It seems like gravel, adventure, all-road bikes are set to stay with us. We have already seen the arrival of a myriad of gravel-specific tyres launched over recent months, along with bike packing bags and saddles tuned for lumps and bumps. It was only a matter of time until the final contact point got its own unique shape.
While we’ve seen plenty of road bars with added flare for cyclocross duties and touring, these have always been an adaptation of a road bar, such as the GT Grade’s flared drops, or Salsa’s Woodchipper off-road drop bar.
The new Ritchey VentureMax owes more to the classic shape found in the likes of On-One’s Midge bar – one of the earliest, widely available flared drop bars. The Midge and its ilk came in a one-size-fits-all shape, but Ritchey has made a bar with a super-shallow drop and a huge 24-degree flare. It's also available in sizes from 38cm to 46cm, going up in 2cm increments. These widths may sound like your average road bar, but this measure (effectively from hood centre to hood centre) is only part of the story. When you add in the flare, the actual width in the shallow (102mm) drop is a mountain bike-wide 54cm.
Up on the hoods the WCS feels like any other bar, aside from the slight inwards canter on the levers. You feel the difference when you’re down in the drops. The shallow 102mm with a short 76mm reach (distance from the centre line on the bar to the hood position) combine with a six-degree sweep, which means it’s never a stretch to get down and stay down in the drops. The extra width means a much better level of control when things get bumpy, twisty, steep, or all three. The flat of the drop has a small but significant extra bend that creates a palm-sized bump, or 'Bio-bend' as Ritchey calls it, which feels comfortable to hold and provides a bit of extra hand purchase when riding through rougher sections of trail.
The bonus of the extra width is that you get more room for the bar to flex, all but eliminating any buzz. We matched the bar to Ritchey’s Pavé tape, a thick gel-backed EVA material that’s one of the most comfortable we’ve tried.
At 295g, the VentureMax isn’t going to appease weight weenies, but the feel, finish and performance adds sparkle to any off-the-beaten-track-styled bike. It may look unconventional, but the performance is up there with the best that we’ve ridden with.