I decided to pick this bar up again seeing as how it was only $200 shipped and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the knurling problem has been fixed. Before, it was jagged and very uneven, now it’s perfectly uniform with the right depth. Whip is still as good as I remember but the spin isn’t as great, but still good. For $200, you’d be hard pressed to find a better barbell.
Over the years, I’ve used a plethora of barbells. Some have been “cheap” to mid-range, but lately I’ve been getting into more expensive top end barbells. You come to expect a certain quality from bars that are costing you over $500 and you never ever need to worry about them not being great in performance. Obviously this isn’t the case with lower end bars, but you learn to really appreciate the ones that are exceptional and don’t cost an arm and a leg.
The original American Barbell California Bar was one of the best deals in fitness, originally retailing for a mere $250. At that time though, I hadn’t had much experience with higher end barbells, but I still knew the California Bar was one of the best bars I’d ever used. I don’t usually hold on to bars much longer after I review them, but it’s two years later and I just recently unloaded my precious California bar. Only because I got the new, upgraded Cerakote California Bar, otherwise it would have been in my collection forever. Honestly, the new one is pretty much the same in performance as the old one, it just looks a hell of a lot more bad ass.
I got to see magic in the making when I toured American Barbell’s facility in San Diego. Crates of sleeves, shafts, bushings just waiting to be assembled into fully functioning barbells, but the thing that impressed me the most were the people behind the barbells. I forgot his name, but the guy I talked to knew the ins and outs of everything and most importantly, actually gave a crap about what he was assembling.
American Barbell always has some of the most solid feeling barbells on the market. Every single one that I’ve used from them have been exceptional, rivaling the best in the business. When dropped, you don’t get the same kind of rattles you’d find on import bars and even some domestically made bars. There’s little to no play in the way the sleeve fits on the shaft and the end caps actually fit.
Like I said, this is pretty much the same barbell overall, but there are some new enhancements to it, along with the coating. The shaft is still the 28mm diameter, 190k psi tensile strength one that you’ll find on just about every American Barbell bar. Unlike the earlier model, the updated has sleeves with a recessed weld to ensure plates sit flush with the shoulder and also looks awesome. Unlike the shaft, the sleeves remain hard chrome and will chip if you use metal plates. The California bar still comes with composite bushings, as with all of American Barbell’s bushing barbells, but they’re now quite thicker than before and more so than others on the market. Though light in depth, the knurling is perfectly cut with definite start and stop points with both IPF and IWF markings. Since it’s so fine, I had trouble spotting where the markings were without my glasses on!
The real star of the show here is what American Barbell decided they wanted to coating to be on their new barbells: Cerakote. For those of you not familiar, Cerakote is a ceramic coating usually applied to firearms as a protective finish. It’s chalky in feel and supposed to last 70 times longer than stainless steel or chrome, obviously this is not something that I’ve tested myself, but check out how Cerakote performs in this video. What I can tell you, is that in the month that I used the barbell as my go-to bar for everything, I never once wiped it down. When I finally took just a nylon bristle brush to it, there were no signs of surface rust and and the chalk completely came off without any difficulty.
Even without the fancy make-up, the character of the California bar makes it a real winner. What other barbells in the mid-range usually fail in getting right is the oscillation of the bar, or whip. Not saying that they aren’t adequate for most usage, they just never feel as good as American Barbell’s bars. When the California Bar comes off your hips, it feels smooth and fluid, not jarring like other mid-range 190k psi bars. I don’t “bang the bar” but I try to make as solid contact as possible with every lift, still no bruises on my legs or hips.
Spin isn’t hyper speed like some of the cheaper bearing barbells, but it’s butter smooth and you’ll never have to worry about it hitching up on you. This is probably the most misconceived areas of a barbell so trust me when I say, spin doesn’t matter, as long as the shaft isn’t completely stuck. Even with it’s “slow” sleeves, I managed to set a new snatch PR at 225 (two wheels!) and clean to my maxes with relative ease. Something that I couldn’t do before with my more expensive bars like my Eleiko Training or AB SS competition bearing bar
The real subjective area is the depth of the knurl. Pattern-wise, it’s the same as all of the other American Barbell bars, but feels even lighter due to the Cerakote finish. Those of you that have extremely sweaty hands or like shark tooth knurling might want to look the other way because the California Bar is on the light side. On the other hand, the Cerakote finish is chalky by nature and I have personally never had any kind of issue with grip, with or without chalking up for weightlifting singles or WOD’s alike.
At $335, the Cerakote California Bar is priced in line with other brand’s, durable, multi-function barbells. The edge that it has is that it’s 28mm in diameter, so it will function much better in the way of weightlifting or even deadlifts. The price cements it firmly into the mid-range barbell line, but I think all of the features it comes with justifies the price tag. Most garage-gym folks aren’t going to buy a ton of barbells, and most importantly want one that’s going to survive the elements, so you’re better off buying something with a durable finish and a lifetime warranty.
All things considered, the American Barbell Cerakote California bar is probably my favorite barbell right now. Sure, it’s not my Uesaka, but it costs less than half of what that bar costs and to me, performs just as good. More mid-range barbells should be this good, but again then I’d be a hell of a lot more broke.
**If you enjoyed this review, please use my links when shopping for your new barbell. It helps me out a ton in getting new equipment to review and doesn’t cost you a thing!**
Quite some time ago now, I blindly picked up a barbell from a company I didn’t know a whole lot about named Vulcan Strength. I admit, at the time I was much more of a noob about equipment than I am now. Honestly, I don’t even remember how I came about finding out about Vulcan in the first place, but I remember being dazzled by their “Standard” barbell. It was and still is, one of the few U.S. made barbells that isn’t Rogue, American Barbell or Diamond Pro. That alone gave it a certain allure, but the performance quickly made it one of my favorite and most recommended barbells.
If there was anything “wrong” with the Vulcan Standard; it was that the shaft was 28.5mm in diameter making it more of a “CrossFit” bar (I’m a crossfitter), and less of a training barbell. Which could be fine for you purposes depending on what you’re looking for. I also think it’s kind of weird when 28.5mm bars only have a WL marking, but Vulcan must have read my review and not too long after the PL marking was added in; I guess the same could be said about 28mm bars with PL markings! The original 28.5mm Standard is still available, but you now also have the option to go with a true 28mm Training Bar under the same moniker.
- 28mm diameter shaft with nickel chrome coating and a single IWF marking.
- 196k PSI tensile strength.
- Medium depth knurling.
- Oil impregnated bronze bushings with bright zinc sleeves.
- Made in the U.S.A.
- $345 with Free Shipping
- Lifetime Warranty
Many of the specifications of the original Standard carry over to the training bar other than a very slight jump in tensile strength. This is not a bad thing as the original Standard was a great barbell due to many of these attributes. The same good ol’ American made build quality still stands as well; the Training bar is one of the most sturdy sounding bars when dropped. A more significant change is the difference in price, but more on that later on.
As with the original Standard, rotation is aided by a set of bronze bushings per sleeve. Spinning the sleeve freely without weight surprisingly doesn’t produce as many rotations as the original Standard did. We all know by now that spinning the sleeves like that doesn’t mean much to the actual performance of the bar. On the contrary, the bronze bushings found in the Standard Training bar allow for buttery smooth rotations under any kind of load. Since the bushings are sintered, rotation should actually get better with use and last you quite some time before having to re-lubricate. If you wanted “wow” factor, you could opt for the bearing variant!
Out of the box, Vulcan uses a much thicker grease lubricant to protect the bar from it’s own tight tolerances. This reduces metal to metal contact, resulting in less wear over time and a “looser” barbell. Other manufacturers will use a thinner type lubricant to make the bar spin better out of the box, but not necessarily to safeguard the barbell.
Tensile strength has changed from the 194k psi tensile to a 196k psi tensile, which does mean that the metallurgy of the steel has been altered. It’s interesting to see that the thinner shaft has the higher strength between the two, but the hike in tensile strength doesn’t do anything to the dynamic properties of the barbell. Most barbells in this range usually have an adequate amount of whip for most people but should increase as the weights go up. I found that the Training bar feels a lot like the Standard I remembered in this area. You start to feel the bar move around 100kg, but not enough to make a difference. YMMV if you’re a big boy/girl lifter!
Vulcan’s nickel chrome coating is blingin’. Aesthetically, the Training bar is beautiful, but that’s probably not the reason you’re buying it. Chrome is great against chipping and scratching but remember, oxidation can still happen. Though I haven’t experienced any issues with this being from SoCal, you can expect this to happen in the most humid of environments. You can count on the shaft looking great for years to come if taken care of properly. I always recommend keeping a nylon brush near by to knock the chalk out of your knurling. The polished shaft is without center knurling but you shouldn’t have any issues with it slipping off your chest, as I felt it actually caught my sticky skin instead.
Vulcan is one of the only manufacturers to actually tout they have a medium depth knurling; I think companies stray away from this because they’re afraid that it might cost them some bar sales, but over the years I’ve notice a trend of people that actually want a more aggressive knurl pattern. I remember the original Standard not having a very aggressive knurl, which I personally liked, but the Training bar’s knurl is much more aggressive than it what it once was. Knurling is the most subjective thing when it comes to choosing a barbell; what I like, you might not, and vice versa. However, I actually find the Training bar’s knurling to be quite comfortable, even for reps. The pattern is a bit more fine, but also deeper and provides excellent grip even without having to chalk up. Fans of more aggressive knurling will revel at the touch of the Training bar’s knurling.
The Standard Training bar will set you back a cool $66 more than the OG ($345 vs $279), which is a considerable amount more. If you’re a dedicated weightlifter, this is a no-brainer, you need that 28mm shaft! From a Crossfitter’s point of view, you might be just fine saving a little bit and going for the original Standard. You can sure as hell perform Oly movements just fine with the OG just as well as you can do WOD’s with the Training bar. They’re still both excellent and it mainly depends on your budget, but I would always opt for the 28mm barbell.
For the price, there are other great barbells, so I think it mainly comes down to what your preferences are with knurling. There are no wrong answers in this range of barbells, but if you’re looking for a good ol’ American made 28mm training bar with a real medium depth knurling, is built like a tank and should last you for years to come, look no further than the Vulcan Standard. If theres anything I know about Vulcan, it’s that they have an insatiable need to put out the the best quality gear out there; you can shop with confidence.