Review: Easton EC90 AX gravel handlebar
I tested Easton's new ergo gravel bar with its size-specific diameters on a big, multi-day ride.
A new edition to Easton’s gravel bar lineup, the EC90 AX features a new size-specific ergonomic top section and the AX series’ standard 16-degree flare.
Lightweight; 16-degree flare; ergo tops offer more hand positions
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The more multi-surface, multi-day rides I do, the more I realize the importance of a well-fitting handlebar.
Having long been a fan of the Easton EC70 AX gravel handlebar, I was excited to try the latest addition to Easton’s adventure-centric AX line. The EX90 AX bar features the same 16-degree flare but boasts a new size-specific ergonomic top section. Bigger bars get a wider top section; narrower bars have a smaller top section.
What better way to test the new bar than on a multi-surface, multi-day ride?
Editor’s note: This review was written in August, 2021 ahead of the EC90 AX’s original late summer launch.
The EC90 AX on the West Elk Loop
The West Elk Loop is one of Colorado’s best bike rides. While technically a 205-mile scenic byway with a 31-mile gravel section, I tweaked it to decrease the miles, increase the amount of gravel, and include an overnight stay in a peach orchard where a Grateful Dead cover band was playing. Seems apropos for an ‘adventure’ themed handlebar review, no?
I tested the 42cm, 208g bar. This width provides ample space for a burrito-type bar bag. I had my flip-flops, dancing clothes, and a few snacks snugly packed into a JPaks burrito bag that sat snugly between the drops. My hands still had plenty of places to go.
The most notable feature of the EC90 AX is the new flat top of the bar, which offers plenty of room for my hands. While similar to a design for aerodynamics, the Easton engineers designed this bar for comfort, to disperse pressure across the palm.
The EC90 AX comes in four widths, with the diameter of the top section corresponding to the size of the assumed rider hand size.
As a rider who has smaller hands, I didn’t think I would like the ergo shape. I often find that attempts to make something ergonomic often result in bigger and bulkier shapes, not necessarily more comfortable ones.
Over 170 miles, however, I didn’t find the ergo diameter to feel that different than the rounded tops of my old bars. If anything, it inspired me to change my hand position more frequently. If I did feel inspired to grasp the top of the bar, it still felt manageable in my hand.
Other than the new ergo tops, the EC90 AX stays true to other tenets of Easton design.
One is the brand’s Maximum Contact Drop (MCD) technology, which is designed to give riders a comfortable wrist position by extending the drop (120mm) and having a shorter (80mm) reach. This, combined with the 16-degree flare that is standard throughout the entire AX bar line, gives these bars the versatility that is integral to high-volume rides.
My version of the West Elk Loop began with the steady climb up Kebler Pass out of Crested Butte. While the dirt on Kebler is incredibly smooth, a summer of heavy all-terrain vehicle traffic and monsoonal rains make it fairly pock-marked and lightly washboarded by early August. Since this was the early part of the ride, I rested my hands comfortably on the hoods while climbing and settled into the drops on the descents.
I can’t speak highly enough of the 16-degree flare. In contrast to the barely-there four-degree flare of Easton’s SLX and Aero bars, the AX series is meant for people who like to do a little mountain biking when they’re gravel riding. And, while the flared bars provide excellent stability and control while descending, I’ve also started to ride in the drops while hammering the flats.
Not the least scenic, but certainly the most monotonous in terms of road surface, I found myself in the drops for much of the flat highway miles along Blue Mesa Reservoir. I was also in a race with time; the monsoons were predicted to come around 1 p.m. I was 110 miles into the ride at that point, and I still felt like I had plenty of hand positions to keep me entertained.
In the end, I didn’t make it home before the monsoon. The last leg of my own version of the West Elk Loop was the 25-mile Ohio Creek Road that begins just outside of Gunnison and links back up to the dirt on Kebler Pass. It was my favorite part of the ride. The road starts out in sagebrush ranchland and undulates gently into the high alpine. I picked out my dream house a hundred times. How were my hands at this point? Just fine!
I have high expectations for my adventure partners, whether they are human or part of the bike. On the West Elk Loop, the EX90 AX met my exacting standards of comfort, performance, versatility, and fun, so we got along just fine.