Nothing rounds out a nice build like a slick integrated bar/stem combination. I say slick because some look great and others, well, they look like a futuristic component slapped on a DeLorean. The real craft is the bar/stem combo adding to the look and performance of the bike, not just a clump of carbon to the front end.
Bontrager’s newest addition to its cross country and trail lineup is both a performance and aesthetics upgrade. The RSL (Race-Shop-Limited) MTB bar combines the structural knowledge from the Aeolus RSL Road Bar and Bontrager XXX MTB handlebars to create a crazy cool piece of kit.
Bontrager RSL MTB Bar
The RSL MTB Bar combines Trek OCLV carbon and the most recent Bontrager MTB bar dimensions to deliver a clean and stiff bar design. The smooth, understated flat carbon palette and classic design allow this bar to match many machines. It’s not only for cross country racers either; the RSL MTB is available in many different configurations to satisfy the spandex and baggy crowd.
The XC RSL bar/stem arrives with an uber pro-13 deg stem. The 750mm bar has a 0 deg rise, 8 deg backsweep, 5 deg upsweep, perfect for those looking for the most aggressive setup. Stem lengths for the XC version are available in 70, 80, and 90mm — very similar to others on the market.
If – 13 is a bit much for you, the new RSL MTB bar/stem comes in a 0 deg stem rise and a 27.5mm bar rise. The trail version comes with a 35 or 45mm stem length, a 7 deg back sweep with 6 deg upsweep, and 820mm overall bar width. This dimension should be a popular version with the trail crowd and those looking for more adjustability on their ride.
The Bontrager RSL MTB bar/stem comes with a Knock Block (for Trek compatible bikes) and standard adapters. Computer, camera, and light mounting come via a minor fitting on the front of the bar that quickly takes Bontrager Blendr accessories.
These mounts are available aftermarket and do not come with the unit like the road version. The hardware is all titanium (excluding the Blendr mount) and is independent of the carbon for long wear and strip-out forgiveness.
If you’re looking to make a custom width by trimming the bars down — the RSL MTBs have friendly easy-to-follow cut guides and graphics that help you dial in shifter and brake lever positions. For those wondering, the overall weight for the RSL MTB in a 90mm/750mm XC version is 257g including both adapters — very competitive and lighter than many we’ve found.
The RSL MTB isn’t Bontrager’s first foray in the MTB bar/stem combo — the brand released a short-lived XXX MTB bar stem combo in 2014. This combo was only available in a 660mm width/110mm stem/-7deg — boy, have times changed.
Installation and dialing in a bar have never been more simple for me — mainly because there is no over obsessing around the angle of the bar. It’s set — there’s nothing you can do about it — liberating in a way. The only real adjustment that you can play with is the number of spacers for your fit.
If you want or have the Knock Block set up, simply add the fitting for that configuration. If not, use the small shim when you install, and you’re ready to go.
I usually ride a -6 deg stem, and a -13 seemed to be a big jump, but I typically ride with the stem all the way slammed. Winging it — I added a 5mm spacer and felt fine, I’m not saying this is right, but it works great for me.
The overall look and feel of the RSL MTB is all pro; when you’re riding and see a single piece of integrated carbon — it looks fast. The way Bontrager styled the bars can match any bike set up, and the gold decals are a nice break from the over-styled neon that’s currently in fashion.
Going from a traditional bar/stem setup, I can feel a difference in the front end. This could be because of the beefier clamp, or because of the sculpted junction from stem to bar — or because my bike looked much faster. Either way, I like the way the front end feels and the bar angle is right on the money.
The fact the bar didn’t arrive with a Blendr accessory mount did bum me out a bit — if you’re paying $350 for a bar, I’m guessing you’re using a computer to track your rides. I also understand that many mountain bikers use steerer tube computer mounts, and I believe that to be a better choice after exploring the Blendr mounts.
The mount attaches with a tiny 2.5mm fitting and could snap when (if you’re like me) a crash eventually takes the bike down. I believe the front mount would be best used for a small Blendr compatible light, not a Garmin 1030 plus or larger computer unit. But also, I don’t have the Blendr mounts to say for sure.
Overall the ride and the performance of the Bontrager RSL MTB bar/stem are top-notch. I have zero complaints about the dimensions and the aesthetics take your ride from Cat 3 to Euro-Pro faster than you can say Evie Richards.
There was no specific mention of weight limit or warranty, but Bontrager’s Unconditional Guarantee seems to go pretty far these days. So I’m sure if you had an issue, they would be able to help.
Price and availability
The Bontrager RSL MTB stem/bar retails for $350 in all sizes and setups. The price is very competitive. It’s even more competitive with a combination of Bontrager’s current high-end Kovee XXX bar ($180) and stem ($275), making them seem like an unnecessary expense. Maybe Bontrager is looking to phase out the separate super high-end bars and stems for mtb?
If you’re looking to purchase a set or lay hands on them, select Trek retailers and Bontrager.com have them on the shelves and ready to ship.