Salsa have been producing bicycle frames and components for off-road adventure since well before the gravel boom. Handlebars such as the Cowbell, featuring a modest flare, more in line with traditional tarmac focussed bars and the more extreme angles of the Woodchipper have been mainstays in their road handlebar line-up for a while now.
But what if you wanted the traditional curves of the Cowbell AND the generous off-road friendly flare of the Woodchipper? Enter the Cowchipper! Whilst this is by no means a new bar, it was about time we got to grips with this in-betweener and find out if it really is the best of both worlds.
Testing took place in the wilds of East Devon, were many a boulder strewn bridleway can be explored.
Cowchipper Deluxe stats
First, some numbers… 24 degree flare, 116mm drop, 68mm reach, 12 degree drop angle. Widths range from 38cm all the way to 52cm (tested here). 31.8 clamp diameter.
The Cowchipper Deluxe is also available in a bead-blasted black finish. It is worth mentioning that this bar is manufactured in Taiwan from 7050-T6 aluminium and is rated suitable for off-road use featuring drops of no more than 6 inches. A more expensive carbon version is also available.
I must start by saying that this reviewer has been running the 46cm wide version of these handlebars for the past year, before receiving the new, extra wide 52cm on test here. As I was already well familiar with the shape and feel of the Cowchipper, I could really dig into how bar width affects the ride. Is wider better? How wide is too wide? Let’s find out…
Set up was a fairly standard affair. The Cowchipper does not feature grooves on the inside of the bends to help place cables, but I don’t think this should put anyone off. Essential markings on the stem clamp area were present and useful.
One thing to consider before starting the swap to these monstrously wide bars is whether you have enough gear cable/brake hose length to make the jump. Stocking up on fresh pipes may be a good idea here.
It took me a few goes to get the hoods set up well, being used to more modern bars with a long flat section on top. The Cowchipper features more of a classic roll into the hoods, creating a hollow for your hands to slot into. It took a little time to get used to this new for me feel and this could possibly be a deal breaker for some, however I learned to love the new position of palms on the bend for relaxing, and the extra height afforded by this.
The most important aspect of set up for me was to get the drops at the right angle, so that I could stay in them comfortably when the road got rough. I found this to be the point where the ends of the drops were almost completely horizontal.
On the ride
For off-road adventures on my gravel bike, I always look for the most confident inspiring shape, meaning plenty of flare and shallow drops. I was not disappointed with the Cowchipper. The 24 degrees of flare feels just right for me, placing my hands in a relaxed, neutral position, both on the hoods and in the drops, with minimal strain on my wrists. Naturally, this may feel odd coming from a straight road bar, but quickly becomes normal and makes a lot of sense on the rough stuff.
This flare would be useless without some decent curves and this is where the Cowchipper really worked for me. Unlike the angular Woodchipper, which I found a tad unwieldly and difficult to reach the levers on, the Cowchipper’s more traditional yet shallow bends add a good dollop of common sense, which I think will suit more riders.
Are they small hand friendly? Possibly. I have found many ‘gravel’ bars to be lacking in the drops, making it very hard to get a good grip on the brake levers. Fairly important stuff. The classic bend on the Cowchipper is the most comfortable and ergonomic I have come across; however I would hesitate to say this will be the case for everyone. The component giants have done little for smaller riders in this area and comfort in the drops may depend on the size of your digits and adjustability of your levers. Overall, the numbers listed above have resulted in a very comfortable bar which I would be happy to ride on and off-road for long days in the saddle.
Width has perhaps always been seen as a personal preference, within a limited selection. Off-road focussed gravel bikes are changing that now, with more emphasis being placed on handling and bag carrying capacity, bars have been growing ever wider. I had instantly grown accustomed to the 46cm version, which happens to be about the same width as my shoulders.
Switching to the 52cm was fairly mind blowing! The extra width was instantly noticeable. With my hands now placed wider than my shoulders I felt my chest open up, and my chin lift, creating a very stable body position. My arms now felt freer to work the bars whilst out of the saddle, with plenty of new found leverage to exploit.
Start descending and the Cowchipper eggs you on. With that extra stable upper body position, I felt I could lean further over the front end of the bike, making the front tyre stick to the dirt. Leaning the bike into loose turns became a calmer, slightly less terrifying gamble. When the trail turned technical, I found I could muster more forceful steering inputs without upsetting the balance of the bike, due to the slower steering characteristics. Pair these handlebars with fat 2.1” tyres and a slack 69 degree head angle and you have a Holy Trinity of rowdiness.
The extra space between the drops for luggage is a nice practical bonus, too.
The Cowchipper Deluxe verdict
Are these bars right for you and which width should you choose? If your idea of fun is seeking out the finest off-road routes and want to tackle them confidently and at a decent pace or you just like to get rowdy, then the Cowchipper is the perfect aid. I would recommend starting with a width equal to, or slightly wider than your shoulders. Be wary of changing the fit of your bike by increasing handlebar width, too. Extra width creates extra reach. A shorter stem may keep those reach numbers in check and provide marginally quicker steering.
I experimented with 80mm and 60mm stems, without really coming to a conclusion on which I preferred. So perhaps the widest of options only for the tinkerers out there?
My Cowchipper Deluxe bar stayed shiny and damage free for the duration. Plenty of crashes and filthy journeys failed to put a mark on it; the only signs of wear being a Voile strap removing some of the branding next to the stem clamp.
The Cowchipper Deluxe is a comfortable, confidence inspiring, good looking off-road handlebar and should be on anyone’s list when looking for a new gravel cockpit. The extensive width options make this bar suitable for probably anyone who wants to experience the control of the Cowchipper. Hats off to Salsa for providing a silver option too. There really is version to suit every gravel rider.
Last modified: 5th July 2021