Cruising the inter-webs one day, I came across an announcement from Whisky Parts Co. They were releasing a new moto style handlebar, called the Milhouse. They looked a lot like Surly’s Sunrise Bars BUT were made from space-age polymers (carbon fiber if you will) instead of chromoly steel. Cool, sounds fun. I am not in the market for new bars right now, again. Outta sight, outta mind, moving on. A few days pass and I get an email from Uncle Gomez asking if I’d like to test them out. Please and Thank You Good Sir!
Many have said that carbon bars are a sweet fat bike upgrade. They can dampen trail chatter (steel can also) and they don’t conduct cold like steel and aluminum bars do in the winter. Ipso facto, your hands will stay warmer (with pogies, I’ve never had an issue). Of course, lest we not forget about the weight savings of carbon vs. alloys (I ride a steel fat bike, I need to drop weight more than my bike does). Well now I get to see for myself the awesomeness of CARBON FIBER!
In the last 3 years I’ve had 4 different sets of handlebars on my ICT. At first it was a neck issue that had me going from the stock Salsa Salt Flat 2 Bars to a set of Surly Open Bars resulting in a more upright riding position. Then Oddity collaborated with Black Sheep for Christmas and I picked up a set of their limited edition OddSheep Bars, which offered more rise and more hand positions than the Open Bars, but my pogies didn’t fit them, but they are comfortable as all get out (like driving my ’71 VW bus, damn
I miss that thing!). I had a set of Surly Sunrise Bars on my SS, so I swapped them over to my ICT last winter, my pogies fit just fine and I enjoyed them. Last spring I wanted the Sunrise Bars back on my SS (until a month later when I swapped them out for some drop bars, it’s a vicious cycle) and since I had loaned my OddSheeps to a friend, and my Open Bars have gone to my sister, I picked up a pair of Surly Terminal Bars and was really enjoying them up to this point.
So, this box arrives one day, and it is super light, like is anything even in there light. Open the box up and inside I find these beauties staring back at me, just pretty as all get out.
I set them on my bench to take a closer look and I see the “easy to read graphics” for trimming the bars down to size along with torque specs for tightening down grips (4Nm) and stem (5Nm). Also, at the stem clamp area, there are markings showing the center and others for dialing in the angle along with a little message from Whisky Parts to “Get Fancy”. Don’t mind if I do!
I also set my Sunrise Bars down on my bench to do a little compare and contrast. The shape is fairly similar, though the way the carbon forms the transition between the bars and the crossbar is more pleasing to the eye on the Milhouse Bars. I know that the Milhouse’s are 5mm wider out of the box than the stock Sunrise Bars are, but I have cut my Sunrise’s down. As they sit, mine are 89mm (3-1/2”) shorter than the Milhouse’s. My plan was to ride the Milhouse Bars “as is” for a while, to see how they felt, and possibly adjust them later. I took this approach with my Sunrise Bars when I first got them and after a while I noticed that my hands were migrating inward to a point of comfort on their own, and then I cut ‘em. There is some variation in rise and sweep between the two bars, but it’s difficult to see with the nekid eye, so to wrap my head around them stats, I made a chart, and for the fun of it I threw in the specs of my OddSheep Bars, you know for science and such.
So, the Milhouse Bars have a bit less rise, a bit more back sweep and up sweep, and weigh 490 less grams than the Sunrise Bars. That’s a full pound lighter!
Well it’s now time to mount these things up, BUT they’re carbonium fiber so I can’t just ham fist them on like everything else I mount up. So, guess who had to go out and get a new torque wrench, this guy. See, I don’t have anything on any of my bikes made of this fancy stuff, heck the only time I’ve ridden anything else made of carbon fiber was the fork on the Yukon I tested last year, and for that I had to borrow a torque wrench when building it up (thanks Joe). I guess this was as good a time as any to buy a new tool, which is always cool.
AND then as I began to re-mount my controls, I realized that my cables and housing were all too short as a result of making them all nice and tidy when I mounted up my Terminal Bars. No worries tough, I’ll pick up new ones. Since its just before winter, it’s a good time to replace them and do a thorough clean and lube of everything. Win-Win, right?
AND then I pulled my cranks to check the bearings only to find my non-drive side bearing a bit “crunchy”, still spinning but with my luck it would die at the worst possible time. So I ordered a new bottom bracket assembly and ponied up for 2nd Day Air so as I could get things back together and my ICT back on the trail!
AND then along came a Public Service Announcement from your friendly neighborhood Bike Black Ribbon Test Pilot. With the Holidays upon us, some have been blessed with snow, some are awaiting such gnome blessings, but for all of us it’s a really good time to do that most basic of maintenance chores, one that tends to be forgotten until it’s too late, please everybody, LUBE YO TUBE!!! Pull your seat tube, right now, I’ll wait, got it out? Good, now get you some grease and lube that thang!
No more AND then, now we RIDE!
First night out, right off the bat, I noticed a bit of flex in the bars. It’s kind of the same feeling as I had when riding my Open Bars. There is just enough flex to take the edge off and dampen some trail chatter. I was feeling good that night and pushed my limit a bit in the woods. There is this “S” turn on one trail that is a bit sandy, a bit bermed, and it has some drop to it. A couple nights earlier I had taken it on my SS at speed and RAILED IT, felt so good. So, on this beautiful evening I came into it hot, expecting to “ride the rail” again, BUT instead, halfway through the “S” my front wheel washed out and I went DOWN. CRAP, not even through one ride and I busted these bars up! NOPE, I was scratched up a bit but not a mark on the bars, sweet. Milhouse is Condition 3 rated for rough off-road and jumps less than 2 feet.
After a few more rides, I realized that the Milhouse Bars just kind of felt natural on my bike. Usually, when I change bars, there’s a bit of a courtship that happens. Some “Getting to Know You” time, but Milhouse and I just clicked. The bar width was a non-issue on my local trails and on my body. Sometimes when swapping bars and changing my riding position, my shoulders/elbows/wrists may get sore from the change while getting used to a new riding position, but I had none of that with this swap.
The Milhouse Bars are the third set of moto type bars I have ridden, and the one problem I have with this style of bar is the lack of space to bolt/strap stuff on. Most of my riding happens at night, just a consequence of life, so I’ve had to come up with ways to mount my light to the bars. The cross bar is always too thin for most mounts, and there is usually not enough room to one side or the other of the cross bar for the mount to fit and still aim ones light down the center of the trail. My solution this time around was to use a section of innertube wrapped around the cross bar and then attach the light mount to it. This solution worked quite well without marring the carbon fiber and the light stayed steady with little to no movement while riding. I know there are some after-market mounts that would work with the Milhouse Bars, but I haven’t found one I was comfortable with yet.
A few opportunities arose to stray away from my local trails, which isn’t always easy nowadays, and I was able to mix some terrain variation into this testing period. What stood out to me was that the Milhouse Bars allowed some extra leverage when powering up quick climbs, a bit more control through rocky/rooty sections (able to hold line easier), and a different (aggressive) feel initiating and exiting turns either at speed or under power. I chalk that up to the bar’s width, which also attributed to my second crash while testing these bars. On a GFBD ride, a buddy pulled off the trail for an adjustment while the rest of us rode past him. Well everyone but me. I thought that I was plenty over to the side, and even leaned a bit away from him, but as I passed, I still happened to just barely catch the end of his bar with the end of mine and down I went in one of those slo-mo falls that is hilarious to all involved and ended with no harm to the bars, or me. All told, I think there were only 3 points, between 2 different trails, where the bars were a tight fit between trees and I had to use a bit of body english to squeeze my way through. Also, after a few weeks, it dawned on me that my hands were staying put on the bars, they weren’t migrating inward like they had with my Sunrise Bars. So, no need to cut’em Mick!
As the temps began to drop over the last couple of weeks, out came the pogies to keep the chill at bay. I used to ride with a pair of Bar Mitts (Hugh Jass raffle prizes RULE!), but towards the end of last winter I picked up a new pair from Wolf Tooth and really came to love their versatility. The Wolf Tooth’s played nicely with the Milhouse Bars, as they had with my Sunrise Bars. No issues with mounting, just a wrap or 2 of electrical tape on the bar plugs to help them fit within the ends of the bars.
I figured that since I still have my Bar Mitts, and I have a pair of 45NRTH Cobrafist’s (old version I picked up for a steal so my B-I-L can use them when he’s in from Cali, you’re welcome Lee) and since I do love science, I’d see how they would both mount up to the Milhouse Bars.
The Bar Mitts mounted up without issue around the bars and controls.
The Cobrafist’s plugs went in and snugged up fine. The only real issue with mounting them up was the infamous foam doughnut, it just doesn’t sit right around my cables, but I believe that’s more of an issue with the doughnuts than the bars, hence the design change this season with the Cobrafist’s. I could make them work if I needed to with a couple of mods.
NOW, to deal with the elephant in the middle of the trail, the cost of these bars. (MSRP is $215) Would I go spending my hard-earned ducats on these beautiful bars? I might. They are pretty sweet, but it would be hard to let go of that scratch. One could get a pair made of steel from several custom manufacturers for less, but they would be heavier, but they would be custom. I’m not one who worries about weight that much and I can’t say I noticed that 1 pound lost from the front end, but that’s just like my opinion man. You, on the other hand, maybe looking for a change in ride position, keeping the weight of your bike down, and have an aversion to alloys in cold weather conditions, or maybe you just want your bike to “Get Fancy”. If so, Milhouse may just be your huckleberry!
Overall, I love these bars. They fit my bike and I just right, held up to my riding without issue, and look Fancy. My only real hang up with them is the price, but you get what you pay for, some darn good bars. I give them 4 outta 5 Van Houten’s because of my hang up. Cheers!