FSA K-Wing Compact

There are more different bends of handlebars out there than there are makers of helmets. That is to say there are a bunch, but not so many as, say, species of fish. It’s a miracle, really, as the basic shape of the handlebar hasn’t changed as much in the last 50 years as health insurance.

I’ll admit when the original K-Wing was introduced by FSA I laughed. It’s a riser bar for road bikes. ‘What are we going to add next?’ I wondered. ‘Hydraulic brakes?’ Nevermind. Let’s not look to me for innovating new road bike parts. As I mentioned in my review of the original FSA K-Wing, the epiphany for me came when I realized that the way to set up the bar was to set the bottom of the drop equal with the drop of your current bar.

The upshot is that the top of the bar sits more than a centimeter higher than usual, allowing you to sit up more on climbs. It was the smartest use of a deep-drop concept I’d ever encountered.

So I wasn’t exactly thrilled when the bar was discontinued. It’s not exactly FSA’s fault, though. In talking with staffers, they said that when they introduced the K-Wing Compact—a bar intended for riders whose flexibility was so reduced they couldn’t manage the change in position required with the deep drop of the K-Wing—sales of the new bar so completely dominated those of the old K-Wing that orders for the original bar essentially stopped.

Let’s be honest about the original K-Wing, though. The internal cable routing of the K-Wing was comparable to the internal brake cable through a steel Merckx, Colnago or Pinarello the way Paris-Roubaix is comparable to an industrial park crit.

The new bar weighs in at 252g (42cm). Still not the lightest on the market, not by a trailer park mile, and a bit of a surprise that it weighs a few grams more than the original. Think of this new bar as The Who jettisoning Kenny Jones for Zac Starkey. It’s still not Keith Moon, but he knows a thing or two about history and can quote him chapter and verse.

Cable routing on the K-Wing Compact is easier than changing a flat on a front wheel. Really. It’s not worth discussing.

The wing section of the K-Wing Compact is smaller than in the past. It’s still flattened and sloped, but the width of the wing is noticeably shorter. While I didn’t wrap mine, the first thought I had when I looked at it was that you could wrap bar tape around it and: A) not run out of tape, and B) not end up with something so ridiculously large that you feel like you’re gripping a car bumper.

The K-Wing Compact features a 125mm drop, which is one of the shortest drops I’ve seen, but in my measurements, that number seems a bit deceptive. I get 125mm from the center of the drop to the bottom of the clamping section; the wing section still rises a couple of centimeters above this.

I’ve been riding this bar on one of my bikes for several months. Out on the road, my perception isn’t that I’m riding a compact bar. That short compact drop is usually a bit of a shock when I’ve been on more traditional bars. Reaching for the drops feels very traditional, a feature I like. The reach, at 80mm, is more than some compact bars, but shorter than many traditional bars, and honestly, as long as some levers have gotten (7900, anyone?), that’s a good thing. Were I to run Dura-Ace on this bar, rather than Campy, I’d shorten the stem by a centimeter.

Ultimately, what makes this bar “compact” in my mind is the bend of the drop more than any other feature. That graduated radius I’ve come to appreciate in compact bars isn’t as comfortable to my hand as the old ergo bend, but my hand is positioned closer to the lever with the compact bend, so I’m not complaining.

One interesting feature of the K-Wing Compact is that the bar feature a 2-degree outward bend. That means while the ends of the drops on my bar were 42cm apart (c-c), the levers mount a full centimeter closer together. Whether this feature will work for everyone may be open to some debate, but I found I liked having the levers a bit closer together without sacrificing any width at the drop.

And for you sprinters out there: This bar is plenty stiff. Most aluminum bars I used over the years were more flexible than this bar.

The bar comes in three widths: 40, 42 and 44cm (all measured c-c). Online, it tends to sell for $241, though I’ve seen it for less on occasion.

The bar is finished with a layer of 3k weave over which a thick layer of clear gloss has been sprayed. This will provide the bar with excellent protection from the lever clamps, but more important is the protection the structural carbon will be afforded from scratches, bumps and drops. I’m as confident in the strength of this bar as I am in any aluminum bar I ever used.

I wouldn’t mind running this bar on every bike I own.

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14 comments

  1. Dan

    Thanks for the review. I was psyched when this bar came out and have been using it for the past year. I love it and am considering putting it on my 2nd bike as well. Keep the reviews coming.

  2. Mr. Fly

    Can I summarize your review to “This handlebar saves one from having to buy a stem with a bit more rise and makes the bike look cooler.”? As an engineering exercise, it ranks right down there with riser bars – compromising on weight, strength and manufacturing ease, just to look good. Just ask Keith Bontrager.

  3. sophrosune

    I like these bars too. Sometimes engineering comes together in a way that the diagrams and specifications could have never predicted and you get something special. Actually riding these items and giving thoughtful descriptions of one’s impressions is always a worthy enterprise. Thanks again, Padraig.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Dan: Glad to hear you’ve had good success with the bar.

      Steve: It’s me.

      Mr. Fly: I think there’s a chance you missed the point of the review. I’m not terribly concerned with how “cool” the bike looks. The bar’s real selling point is allowing you to sit up more on climbs—allowing you to generate more power—without sacrificing your current position on the hoods or in the drops. Also, most folks who might consider switching bars probably don’t have the ability to raise their stem, at least, not without replacing their fork, too. Given how few deep-drop bars are made, I think this bar’s value is more than assured.

      Sophrosune: Thanks for the kind words.

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  5. leif

    I have been using these on my cross bike for the last 3 years…solid gold!
    Tops are good for tempo and drops are comfy for laying out single track descents with out fagging out.

  6. Hank

    The old AVA rando bars had raised tops allowing a more upright position versus the hoods and drops. Compact bars really need the extra lift on the tops as there is little variance in position with short drops and tiny ramps and bars are set much lower because of the short drop. Makes perfect sense, an old idea applied to a new shape.

  7. Bikelink

    Why do all the manufacturers (that I’ve seen) only put that nice drop sweep into the compact models? I’m using the alloy version of this now, like it, but would like to now move back to a full drop but with a similar shape. The ‘ergo’ drops force only one position (or something like that). “Traditional” rounded drops aren’t flat enough going forward from the tops to the hoods.

  8. Hank

    Bikelink

    Try the Modolo X-Boost / X-tra. Same large radius curve into the drops as a compact bar but with a drop of 145 and a reach of 102. Plus the tops have a nice curve into the long ramp. It’s the only bar with decent reach and drop with that curve that I know of.

  9. Hank

    Padraig

    No reason that the drop shape now standard in compact bars could not be applied to bars with more drop. It really provides a better purchase along its length then either ergo or traditional and it works as well for a 145 drop as a 125

  10. Bikelink

    @Hank. I actually bought the Modolo Kaly 2-3 yrs ago, which looks similar with perhaps a shorter reach. The problem I have with that one is that in order to get the flat tops to not be tilted back towards me, I have to rotate the whole bar forward, making the transition into the hoods downward (not good). It’s so hard to look at a picture and tell…would have to see the new models you mention in person to see what it looks like at the right angle.

    I feel like i’m looking for what most are these days but it’s hard to find! Nice horizontal transition to hoods for flat rest in the hoods position (flat shape to bar on the tops a bonus when going easy in that position), with a curve in the drops that allows multiple positions including near horizontal for standing up better.

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