Last spring I published a full review of the California Bar; American Barbell’s flagship WOD bar. If you happened to read that review then you already know that I discovered it to be a great mid-range WOD bar with a long list of pros. I found the overall quality, reliability, and performance to be outstanding for such a reasonably priced WOD bar, and I had absolutely no problem giving it a favorable review.
Well this time around I’ll be reviewing the newest generation of that same bar; the Cerakote Edition California Bar. The new version is essentially the same as the previous version save for the shaft finish. Instead of glossy, black zinc, the new Cali has been given a matte Cerakote finish – and believe me it’s a huge improvement. Matter of fact, this seemingly simple modification improves the feel and outright performance of the bar so much that I felt that it needed its own new review rather than just an edit. So that’s what this is; an updated, full review of the California Bar.
I’ll be covering the standard review material including the bar’s full specifications, knurling, sleeve assembly, and so on. Additionally I’ll talk about the unique finish on the shaft and how it compares to other finishes. Some sections will seem repetitive to those of you who also read the review for the original California, but I want to be thorough so it can’t be avoided.
California Bar Cerakote Edition – 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
- 20 kg Finish: Black Graphite Cerakote® shaft
- 15 kg Finish: Black Graphite or Prison Pink Cerakote® shaft
- Sleeve finish: hard chrome
- Made in USA
- Lifetime warranty
- Price (all): $335
So far only two colors are available; Black Graphite (color H-146), and Prison Pink (color H-141). Black Graphite can be had on either the 15 kg or 20 kg California, but Prison Pink is only available on the 15 kg women’s bar. From what I understand you can request other colors (or Prison Pink on a men’s bar), but it doesn’t sound like it will be very cost effective for single bar orders.
What is Cerakote?
Cerakote is a thin, polymer-ceramic composite coating. Cerakote improves a number of physical performance properties of metal; including hardness, impact & wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and chemical resistance. For simple steel applications like the California Bar here, Cerakote is basically a more durable alternative to industrial chrome.
Cerakote was developed for and is used predominantly by the firearm industry, but because Cerakote can be applied not only to metals, but also plastics, polymers, and woods; and because of how resilient and attractive Cerakote is (with all its colors and all), its application goes well beyond firearms (though I believe American Barbell is the first to use it on strength training equipment).
Cerakote will resist impacts better than chrome, and it will resist oxidation better than chrome and stainless steel. Cerakote also has the advantage of being more grippy than zinc and the lesser chrome finishes when it’s mixed for a matte finish (Cerakote can be mixed for a high-gloss finish as well). This improved grip combined with its superior resistances make Cerakote’s use on a barbell shaft seem quite appealing. Matter of fact it almost seems like its long overdue.
You can visit the Cerakote website here if you would like technical data on Cerakote.
Cerakote Edition Cali vs. Original Zinc Cali
The Black Graphite Cerakote finish is definitely an upgrade to the high-gloss, black zinc finish that was previously on the original California Bar. As you can see in the images below the matte Cerakote finish is dull, and it lacks the shine and luster of black zinc, but the texture and overall feel of this finish is absolutely perfect for a barbell shaft. Like black oxide, it’s tacky and grippy; only it won’t rust and rub off.
The California Bar has always been a great bar, and even though the bar under the finish remains completely unchanged, an improvement of this magnitude to grip definitely makes the Cerakote Edition a higher performance bar than its predecessor. Remember that with a better grip come confidence, and with confidence comes those PR’s.
California Bar Knurling
Just like its predecessor, the Cerakote California Bar is a dual-marked, multi-purpose bushing bar. There is no center knurl, and the outer knurling extends all the way to the sleeves. The knurl pattern itself appears unchanged from the previous version of the California. Like all American Barbell bars, it’s still on the mild to moderate side – absolutely no sharpness whatsoever. What has changed though is the overall feel of that knurl as a result of the new finish.
For those who have handled the original high-gloss, zinc California Bar, the improvement to grip security should be immediately noticeable when you pick up the new Cerakote California Bar. I certainly noticed it right away, even with no chalk involved. When I finally did add a little chalk and grabbed at that bar, I found that I was able to lock down on the shaft like it was an Ohio Power Bar. It’s an incredible grip, and the difference is night and day.
If I had to compare the feel to something, I’d say that a lightly chalked up Cerakote California Bar feels about as secure in the hands as a chalked up black oxide bar with fairly aggressive knurling. It’s a very grippy finish, and I can’t even imagine what a matte Cerakote bar with aggressive knurling would feel like – but I’d take one.
Sleeve Assembly & Rotation
The sleeves remain completely unchanged from the previous California. The bushings are the same high-load (and quiet) composite bushings used in all of American Barbell’s bushing bars, and the sleeves are still finished in a thick, durable layer of hard chrome (the perfect compliment to the resilient Cerakote finish on the shaft).
All American Barbell bushing bars offer smooth, reliable sleeve rotation. I have zero complaints about the sleeve assembly. Tolerances are tight, the bushings are great, and the chrome is as beautiful as it is durable. Show the California Bar even a moderate amount of respect and you’ll be passing it down to your kid in fully functional condition.
The California Bar is a multi-purpose CrossFit bar, and as such the whip is present, but moderate. I am comfortable saying that the 28 mm shaft of the California has a tad more elasticity than the standard 28.5 mm shafts generally used for CrossFit bars, and that is certainly a plus, but the whip is nothing like what you’d experience with a professional Olympic weightlifting bar.
Price, and the Cali’s Biggest Competitor
The new asking price of $335 is is $60 more than what the black zinc California sold for (previously ~$275). That’s a fairly substantial increase for just a finish upgrade. Going from bare steel to chrome wouldn’t even cost us that much (though it does appear that Cerakote is actually pretty expensive.) So is it worth the price?
In a world of zinc WOD bars like the Ohio, Black & Chrome, and Vulcan Standard (not to mention all the imports), I’d say the moderate increase in price is worth it. Knurl and overall grip security is a pretty big deal, and if $60 more gets you into a bar that you can better hold on to, feel more confident with, and lift more weight with for longer, then that’s money well spent, right? I’d say so.
The only issue I see with the Cerakote Edition Cali and its price is the competition of the new stainless steel Ohio Bar. At $350 you’re looking at a bar with the ideal shaft material that just so happens to have a fantastic knurl to boot. It also has a similar composite bushing system, and chrome finished sleeves. Stainless steel is just great, and while Cerakote may be even more oxidation resistant than stainless steel, you’d have to have beach front property on the Gulf and leave your bar outside to actually get rust on stainless.
In terms of performance I say these two bars are very close to being equals. The California has milder knurl while still offering a secure grip, so that may be more appealing to hardcore CrossFitters with their long Oly sets. The SS Ohio being more aggressive may be more appealing to those who big-3 lift as often as they WOD, or have higher than average lifts. I doubt the $15 price difference will matter to most people, but I can see how those who like colored shafts will see a chance to get what they want and save $15 – especially as more colors are released.
Quick Comparisons of Cerakote vs…
Cerakote offers superior abrasion and oxidation protection to black zinc, while also offering a more confident and secure grip. Black zinc looks nice new and it is less expensive, but it doesn’t age well; often turning olive green as it fades.
I find that bright zinc offers a more secure grip than black zinc, and it does seem to adhere on the bar longer than black zinc, but Cerakote still holds the same advantages over bright zinc as it does for black zinc – superior feel, better oxidation resistance, and less fading.
Black oxide and Cerakote feel similar to me, and I don’t believe that one is significantly superior to the other in terms of grip. That said, black oxide is a thin and nearly insignificant finish. It offers very little in the way of rust prevention, and it is easily removed from the bar via your hands or clothing. Black oxide does feels great though, and you can save some serious cash going with black oxide over Cerakote if you want a black bar, but black oxide is only a couple steps above bare steel in terms of protection.
In my opinion, Cerakote is just a colorful alternative to hard chrome. Hard chrome feels great, and it offers more than enough oxidation and abrasion resistance for most gyms (i.e. gyms not in the rain forest, or aboard a naval ship). You do have to be certain that you’re buying a bar with hard chrome versus decorative chrome to get any long-term oxidation protection (decorative chrome flakes off easily), but that’s easy to do if you just stick to reputable manufacturers (typically the Americans and Swedes.)
I do believe that for mildly knurled bars like the California here, Cerakote will feel more grippy than chrome would. Chrome works well on moderate to aggressively knurls bars (think Rogue Oly, the NxG bars, etc), but not so well on softer bars. That is my experience at least.
Unfinished steel shafts still offer the most natural and secure grip. There’s just something magical about bare steel. Obviously bare steel can’t hold a candle to Cerakote’s oxidation resistance, but raw bars will always have their place.
Stainless steel is the ultimate shaft material. It needs no abrasion resistance, it offers better oxidation resistance than chrome, and it feels just as secure and natural as bare steel does (even with mild knurling). It’s bare steel’s magic squared. Yeah it’s still the most expensive of all “finishes”, but the best generally does cost the most. The only thing that Cerakote offers that stainless doesn’t is color variety.
* Technically, Cerakote offers a higher level of oxidation protection than stainless steel, but in 99.9% of gym environments, any resistance above and beyond what stainless offers is kind of overkill. Remember that Cerakote is meant for firearms – small, intricate parts; excessive and rapid heating; moisture; friction; dust, debris & residue, and so forth. Barbells just aren’t subjected to that kind of abuse, and they very rarely find themselves out in the elements.
Cerakote California Review – Summary
American Barbell took what was easily one of the better WOD bars on the market and improved the only thing that really needed improving ; the grip. With the black zinc over that mild knurl, the original California Bar was just too reliant on chalk and a super tight grip. Other than that though, the bar was fantastic – 28 mm shaft, quiet and reliable composite bushings, hard chrome sleeves, and a very obvious level of refinement and precision not present in the import WOD bars. The original Cali was one hell of a bar, save for that one ‘but’ regarding grip.
Now we have the Cerakote Edition California Bar, and it is much easier to summarize – it’s just one hell of a bar. No buts about it. It’ll be really interesting to see what other colors they begin to offer as well.
Check out the Cerakote Edition California Bar yourself.