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California Bar Multi-Purpose/CrossFit Bar – Full Review

California Bar Review - American Barbell's CrossFit Bar

I recently got my mitts on the California Bar, American Barbell’s first and only dual-marked Olympic bar. I’ve had the bar and have been training with it for about a month now, so it’s time to review it.

California Bar Review

Prior to the release of the California Bar (about a year ago), American Barbell only sold Olympic bars, power bars, and training bars – no multi-purpose bars. With the CrossFit and home gym community buying up so many multi-purpose bars from other vendors, I suppose it was only a matter of time before AB got into the game with the dual-marked California Bar. But is it any good?

Review for the California Bar by American Barbell

In this review I’ll try to tell you everything that you’d want to know about the California Bar so that you can decide if it’s a good bar for you. I’ll compare it directly to its biggest competitors, and of course I’ll be sure to include all of my thoughts and opinions along the way. As always, if you have specific questions regarding something that I have failed to address, or if you own the California Bar and want to contribute some feedback to the review, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page.

California Bar Specifications

  • 20 kg Olympic bar (or 15 kg women’s Olympic bar)
  • 28 mm shaft diameter (women’s is 25 mm)
  • Tensile strength: 190,000 PSI
  • Sleeve assembly: high-load composite bushings
  • Loadable sleeve length: 16 3/8″
  • Whip: moderate/average
  • Knurl pattern: dual IWF/IPF, no center
  • Knurl depth: mild
  • Finish: black zinc shaft, hard chrome sleeves
  • Made in USA
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Price: $275
The California Bar measures in at exactly 28 mm

The shaft of the California measured in exactly at 28 mm. The sleeves measured in at 49.99 mm.

Sleeve Assembly & Rotation

I have a few of American Barbell’s bars, and all but one of them are bushing bars. Of these bushing bars, they all have composite bushings (acetal) rather than bronze bushings, and while there is certainly nothing wrong with bronze, composite has a few small advantages over bronze.

Composite bushing system of the American Barbell California Bar

For starters, composite bushings are stronger and more impact resistant than bronze – they can simply handle more weight before seizing, and they are less likely to crack. Of course I’m not saying that bronze bushings are out there cracking and falling apart, but the high tensile strength of composite does matter when it comes to consistent rotation under higher loads. The more weight you stack on a bushing bar, the more the sleeves drag. It just takes a lot more weight to experience this problem on a composite bushing bar.

Another advantage of composite over bronze is a reduction in noise from bar drops. Having what basically amounts to plastic separating the metal shaft and sleeves rather than just another metal component does wonders to reduce the clanging and banging of a dropped bar. This may not seem like a big deal, but noise is a huge issue for a lot of people – namely garage gym lifters with sleeping families and close neighbors, and gym/box owners in retail spaces that share a wall or two with other shops. Combo a composite bushing bar like the California with quiet plates like the Alphas, and your ears and neighbors will thank you.

In terms of actual spin performance of the California, it’s great – no issues whatsoever. American Barbell bars are built to very high tolerances, and this bar is no exception. Everything fits together flawlessly, spin is super smooth and reliable under both light and very heavy loads, and as I previously mentioned, noise is non-existent.

Knurling

The California is a dual-marked bar – it has both IWF and IPF hash marks. There is no center knurl, and the outer knurling extends all the way to the sleeves.

California Bar knurling close up - click to enlarge

In terms of knurl aggressiveness, the California is a bit on the mild side. It’s extremely consistent, but it’s definitely on the lighter side of my bar collection. Still, the overall grip and holding power of the bar is good despite it not feeling very substantial, and a little chalk goes a long way with this bar.

If I had to compare the knurl depth of the California to another barbell, I’d say that it’s firmer than than the Team Bar 2.0, but a little softer than something like the Vulcan Standard or Rogue Bar 2.0. At the end of the day, it’s great for WODs, but not what you’d want to deadlift 600-pounds with. Then again, that’s not what it was designed to do anyway.

Interestingly enough, American Barbell doesn’t aggressively knurl any of their bars; even their power bars; yet I’ve never had an issue holding on to one of them, nor have I heard any complaints.

Whip

The California is a multi-purpose CrossFit bar, and as such, the whip is moderate. I am comfortable saying that the 28 mm shaft of the California has a tad more flex than the standard 28.5 mm shafts that are generally used for CrossFit bars, but I won’t tell you that it’s anything like a professional Olympic weightlifting bar.

$275 just doesn’t get you an ultra whippy bar. It shouldn’t, and it doesn’t. If you can clean and jerk 300+ pounds, you’re looking at the wrong kind of bar if you’re looking at CrossFit bars. You’ll probably want to expand your budget.

So to put it all another way, the elasticity of the California Bar is exactly where it should be, and just maybe a little bit better.

Finish

The California Bar has black zinc on the shaft. Black zinc is a ridiculously common material to use these days because it protects the steel from oxidation better than black oxide while also keeping production costs down. Black zinc isn’t my favorite finish, but putting real chrome on a bar (as opposed to decorative chrome) costs a lot of money. Plus, bar manufacturers believe that you guys think black bars are cool looking. So until at least one of these two things change, black zinc will be commonplace.

The great news is that the sleeves of the California are coated in a nice, thick layer of hard chrome. Hard chrome isn’t as bright and shiny as decorative chrome is (the crap that flakes and chips), but it does an amazing job of preventing rust and shrugging off scratches and dings. Hard chrome is the real deal.

I consider the hard chrome sleeves of the California to be one of the features that separates it from the competition. It’s a nice touch that takes an average-priced, mid-range bar and makes it look, feel, and even age more like a higher priced barbell. Kudos to American Barbell for keeping the black grunge off the sleeves – even if it raises the bar price a few bucks.

Hard chrome finish on the California Bar's sleeves

This is what the hard chrome sleeves of the California Bar look like right out of the shipping tube. It’s easy to see how attractive the hard chrome is, but it’s the resilience of it that makes it such a great finish.

Hard chrome sleeves of the Super Power Bar a year out

Just to illustrate that resilience, here is my personal Super Power Bar (same sleeves) after one year of rather heavy use. This is my daily bar, and it still looks pretty damn good. It could probably look new if I actually wiped it down and polished it up.

California Bar vs Rogue Ohio Bar

California Bar versus the Rogue Ohio line (Ohio, Chan, Froning, Castro, etc.)

Cast bronze bushings in the Rogue, composite bushings in the Calfornia.

So which state produces the best multi-purpose CrossFit bar? Is it Ohio or California? That’s the million dollar question, right?

On paper the California Bar and the Rogue Ohio Bar look very much alike. Both of these all-American barbells are 190,000 PSI bushing bars with dual-marks and black zinc shafts. They are both designed to be versatile enough to go from a high-rep WOD to a heavy set of squats or presses while performing admirably for both. They even sell for about the same price ($275-$282). For all the similarities, there are a couple of significant differences between the Ohio and California, and your own preferences regarding these differences will likely dictate which is the better bar for you.

The first difference is shaft diameter. The Ohio has Rogue’s standard 28.5 mm shaft, while the Cali has a 28 mm shaft – 28 mm being the size specified by the International Weightlifting Federation for Olympic WL bars. Novice lifters will be hard-pressed to feel the difference between the two, but more experienced lifters will likely appreciate the narrower and slightly whipper shaft of the California. Now I don’t know that the 28 mm shaft automatically makes the California superior, but if you do intend to transition from CrossFit into Olympic Weightlifting and you’d like to keep on going with the same bar, this may be a selling point for you.

The second difference between the California and the Ohio is the finish on the sleeves. The Ohio sports zinc sleeves (your choice of standard zinc or black zinc) while the California has hard chrome. I talked about the finishes in some detail further up the page, but I’ll repeat here that the use of chrome makes the California a more appealing bar to me personally.

Finally, American Barbell uses high-load composite bushings in the California Bar, whereas the Ohio has cast bronze bushings. There is nothing wrong with cast bronze bushings from a performance standpoint, and cast bronze resists shock better than sintered (oil-impregnated) bronze, but as I said already, bushings don’t break so this is kind of a non-issue in my opinion. I like American Barbell’s composite bushings because they don’t require constant lubrication, they spin just as well as bronze, and the material makes no noise when the bar is dropped.

As far as price differences go, the California sells for $275 while the Ohio sells for $282. Not a huge difference in price, and neither ship for free either, but when you consider factors like the chrome sleeves, that $275 just looks like a good deal.

So, which is better? From a quality of construction or durability standpoint I don’t think one is significantly better than the other. Both are American-made barbells being manufactured by companies that know their business inside and out, and both will last forever if cared for. From a performance standpoint I think it’s pretty close as well – I don’t think you’ll have a higher max clean or snatch using one over the other or anything like that. However, for my money, I’ll take the chrome where I can get it.

Now here’s the kicker. The Rogue Bar 2.0 is for all intents and purposes an Ohio Bar. The two notable differences between the 2.0 and the Ohio are the use of composite bushings instead of bronze, and about a $30 price difference ($255 vs $282). What that means is that the California is also competing with a bar that costs $20 less, has the same black zinc shaft, and the same composite bushings. What you have to ask yourself now is do you want a 28 mm bar with chrome sleeves, or a 28.5 mm bar with zinc sleeves that costs $20 less? I think chrome is worth $20, but you may not.

California Bar vs Vulcan Standard

California Bar versus the Vulcan Standard

The Standard is the Vulcan bar that is most similar to the California. It too is an American-made, dual-marked, bushing bar that sells for just about the same price as the California ($279.) The Standard has some advantages over the California, but it also has its disadvantages.

The first thing the Vulcan has going for it is free shipping. Free shipping effectively removes about $25 from your total price making it cheaper than the California. The other advantage is the fact that the Standard includes no black zinc whatsoever. The entire bar is bright zinc – both the shaft and the sleeves.

On the other hand, the California still has the 28 mm shaft that feels more like an Olympic WL bar (less rigid), and the hard chrome sleeves that in my opinion still one-up the zinc sleeves of the Standard. The knurl depth of these two bars differ with the Vulcan being just a tad more aggressive, but the difference isn’t huge by any means. This is neither a good or bad thing anyway; it just gives us options.

I own a Standard and it’s a solid piece of equipment. Assembly tolerances are tight, knurl is solid, and the zinc has so far not really aged (shown any signs of fading or rubbing off.) As with the Ohio, the differences aren’t so huge that there is a clear front-runner, but again, I think the chrome sleeves and 28 mm shaft give the Cali a slight edge. The biggest argument for the Vulcan in this case would be for those used to more substantial knurl.

California Bar vs x Bar

I can go on all day with comparisons. I’ve got no shortage of dual-marked import bars in the garage to compare the California to, but there really is no comparison. All three of the American-made bars that I’ve already discussed just blow away the Chinese imports in both performance and quality, and to start direct comparing the California to the Team, Stealth, and so on is really just comparing apples to oranges. Don’t get me wrong, I do like some of the low $200 bars in certain situations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they warrant a comparison to a nicer and more expensive American bar.

California Bar – Review Summary

Truthfully I have no issues with this bar. The California has no shortcomings that aren’t simply a direct result of it not being a more expensive bar. Sleeve rotation is better than average, shaft diameter is 28 mm, knurl quality is flawless, and the sleeves are hard chrome rather than zinc. The only thing I am not 100% fond of is the knurl depth, but that’s the one thing that’s actually subjective, and CrossFitters will love it.

I like the California Bar, and while I’ll never just straight up say go buy something because I like it, I do suggest that you at least compare it side-by-side to your current front runner.

{ 31 comments… add one }
  • T May 31, 2016, 9:12 pm

    Big fan of American Barbell. That end cap is right up there with some of the great Rogue offerings (Chan, Bella 2.0, and Westside Power Bar).

    On another completely unrelated note solely for the purpose of generating discussion on this post with no comments because I had to ask somewhere, what’s up with MDUSA? Don’t ban me from the site but…I was looking for a crash pad for working on handstand walks with my daughters and came across their site again. It’s fully updated with a 10% off discount for the CF Games (I assume this year’s). Items are listed in stock and while I didn’t dare actually make a purchase everything seemed fully functional. Has anyone heard anything new regarding their Chapter 11? I was never a fan of any of their manufactured goods, but I did previously snag OSO collars, lifting straps, etc. with nice discounts from time to time.

    • jburgeson May 31, 2016, 9:21 pm

      lol “don’t ban me.”

      Yeah I don’t know what’s up with them. No doubt investors bought the name and the rights to the product line – it was for sale after all. Usually when this happens, things get even worse. For instance, in case you didn’t know, AF was run by investors for at least the year leading up to their big “screw you” sale and subsequent going under (being sold to an even more questionable vendor.) These companies will be able to sell stuff to people who have no idea of their history, but you’d have to be crazy to know what’s gone on with either of them AND return to give them your business after that. In other words, I care not whether they’ve opened back up – both are dead to me.

      • clay June 4, 2016, 8:56 am

        I wouldn’t get anything from AF, even if it was for free.I knew AF was shady when the Klokov bar turned out to be a major fail and their dubious responses to the issues of the bar were so blatantly dishonest.I can’t that people actually pay to hear Gilson speak on how to run a successful business.

        Anyways, I like AB, but I think the Cali is over priced. I would have purchased the bar at its initial 250 and free shipping, but now with new price and shipping its a $300 bar. I went with the Vulcan Elite and the whip alone is worth the extra $70. Plus, I really like center knurl. I would think that the whip would be better on the Cali. considering the 28mm shaft.

        I am considering the closeout Black and Chromes for $199, as I am sure its just a Cali with only Oly marks.

        • jburgeson June 4, 2016, 1:06 pm

          For the most part that’s true – AB has very few shaft options. I mentioned somewhere that if you didn’t care about the markings you could save some money with the Black and Chrome, and that’s especially true with the closeout version. Still I gotta say, the California Bar is a much nicer and more refined bar than its competition in that price range – it was better at $250 obviously, but I still think that it’s reasonable. The Elite is a higher performance bar though, no doubt.

          I didn’t realize that Jon spoke for a fee.. that’s kind of funny.

  • T May 31, 2016, 9:16 pm

    Nevermind. Checked a few links. I guess they must have updated their site right before going out of business. Weird that it’s still up and running. Now I regret not snagging a crash pad for $30 shipped back in February! Damn you, MDUSA.

    • jburgeson May 31, 2016, 9:39 pm

      Wait but, they took away the functionality of the “add to cart” button when they went under, it works now.

      • T May 31, 2016, 10:02 pm

        I can’t trust it until I hear from someone else who’s made a purchase and actually received it.

        • jburgeson June 1, 2016, 12:46 am

          If someone told you MD was bought out and now up and running again, you would buy from them?

          • T June 1, 2016, 1:07 pm

            I’d probably buy a crash pad, curl bar, or agility ladder if I needed one. Those little odds and ends around the gym that you don’t use that often. If they offered discounts that applied to OSO collars, I’d buy them as gifts like I did this year for Xmas. I wouldn’t now and have never purchased anything they actually manufactured. I’ve always thought their bars and plates were sub-par. When my gear review site was active, we gave a pretty negative review of their squat rack with pull-up bar.

            Other than that, I never had problems with their customer service in that I never needed to use them. In fact, they accidentally sent me original OSOs once when I purchased 2 pairs of Mightys. They just let me keep them for the same price, so if anything, I benefited from their mistakes.

            Again Faster is another story unless I missed something about the way MDUSA went out. I thought they just slowly descended into bankruptcy as opposed to having a fire sale they never intended on seeing through.

            • jburgeson June 1, 2016, 1:39 pm

              Again Faster was run by investors the last year or so leading up to their second near-death experience. They had already tanked once from what I’ve heard – or would have if not for the investors. But yeah, that fire sale was to liquidate as much as possible before the sale of the company to X-T. They were obviously willing to over-sell since it was no longer going to be their problem – or at least that’s how it looks to me outside looking in. Who knows though. I personally don’t give third-chances to companies that hoodwink their customers, and it wouldn’t be very responsible of me to ignore their history and refer folks that are none the wiser to their websites to buy shit – shit that they may or may not get and that may or may not hold up any better than had I sent them to Wal-mart.

              One of these days when I can’t be sued, I’ll tell some MD stories lol

              • T June 1, 2016, 1:48 pm

                Yeah, I’ve always assumed you had some behind the scenes stories. My dislike for them just had to do with the quality of their manufactured goods, so I made 2 or 3 purchases from them over the years but only for accessory type items when the price was right. My home gym is almost exclusively Rogue and Vulcan with a few American Barbell & Fringesport purchases sprinkled in. I like those companies and the way they’re run, and try to support them as much as I can.

  • clay June 13, 2016, 9:44 pm

    Is the Vulcan Basic 28mm chrome a comparable bar to the Cali.? $225.00 is relatively inexpensive.

    • jburgeson June 13, 2016, 10:56 pm

      You mean the One Basic? I’ve had one of those, but it was the old zinc variation. It’s a solid bar – good spin, moderate knurl, and tight tolerances. I would say that $225 is a very good price for that bar, especially now that it’s chromed. Personally I like the knurl of the Vulcan One more than the mild California, but the California is a more refined bar – both in looks and feel. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a superior bar when it comes to performance though. Especially not a $50+ difference, but the California is a super clean bar, and you’re also paying for that made in USA factor.

  • clay June 14, 2016, 8:13 am

    Thanks for the reply. I try to buy made in the USA products because that issue is important for me, but there are some good overseas bars. Is it a gymway bar? How does the whip of the 28.5 you have compare to the Cali?Again, thanks for the info.

    • jburgeson June 14, 2016, 10:05 am

      As far as I know, all of the non-USA Vulcan bars are Gymways. I don’t think they use anyone else. They don’t exactly discuss this though so there may be an exception.

      I don’t find that the older 28.5 mm One and the California feel any different in that department – neither of them are high whip bars. The Vulcan Elite is where their bars get whippy, and AB doesn’t have anything exceptionally whippy that I know of.

      • clay June 23, 2016, 3:06 pm

        Pulled the trigger on Monday for the Cali. and now am wishing I had gotten the One Basic. Two things irked me about AB with this purchase :1) they did not allow me to use a $20 coupon that they gave me for leaving a review of the Super 2) they still have not shipped the damn bar and probably won’t until tomorrow. This is why Rogue is at the top of the food chain: great products, great customer service. great warranties and they ship your shit the same day you order.
        Anyways, you said the Basic One was comparable and if I had gone in that direction I would have saved$70 and received it on Tuesday.

        • jburgeson June 23, 2016, 5:08 pm

          They give coupons for leaving reviews? Then they wouldn’t accept it? Did they give you a reason for that?

          Four days so far is a long time to not ship. I’m glad you said something because that’s the kind of thing I would never know about otherwise.

          I think you’ll still love the bar when you finally get it, but I mean, I know how you feel now with it still sitting in their warehouse when they already have your money =/

          • clay June 23, 2016, 5:27 pm

            I am sure I’ll like it, but me being on the beach on the east coast, it will be close to 2 weeks from the time of ordering to actually getting it. Yeah they gave me a $20 coupon for leaving a review, but it applies to every other bar except closeouts and the cali.Sucks because I get my stuff from Rogue in 2 days and Vulcan in 1 day.

            • clay June 23, 2016, 5:31 pm

              i know that location matters so even if AB SHipped the same or next day it would be at least 4 business days, but it just seems companies like Vulcan and Rogue dont mess around about wanting to get you your gear.

            • jburgeson June 23, 2016, 5:34 pm

              I can’t believe that I didn’t know that they paid for customers to leave reviews. I knew they reminded folks to go review what they bought, but not bribed them! haha

              Yeah though, I’m sorry. You know I’d have sung a different tune if I knew they were going out so slow. I’m with you – I want the shit I order today yesterday

              • clay July 2, 2016, 2:53 pm

                Update: I will not buy from AB again. I finally received the bar and it looks like a Rogue Operator bar: it is green like the Hulk. I have this feeling that they sent me a closeout bar because I was bitching about how long it took to ship and now presto the Cali is out of stock. I was also told the reason why it took so long to ship it was because they sometimes build to order…yeah right they have being trying to get rid of the old power bars for almost a year now and one of their most popular bars are sometimes made to order.

                • jburgeson July 2, 2016, 4:42 pm

                  Green Cali? Sounds like they really dropped the ball with you. I’d send it back – and yeah, they don’t built to order.

                  • clay July 2, 2016, 4:57 pm

                    Left a pic on your FB.

                    • jburgeson July 2, 2016, 5:00 pm

                      That’s definitely not black. I wonder wtf is going on over there that they would let that out the door to a customer already in contact with them about a different issue (the delay). Weird.

                  • clay July 2, 2016, 5:04 pm

                    Notice the dual marks too. It looks like they attempted to machine the rings next to the rings or something. I am pissed.

                    • jburgeson July 2, 2016, 7:16 pm

                      Wait what do you mean by that? I’m not sure i see what you’re seeing.

                    • clay July 2, 2016, 7:21 pm

                      i put a better pic on fb

                    • jburgeson July 2, 2016, 8:35 pm

                      yeah that’s weird looking. Not sure how it’s even possible to do that.

                      Well I mean, this is not like them – I’ve certainly not heard such a disappointing story about them yet, but you have the bar in front of you so it’s clearly happened now. I’d complain to them, return it, and leave a product review on their site. What else can you do, ya?

  • Tim K. November 18, 2016, 11:43 am

    I’m in the market to get a bar during the Black Friday deals. I’ve looked at the California Bar, the American Barbell Black and Chrome Training Bar, the Bomba V2 bar, and the Again Faster Competition bar. I’m like most folks and want the best bang for the buck. Price wise, they are all within the range I’d be willing to pay.
    What’s your opinion of these bars? If you had to choose one, which would you pick?

    • jburgeson November 18, 2016, 2:38 pm

      Either of the American Barbell bars are great – especially the California if it’s in stock and/or on sale. AB makes bars that both perform well and last – very high quality equipment.

      I’d avoid the Bomba and anything from Again Faster. These guys just order basic bars from Asia by the pallet. They have no control over quality, and they wouldn’t even compare to Rogue or American Barbell in manufacturing tolerances or quality of materials used even if they all came off the line perfect. Again Faster’s Comp Bar is just a re-branded (or un-branded, I should say) Klokov. It’s garbage.

      • Tim K. November 23, 2016, 10:25 am

        Thanks for the reply. I was leaning towards the California bar and that’s what I’m going with.

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