Ever since Surly announced the corner bar in summer 2021 I’ve wanted to try one, I don’t know if Surly just tested the water with these new bars and the production run was small or that they didn’t import many into the UK but the entire stock at the UK distributor sold out really fast. Scroll forward to January 22 and the first availability for a pair was looking to be May 22. So one not very busy Saturday at work (don’t tell my boss….ok you can, I’m leaving anyway) I set about emailing every UK dealer/shop listed on the Surly website to see if they had a pair of Corner bars gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. I had many “sorry not until the summer” replies until Brixton Cycles messaged back saying they had a 46cm (measured to where the “hoods” join the top bar) in stock. I immediately got them in the basket and they turned up 4 days later at my back door.
Surly tag these bars as a “mountain bike drop bar” as they work with MTB style levers, they are supposed to give you the feel of drop bars without having to fork out £250+ on a set of road shifters that may or may not be compatible with your rear derailleur or brake calipers.
Now, I guess the big question is why would you want to put drop bars on your MTB in the first place? after all the riser or flat bar handlebar has evolved into a nice wide comfortable place that brings confidence and control to some gnarly riding. It keeps your head up so you can easily see the trail ahead on downhills or will easily cruise along sinuous singletrack. Why would you want to put a potentially narrower (i know there are some very wide drop bars) bar on where the best control is on the lowest part of them that stretches you out and drops your head into a position where you have to look up to see where you are going? Well, the reason I think is also why Gravel bikes have become so popular.
That reason is that mountain bikes have become so proficient at their job, smoothing out the trail ahead that your local routes have become a bit tame and dare I say it, boring! You barely notice the off road features that back in the mists of MTB time would have posed a challenge to your twitchy narrow barred and head angled early MTB…….hmmm narrow bars and twitchy handling was fun…..can you see where I’m going with this?
So throw a set of drop bars on your trail beating MTB and bring back the fun! only it’s not that simple. MTBs have very different shifters and brake set up to road/gravel bikes and that’s where it starts getting costly just to experiment with drop bars that you might actually hate after one ride. This is where the Corner bar comes in, it’s not cheap actually at over £100 but that’s a lot cheaper than a set of drop bars, road shifters, new cable inner and outer, bar tape and the hassle of doing it all.
I wouldn’t however sling a pair of these bars on your all mountain/enduro world cup gravity sled, keep that for the really gnarly trails and put the corner bars on a hardtail that languishes neglected, in the back of your shed. Even better if its pre “long , low and slack” geometry which is all the rage these days. that extra top tube length will stretch you too far out when on the drops.
So how does it ride? lets look at it from two perspectives,
1.You’re a seasoned drop bar rider, when you are on the drops you will feel right at home, the 65 degrees of flare make for rock solid handling on the rough stuff giving you masses of control. climbing on the drops also benefits from this flare as your hands fall into a very natural position far away from the shoulder constricting “aero tuck” of a traditional drop bar. Aero is not as it turns out, everything!
The thing that you will miss however is the fact that you cannot ride on the hoods, on drop bar levers the top of the hood is where you will spend most of your time. It is comfortable and you can still reach the brakes and get a reasonable amount of power into them. On the corner bar your hand sits awkwardly on the stump and that has either the shifter or brake mounting bracket on it or both depending on how you configure them. it’s fine for short periods but it’s not somewhere you want to be for long rides The other major issue is you can’t reach the brake lever from there either.
2. You’ve never ridden a drop bar bike in anger in your life and have only ever used a flat or riser bar. You will get your hands on the drops, chuck the bike downhill and either get transported back to the adrenaline rush of the early 90s MTB boom or immediately get what all those old timers are gushing about when they get into the “back in the day” routine. The flare and width are great for control and edge of your seat riding that a modern MTB on tame trails removes completely.
You’ve never sat with your hands on the hoods so don’t know what you are missing, you’ll climb, descend and cruise on the drops and that’s pretty much how these bars were designed. you can of course hold the bars either side of the stem too and that at least gives you another hand position.
So, if you’ve got an old geometry MTB then a set of these bars will bring it back to life for relatively peanuts in outlay…..well, maybe, maybe not. You see if your old mtb has a rigid fork then putting these bars on the standard length stem will stretch you right out. I was running a 60mm stem on my bike and to get comfy riding predominantly on the drops i ended up with a 35mm stem right at the top of the steerer with all the spacers underneath. If you have a suspension fork then the front will be higher and you’ll need to make less adjustments. So bare in mind some swapping of stems etc might have to take place. Oh, and can you wrap bar tape? because these work best with road bar tape on. Controls are easy to access from the drops, even a dropper lever.
One drawback, in my opinion is that these bars have a diameter of 25.5mm which is pretty old school. They do come with a shim to take it up to the popular 31.8mm standard of most stems but this small diameter does mean fitting accessories such as lights need an adaptor. I used some old inner tube wrapped around the bar.
Are these bars for everyone? not at all. do they weigh rather a lot and are expensive for some welded steel pipe? they certainly are. Would i put them on my MTB if it was the only MTB I had? no way. Would I have them on a “spare bike” just for fun? 100% I would.
They are quirky and not perfect at all. But I would stick a pair on a bike just for the hell of it, for shits and giggles because they are great fun for hitting your local stuff.
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more details from the surly website here