REVIEW | EDITORIAL
Soma Dream Handlebar Collaboration
When is a handlebar more than a handlebar? Sure the 25° backsweep is massive and anything outside the regular 7-9° range is automatically interesting if only because it's different. The 50mm rise is massive but it seems these days every third rider is on a Chromag FU40 with a couple headset spacers underneath so that might just be perfect. For those that like to experiment, 50 USD isn't a huge outlay to try something different and that in itself is interesting as normally niche products come with a niche price tag.
No, I think what makes the Soma Dream bar interesting is the fact it's a collaboration between Soma Fabrications and a local bike shop, Vancouver's Dream Cycle, to bring to market a product they felt was missing from riders' options. In an industry of largely piffling improvements, I truly hope it's a harbinger of more manufacturers mining for products - big and small - that could make a difference for enough riders to matter instead of offering another limited colourway.
Going way back to the year 5 BC* or so I sort of knew a couple of guys who worked at FSA in Washington State named Chris and Sam. They were into rickshaws and tall-bike jousting and backroom-brazing their own geometry experiments. In a word: interesting. And most interesting, to me, was that they were into modifying existing parts to work better for them.
Whether it was micro-cutting crown races into split races so they could be installed without tools or filing horizontal dropouts to shorten wheelbases it inspired me to cut, grind, file, and thread my own ideas - one of my favourite hobbies to this day. It also made me acute to the plethora of fantastic bike hacks and interesting ideas floating around our little human-powered bicycle world.
*BC = Before Clutch (Derailleur)
As the bike industry matures there continues to be evolution when it comes to both design and componentry but by a large measure this progress is revisionary. Increasing stiffness, adding a cog, bumping up reach until it's necessary to reduce offset, etc.
There are exceptions. Riders were coming up with various ways to jury-rig handlebar extenders long before FSA started manufacturing the Gravity Light 800mm in 2007. I know plenty of folks who were riding 1x drivetrains on their trail bikes before SRAM released their first 10-42t cassettes. But for every crazy idea like HammerSchmidt or the Wolftooth Tanpan or even the Wheels Manufacturing Emergency Hanger* that are dreamed up and then produced, how many never make it past the bullshitting over a beer phase?
*These were awesome when most bikes had 10mm QR rear ends and hangers were all made of cheese. I was regularly lending mine out.
Now back to what you're thinking. Yes, this is just a bloody handlebar, not something innovative like an affordable -2° angleset. Is it a wide, 780mm, cruiser bar or a massively swept back regular width mountain bike bar? Both. According to the folks at Dream Cycle, it's modeled after mountain bike bars in the 1980s and intended for the same purpose as those bikes - comfortably getting off the pavement and seeing things under your own power.
These days it's called bike packing, touring, and sometimes gravel grinding* and I'm sure many other nuanced categories of riding.
*The steel bike full-dangle DSLR in the bar-bag kind - not the Rapha kit and 30mm travel Lauf fork kind.
I've appreciated Dream Cycle's bicycle philosophy since the shop opened on Commerical Drive in 2006. They know what they do* and for almost 13 years they've been doing it. Take a quality steel frame - road, commuter, mountain, cruiser, fat bike, etc - and then min-max the part spec so it's pumped up where a rider will really notice it over the life of the bike and budget where they won't.
When Darren et. al, are not pumping out repairs they build everything from commuter bikes on a budget to full custom dream machines - from the frame up.
*It's been said that the secret of success in business is knowing what you don't do.
I mention it because, despite being a small shop, building bike spec custom from the ground up gives Dream outsized pull with manufacturers they've supported long term who are looking to make aftermarket sales and I think there are a number of shops specializing in frame-up custom mountain bike builds who could be doing the same - not to mention manufacturers that could really use some fresh products.
Just this week I overheard a conversation about trying to build a bike for a customer who's bought into the industry drive to stick the shortest riders on long travel 29" bikes. Where are the negative rise handlebars, aside from boutique Syntace options, to deal with massive minimum stack heights? Where are the dropper posts that also move the saddle forward to allow for tire-saddle clearance with dropper posts longer than 100mm?
Soma Dream Bar
More than all that, where are all the companies making 12°, 14°, 16°, and 18° backsweep bars in mountain bike widths? Yeah, most riders will probably stick with 7-9° but guess what - they're covered with infinite options. At this point, I'm happy to have one great option for the 16° | 780mm bar my wrists and elbows prefer.
How much backsweep is too much? I tried a number of different stems with the Soma Dream Bar. There's no direct translation of bar sweep and stem length, something I discovered dialing in the SQLab 16°, but I was generally happiest with +40mm over a 9° bar and +30mm over my 16° bar.
The climbing position is a surprisingly awesome combination of comfort and power and I could sit longer on my single speed and happily move a higher ratio with gears. It was even great on steep single track climbs like No Quarter. The 25° back | 5° up combo is comfortable with a higher position and on gravel paths and tamer trails, the long stem puts enough weight over the front end to maintain descending capabilities.
Once trails get steep and technical I was quickly out of my element on the Soma Dream. I found the handling vague when rolling into steeps, and both bikes I used it on became a handful to control at speed in rock gardens or any situations with a loose surface. It's the perfect ultra-comfy bar for the bike I ride everywhere other than the trails I regularly ride.
So yeah, it's a brilliant piece of kit. It's not something-for-everyone, but I'm positive that the unique combination of dimensions and price will make for no shortage of Dream Bar sales. More importantly, I hope it stokes Soma, and other manufacturers, to go out and look for the other bar dimensions that would be in demand if they existed. And from there - what other non belly button products are missing?
The Dream Bar sells for 50 USD at Soma or any Soma Dealer near you. It comes in a polished black or silver finish and has 25° backsweep, 5° upsweep, and a 50mm rise in a 780mm length. And it fits a 31.8mm stem clamp.