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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
California Bar vs Rogue Ohio Bar
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
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.