This is a review for the California Bar, American Barbell’s first multi-purpose (dual-marked) Olympic bar. The California is basically a WOD bar; American Barbell’s version of the Ohio Bar. It’s an American-made jack-of-all-trades; and it’s one of the best-built bars in its class.
This particular review is for the original California Bar; the zinc-plated version that has since been replaced with the Cerakote California. While I have also reviewed the newer version, I will leave this version intact for those who are interested
Updated January 2018.
California Bar Review
Prior to the release of the California Bar, 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 ever want to know about the California Bar so that you can decide if it’s a good bar for your training and your goals. 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’ve failed to address or if you own the California Bar and want to contribute feedback to the review, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page.
California Bar Specifications
Keep in mind that these specs apply to the discontinued zinc version of the California Bar, though really only the shaft finish and price has changed on this list.
- 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 am 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 steel shaft and the 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 stores. Combine 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 California spin performance, it’s great – no issues whatsoever. American Barbell bars are built to very high tolerances, and the California is no exception. Everything fits together flawlessly, spin is very smooth and reliable under both light & heavy loads, and as I previously mentioned, noise is non-existent.
The California is a dual-marked barbell; having 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 on the mild side. It’s extremely consistent but it’s definitely on the lighter side. That said, the overall grip and holding power of the bar is decent despite it not feeling very substantial, and a little chalk goes a long way.
If I were to compare the knurl 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 a WOD and general training, but not what you’d want to pull 600-lbs with. Then again, it’s not a power bar anyway.
The California is a multi-purpose CrossFit bar with fairly decent whip. Elasticity is actually a little bit better with the California than with other multi-purpose bars simply because it’s one of the few to have a 28 mm shaft versus a 28.5 mm shaft. I don’t know that it matters really, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
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 is not my favorite finish, but putting chrome on a bar (real chrome) costs a lot of money. Plus, bar manufacturers believe that you folks think black bars are cool looking. So until 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. Hard chrome is the real deal.
I consider the hard chromed sleeves of the Cali to be one of the features that separates it from the competition. It’s a nice touch that takes a moderately-priced, mid-ranged bar and makes it look, feel, and even age more like a higher priced bar. 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? Ohio or California? This is the million dollar question, right?
Update: This comparison is less accurate now that the California went to Cerakote, but it would be reasonable if compared to the new Cerakote Ohio Bars.
On paper, the California Bar and the Rogue Ohio Bar look very much alike. Both these all-American barbells are 190,000 PSI bushing bars with dual-markings and black zinc shafts. They’re 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 retail for about the same price. For all the similarities, there are a couple of significant differences between the Ohio and California Bar, 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; that being the size specified by the IWF for weightlifting bars. Novice lifters will be hard-pressed to feel the difference between the two, but 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 Bars sport zinc sleeves (your choice of bright zinc or black zinc) while the California Bar 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 much 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, but they can be loud and need frequent oilings. 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 of them ship for free, but when you consider factors like the chromed 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 and 28 mm where I can get it.
Of course if zinc is okay by you, there is the Rogue Bar 2.0 $255. It’s basically an Ohio Bar.
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 about the same price as the California. The Standard has some advantages over the California, but it also has its disadvantages.
Update: Again, less relevant now that the Cali is Cerakote and more expensive.
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 a true Oly 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. Again though I think the chromed sleeves and 28 mm shaft give the California 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. The three American-made bars in this review just blow away the Chinese imports in terms of both performance and quality, and to start direct comparing the California to the Team, Stealth, Bomba, or so on is really just comparing apples to oranges.
California Bar – Review Summary
Truthfully I have no issues with this barbell. The California has no shortcomings that aren’t simply a direct result of it not being a more expensive bar. The sleeve rotation is better than average, shaft diameter is 28 mm, knurl quality is flawless, and the sleeves are finished in 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wait but, they took away the functionality of the “add to cart” button when they went under, it works now.
I can’t trust it until I hear from someone else who’s made a purchase and actually received it.
If someone told you MD was bought out and now up and running again, you would buy from them?
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.
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
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.
Is the Vulcan Basic 28mm chrome a comparable bar to the Cali.? $225.00 is relatively inexpensive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 =/
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.
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.
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
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.
Green Cali? Sounds like they really dropped the ball with you. I’d send it back – and yeah, they don’t built to order.
Left a pic on your FB.
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.
Notice the dual marks too. It looks like they attempted to machine the rings next to the rings or something. I am pissed.
Wait what do you mean by that? I’m not sure i see what you’re seeing.
i put a better pic on fb
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?
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?
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.
Thanks for the reply. I was leaning towards the California bar and that’s what I’m going with.