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Salsa's Cowchipper drop bar is a great way to increase your bike's practicality, with ample room to mount accessories and luggage, and a wide grip stance for enhanced control and stability.
The Cowchipper has been around for years in Salsa's extensive range of gravel and adventure-ready drop bars. These include the Cowchipper Deluxe, in 7050-T6 aluminium alloy, and Cowchipper Carbon, as well as similar versions of the Cowbell and Woodchipper, with respectively less and more flare.
Made from 6061-T6 aluminium alloy, it's available in widths from 38cm to the 52cm version on test, in 2cm increments. The width is measured centre to centre across the drops, where the levers clamp on.
When fitted with Shimano GRX mechanical levers, the distance between the top, central point of the hoods is still 46.5cm, despite the levers being canted inwards by the 24 degrees of outward flare. The distance between the bar ends is 63cm, a width that's totally alien to road riders, and can even be a challenge for some doorways.
The central bulge, where the stem clamps the bar, is a standard 31.8mm diameter, but the bulge extends to 120mm wide, providing ample room for accessories such as Salsa's Anything Cradle, or clip-on aerobars. Such is the 52cm Cowchipper's scale that there's still plenty more flat bar to grip outside of the central bulge.
Salsa states that the bar has 116mm drop, 68mm reach, a 12 degree drop angle and 24 degree flare angle. Our 52cm Cowchipper weighed 353g, which isn't a surprise, as shedding every last gram is pretty irrelevant for this sort of bar.
The first consideration when planning to fit a Cowchipper, unless you're building from scratch, or rebuilding, should be your bike's gear cable and brake hose length. I replaced a 44cm Easton EC70 AX flared bar with this 52cm bar and barely got away with the existing lengths of brake hose and gear cable. If it was going to stay on the bike then there's no question that all of the control lines would need to be lengthened first – see the downright scarily taut front brake hose in the picture. This does of course add to the cost and time required to fit the bar, but if you go for a narrower Cowchipper, things should be less extreme.
A shorter stem is likely to maintain how far you reach to the hoods, as such an increase in bar width as this will make you stretch further. I didn't find it to be a problem throughout the test period, but was always aware of the difference in position.
You might also have to look into longer than average handlebar tape – if you want it taped to the extended central bulge, it's a bit of a stretch for most normal length tapes. For the sake of demonstrating the additional bar tape needed, the image of the bar fitted shows it taped with just less than complete lengths of Lizard Skins tape. I could have eked out another couple of turns by limiting the overlap, but it was never going to cover all of the tops. Salsa and other companies do offer extra-long bar tape.
There's no internal cable routing faff to worry about, just a subtle indentation for cables, which can make a bar swap straightforward – assuming the above points are considered – so the Cowchipper is easy to fit.
Once set up and ready to go, it was only when I stood behind the bar that I really appreciated just how much wider this 52cm version is than my usual 42cm and 44cm bars.
On the bike, the additional width gives you an unavoidably wide stance, which definitely isn't aerodynamic. But aerodynamics won't be a consideration for 99 per cent of Cowchipper customers, as that's at odds with the adventurous, free-roaming ethos that this bar caters to.
The 24 degree flare does create more hood surface area to rest your hands on, making the wider position very comfortable. Riding out of the saddle for the first time took a little adjusting to, but it very soon felt normal.
The bend from tops in to drops is shallow and leaves heaps of room for your wrists when on the drops, although adding the flare to the equation means it's unlikely they'd ever clash. The shallow, compact drops are very ergonomic too, with easy lever reach.
With effectively longer levers on each side of the stem, fine steering control is more precise, something that is more noticeable when running fatter tyres. It gives a more relaxed feel to riding rough stuff, as the wider hand position and altered turning force seem to damp the fork's reactions to the terrain.
When on the hoods, I was aware of how much further the ends of the drops still protruded. I wasn't keen to duel with too much traffic, and had to recalibrate my clearances when riding singletrack or cycle paths with street furniture to negotiate.
Actually riding on the the drops was a blast though, giving a kind of Superman feel, and even more fine steering control. Technical descents on the drops require some larger steering inputs when things get tight, and if things get narrow your hands can feel a bit exposed. There's a definite flex to the Cowchipper bar when on the hoods, and on the drops it's even more noticeable, especially if you heave on them. It's not at all distracting, and must enhance comfort, although I obviously couldn't measure that.
Within one ride I'd become attuned to the Cowchipper's proportions, and really began to enjoy its very wide tops, reminding me of my early 90s mountain bike with its cut-down bar, as was the fashion then.
I didn't ride it with clip-on aero bars, but there's clearly sufficient room to install some, plus a light, GPS mount, and your preferred bar bag or other luggage, all without compromise. The width between the levers means it's unlikely your luggage will impede your ability to hold them comfortably too, which can be the case on some setups.
In value terms, the entry-level Cowchipper is hard to beat. It does all it really needs to, for its intended purpose, and creates a suitable platform for you to use as you see fit. It's cheaper than PNW's Coast bar at £69.99, which has the width, 20 degree flare, and a lifetime warranty, while Ritchey's WCS Beacon gravel bar offers a huge 36 degrees of flare, shallow 80mm drop, and backswept tops for £90. Easton's EA70 AX has 16-degree flared drops for a more subtle effect, and width options from 40cm to 46cm, but is also more expensive at £79.99.
Salsa's Cowchipper is aimed squarely at bikepackers and adventurers looking for additional handlebar space for mounting and carrying stuff, and extra handling stability when they are. Its potential width gives all the space any rider could reasonably need, without restricting usability, it's comfortable, uncomplicated and great value.
The Cowchipper can be super-wide, but is always practical, comfortable and an inexpensive bikepacking option
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Salsa Cowchipper Drop Bar
Size tested: 52cm
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Salsa says, "Cowchipper provides comfort, control, and efficiency for long days in the saddle, whether road touring, crushing mixed surfaces, or conquering the Great Divide. While the Cowchipper retains some resemblance of a traditional road bar, its radical 24° flare in the drops boosts leverage, stability, and comfort dramatically.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
> Lightweight and strong 6061-T6 aluminum alloy construction
> 116mm drop, 68mm reach, 24° flare angle, 12° drop angle
> Available in 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48, 50, and 52cm widths
> 31.8mm clamp diameter with 120mm width for use with Salsa Anything Cradle and aerobars
It performs much like you'd expect a very wide, flared road handlebar to. It makes a big difference to your riding position, but provides masses of space for mounting and carrying things on the bar.
It's made from conventional aluminium alloy, with a tough finish, and so far has resisted scuffs, rubs and scratches well.
At 52cm wide, it could never be lightweight, and that's not what this handlebar is for, so 353g is quite reasonable.
The very wide tops give plenty of handhold choices, the ergonomic, compact, flared drops are very comfy to hold as well, and the added width allows noticeable flex.
At £45, you can't really complain. It compares very well with recent gravel bars we've tested – Easton's excellent EA70 AX is £79.99, Ritchey's WCS Beacon is £90, and PNW Components Coast Handlebar is £69.99
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
There's no shortage of grip options – so long as you're happy with such a wide stance – and definitely no worries about jamming a bar bag or other luggage item between your tilted levers on this bar. Also, the extended central bulge accepts clip-on aero bars and other accessories with ease.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The added fine control with a laden front end, and with larger volume tyres fitted, and such wide tops.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Getting used to the extremely wide position when on the drops, and needing to recalibrate when navigating narrow spaces, such as passing parked vehicles and between trees and posts.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
The Cowchipper is one of the cheapest handlebars of any sort that we've reviewed. Among the gravel bars recently tested, Easton's excellent EA70 AX is £79.99, Ritchey's WCS Beacon is £90, and PNW Components Coast Handlebar is £69.99.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes, but a little narrower.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
No-nonsense, well-shaped and practical, the Cowchipper is a decent option for the big-tyred, fully-loaded bike packer or adventurer who isn't counting grams.
About the tester
I usually ride: Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL6 with Campagnolo Super Record 12s My best bike is: BMC SLR01
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, mtb, Riding with my children, using both a child seat and trailer bike