Every time Dirt Rag editor Eric McKeegan looked at the Soma Condor drop bars on my gravel bike, he just shook his head and laughed. Which made me laugh. Why? Because they do look pretty ridiculous.
But all giggles aside, these bars do have a purpose aside from looking funny, and that’s to provide an alternative bar option for people who want the benefits of drops but have fit issues or never liked traditional offerings.
The Condor is dubbed as an “ambitious alternative drop bar,” a statement that I can certainly agree with. It has more curves than you can imagine – in fact, there’s no part of this bar that isn’t bending in some way. With rise, backsweep, upsweep and shallow flared drops, it offers hand positions galore and is ideally suited for long days in the saddle. Rotating the bars forward and back can emphasize or deemphasize certain characteristics depending on the wants and needs of the individual using them.
These aluminum drop bars were originally designed for the Japanese market, but Soma decided to try their luck in the States and see if this unique design would fly. Because of their intended market, the Condor bars weren’t designed with large hands and wide shoulders in mind. The XL size bars are 49 cm wide at the drops and 44 cm at the hoods, while the medium (the smallest size available) is only 45 cm wide at the drops and 40 at the hoods. The large is somewhere in the middle and the size that I tested, which I find somewhat amusing because, at 5 feet 3 inches, I’ve never been a size large of anything in my life.
I didn’t expect to love or even like these bars, but they surprised me. I should have been a little more open-minded going in, because I did suffer from lower back pain while using traditional drop bars on rides longer than about five hours as well as occasional hand numbness. I previously attempted to fix these ailments by swapping stems, but soon resigned myself to accepting that they were just a part of doing long rides.
Enter the Condor bars. I won’t say my issues were magically solved – regular stretching and riding are also vital – but I will say that I did a 10 hour ride last weekend with absolutely no back pain whatsoever and a number of other all-day rides over the past few months that resulted in similar outcomes.
The shallow drop allowed me to spend much more time in the drops without discomfort than on “normal” bars. Most of my long rides on the gravel bike are mixed surface, with chunky dirt roads and even some singletrack thrown in occasionally, so having the extra control that riding in the drops offers while maintaining a less aggressive position is very advantageous. I used to dread long, loose gravel descents because I knew that being in the drops for so long would hurt my back and neck, but the Condor bars have all but obliterated that issue.
As Soma says, the Condor is not a better bar for everyone, but it may be a solution for riders who find other types of drop bars not working for them. Bike fit is a very personal thing, and what worked for me may not work for you, but if you’re a smaller rider (or at least have small hands and relatively narrow shoulders) and traditional drops bars aren’t cutting it or you have experienced similar issues to my own, the Condor just might be your ticket to soaring down the road (or wherever your adventures take you) in comfort for miles.