Skip to main content

Salsa Cowbell Carbon gravel handlebar review

Gravel riding is getting ever more competitive and Salsa’s Carbon Cowbell looks like a great option for hard and fast drop-bar racing

Salsa Cowbell Carbon gravel handlebar review
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

Salsa’s Cowbell is its least radical drop bar and lacks internal routing but it comes in tons of sizes and it’s a light and precise bar without feeling too punishing on longer, rougher rides

For

  • - Low weight
  • - Precise but not stinging feel
  • - Free-range hand positioning
  • - Extended center for bolt-ons
  • - Noticeable flare for extra control

Against

  • - Not much lighter than the Cowbell Deluxe
  • - Bigger hits are clearly felt
  • - Carbon always adds cost

The Cowbell has been in Salsa’s range for years and it was one of the first widely available flared and wider-sized drop bars. Mountain bikers know all too well the benefits of increasing handlebar width to provide greater control and stability on rough terrain, something which is now being leveraged by gravel riders. 

The Salsa Cowchipper and Woodchipper have taken width and flare to greater extremes but not everyone - particularly racers - wants that, the Cowbell Carbon comes in a more traditional shape to appease those competitive riders who will also like the low weight that is associated. Like a lot of best gravel handlebars that are made from carbon, you’re spending a lot of cash to save that weight though.

A close detail shot of the Salsa Cowbell Carbon gravel handlebar clamping area

Markings on the Cowbells clamping area help with handlebar setup (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Design and performance

The overall bar shape is relatively simple with no ergonomic curves or lumps and a flat, round unswept top. There’s no internal cable routing either although Salsa has used a flattened underside that twists towards the bar clamping point which gets a short, marked grip section. There are centering and rotational gauging marks on the center clamp too, with subtle Salsa logos. 

The centre section is extended out to 7cm on either side and it’s reinforced for use with clip-on bars or a bag cradle depending on your gravel riding priorities. Reach is relatively short at just 68mm but drop is classic for a compact bar at 115mm. The 12-degree flare takes the tip width to 51cm on our 46cm sample bars.

After some of the weird and wonderful bars we’ve tested recently, those numbers and dimensions don’t feel too radical. The extra width is still noticeable when you need power assistance in high speed turns or rough sections that are trying to bully your wheel off line. The wide straight, round top and smoothly curved drops are completely non-prescriptive in terms of hand placement too so you can hold on wherever feels natural. 

The tops of the bars are straight and don't feature any aero shaping

The ergonomics are more conventional on our 46cm review sample than some of the gravel bars that have been on test recently (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

The extended 31.8mm centre section and flat undersides make for a precise and accurate feeling bar with no bounce or flap even when you’re out on the ends of the flares or wrestling with the hoods on a high torque, low rev climb which fits well with the race targeting. It does mean big hits can come through quite hard and you’ll know about extended rocky descents but they take out some buzz if you’re just skimming over grit. With the bar feel being very similar to a lot of lightweight alloy bars we’ve used the weight saving is the main reason to consider the Cowbell Carbon. While it’s 80g lighter than the standard $50 / £45 Cowbell, it’s only 50g lighter than the $80 / £72 Cowbell Deluxe it’s not the most cost-effective dieting option. 

Verdict

Salsa’s Cowbell Carbon bar comes in loads of width options with a useful flare, plenty of space for clamp-on accessories and classic drop curves and flat top for free-range hand placement. The precise, buzz-free feel and low weight will particularly please racers too but it does all come at a cost.

Tech Specs: Salsa Cowbell Carbon gravel handlebar

  • Price: $215.00 / £215.00
  • Weight: 231g (46cm)
  • Sizes: 38, 40, 42, 44, 46cm
Guy Kesteven

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He got an archaeology degree out of Exeter University, spent a few years digging about in medieval cattle markets, working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit he’s also coughed out a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too. We trust Guy's opinion and think you should, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel Ltd MTBs, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Cannondale Supersix Evo Dura-Ace Di2 Disc road bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg