Released in 2021, the Surly Corner Bar was designed to reorient flat-bar controls into a drop-bar-style configuration. It’s decidedly low tech, with its steel construction and somewhat unrefined ergonomics, but it was too clever for Travis Engel to pass up. He’s owned a pair since they launched, and has a few suggestions if you’re considering dropping in.
When I bought my Surly Corner Bar, I had my 1986 Schwinn High Sierra in mind. But as soon as I got my hands on it, I saw it was destined for bigger things. So, I bolted it onto my Specialized Fuse Carbon plus-sized hardtail in an effort to breathe some punk-rock attitude into a very yacht-rock bike. It did the trick, but there was still something a little awkward.
Maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise. I mean look at them. Even bolted on and wrapped up, they’re kinda unshapely. There’s a lot of cable clutter, and fitting a handlebar bag is tricky. They’re also steel, and my 54cm model weighs almost 750 grams. But at $100, it’s much cheaper than committing to road shifters, and the Corner Bar’s approach side-steps any accompanying compatibility issues when connecting derailleurs and calipers. It only requires some longer control lines and a couple rolls of bar tape.
But it’s not perfect. Even beneath 3mm tape, the 25.4mm cross bar felt skinny and harsh. Same goes for the “hood” position, which happened to also be too stubby to securely hook my thumbs. The drop position, though, was outstanding. It’s wide, shallow, and angled perfectly. And once I slid on a pair of ESI Chunky silicone grips, it was remarkably comfortable. I wanted all the positions to be comfortable, but it was good enough. Then, a four-day, non-technical bikepacking trip from Joshua Tree to Los Angeles popped up, so I needed to make some mods to give my hands some room to roam. The first of which is pretty simple. Frustratingly simple, in fact, because it’d only have cost Surly a few pennies to fix. But it cost me $30.
A pair of Control Tech Terminator bar extenders fixed my stubby “hoods,” which I will now stop putting in quotes. Also simple was my fix for the skinny-diameter cross bar. I just sliced open a couple cheap grips and taped them to the tops. And listen, I know how that sounds. It’s the sort of hack that bike mechanics will gleefully swap horror stories about while totaling the register at the end of the day. Anyone who’s had to clean up after a Specialized Body Geometry Gel Pad knows why you don’t put stuff between your tape and your bar. But that’s why I suggest cheap grips, which are usually stiff and thin. Just something to augment the bar shape without allowing the sort of unwanted movement that will cause the tape to shift and unravel.
I’m a little more ashamed of what I did at the hoods, but I had to do something. On my first go with the Corner Bar, the junction where the brake levers attach felt lumpy in all the wrong places. And there was no smooth saddle shape to cradle the base of my thumb. I believe that the whole point of multi-position bars is to make long rides more comfortable, and if things have to get ugly in the pursuit of comfort, I say the end justifies the means.
In my case, the means was some more cheap grip material taped together for a more ergonomic shape around the brake levers. It looks chaotic, but there’s science and symmetry under all that electrical tape. And I still have access to lever and shifter mounting bolts. With everything wrapped, it looks clean and stays put.
I managed to make the hoods comfortable when lazily covering ground or tackling long moderate climbs. Braking and shifting from the hoods is awkward, but not impossible, at least for my size-XXL hands. My ring and pinky fingers were the only digits lined up with the brake lever, which allowed me to control my speed, while hard stops had to happen from the drops. I could also do some manual acrobatics to shift or control my dropper from the hoods, but the Corner Bar really is meant to be ridden in the drops.
It actually kinda spoiled me when I got back on my gravel bike. The Corner Bar was perfect for my mountain-bike conversion because it still allowed me to ride confidently, with full access to my controls while maintaining a comfortable, capable body position. Quickly, this setup began to feel less like a hack. It was almost optimal … almost.
In the year and a half since I modified my Corner Bar, both this cobbled-together bikepacking hardtail and my out-of-the-box gravel bike have been summarily replaced by an Otso Fenrir, featuring my current go-to Ritchey Beacon drop bars. But the Surly Corner Bar was an important part of my journey. And if I hadn’t had a sudden financial windfall last year, this Specialized Fuse would have remained my bikepacking rig, and the Corner Bar my bikepacking handlebar. It’s the sort of disruptive product that doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful. If you want to add a little flavor to a bland flat-bar bike, I say don’t be afraid to belly up to the Corner Bar.
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