learn that the Vibe has been aimed primarily at that market.
Shimano has recently released its latest Dura-Ace Di2 groupset, R9100, which now has the control box positioned in the end of one of the drops, replacing the bar tape plug. Pro, being one of Shimano's brands, has positioned the routing holes to reflect this, for a near-hidden gear cable system at the front end – well, when paired with the matching Vibe stem (review to come). The neat hole at the rear centre of the bar is the trick.
The cable guides you can see in the photos are positioned for you to feed the cables through. There is actually a really detailed video which shows the best way to set the bar up, along with the Vibe stem and fork steerer-mounted battery.
It's not just Di2 that works with the Vibe, though; I used it with a mechanical Shimano 105 5800 gear and brake setup.
The routing holes could do with being maybe a millimetre bigger all the way around to make threading the fatter cable outers through, but it isn't that arduous a job. Half an hour of fiddling with a torch and a paper clip, and it was job done.
The entry and exit holes are positioned exactly where they need to be, and although I was initially worried about tight cable bends, the gear shifting has remained spot on and there doesn't feel to be any sponginess in the braking.
The sandpaper-effect grips for stem clamping and the brake levers do an excellent job of keeping everything in place.
So, it looks the business, but does it deliver on the performance front?
Absolutely. The way it feels is remarkable, with certain areas offering a little flex for comfort while other parts are stiff enough for a full-on, eyeballs-out sprint.
Pro has incorporated Innegra fibres into the carbon fibre. What's that then? The manufacturer says: 'A high performance fiber used in composite and textile applications which can be converted into many different reinforcements.' Its benefits are said to be light weight, vibration damping, and excellent energy dissipation – which could explain why the Vibe bar feels so comfortable.
There is no road buzz felt through the bar at all, and even big jolts from the tarmac don't seem to jar as much as with the ITM X-One bar it replaced. And that wasn't exactly uncomfortable. On the Vibe you get a tiny amount of flex when on the hoods, which just takes the edge off if you are out for a long ride.
In terms of aerodynamics, Pro has used a kamm-tail design for the tops. This is an aero section but with the rear end chopped off rather than finishing in a taper. The UCI – professional cycling's governing body – has a 3:1 ratio limit for aero sections on a bike, so this shape gets around that, with the theory being that the air will be tricked by the square cut-off into continuing to flow as if it was a full teardrop shape.
You might not be able to tell from the pictures, but the section of the drops facing the wind have also been narrowed into an oval shape. This feels odd at first, when you go from the hoods or round section of the bottom of the drops, being a skinny hand hold, but it's something you get used to.
Right, let's talk money.
To be honest, carbon fibre handlebars are really an extravagance as you very rarely save any weight over top-end aluminium alloy versions, and although the Vibe is very comfortable you could probably just stick some thicker tape on your existing bar.
If you are prepared to drop 300 quid on the Vibe, though, you won't be disappointed. It is really, really good in almost every single aspect. The the ITM X-One I mentioned earlier is a massive £110 cheaper, though, and it's the price of the Vibe that costs it that one star compared with the ITM.
Top-flight performance from a handlebar designed primarily for Di2 users
road.cc test report
Make and model: Pro Vibe Aero Carbon handlebar
Size tested: 42cm x 31.8mm
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Pro says: "An ultra-high performance handlebar constructed with Innegra fibers to ride the most punishing conditions. The new PRO Vibe Aero handlebar is built to meet cycling's highest demands using state of the art technology. The Vibe Aero is developed with Di2 in mind offering ultimate integration for maximum aerodynamic performance and ultra-clean styling."
Exactly what I look for in a performance handlebar with excellent stiffness and comfort. The attention to detail with regards to the cable routing is a neat idea too.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Pro lists these features:
Full carbon monocoque handlebar as used by the top ProTeam professionals
Full one piece T800 UD carbon fibre monocoque construction
Kammtail cross section and slimmed frontal area on the drop section
Internal cable routing options for both Di2 and mechanical cables as well as brake cable or hose
Innegra fibres woven into the lay up
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
This bar is absolutely beautiful to use, offering stiffness and comfort.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The ride quality.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Mechanical cabling is a tight squeeze.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
On performance alone this Vibe handlebar is absolutely brilliant, but you can get some very close performance levels for a fraction of the price. The Di2 integration is a real gem for a smooth, clean front end.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: Kinesis Aithein
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.