Zipp's new Service Course SL 70 XPLR handlebar is aimed at all-road, gravel and adventure riding, with a slightly flared shape that provides a comfortable position on long rides and gives extra control on loose and technical terrain. There's plenty of stiffness when you're riding rowdy off-road terrain, and it's a good weight for the material, but this top-end SL does look a little pricey compared to some rivals.
This new Zipp handlebar has just launched today – and we'll add a buying link as soon as we can – but I've been testing it for the past few weeks. Zipp is best known for dimples and aerodynamic high-performance road products, but the new XPLR tag applied to this handlebar is a sign it wants to roll up its sleeves, expand its horizons and get muddy. Zipp says XPLR "exemplifies the desire to explore the world with an expanded definition of cycling on a drop bar bicycle... from paved roads onto gravel, mud, dirt, and even singletrack". I suspect we'll be seeing Zipp XPLR products in the future as this sector of the cycling market continues to grow.
It's an aluminium flared drop handlebar available in two versions, the lighter SL version reviewed here, costing £109, and the regular Service Course 70 XPLR costing £54. They share the same shape but the main difference is on the scales: 262g verified for the SL, and a claimed 305g for the cheaper bar.
Features (there aren't many on a handlebar) include Shimano Di2 bar end junction box compatibility and a 100mm clamping aero on the bar tops for all your bikepacking or commuting accessories.
The result of this focus is a handlebar with a carefully considered shape aimed, as I've said, at all-road, gravel and adventure riding. It's all about the flare and outsweep. Flare is created by rotating the entire drop above the brake levers outward; outsweep comes from rotating the drop below the brake lever outward.
The scores on the doors are a 5-degree flare with an 11-degree outsweep, a 3-degree backsweep along the tops, short 70mm reach, and shallow 115mm drop. It's a shape Zipp arrived at after extensive research and testing, it tells us. Well, it's hardly going to say it was knocked up in an afternoon, is it?
Zipp says the shape creates an "optimal comfort zone position for hours of rough riding over mixed terrain, whether doing a two-hour training ride from home or a 200+-mile gravel adventure". To find out, I've been riding this handlebar for the past couple of weeks, bolted to the front of my own Fairlight Secan. I opted for a 42cm width – 40, 44 and 46cm are also available – wrapped it in some nice new Silca bar tape (review coming soon) and hit the trails, byways, roads, gravel tracks and more.
I immediately warmed to the shape. I'll be honest, it has taken me a while to get used to flared drop handlebars that are becoming standard equipment on gravel bikes, but I'm slowly coming to appreciate the benefits. Some handlebars are too dramatically flared for my tastes, with some resulting in a severely cantered-over hood position that I find is far from comfortable when riding along on the hoods for an extended period.
The Zipp handlebar, however, is comfortable in the hoods since the shift levers are only slightly leant over from the more normal vertical orientation. This means your wrists are in a natural position – some extremely flared drops in my experience place more strain on the wrists on longer rides, which is less than desirable. It's also good if you're very used to road bike handlebars and don't want to stray too far from your comfort zone.
Move to the drops, though, and the flare opens out your arm span. On loose gravel and steep descents, the extra bar width creates extra control, increasing stability at higher speeds. The flared drops also mean your wrists don't batter into the top of the bar on challenging terrain.
When riding in either the hoods or drops, the brake levers are within very easy reach for maximum control on technical trails. The short and compact drops are also easy to reach, and on my bike meant I was able to get into the drops regularly.
The tops have a wide area for grabbing, with the 3-degree backsweep bringing the bar closer to you. I prefer to run my reach a bit shorter on gravel bikes than the more stretched-out road position I favour, and this backsweep suited me perfectly. The tops are also slightly flattened, helping to provide comfort on longer rides.
Setting the handlebar up on the bike was easy. There are markings on the sides of the bar to get the hoods in exactly the same position on either side. There's no roughened texture for anti-slipping purposes, but in my testing the hoods haven't budged out of position. There's no internal cable routing option, but you can install a Di2 bar end junction box.
One small change I would request is a larger recess on the underside of the handlebar to smooth away cables and hoses under the bar tape, but I'm being picky.
The aluminium handlebar is very nicely made with good attention to detail in the decals, which are suitably understated so they look good on any bike. The handlebar is reassuringly stiff and can cope with being ridden aggressively in rough terrain and when stomping up steep climbs out of the saddle. It doesn't have the vibration-damping qualities of a good carbon handlebar, though, so if it's outright comfort you're after there are better alternatives, but you'll have to fork out more cash.
The weight – 262g – is bang on the money for an aluminium handlebar and compares well to others. It's also only a smidgen heavier than the very expensive Enve G Series handlebar I tested a while ago.
There are quite a few rivals in this space now. The recently tested Pro Discover Medium has a similar shape and weight, with a price that is comparable to the cheaper Service Course 70 XPLR rather than the pricier SL version.
The Easton EA70 AX is another good example, costing £79.99 and weighing 289g. It has a bigger 16-degree flare, which you might prefer.
The Ritchey Comp ErgoMax is another good aluminium handlebar. It costs £52 but is quite a bit heavier at 313g, though it does offer loads of hand positions.
The new Zipp Service Course SL 70 XPLR is comfortable for all-road, gravel and adventure riding, its mild flare providing noticeable benefits when riding off-road. It's stiff and light, but the price is a little high compared to some of the rivals. If that's an issue then the cheaper Service Course 70 XPLR is worth a look as it has the same shape.
Price aside, it's a very good addition to the growing gravel and adventure market from the US company.
Top quality aluminium handlebar with a comfortable flared shape
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Zipp Service Course SL 70 XPLR handlebar
Size tested: 42cm
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?
Zipp's answer - true to our fit-first philosophy for handlebar design - s an innovative new all-road bar available in two alloy models, the Service Course SL 70 XPLR and Service Course 70 XPLR. The bar's moniker, XPLR, exemplifies the desire to explore the world with an expanded definition of cycling on a drop bar bicycle... from paved roads onto gravel, mud, dirt, and even single track.
The Service Course 70 XPLR and lighter Service Course SL 70 XPLR help you go faster by placing your body, starting with your hands, in an optimal 'comfort zone' position for hours of rough riding over mixed terrain. Today's riders demand a few things out of their cockpit, whether they are doing a two hour training ride from home or a 200+-mile gravel adventure: comfort, control, and the ability to carry what they need. We met these needs by creating a bar with shallow and wide drops, specifically focusing on two crucial metrics - outsweep and flare.
– Outsweep is created by rotating the drop below the brake perch outward.
– Flare is created by rotating the entire drop above the brake perch outward
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
40, 42, 44, 46cm
Ergonomic top with 3° backsweep
100mm clamping area on top of bar
Di2 bar end junction compatible
260g +/-5% (42cm)
It's a nicely made aluminium handlebar with clean edges and understated decals.
Delivers good comfort and stiffness in a gravel bike application.
Testing has only been over the course of a few weeks; longer-term testing will continue.
It's a decent weight for the material and price; it's not much heavier than a carbon handlebar.
The shape of the bar is very comfortable, but the aluminium material doesn't provide the same level of smoothness as a carbon bar.
Weight and performance is good but there are cheaper rivals offering similar.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Delivers good comfort and more control on the rough.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Love the shape.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Bit pricey compared to some rivals.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It is more expensive than some similar handlebars road.cc has tested recently.
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 overall score
It's a top-quality handlebar with a really nice shape that works on and off road, but the high price stops it from scoring higher.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
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: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.