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The Goldilocks of Carbon MTB Handlebars: PNW Loam Review

PNW's new Loam Carbon mountain bike handlebars are designed with comfort in mind. BUT they're not meant to be the most comfortable bars on the market. Instead, they're just stiff enough to strike the perfect balance between compliance and control.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:MTB

Anyone who rides rough trails filled with rocks, roots, ruts, and bumps has probably experienced sore or fatigued hands at some point. That’s where PNW’s new Loam Carbon handlebars come in. The Loam Carbon bars are designed with compliance in mind.

But interestingly, PNW didn’t set out to make the most compliant carbon bar on the market. Instead, they made the bar that they wanted to ride — a handlebar with the right balance of compliance and stiffness to create a better balance of comfort and control.

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PNW Loam Carbon Highlights

PNW Loam carbon handlebar first look details

  • Width: 800mm 
  • Clamp: 35mm
  • Rise: 25mm / 38mm
  • Upsweep: 5°
  • Backsweep: 10°
  • Minimum width: 740mm
  • Weight: 234g (25mm rise), 236g (38mm rise)
  • Maximum Rider Weight Limit: 286 lb
  • Color customization w/ decal kit
  • $149.00

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PNW Loam Carbon Handlebar Details

PNW Loam carbon handlebar reviewLike many other component brands, PNW believes carbon fiber is the optimal handlebar material (feel free to disagree) and the most compelling reason to choose a carbon bar over aluminum is comfort. 

Carbon fiber naturally damps out more vibration than aluminum does, but more importantly, the nature of the material means the carbon can be laid up and tuned to offer very specific ride characteristics. The PNW engineers designed the Loam Carbon bar to have just enough flex to suit their needs. That's the important part of the story here. 

Compliance is important, especially on the rough trails of the Pacific Northwest where PNW is based. But PNW’s engineers explained that after they ride-tested many of their competitors, they felt that the compliance-oriented bars currently on the market might feel TOO compliant, especially horizontally

PNW Loam carbon MTB handlebar compliance and comfort vs. controlToo much horizontal compliance can reduce (your feeling of) control and confidence. The goal with the Loam Carbon handlebar was to find the perfect sweet spot between vertical compliance for comfort and horizontal stiffness for control. In their words, they wanted something “al-dente” — not too soft, but not too firm. 

PDW accomplished the desired balance using "CBD," which stands for Compliant Bore Design. (Also, they had to have chosen "CBD" on purpose, right? It's too funny!) The Loam Carbon has a unique inner bore profile that has a consistent, optimized wall thickness. Using EPS molding in it construction, PNW was able to precisely control the design of the inside of the handlebar as well as the outside, achieving the ideal vertical compliance to smooth out trail chatter, without sacrificing horizontal stiffness to maintain predictable handling.

The bar is also shaped using the same “anti-fatigue geometry” used on PNW’s alloy Range handlebar. Essentially, it has a bit more sweep than many competitors with 5 degrees of upsweep and 10 degrees of backsweep (most handlebars use 7-8 degrees of backsweep).  

The Loam Carbon handlebar is built using high-grade carbon fiber and it has been fatigue and impact-tested, so it is rated to be strong enough for aggressive E-MTB and downhill riding. And for those who love to color-coordinate, a decal kit gives you multiple color options to match your bike or other PNW components. 

PNW Loam Carbon Handlebar Ride Review

PNW Loam Carbon MTB handlebars ride reviewPros

  • Excellent feel with well balanced comfort and stiffness
  • The higher backsweep worked really well (for me)
  • Color customization
  • Price


  • Limited rise options
  • High backsweep may not work for everyone?

When it comes to comfort-focused carbon handlebars, the OneUp Carbon bars have been the poster child and benchmark for the last few years. I mentioned earlier that the PNW engineers ride-tested competitors and found them to be “too compliant.” They didn’t outright name the OneUp bar, but I think it’s pretty easy to deduce that the OneUp bar is what they are referring to. When I pried a bit, they said it rhymed with “somewhat.” Hmmm…

OneUp carbon handlbars vs. PNW Loam CarbonOne of my bikes (in the middle of being built) with OneUp handlebars. I later sold them when I didn't gel with them. 

I did ride the OneUp bar for several months back in 2020, but I don’t currently use them on any of my own bikes. Why? Well, it all comes down to feel. 

The OneUp Carbon bars flex more than almost any other MTB handlebar I’ve ever ridden. The only handlebar I’ve tried that exceeds the OneUp is the Fasst Company Flexx handlebar, which is super weird and absurdly expensive, so I never recommend it. For riders who want to maximize comfort for their hands or arms, I think OneUp’s handlebars are a great option. 

Renthal carbon fatbar vs. PNW Loam Carbon handlebarsI ditched the OneUps and went back to Renthal, which has been my benchmark carbon bar for years... Until now?

Ultimately, though, I decided it wasn’t for me. After testing my OneUp bars back-to-back with my tried and true Renthal Fatbar Carbon handlebars, I found I preferred the more direct and predictable feel of the slightly stiffer Renthals. I felt more confident and in control, and for that, I was willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort. 

Unfortunately, I've stopped buying Renthals because of issues I had with their finish and stems. So when PNW showed me the Loam, it got me excited. Could it be my ideal Goldilocks handlebar  — not too stiff, not too compliant, but just right?

I won’t drag this on with more rhetorical questions and just say: yes, the Loam Carbon does exactly what it advertises. It’s much more comfortable than my current Race Face Next R handlebars, but it doesn’t feel quite as flexy as my old OneUp handlebars. 

PNW Loam Carbon MTB handlebar reviewI have been riding the PNW Loam Carbon handlebars on my trail bike for the past month. I'm using the 25mm rise option, cut to 770mm, and I’m also using PNW’s Range Gen 3 stem. Since installing them, I’ve done over a dozen rides on my roughest and rockiest local trails. 

The improvement in comfort is subtle but noticeable. It has the muted feel that you already get with good carbon bars, just turned up a notch or two. The Loam Carbon won’t erase the trail (no bar will) but will reduce soreness and fatigue enough that you can get an extra run or two at the bike park or keep your hands fresher to handle multiple days in a row of downhill riding. It’s still early days, but after a month of testing, the bars are likely staying on my bike. 

PNW Loam Carbon MTB handlebar reviewInstalled on my current bike. I'm planning to add the teal decals to match my frame logos. 

If you want some point of comparison, here’s how I rank all the carbon handlebars I’ve ridden in the past 5 years from the stiffest to most compliant:

  • Race Face SixC (35mm) - The stiffest thing ever
  • ENVE M7 (35mm) - Too stiff for me
  • Race Face Next R (35mm) - Still a bit too stiff for me
  • Race Face Next SL (35mm) - Pretty good
  • ENVE M6 (31.8mm) - Pretty good
  • Renthal Fatbar Carbon (35mm) - Pretty good
  • Renthal Fatbar Carbon (31.8mm) - My old favorite
  • PNW Loam Carbon (35mm) - Just right? I'm starting to think so...
  • OneUp Carbon (35mm) - A bit too flexy for me

This is all my own opinion, and of course, my squishy body doesn’t have a built-in dyno, so take these stiffness rankings with a MASSIVE grain of salt.

Overall, I’d put the Loam Carbon slightly above my old 31.8mm Renthal Fatbar carbons in terms of comfort, while feeling very similar in terms of horizontal stiffness/control. (I do feel like handlebar makers have gone in a big circle to design 35mm handlebars to match or exceed the performance of 31.8mm handlebars, but that is a discussion for another post.) To me, this is a very high compliment.

PNW Loam carbon MTB handlebar review finishThe finish looks exceptional, and I really appreciate how that vertical line made it super easy to center the bars. 

Also, to my surprise, the thing that I ended up liking the most about the Loam Carbon isn’t even the headline feature, it’s the extra backsweep. For years, I’ve been riding handlebars with 7-8 degrees of backsweep. The Loam Carbon is the first bar I’ve tried with 10 degrees of backsweep, and I’ve found it to be a lot more ergonomic. For me, it reduces the pressure I tend to feel at the outside edges of my palms and wrists during long (2+ hour) rides.

I’ve experiemented with high sweep bars in the past with 15 degrees or more of backsweep. While they were comfortable, I didn’t feel confident once the trail got technical. But once again, it feels like PNW found a Goldilocks amount of sweep (for me) with the Loam Carbon. If you experience pressure, pain, or soreness at the outside edge of your palms or wrist, the Loam carbon might be worth trying just for the extra sweep. If carbon is too pricey, then PNW’s Range Gen 3 alloy bars have the same geometry. 

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On the topic of price, one of the things I like about PNW is how reasonably they price all of their products. The Loam Carbon is $149, which makes it cheaper than most of its carbon competitors.  

My one main knock against the Loam Carbon is the rise options. I tend to prefer my handlebar rise to come in increments of 10mm, so having 25mm and 38mm as the only options does irk me a tiny bit. Not that I can tell the difference between a 20mm and 25mm rise, but when you’re spending over $100 on handlebars, little details matter. But I’m nitpicking.

All things considered, these bars paired with a cushy set of grips are probably what I’m going to run on my trail and enduro bikes for the foreseeable future. 

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