Flexx Enduro Suspension Handlebars Review
Updated: Mar 5, 2020
What it is: An innovative and adjustable set of suspension handlebars, providing compression and rebound adjustment, similar to what Fasst Company has provided for the moto world for a while.
I'm pretty open about the hand issues I have due to damage and possibly entrapment of the Ulnar nerve in my left hand. I've spent thousands of dollars visiting doctors and trying to find a solution, only to continue to suffer on the bike and get little help from doctors I visited. There are trails here I ride with a regular basis where stopping on a 5-8 min downhill has to happen 3-4 times because my hands couldn't hold on any longer and the pain would often carry over into regular life.
Upon the advice of a friend that rides moto, I decided to re-visit a review I read several months prior, when Fasst Company released a set of mountain bike bars:
Fasst is apparently a fairly well known name in motocross for their bars and I have some friends that ride moto, one of which said that he immediately installs their bars on all of his bikes. When I saw the press release on Pinkbike, like many, I initially wrote them off due to the cost and weight, figuring they'd offer a weird feel on the bike and wouldn't help with the specific issues I have.
After a frustrating visit to the Ortho where the doctor completely disregarded my description of the symptoms I experience and I was told to wear padded gloves (after explaining 3 times I did that to no effect), I decided to give these a shot in hopes they'd help. The real selling point is the 30 day return policy, if they didn't help, then I could send them back. I figured it was a low risk opportunity to try something that may help.
Ultimately, I found I was very wrong in my initial assessment of these not helping and I wish I had bought them a year ago. They aren't a total solve, but they reduce the pain to a manageable level and in some cases, do away with it entirely.
The bars are made in the US, including the carbon tubes epoxied into the ends. The construction, fit and finish, all appear great.
The use of carbon outer tubes is somewhat interesting. I would have expected to see alloy there, but I suppose they went with carbon to save weight. It might be nice at some point to see alloy outers as a less expensive option.
In any case, this may be concerning to some in the 'no carbon' camp, but I've never seen a carbon bar break that didn't seem to break due to overtorque of controls or some massive crash, so they aren't overly concerning as long as you set them up properly.
The carbon outer tubes are also very thick, considerably thicker than any other bar I've used.
The damping of these bars comes from the pivots, not the carbon, so I suppose that allows them to make the outer tubes thicker and focus less on feel, where other bars have to use different designs and shapes to provide a more damped feel. Whether this translates to more durability, I can't say.
The packaging they ship with the bars warns several times not to over torque these, though. I never torque my controls beyond 2-3nm, so they can rotate easily in a crash or I can make adjustments on the trail, but if you like your controls tight, be real careful not to torque beyond recommended torque settings.
The carbon outer tubes are epoxied into an aluminum center, where the titanium pivot hardware is. The pivots rotate on bushings that are pressed in at the factory and not easily accessible, but according to Fasst these won't require regular replacement or service. There is some friction there, but I'm not sure what kind of difference it makes on the trail.
The outer portion of the bar rotates on the pivot and compresses an elastomer, which then rebounds into a smaller rebound elastomer, which controls the feel of the bars upward motion.
The bars come with 4 sets of elastomers, more on these later.
Moving to the center, there are angle markings that let you fine tune the bars position. It's important that these line up with the head tube on your bike and your riding position, otherwise you won't get the full benefit of the compression stroke.
According to the site, the bars use a fairly typical geometry with 5 degree upsweep and 25mm of rise, now with options for both 8 and 12 degree backsweep. The 12 wasn't available when I bought them, so these are the 8.
The elastomers run in several colors, which I experimented with a bit. There are both compression (the large ones on the left) and rebound (the smaller rings on the right) elastomers. Currently there are 4 options:
I tried all but the orange:
Blue - Extra soft - These are extremely soft, likely only for the lightest riders. The bars move with the slightest touch. If I rode these, they'd likely remain fully compressed.
Red - Soft - The reds are a bit firmer than the blue, but it doesn't seem to be a true halfway point between the blue and yellow. I expect some riders in the winter, when the elastomers firm up, may find benefit with these, but other than super light riders, the red elastomers seemed a bit on the soft side, as well. Similar to the blue, you can move the outer portion of the bar with fairly little effort and I couldn't ride with them.
Yellow - Firm - The yellow is a bit of a jump from the red and is firm enough that slight pressure on the bar doesn't yield much. The yellow is the one I've settled on, if you really crank on the outside of the bar and push down on it, you can see and feel it move, but the movement is much more subtle than with the prior two.
Orange - Very firm - I have not tried these, I'll update this review if I do.
My issue with the elastomers is that the blue/red are excessively soft, I can't see many riders finding use for them. The jump from red to yellow is considerable, it seems to me like there would be more uses for elastomers between red and yellow rather than the extremely soft blue and red. More granular firmness options would probably be beneficial between red and yellow.
Ideally, I think it would make more sense to have red be the softest and there be another firmness between the two.
In my case, the yellow felt great. I installed the red, but don't think I could make it work on the trail and went back to yellow.
On the Trail:
As of writing this review, I've been on these bars about two months.
There are a handful of trails in Pisgah that really set my hands on fire, they've been problematic for several years and I took to some of them right off the bat to feel these bars out.
The first is Cove Creek, which isn't overly technical or really that chunky even, until it gets near the bottom where it opens up. In recent years, the trail has washed out a tiny bit and created these sections of washboard like roots that really hurt my hands after the first few sets.
I rode to the bottom of the trail without thinking much about the bars, but noticed my hands were still hurting when I got to the bottom. It was a bit of a downer, until I stopped to realize that I hadn't done the entire thing from top to bottom in over a year without stopping. My hands hurt, but I was able to manage the pain and get through to the bottom.
Another trail that has been a problem since I first rode it: Lower Black Mountain. It's not overly technical, but it's the combination of high speed, small chunk combined with braking forces required that really aggravate my hands.
Naturally, I did my second ride on these bars down Lower Black Mountain to get a feel for how they work out on a trail that has bothered me from day one. At this point, I had probably ridden it top to bottom less than 5 times (per Strava) without having to stop and let my hands cool off, so anything I could do to increase that number was good by me.
The result was really good. I ended up knocking 30 seconds off a 5 minute PR that I had set a year or two prior, riding it from top to bottom several rides in a row without any residual numbness or pain. I got to the bottom and could still feel the discomfort in my hand, but it was reduced considerably and the bars allowed me to get to the bottom without stopping.
A few weeks later, I went to a bike park in NC with some friends and was the only one without hand issues. They didn't hurt at all and others were complaining of pain in their hands. That's a first for me, it is usually the other way around!
So these bars didn't solve my problems, but they helped immensely. I have more control due to the lack of hand fatigue and more endurance on the descents, making the pain or discomfort go away entirely, in some rare cases, or reducing it enough that it was easier to manage.
So this raises an interesting question of what these bars would do for someone without hand issues?
I can't answer that concretely, but I can add that I noticed two interesting side effects of these bars:
The bike felt more stable
I could run firmer suspension
I did isolate these two initially, I kept my suspension settings the same the first few rides, but noticed that the bike remained more composed and tracked better, almost like when you have a smoother fork or improved suspension. I didn't get a jarring feeling when the front end drove into something wrong or I hit a big impact.
Eventually, I firmed up the fork to see how it would change the feel. I think this is where most will find benefits.
There seems to be a compromise in suspension setup between comfort and setting up the fork to stay high in it's travel and avoid dive. If you run your fork too soft, it's more likely to dive, which creates a control issue, but it also wants to swallow up every bump along the way, which isn't great either. If you firm it up, it'll ride higher and skip over bumps more, but feel harsher. I found that these bars allow me to run a firmer setup with less of a feel compromise, which improved the way the bike felt considerably. It allowed me to setup the suspension based on feel of the bike rather than comfort in my hands.
Especially with my issues and where I ride, it's a delicate balance, but the bars help make that balance a lot easier. I still can't run it as firm as I'd like, but it's a lot closer to where I'd want it to be. So who would I recommend this to?
People with hand, shoulders, elbow, or wrist issues will get the most benefit from these bars. The damping provided far exceeds even the most comfortable (e.g. OneUp) bars on the market currently and can be adjusted, albeit current adjustment ranges aren't as useful as I'd like, I expect most riders will end up with either yellow or orange elastomers.
If you find yourself constantly trying to balance comfort of your suspension setup and control, these bars will allow you to setup your suspension firmer for more control and less dive without the comfort compromises that often come associated with that.
Others will see some benefits, primarily in comfort and control. I found that the improvements in control were similar to what you'd expect on a bike that has recent suspension work, where it tracks better and feels smoother, but also is more comfortable and allows you to ride better with less fatigue.
Personally, I'd like to see more innovation in this space, as mountain bikers we pretty heavily abuse our hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, so anything that can provide some additional comfort is valuable.
This isn't exactly a crowded field in the mountain bike space. I wish there were more options for those of us with hand/arm/shoulder issues, but I'll compare to the two most common recommendations I've gotten:
vs. Revolution Suspension Grips : I ran these for a while, they do offer some assistance, however the material the grip is made out of is so firm that it doesn't give much under pressure. The assistance they provide comes from rotation, which is helpful for some types of impacts, but definitely not all of them. I felt more improvement from the Flexx bars than I did Rev Grips, as a result, however it is worth pointing out that a lot of my issues come from pressure on my hand compressing the nerve, which these grips can't really do much about. The design, build quality, and feel of these grips are great, though. The only problem I had was the number of pieces they come in and they did scuff my carbon bar a bit under the grip due to rotation.
vs. OneUp Carbon Bar : The OneUp bar is great, although I wish the geometry was a little different, they felt really good and provided good vibration damping. Compared to the Flexx bar, though, the amount of movement isn't even really comparable and they lack any tuning ability since they are a fixed bar. I think for folks without specific issues, the OneUp bar may be a good solution, but they lack the damping and feel of the Flexx bars.
30 day money back guarantee, you can return them if you don't like them
Great support from Fasst if you have issues
Massive improvement in comfort especially for those with hand issues
System of elastomers allows tuning for various riding styles and preferences
31.8 sizing makes finding inexpensive stems fairly easily
Allows firmer suspension setup without compromises in comfort
Improvements in control similar to improved suspension performance
Carbon outer portion of the bars will turn some off and appears very sensitive to torque settings
Elastomers will firm up in the cold, but can be mitigated with softer elastomers apparently (I'll report back during the winter)
I'd like to see more elastomer choices between the red and yellow, the blue and red seem overly soft for most riding
Minor friction in the pivots make me wonder what it would be like with a lower friction alternative