MXA TEAM TESTED: NEKEN SFH HANDLEBARS & ULTRA-THICK GRIPS
WHAT IS IT? Advances in handlebar design are few and far between. Steel bars with a cross brace welded on dominated the early days of motocross. The solid bar-stock aluminum Inter-Am handlebar of the 1970s was the first successful aluminum bar. Renthal originally only made hollow aluminum bars for trials bikes, but entered the motocross market in 1975 with hollow 7/8-inch aluminum bars with a clamp-on crossbar, which, in 2004, became the first aluminum handlebar to be spec’ed on a Japanese production bike. ProTaper upped the aluminum handlebar stakes in 1991 with the first oversized 1-1/8-inch tapered aluminum handlebar. The next big change in bar design—actually a small change—was the ProTaper Micro Bar, which retained the standard 7/8-inch bar size until it got to the grips and throttle sections and then shrunk the tubing by 5mm to accept smaller grips for the small hands of minicycle riders. Now, in 2018, the Neken SFH handlebar is putting a new spin on handlebar and grip design.
WHAT’S IT COST? $113.95 (bars), $21.95 (throttle/ grips), $10.95 (replcement grips_.
CONTACT? www.nekenusa.com or your local Part Unlimted dealer.
WHAT STANDS OUT? Here’s a list of things that stand out with the Neken SFH handlebars.
(1) Concept. Neken first showed MXA its air-suspended SFS (Smooth Feeling Suspension) triple clamp and a prototype of the Neken SFH (Smooth Feeling Handlebar) bar way back in 2013; however, the SFH handlebar was back-burnered as Neken focused on marketing the air-suspended triple clamp. It took five years before Neken released its innovative handlebar idea. It is similar to the minicycle-focused Micro-Bar, but in reverse. Since both bars were developed at the same time, neither party seems to have borrowed the idea from the other, as evidenced by their different approaches. Unlike the Micro-Bar, which allows the grips to be smaller, Neken wants to make the grips bigger—or, more accurately, “thicker without changing their outer dimensions.” The Neken SFH handlebars are standard 1-1/8-inch (25.4mm) oversize handlebars that taper gradually down to 22mm (7/8-inch) and then, in the last 6 inches, to 18mm (5/8-inch). In effect, the SFH bars are 5mm smaller in the clutch and throttle sections than on a normal handlebar. But, rather than use the extra 5mm to downsize the grips for small hands, Neken makes its full-size adult grips that is 4mm thicker. That is double the thickness of a normal grip on the OD, but 5mm small on the ID.
(2) Performance. Doubling the thickness means the extra cushion of Kraton rubber offers a grippier surface and softer feel while reducing vibration from the engine and suspension. Every MXA test rider was skeptical of the tapered handlebar ends and cushy grips, but once on the track their doubts went away. Although double in thickness, the Neken half-waffle grips have the exact same outer diameter as a normal grip. The grips themselves were ultra-soft and plush. Test riders reported a reduction in vibration, more comfort and less hand fatigue. Additionally, the strength of the handlebar was not compromised by the smaller ends, because the load on a handlebar is closer to the bar mounts, not the bar ends.
(3) Bends. Neken SFH bars are offered for all modern bikes. They also come in bright two-tone colors with a bar pad and the downsized throttle tube, which is required to fit on the 18mm bar ends.
(4) Thickness. If you own a bike with a lock-on grip, you should understand that the plastic sleeve that slips on your handlebars takes up grip space. Thus, the thinnest and hardest grips will always be found with a lock-on grip. The grip’s rubber can be as thin as 1mm. A regular-size glue-on grip could be as much as twice the thickness of a bolt-on grip (because it doesn’t have the plastic sleeve on the clutch side–there’s no way to get around the plastic sleeve on the throttle side). Thus, glue-on grips are thicker and softer on your hands (without either one of them changing their outside diameters).
With the Neken SFH grip (and bars) you get a glue-on grip for the clutch side that is twice as thick as a normal glue-on grip and even thicker yet than a lock-on grip. Plus, since Neken downsizes the throttle side of their handlebars and supplies a small diameter throttle tube to match the downsized bar end, the throttle side of the Neken set-up is also twice as thick.
WHAT’S THE SQUAWK? Because the 18mm bar ends ramp up to 22mm, you have to take care when installing the throttle housing to ensure that the throttle tube does not touch the ramp or the throttle will drag. Additionally, place a small patch of tape on the end of the throttle tube before gluing the grips on to keep runaway glue from getting inside the throttle tube and gumming up the works.
MXA RATING: It is easy to think of the SFH handlebar as a handlebar design, but it is really all about the grips. If your hands suffer from blisters, fatigue, vibration or comfort issues, the Neken SFH bars are for you. They smooth out the rough spots.