American Barbell 20kg California Bar Review


American Barbell.

Not quite a name synonymous with the world of functional fitness (yet), unless you live in California or Texas, where the events they mainly sponsor are located.  They’ve actually been around a while, mostly dabbling in weightlifting, though they have sponsored big name events such as the OC Throwdown. American Barbell actually manufactures everything from urethane (long before Rogue had them available) competition plates, to barbells, to some sick full on rig setups.  While they’ve been around for a bit, they’re starting to make a push harder into the world of functional fitness, starting with the “California” Bar.  While you could use any of they’re previous barbells for CrossFit, this is the first bar specifically designed with it in mind.

The California Bar, like many of American Barbell’s bars, is made right here in southern California.  The “Insert State Here” monicker obviously means that it’s in contention with some of the other popular “state” barbells, and shares a lot of things in common with them, mainly because they’re just barbell standards nowadays, but also has a lot of additions the others don’t.  I go through a ton of barbells and one of the most important aspects of a barbell is just plain, usability. Bars largely dictate the users experience during a workout, if you don’t like it, you’ll know right away that something is off.  One of the first things that goes through my mind is “will I want to use this bar over my others?”

All the bearings in the world doesn’t actually factor in that much to me; moving normal load, bushings are just fine, and moving heavier load with back squats/deadlifts, I’d actually prefer bushings so the shaft doesn’t move around.  That being said, I’ve been spoiled rotten using tons of excellent bearing bars as of late.  The California bar uses composite bushings that obviously don’t spin as freely, but do rotate unbelievably smooth and quietly.  At some point, a bar that spins too freely could be detrimental to lifting heavier weights. Not to mention the sleeves are secured on the shaft with almost no play side to side, making for a very solid thud when the bar is dropped.  Unlike it’s Ohio based competition, the sleeves also come standard in a hard chrome finish; a welcome addition that keeps your bar looking fresh, much longer than zinc or oxide would.

Like most barbells produced lately, the tensile strength of the shaft is pretty standard at 190k PSI and is coated with a black zinc.  You can count on that zinc fading away after some use, but at least it’s something to protect for a while.  I’m sure in time American Barbell will release a hard chrome or stainless version of this bar but at the moment the only this option.

Grip is everything in weightlifting and goes a long way for that usability aspect. Multi-purpose barbells usually have a shaft diameter of 28.5mm, and while you wouldn’t think that the extra .5mm makes a difference, it does; especially if you don’t have giant hands.  IWF spec diameter is 28mm, most power bars are 29mm, hence the meet in the middle 28.5mm diameter.  The California bar has an IWF spec shaft diameter with both power and weightlifting marks; unless all you’re doing is benching and squatting (in which case, get a power bar), a 28mm handle is going to be much more beneficial to you.  You can use it just the same for squatting and pressing, it’s better for deadlifts, and it also ensures a secure hook grip for even the smallest of paws.

As always, knurling is a subjective matter and everyone has their preferences.  The knurling on California Bar is top notch! It’s a very fine pattern that is extremely uniform.  It’s a little light on the depth but great for high rep and oly.  This is one of the most well machined knurling patterns that I’ve come across yet, regardless of price.  Though I don’t get the sweatiest hands, I never really had issues getting a good hold on the bar for any of my workouts.  Just make sure that you do give the bar a little wipe down after you get it because there will be a light coat of oil on it.

Watch me whip; of all the aspects on what makes a bar useable, this might be my favorite now. Here, it’s excellent; the weightlifting heritage shines through here.  It’s a generous amount of whip but it also never feels overdone where the bar vibrates in your hand.  Olympic lifting is excellent on this bar, but it’s stable enough movements such as presses and thrusters.  When you make contact with the bar it just kind of springs off of you instead of leaving you feeling like you just got disciplined by the steel. Try taking a low quality bar and just “bounce” it off of your thighs, see what it feels like, then try it with a higher quality bar; the difference will probably astound you.

The combination of all these factors is what’s so great about the California Bar; it’s usability.  There are no glaring downsides to the bar, nothing you’ll think of and say “well this could be better, or that could be better” It’s a bar that like myself, you’ll probably find yourself coming back to each time you go take a barbell out of the rack, and using it is a pleasure each time.

If you haven’t found any compelling reasons to go with the California Bar as of yet, the next one will probably reel you in.  This bar retails for all of about $249 shipped for both 20kg and 15kg models (depending on if you have to pay tax).  There are NO comparable American sourced and made barbells for this price.  The Rogue Bar 2.0 is close, but after shipping and tax you’re adding at least $30, and losing the 28mm shaft.  Not saying the Rogue Bar 2.0 is bad, but it’s just the price point also makes the California Bar the best value for under $300 if you’re buying U.S. made.

Not only does California have sun, surf, snow, Hollywood, and Disneyland, but it also has a barbell that’s just as excellent as the state.  Even for $300, the California Bar would be an excellent choice.  At $50 less than that, it’s a no brainer if you’re looking for a quality American made bar from an excellent American company.

Use this link to purchase your California Bar!