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The Bontrager Pro VR-C Road Bar is a great way of improving comfort on rough roads, especially if you're coming from an aluminium bar. The compact shape is comfortable, and the contours allow for tidy cable routing with Di2 compatibility as well. Although this bar isn't the lightest out there and wouldn't be my first choice for sprinting, the comfort and premium finish mean that I'd certainly consider fitting it to an endurance, sportive or commuting bike.
Setting up the Pro VR-C is made easier by the laser-etched – albeit subtle – lines for both the brake lever position and stem faceplate positions. A lack of horizontal lines in the stem faceplate area – as demonstrated by the Ritchey Comp ErgoMax bar – makes getting the angle a little trickier; though I do appreciate the lack of graphics once it's set up.
You may be wondering what all those letters in the name mean. Well, VR-C stands for Variable Radius-Compact, which is a fancy way of describing the shape. The fact that the Pro VR-C is compact means that it has a relatively short drop and reach when compared to a classic drop bar. These days compact bars are a popular choice as they not only allow mere mortals to be comfortable on the hoods but also put the drops in a more realistic position.
Whether you choose the Bontrager bar in its 38, 40, 42 or 44cm width, they all feature a 124mm drop and 100mm of reach. Most compact drop bars have a very similar drop, but 100mm reach is on the larger side, so this could influence the length of stem you use. For example, the Easton EC70 SL handlebar has 125mm of drop but only 80mm of reach.
When fitted to the bike, the Pro VR-C felt very natural to me; the slightly longer shoulder sections allow for a secure and comfortable grip when on the hoods, and transitioning between hoods and drops also felt very natural.
The variable radius allows for multiple comfortable hand positions when in the drops, which really helps confidence when hunkered down and putting down the power. The shape also left a smooth transition to the hoods of both Shimano and SRAM shifters.
I have to say, for sprinting the Bontrager isn't my favourite bar to use; when riding in the drops while out of the saddle I found that my wrists would be too close to the horizontal top portion of the bar. However, this could just be down to my position on the bike.
One area that won't be personal to me is that there is some discernible flex during all-out efforts when really pulling on the bar, although, to be fair to Bontrager, I am comparing it to some of the stiffest bars around.
Where the Pro VR-C really comes into its own is when you hit a bumpy road, of which I seem to ride plenty! It does an excellent job of reducing road buzz and replicating the feeling of a nice big front tyre. The effect is even more profound when switching from an aluminium bar that doesn't have the same damping properties. On one of my regular routes which includes rough, unkept roads, I was amazed at how much of a difference this simple change made and continued to be impressed when I switched the bar over to my gravel bike.
Unless you're a diehard racer then this added comfort is probably well worth the small compromise in sprinting stiffness – after all, smooth is fast, and, more importantly, comfortable is faster!
Although the Pro VR-C doesn't have an aero profile like the Prime Primavera, it's still sculpted rather than being a continuous profile across the entire length. Contours along the front allow for cables and brake lines to be tucked away more neatly, which means that after wrapping bar tape you're left with a comfortable and thinner profile to grip.
If you're using Di2 and a bar-end-mounted junction box then a small hole in the bottom of both sides of the bar means that you can keep your cockpit looking as clean as possible whichever side you have it.
At £150 the Bontrager is hardly cheap but there are plenty of mid-range carbon bars that will set you back more.
If you're looking to switch to carbon to save weight then this probably isn't the bar for you – the Prime Primavera X-light, for example, is some 69g lighter when comparing 42cm widths, and has the same RRP. However, in my opinion the Bontrager strikes a happy balance between stiffness and comfort, making it well worth considering for an endurance or sportive bike, and the subtle graphics and glossy finish mean it'll look the part as well.
Compact carbon bar with premium looks and comfort
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Bontrager Pro VR-C Road Bar
Size tested: 42cm, 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?
Bontrager says, "The Pro VR-C is a lightweight carbon road handlebar that features a unique Variable Radius Compact bend that creates the ideal hand position for quick transitions from the tops to the drops. Integrated Di2-compatible ports offer clean internal wire routing.'
Although it's not the lightest, I found the shape very comfortable, as well as the ride. I wasn't a big fan of sprinting on this – it's not the stiffest – so I'd say it's better suited to an endurance or sportive bike than a race machine.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
OCLV Carbon construction
Variable Radius Compact (VR-C) design allows longer reach and drop
Laser-etched brake lever position lines for spot-on control set-up
Compatible with clip-on aero bars
Compatible with Shimano EW-RS910 bar end Junction-A for cleaner Di2 routing
31.8mm clamping area
available in 38,40,42,44cm widths
Well made and finished.
It's great on bumpy roads and can really improve the comfort of a bike, but for sprinting it's a little flexy.
No issues so far.
For this price you can get carbon bars that are a fair bit lighter.
Really help to reduce road buzz.
This is an expensive way to shed weight, but £150 is reasonable for a mid-range carbon bar.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Really well on bumpy roads, nice to grip and hold – which is pretty handy for a handlebar!
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Flexy during sprints.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
The Prime Primavera X-light costs the same but is a fair bit lighter; you can also get aero-profile bars for similar money. It's 20 quid cheaper than the Easton mentioned in the review which offers quite similar performance.
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
Unless you're racing and, more specifically, sprinting or trying to save as much weight as possible, then I think this is a great purchase: it looks good and can dramatically improve on-bike comfort.
About the tester
I usually ride: Specialized venge pro 2019 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 5-10 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, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb,
Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the road.cc team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...