Handlebars. I’ve always struggled to get excited about them. Black, silver, carbon, alloy or steel, they’ve always seemed a bit dull to me. Then a couple of weeks ago I put some Midge bars on my ‘cross bike, and I’ve turned into a handlebar geek. They’ve transformed my bike and the way I ride.
Midge bars look really old fashioned. They would have been retro when your grandparents were kids. I’ve only ever seen anything like them in old photos taken at a French velodrome in about 1908. As I recall, the rider had a walrus moustache, and I think he posed for a portrait afterwards, smoking a hard-earned Gauloise.
Midge bars might look like something from a bygone age, but there’s nothing retro about the construction – they’re aluminium alloy, custom drawn specially for On-One. They’re anodised black, with nice laser etching on the front central part of the bars. There’s even a picture of ‘Midge’ himself (if you don’t know who Midge is, and why he should beware of the lift doors, you’re just showing your age, or lack of it). The feel like top quality modern kit.
Unlike a lot of ‘custom’ kit on the market, you can’t doubt that these bars really have been custom made. Just a glance will tell you that. First of all, these bars are WIDE. Really, really wide – 58cm centre-to-centre on the drops. Your normal bars are probably 42cm wide. Also, your bars probably have vertical drops, at 90 degrees to the flat central section of the bars. Not these bars, they have really shallow drops that flare outwards at 113 degrees. They also use a mountain bike stem, with a clamp diameter of 25.4mm (rather than 26mm on a road stem). Like I said, weird.
The pictures and spec of the bars don’t really prepare you for what they look like in the flesh. After they arrived from On-One, they sat on the workshop bench for a couple of days before I had the nerve to put them on the bike. Once on the bike, they looked weirder. Just look at the pics. I was beginning to wonder if there had been an awful cock-up at the handlebar bending factory as I wheeled my bike out onto the road for my first ride, under cover of darkness – I really wasn’t sure I wanted to be seen out with them in public.
On the road (and trail)
Wow. How can something that looks so weird feel so good? It was love at first ride. Everything about the Midges just feels so right. After taking them for a thrash round the woods in a local ‘cross race, I think we’re going to be inseparable in the cold winter months to come.
Riding on the hoods, everything feels just so comfy. The outward flare of the bars puts the levers in just the right place, easy to reach both gear and brake levers. From there, it’s just an easy stretch to the drops. The tight bend of the bars leaves the levers in easy reach. If you get on the drops and sprint out of the saddle it feels like you’ve got so much leverage you could pull the headset off the bike – I found I was immediately powering over hills in a high gear just for fun.
Riding off-road took a little more getting used to. The width of the bars gives great control, but at the expense of rather ‘slow’ handling. At first it felt like I was driving a bus. You have to put in a lot more steering input than with normal bars. But after a few minutes you get the hang of it. The shallow drops really come into their own on technical sections – whether it’s uphill or tearing downhill, they add power and control. After a 3 year lay-off from cross I was happily overtaking other riders on tricky descents. I just wish I’d had the legs to do the same on the climbs.
I put a set of On-One brake levers on the flats (see pics, review coming soon), and they complemented the bars really well – plenty of width across the tops means that you can use these brakes and still control the bike.
Two weeks later, and they still look weird, but I wouldn’t part with my Midges for all the tea in China. They’re so comfy, I find they make me want to get on the bike and ride. Every part of the bars seems to work perfectly – the tops are spacious, the brake hoods comfy, the drops feel natural. I’ve never used a set of bars that are so well designed, and I haven’t seen anything else that looks remotely like them: except in those old photos. They’re weird, but I’m proud to be seen in public with them. All I need to do now is grow that walrus moustache and buy some Gauloises….