As gravel and touring bikes begin to adopt features like bigger tires and dropper posts, it seems that handlebars have been slow to keep up.
Sure, bars are getting wider. But there’s only so much you can do to make them taller. Unless, like the new Ritchey Corralitos handlebar, you build them with a subtle rise and shallow drop. That’s what got Travis Engel interested in trying them out. The hard part would be abandoning the very similar Ritchey Beacon that he’s been using for over a year. So, he weighed the pros and cons of both, and shares his findings.
No matter how crowded and blurry the lines between bike categories become, one line has always remained in sharp focus. That is the line between drop bars and flat bars. More so than tire size or frame geometry, there’s no clearer indicator of a bike’s intentions and limitations than the angle of your wrists as you grip the controls. But even that has come under attack thanks to the rise of the alt bar. They can be a bit chaotic, combining tubes of all lengths and all sizes, pointing in all directions. But alt bars tend to share one common goal: To offer multiple hand positions that favor comfort over aerodynamics. Two elegant examples are the Beast Components Hybrid Bar and the Surly Corner Bar. To be fair, these are on the margins of the alt-bar category because they were clearly intended to offer the drop-bar experience without requiring drop-bar controls. But I’m aligning them with the alt-bar crowd specifically because, even compared to new-school drop bars from Crust, Curve and Salsa, the Hybrid and Corner bars have particularly shallow drops. They don’t do a whole lot to get you out of the wind, but they’re a nice change of pace from grinding knuckles-forward for hours at a time.
I spent a year behind the Corner Bar, content that I’d never make the leap to a “real” drop-bar setup. I’d tried a few progressive gravel bars, and I always felt like the drops were too deep. I don’t go down there to gain speed. I go there for more positive control of my shifters, brakes and dropper post. I was just about to seal my fate as an alt-bar lifer by getting a Party Pace tattoo, when I found myself borrowing a bike specced with the Ritchey Beacon handlebar. The clouds parted, the light shined down, and this life-long mountain biker finally found a drop bar he could love. The Beacon is actually shallower than the Corner Bar, and if you include the Beacon XL, it can be just as wide. But you get the added comfort and cleanliness of true drop-bar controls. Soon after, I was ordering my own Ritchey Beacon to go on my Otso Fenrir. And it was perfect. On days when I’m just covering ground, it’s made those drops useful for more than just sprints and headwinds. But now, I’m looking for even more. I want to take that comfort a step further. To try something that puts me more upright. Problem was, I’d run out of steerer tube. Then out of the blue, in March of 2023, Ritchey released the Corralitos bar. It seemed like a wider Beacon with 15 mm of rise. I had to try it.
Corralitos (left) Beacon (right)
The Corralitos take nearly every aspect of the Beacon and go one notch further from the status quo. The reach gets 13 mm shorter, the flare-out gets six degrees broader, and the four width options get 40 mm wider each (though there’s no ultra-wide “Corralitos XL” to topple the 540 mm “Beacon XL” just yet). The most obvious difference is the 15-millimeter rise at the tops. That was a hard sell for me. I normally reject the idea that bike parts can be “ugly.” As inanimate objects, they’re kinda all ugly if you think about it. But I drew the line at a riser bar with drops. They look like a set of deformed antlers. That’s partly why mountain bikers abandoned bar ends in the late ‘90s, when riser bars started displacing straight bars. But somehow, I can forgive the Ritchey Corralitos. There may be no better way to do what it does.
Corralitos (left) Beacon (right)
There’s a limit to how shallow a drop can be without ruining the ergonomics of a drop-bar brake lever. Eventually, you’d be grabbing it in the wrong place and from the wrong angle. The Corralitos offers an incredibly shallow 67-millimeter drop if you measure it from the stem clamp. That’s technically 13 mm shallower than the Beacon, even though the shape of the drop itself is relatively similar. It’s a really clever hack for making your drop-bar bike a bit more comfortable. The way I see it, you’d opt for the Corralitos if you were looking for a more forgiving position on your existing bike, but you had no reasonable way to raise your stem. Maybe you don’t like the look of gooseneck-style stems like the Crust SST. Or, maybe that would put you too much higher. Or, maybe you don’t want to spend $125 just to bring your old-school bar higher and closer when $54.95 might get you a new-school bar that does everything you need. So, I unwrapped my Beacon (46 cm) and wrapped up the Corralitos (48 cm).
Corralitos (left) Beacon (right)
About the sizing: I suppose I could have compared a 46-centimeter Beacon to a 46-centimeter Corralitos. But that didn’t seem right because the Corralitos are wider across the board. So, in light of that, I guess I could have compared a 46 to a 50 cm, because that keeps everything proportionate. But my Otso spends much of its time on road-bike duty. So, I split the difference with a pair of 48 cm Corralitos. An interesting side-note about bar tape; I paired traditional foam tape with a set of Ritchey Gravel Grips. If you’re ever making the move to wider bars, these are a great way to cheat some extra length out of what’s left of your old tape. And if those wider bars are the Corralitos, you will need more tape than you might think. I’d recommend some generous overlapping in the tops. I’d gotten spoiled by the Beacon, with its ergonomic flat-oval profile. The Corralitos are round and thin, so it’s better to keep the wrapping thick up there. Another note about the bar tape; the rise doesn’t look nearly as kooky when the bars are installed and prepped. The stem, tape, and cables do a fine job at masking the unsightly bend.
Now that I could look past the 15-millimeter rise, I noticed the 13-millimeter shorter reach. When on the hoods and in the drops, my cockpit was a half an inch tighter. And that had some unique effects thanks to my bike setup. I run a 50-millimeter stem to complement the Fenrir’s long top tube. Bringing me 13 mm closer to the steering axis made for an even more MTB-like relationship with my front wheel. In other words, I was further behind it. And I think that’s a good thing for these bars’ intended audience. Even if you run them on a more traditional bike, the force of your body weight under braking and steering will be directed more into the front wheel, not past it. That kept it more stable in uneven terrain, though it wasn’t without its tradeoffs. I noticed a subtle increase in waggle when I was lazily getting in and out of the saddle, or when casually reaching into a pocket. And of course, it put me in a less aggressive position. Pulling my center of gravity back from over the pedals naturally shifted my demeanor away from mashing or sprinting. But that’s to be expected with a bar like this. Plus, it all depends on how you define “aggressive.”
Most of the time, the effects of the higher rise were a bit more subtle. That might be because I already was pretty upright. I have a 29 x 2.2″ front tire, 85 mm of suspension, plus 160 mm of head tube and 55 mm in cups and spacers. The extra 15 mm made an already relaxed bike just slightly more relaxed. Though, I suppose that was my mission here, so mission accomplished. Simple. There’s really no way to stretch the effects of a slightly higher handlebar into a whole paragraph. But where I noticed the greatest impact was in the drops. Suddenly that “less aggressive” body position opened the door for more aggressive riding. With my anchor points 15 mm higher and 13 mm closer, I was much more comfortable, both physically and emotionally. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything crazy by going full-speed on loose rutted road descents. I felt in control. I even kinda regretted not going for the 50-centimeter option to really play to the Corralitos’ strengths.
Corralitos (left) Beacon (right)
Speaking of width, the Corralitos actually have a bit narrower “drop flare” than the Beacon. Meaning that, given the same nominal width, your hands will be farther apart when at the tips of the Beacon’s drops. That does give the Corralitos a slightly more traditional, more “vertical” brake lever angle. That felt natural in the hoods, but I did like the outward angle of the Beacon when in the drops. But I’m splitting hairs at this point. In the drops, neither gripping surface seemed to have better or worse ergonomics for aggressive riding. Frankly, despite clear benefits in beyond-category confidence, it left me wondering which of these two bars I actually am going to stick with.
But I don’t want to end on a wishy-washy note. I’ll try to actually be conclusive here in my conclusion. So, here goes: For the majority of riders out there, the Beacon is the most versatile curly bar you can buy thanks to the shallow drop and multiple width options. It plays by just enough of the rules to still feel like a traditional gravel bar. On the other hand, if you’re done with traditional gravel anything, and you just want the most comfortable, forgiving drop-bar ride you can get, I’d say go for the Corralitos.
- Comfortable ergo-wing top section
- Slack drop-flare for extra width at the drops
- Clean, traditional shape
- Available in 40 cm to 46cm widths, as well as ultra-wide 54 cm “XL”
- Available in lighter-weight (higher-priced) “WCS” option
- Most width options are based in the old-school world
- Can’t get you as high as the Corralitos
- Gets you higher than the Beacons
- Short reach makes for tighter controls and better posture in aggressive terrain
- Modern array of width options (44 cm to 50 cm)
- Tops lack the Beacon’s ergo-wing comfort
- No lighter-weight (higher-priced) “WCS” option
- Kinda ugly
Both handlebars retail for $54.95. See more at Ritchey