Zipp Service Course SL-70 XPLR handlebar review

Expertly designed gravel handlebar that's well-suited to a variety of terrain

Zipp SL-70 XPLR gravel bars out on the trails
(Image credit: Luke Friend)
Cycling Weekly Verdict

Supremely comfortable and lightweight, the Zipp Service Course SL-70 XPLR excels as an all-road handlebar. Its short and shallow dimensions feel great, allowing you to move from the hoods to the drops with ease, never having to sacrifice control. When in the drops the amount of flair is well-measured; enough extra width to improve control without affecting the position on the hoods. In the increasingly competitive gravel and all-road market, these handlebars stand out from the crowd.

For
  • +

    Comfortable across a variety of hand positions

  • +

    Degree of flair suited to on and off-road riding

  • +

    Lightweight - 260g for 42cm

Against
  • -

    Nothing!

Zipp’s SL-70 XPLR handlebar forms part of the wider XPLR range, a gravel and adventure-focused line-up from SRAM and its family of brands. Zipp says the flared handlebar is created to match the demands of today’s rider, "from a two hour training ride to a 200-mile gravel adventure".

Zipp SL-70 XPLR handlebars - the construction

The SL-70 XPLR is made from 7050 alloy and is available in sizes 40, 42, 44 and 46cm. Our 42cm bars, measured centre-to-centre, weighed in at a very svelte 260 grams. Zipp also offers the XPLR bar in the cheaper and heavier 70 XPLR version. It’s made from AL-6061 and is roughly half the price of the SL-70 XPLR reviewed here but weighs close to 50 grams more.

Like many bars created for the gravel and all-road sector, the SL-70 XPLR blends a short reach with shallow drops, using both outsweep and flare to create width in the drops for better control. In terms of numbers, the reach is 70mm while the drop is 115mm; both of which are on the shorter and shallower end of the spectrum. 

The SL-70 XPLR comprises a 5 degree drop flair with an 11 degree drop outsweep. To better visualise this, outsweep is created by rotating the drop below the brake lever outward while flare is created by rotating the entire drop above the brake lever outward. In real terms this makes the SL-70 XPLR bar 6cm wider in the drops than in the hoods.

Zipp SL-70 XPLR gravel bars on the trail

(Image credit: Luke Friend)

The top of the bars features an ergonomic design with a subtle 3 degree backsweep. On immediate inspection this ergo top - suitably flat and wide - looked generous in size, a sign that the SL-70 XPLRs could well deliver the comfort that Zipp’s marketing blurb promised. 

In fact, first impressions all round were strong. The bars felt immediately good in the hands; light and compact, with a flare that wasn’t overly pronounced. Setting up the bars confirmed this; the flare allowed me to place the levers so the hoods retained a fairly neutral position akin to a regular drop bar configuration. This is, of course, a preference. You may be entirely comfortable with the more extreme flare, and subsequent hood position, but for my tastes the more refined shape of the SL-70 XPLR was encouraging indeed.

Other plus points when it came to setting up the bars were clear alignment marks that made positioning the levers straightforward and a recessed area under the bars to help keep the cables pretty neat and tidy.

Zipp SL-70 XPLR handlebars - the ride

Some components immediately feel right. It’s usually a blend of the desired characteristics and appealing aesthetics delivered in the correct size. The Zipp bars fell into this camp for me. 

A few miles into my first ride with the bars and those positive first impressions I had when setting the bars up were confirmed. All the numbers seemed to add up; the reach and the drop were spot on, as was the degree of outsweep. Even the gentle backsweep of the tops felt just right.  The effect was akin to riding a tried-and-tested component, one that you reach for without fail when setting up a new bike.

Zipp had referenced comfort and control in its description of the SL-70 XPLRs. For me they delivered both. The short reach with the shallow drop is a combination that allows you to change hand position without radically altering your overall position on the bike. It might prevent you from assuming a super aero position, certainly when compared to more traditional road bars with a deep drop, but these aren’t handlebars built for a bunch sprint. 

Zipp Sl-70 XPLR gravel bars on the trails

(Image credit: Luke Friend)

Rather, they are bars well-suited to long miles in the saddle over varying surfaces. The ergo tops lend yet more comfort, providing a stable platform to rest your palms as well as something substantial to grip onto when climbing. Finally when riding at the end of the drops that extra 6cm of width really does feel reassuring, particularly on off-road descents when regular road bars can make the ride feel pretty 'squirrely'. 

On strictly road rides the SL-70 XPLRs performed just as well. In many respects, they remind me of Ritchey’s all-road offering, the Butano. I’ve been riding these for a while now, singing their praises as a road bar, as well as a gravel bar, to anyone willing to listen. 

I’ll now do the same with the Zipps. The attributes that make the SL-70 XPLR a great gravel bar also ring true on the road. Multiple hand positions for improved control and comfort over longer distances applies to whatever surface you're riding on, especially if its British country lanes that can be as rough and ready as many dirt tracks. 

Value

At £115.00 / US$112.00 the Zipp SL-70 XPLR bars are at the higher price end when it comes to aluminium handlebars. Zipp does offer the bar at a lower price point, the 70 XPLR ,which retails at £57.00 / US$56.00. However it's made of a lesser grade alloy and weighs 50 grams more. The comparable Ritchey WCS Butano bar costs £82.99 / US$104.00.

Verdict

So how to best surmise the SL-70 XPLR handlebars? For me, Zipp’s talk of helping your body and hands to find an ‘optimal comfort zone’ turned out to be more than just marketing spiel. These really are some of the most comfortable bars I’ve ridden. So much so I can imagine them rivaling the Ritchey WCS Butano and becoming a ‘go-to’ for my future all-road or gravel builds. Now if only Zipp made a carbon version…

Specs

  • Weight: 260g (42cm)
  • Sizes: 40, 42, 44, 46cm
  • Clamp diameter: 31.8mm
  • Drop: 115mm
  • Reach: 70mm
  • Outsweep: 11 degrees
Luke Friend

Luke Friend has worked as a writer, editor and copywriter for the past twenty years. Working across books, magazines and websites, he's covered a broad range of topics for a range of clients including Major League Baseball, the National Trust and the NHS. He has an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University and is a qualified bicycle mechanic. He fell in love with cycling at an early age, partly due to watching the Tour de France on TV. He's a passionate follower of bike racing to this day as well an avid road and gravel rider.