The Gusset S2 35mm handlebars are a great quality and well-shaped option that looks ace and is available in several rises to suit most riders' needs. Gusset has sacrificed compliance for outright precision though with a direct steering response that can become a little harsh on extended descents. The black-on-black angle adjust markings are also a little hard to read and they aren't the lightest option among the best MTB handlebars.
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Gusset S2 handlebar - Technical details
Gusset has been in the game for many years now and, although perhaps not the most familiar sight on the trails, the company has a brilliant range of products that match the quality and performance of more high-profile rivals. The S2 handlebars are the brand's flagship oversize mountain handlebar with a 35mm clamping area and a full 800mm span to cater for everything from trail to full-blown DH riding and everything in between. There's no carbon here - Gusset has instead opted for custom swaged and butted 7075 aluminium tubing to ensure solid and reliable performance whilst offering a degree of compliance and flex.
Dimensions are bang up to date, with 5 degrees of upsweep and 8 degrees of backsweep, and they are available in 10, 20, 30 (tested) 38 or 50mm rises allowing riders to tune their stack heights to their preferred number.
In a nod to Henry Ford, the S2 only comes in one colour - black. However, Gusset has chosen to step away from the usual dull matt finishes with a cool deep gloss-mirror black finish that contrasts nicely with the two-tone stealth graphics and stylish etched silver Gusset logos that flip mother-of-pearlesque in the sunlight. This is a lovely-looking bar that adds a touch of understated class to any cockpit.
Also present are cut and alignment markings for easy trimming and cockpit setup, although the black-on-black print does mean they are quite hard to see.
At 348g, weight is reasonable for such a burly full-width bar, but is perhaps a tad heavier than some rival bars in this category.
Gusset S2 handlebar - Performance
Handlebars may not be the most exciting of products but a good quality well-proportioned bar can completely transform how a bike rides. Bar feel itself is quite subjective and really down to personal taste. Some riders prefer a more flexible bar for a compliant, forgiving ride that filters out trail buzz, while more aggressive riders often value the pinpoint accuracy and outright strength a stiffer bar provides - too stiff though and the ride feel becomes harsh and unforgiving and fatigue and arm pump can set in.
I would say the Gusset S2 falls somewhere between these two extremes with its 35mm centre section. It's certainly no wet noodle - it's a torsionally stiff and direct bar that feels rock solid railing high-speed berms or smashing through g-outs and compressions. Precision is top-notch with no vagueness whatsoever - it's simply a case of point-and-shoot. This was most apparent negotiating fast janky trails and tight tech lines, where last-second direction changes were almost telepathic thanks to that pinpoint accuracy.
Generally speaking, I found the S2 a pretty comfortable handlebar, too, and it was only when the tracks got longer and rougher that I experienced any discomfort. This was most noticeable when smashing out multiple laps on particularly rough extended descents, where little more trail feedback was transmitted through to my hands than with my usual Renthal Fatbars leading to some arm pump and tired hands. The Renthal Fatbars are the 35mm versions, so it's not just down to the oversized bar clamp - although they will always be a tad harsher than their 31.8 counterparts.
Both bars are constructed using similar 7-Series aluminium, too, so I can only assume the contrast is down to different butting profiles and tube thicknesses. It's not to say it's a night and day difference, but I'd say the Renthal is a slightly more comfortable bar with no perceptible loss in strength or torsional stiffness. Partway through testing, I swapped out my grips to a slightly thicker diameter pair and really enjoyed the solidity of the S2 when combined with a little extra cush to dampen the ride a touch.
The numbers are all pretty standard - the 5-degree up, and 8-degree of back sweep is shared with several top bars, such as OneUp's carbon bar and Spank's Spike handlebar, and make for a comfortable but capable ride position on the bike. Coming from a 30mm rise Fatbar, with the same 5 degrees of upsweep but with one degree less back sweep, the difference is imperceptible on the trail, in fact, ride position is nearly identical which isn't a bad thing considering Fatbars are revered amongst top riders across the planet.
The S2, with its refined mirror-like finish, is a lovely-looking bar that adds a touch of understated class to any cockpit - just so long as you dig the stealthy aesthetic rather than flashy anodised colours. I was a little concerned the glossy finish would mark up easily and my grips and controls would slip on the smooth clamping surface, but I've had no such issue - the finish is proving to be very durable and still looks as good as new and everything has stayed put without having to over torque the bolts. The gloss finish is a bit of a fingerprint magnet but polishes up easily with a quick wipe of a rag or sleeve.
Gusset S2 handlebar - Verdict
At £60, the Gusset S2 handlebar is pretty well-priced compared to much of the opposition. For example, the ever-popular Renthal Fatbar 35 has an rrp of £95.49 and, although it is, without doubt, a fantastic handlebar with its tough shot-peened hard anodised finish and World Cup-winning pedigree, it's also a smidgeon lighter at 315g - I'm not sure it's worth almost twice the price of the Gusset bar - I guess it depends on how much value you place in the kudos of the Renthal badge.
Another set of hard-hitting bars designed for enduro racing and aggressive trail riding is Raceface's Atlas 35 at a slightly more agreeable £80. With a trimmable 820mm span, they offer a little more width than the Gusset S2 whilst also managing to come in a little lighter at 315g. Additionally, if you're into colour matching or standing out from the crowd, it comes in an array of rad colours as well as black and Stealth (black-on-black). Unfortunately though, in its 35mm guise, it gives a pretty harsh ride quality that can quickly beat up your hands, and this is exacerbated if you opt to trim down from the full 820mm width as most non-primate riders probably would!
Another contender in the same price range as the Gusset S2 is PNW Components' brilliant Range Gen 3 handlebar at £53.00. It's another 35mm diameter 800mm wide offering, however, PNW has focused specifically on comfort and ergonomics with a full 10-degree back sweep that PNW says places riders' arms and shoulders in a more natural position that minimises back and wrist fatigue. The comfort factor is further bolstered by using 2014 series aluminium instead of the more usual 6- or 7-Series as it is said to mimic carbon's trail buzz absorbing qualities but in a more cost-effective and durable package. Liam found these claims rang true during testing, finding the Range incredibly forgiving on the trail for an alloy bar without giving up much in the way of torsional stiffness. Minor downsides are the graphics are easily damaged by clamps and it only comes in a 30mm rise which hampers its versatility somewhat.
To summarise, I really enjoyed my time with the Gusset S2 bar. It offers bombproof laser-guided precision on the trail while offering a reasonable level of comfort on all but the longest roughest descents where that stiffness can become tiresome. It's a very versatile bar, too, with a good choice of rises for tailoring stack height, and the sweep figures are bang on the money for aggressive riding. While some may bemoan the lack of colour choices, the gloss black finish looks amazing and seems to be very hard-wearing. If you're in the market for a good-looking, no-nonsense aggro bar at a great price, the Gusset S2 could be just the ticket.