If you’re riding fast down singletrack and chunky logging roads on a bike with a drop handlebar, the drops is where you want your hands… unless it’s not, because your drop handlebar is optimized for aero road gains instead of rowdy off-roading.
The new Whiskey Spano bar is all-in on off-road, with a shape that makes the drops an inviting place to be without distorting the hoods into a crooked, knock-kneed-looking mess (see below, care of @shimanodior).
The carbon construction not only makes this bar light at around 246g for the test size of 46cm, but it also allows Whiskey to dial in a progressive flare and finely tuned level of compliance that probably wouldn’t be possible with alloy. A 20-degree flare at the drops subsides to a more restrained 12° at the hoods, creating a comfortable drop-bar experience without necessitating a weird, bent-wrist, elbows-out posture to hold onto the hoods. Available in five sizes from 40-48cm, the Spano gains 6cm of width at the drops, thanks to that 20° of flare. The clamp diameter is 31.8mm.
Deep drop vs. shallow drop
Before we talk about what makes this bar good, it’s helpful to explain a little bit about what it’s not, and what it’s not is a deep-drop road bar. A “deeper” drop bar is one where there’s a greater vertical distance from the bar top to the lower hand position. A “shallower” drop bar is one where there’s less distance between the bar top and the lower hand position.
The great thing about a deep-drop handlebar is that the difference between riding on the hoods and in the drops is significant — you get two really distinct riding positions here. You can set up the bar height so the hoods are relatively comfortable for climbing, drafting and easy riding, while the drops get you super low and aero to cheat the wind at high speed. Think Belgian road pros grinding out hours of 30mph pacemaking across pan-flat fields in brutal crosswinds.
The not-so-great thing about a deep drop becomes very evident the moment you point your bike down a steep, chunky downhill that requires braking. There’s less risk of your hands slipping off the bars in the drops than there is on the hoods, so that’s where you hold on. But wait a minute: Now your weight is so low and so far forward and so nose-wheelie-inducing that it’s all you can do to keep from going over the bars every time you hit a bump or tap the front brake.
A secondary challenge for deep-drop bars off road is that changing hand positions from hoods to drops and back is more difficult when those positions are so far away from one another.
The case for short and shallow
That’s where the Whiskey Spano bar comes in. Its super shallow shape (100mm drop) may not give you two drastically different riding positions, but it does make the drops very easy to reach and use over challenging terrain without over-weighting the front end and putting you in nose dive position.
For riders who find they don’t use the drops very often, regardless of terrain preference, this short and shallow shape is well worth exploring.
The Spano’s flattened bar tops are very comfortable and seem to lend some vertical compliance to smooth out the bumps when riding in the drops or on the hoods. Compared to the more basic aluminum bar that the Spano replaced on my gravel rig, this was immediately noticeable on the first ride, but after a few more days out, the only thing I noticed is that my hands aren’t so sore after riding anymore.
In terms of reach, the Spano is very short at 68mm, and the drop tails extend further back than what’s typical, offering a little more real estate for riders who like to cruise with their hands all the way back at the end of the bar. You can’t reach the brakes from back there, but it makes for a super comfy and compliant ride over flat but consistently bumpy roads.
If hilly, rough rides are more your thing than fighting for high average speeds against a stiff wind, the Whiskey Spano bar could be an exciting upgrade, with advantages in weight, comfort, and fit compared to the basic alloy drop bars that tend to come stock on even the nicer gravel bikes. At $280 MSRP it isn’t cheap, but for the right rider it definitely transforms a nice bike into an even nicer one.
- Shallow drop for steeper and more aggressive riding
Pros and cons of the Whiskey Spano drop bar.
- Not cheap