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Vulcan Black Oxide Absolute Power Bar V2.0 Review

Black Oxide Vulcan Absolute Power Bar 2.0 Review

Vulcan Strength recently upgraded their incredibly popular Absolute Power Bar to version 2.0. This is pretty exciting news because the Absolute was one hell of a power bar already, especially considering the strength of the steel relative to the price to your door. To discover that it could be made better without being more expensive was a pleasant surprise.

Since multiple things have changed with the Absolute and since I truly do believe the bar is better than before, I figured that the Absolute deserved to be re-reviewed entirely instead of just hitting the original Absolute review with an edit. In addition to just being more thorough, this approach allows me to show some then and now images as well.

In this review I’ll cover all the typical aspects of the Absolute, I’ll compare it to the previous generation Absolute, and I will compare it to some of the other popular power bars of today. If you have a question or a contribution, use the comments section below.


Table of Contents


Vulcan Absolute Oxide Powerlifting Bar V2.0 Specs

Vulcan Absolute Power Bar V2.0 Review - Specifications

Here is a rundown on the Absolute’s specs that you can refer to while reading this review or when making a comparison to other bars. You can also find this information on the product page for the Absolute here. (note that Vulcan’s pics may still the reflect original Absolute.)

  • IPF standard men’s 20 kg bar, 2200 mm in length
  • IPF power marks with 4″ moderate center knurl
  • Shaft diameter: 29 mm
  • Shaft finish: black oxide
  • Tensile strength: 221,000 PSI
  • Sleeve finish: dense chrome
  • Loadable sleeve length: 16¼”
  • Knurling: aggressive
  • Rotation: bushing system
  • Warranty: standard limited lifetime
  • Price: $339 (includes shipping)

Please note that this review is specifically for the black oxide variant of the Absolute Power Bar. Almost nothing in this review applies to the SS Absolute Power Bar. Worry not though, as I have that review planned as well.

Both Vulcan Absolute Power Bars side-by-side

I’ll touch on some of the differences towards the end of the review.


What Changed in Version 2.0

Three things are different with the newer version of the Black Oxide Absolute, and they are as follows (I will expand on these in the review section):

Sleeve Finish

Rather than being raw steel, the sleeves are now finished in a matte chrome. It has a very flat look to it, and from what I can tell it is the exact same finish that’s found on the shaft of the Vulcan Elite Weightlifting Bar.

This is a decent upgrade considering the price didn’t go up because of it. Raw steel sleeves are generally fine because we don’t tend to put our dirty, sweaty hands on the sleeves (so rust is easier to keep at bay than on the shaft itself), but rust eventually will find its way onto that steel, and the new chrome finish will prevent that completely.

Knurl Aggo

The aggressiveness of the Absolute’s knurl has also been brought up a notch with the V2.0. It’s still a little bit less aggressive than the Ohio Power Bar, but it’s no less secure. Matter of fact, I’d argue that it is a better knurl than what’s on the Ohio simply because it is not overly coarse or sharp.

Additionally, the Absolute has a milder (although not exactly passive) center knurl, whereas the Ohio Power Bar has the same abrasive knurl on the center as it does on the rest of the bar. I give this improved knurling a 10/10 for overall grip and feel. Very impressed.

End Cap Sticker Be Gone!

Vulcan Strength; after more than one issue with end cap stickers coming off bars; has now moved away from that practice and is using fixed, metal end caps on all of their newer bars. Stickers on end caps is not an uncommon practice but it’s proven to be unreliable, and now it’s a thing of the past. This is a good change.


The Black Oxide Absolute Power Bar 2.0 Review

Vulcan Black Oxide Absolute Powerlifting Barbell Review

A lot of this will be a repeat from the original review, as some things did not change.


Absolute Power Bar 2.0 Review – The Shaft

At 221,000 PSI, the Vulcan Absolute is one the strongest and one of the stiffest power bars on the market. Certainly no other power bar in this price range even comes close.

Black Oxide Absolute Power Bar 2.0 Shaft Details

To give you an idea of what is typical tensile strength for a power bar, the Texas Power Bar is rated at 186k PSI, all of the American Barbell power bars are rated at 190k PSI*, and the Rogue Ohio variants and the Westside power bars are all rated at 205k PSI. You can get a 215k PSI power bar if you’re willing to spend $849 on the Performance Powerlifting Bar, but I can’t make a very compelling case for why you would need to do that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that tensile strength is the be-all, end-all of bar specs, but it is an important factor with power bars. Strong, rigid shafts are less likely to flex and whip at heavier loads, and when it comes to the bench press, squat, and most accessory barbell movements, whip is not needed nor is it desired.

* edit: the Mammoth is actually 210k PSI


Absolute Power Bar 2.0 Review – Sleeve Rotation

The sleeves of the Absolute Power Bar do spin on bushings but the spin is minimal at best. I mean the sleeves do spin, of course, but they do not spin excessively or as freely as you would expect of say a CrossFit/WOD or Olympic weightlifting bar.

Sleeve rotation of the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar 2.0

If this were any other kind of bar I’d worry that the spin was insufficient, but for powerlifting this is pretty great – and I can only assume this bar was built this way on purpose because I have no shortage of Vulcan bars, and only the Absolute Bar has ‘moderate’ sleeve rotation. Clearly the tighter sleeves are meant to eliminate erratic spin during the slower and heavier, big-3 lifts.

In other words, I believe the slower sleeves are a perk of sorts, not a drawback.


Absolute Power Bar 2.0 Review – Knurling

There was nothing wrong with the knurling on the original Absolute Bar; or so I thought; but somehow it’s even better now than it was before.

Changes to knurling from version 1 to version 2 of the Absolute Power Bar

It’s hard to see the difference, but you can certainly feel it. The 2.0 is indeed slightly more aggressive.

Rather than being aggressive by Vulcan standards, but yet still only moderately aggressive when compared to bars like the Ohio Power Bar or IPF Power Bar, the Absolute is now a truly aggressive bar. What’s great is that Vulcan Strength managed to push the knurl a little bit without overdoing it – it’s a little grippier than it was before but it didn’t cross over into the uncomfortable zone. Better yet, while it now offers a grip and feel closer to that of the Ohio, it still retains it’s more moderate center knurl rather than matching the center with the outer; like the Ohio does.

Changes to center knurl on the Vulcan Absolute 2.0

The center knurl is less passive than before, but still not as aggressive as the outer knurling.

Combine the flawless new knurling with the tactile black oxide finish and you end up with a very affordable, very strong, and incredibly grippy power bar with little to no competition in the marketplace right now. Yes you can spend more than the $339 this bar sells for a get a better bar, but you’ll need to spend quite a bit more, not just a little more.

Outer knurling of the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar V2.0

To summarize the knurl, I consider the new knurling of the Oxide Absolute to be aggressive, but still not the most aggressive bar out there. As always, knurling is quite subjective, but as far as I’m concerned this bar gets a 10/10 for knurl depth, feel, and overall grip.


Absolute Power Bar 2.0 Review – Elasticity

As is typical of a 29 mm diameter power bar with a 200,000+ PSI rating, the Absolute Bar displays practically no elasticity. As a matter of fact, to say that the Absolute is stiff and rigid is an understatement. Expect no whip from this beast.


Absolute Power Bar 2.0 Review – Finish

As already mentioned, the Absolute’s 29 mm steel shaft is treated with a black oxide finish. Black oxide is a conversion coating that offers mild corrosion/oxidation resistance while also improving the appearance of the steel shaft. Black oxide is favorable to black zinc because it does not diminish the quality and feel of the knurling like zinc (and even chrome) finishes do. However the downside to black oxide versus other finishes is that it can and will still rust if not maintained (which you can clearly view on my original Absolute above.)

The bar steel sleeves of the original Absolute Power Bar

The bar steel sleeves of the original Absolute Power Bar

The sleeves of the Absolute used to be unfinished, raw steel, but they are now treated in a matte chrome.

Matte chrome sleeves of the Absolute Power Bar V2.0

The new matte chrome sleeves of the Absolute 2.0

Either option was fine by me. Bare steel has a very classic look that develops a patina over time, but the new matte chrome offers a similar look (it isn’t reflective) but without the risk of oxidation. Considering the chrome upgrade didn’t result in a price increase for the Absolute, I’d say that it was a solid upgrade/change.

End of the day, the original Absolute had oxidation risks from sleeve to sleeve, whereas the new 2.0 will only oxidize on the shaft – though this is mostly avoidable with maintenance.


Vulcan Absolute Power Bar Pros & Cons

Pros

  • The aggressive knurling is appropriate for a power bar without being too much. I give it 10/10 on version 2.0.
  • The center knurling is a nice medium between passive and aggressive. The Absolute is suitable for high-bar squats and power cleans.
  • Black oxide finish feels great – very grippy. It’s not really rust-proof, but it helps.
  • The shaft is stronger than any power bar that’s even close to the Absolute’s price. The Absolute is very rigid.
  • The matte chrome sleeves look utilitarian yet somehow still attractive, and are a minor improvement over raw steel.
  • Price is way more than reasonable for this premium piece of equipment, and it includes shipping.
  • No excessive or erratic sleeve rotation.
  • Sleeves are grooved for change plates (which could be either a pro or con depending on your preferences.)

Cons

  • Moderate sleeve rotation won’t allow you to use the Absolute as a multi-purpose bar. You’ll need a second bar if you take the clean seriously.
  • Black oxide feels amazing, but it will still oxidize.
  • Price is great, but it’s still $60 more than the bare Ohio Power Bar.
  • Sleeves are grooved for change plates (which could be either a pro or con depending on your preferences.)

Oxide Absolute Power Bar vs Raw Ohio Power Bar

There is simply no denying that the bare steel Ohio Power Bar is a steal for the price. $250 plus shipping for a rigid, 205,000 PSI power bar is a great deal, and the knurl on the Ohio is definitely top-notch. It’s a fantastic power bar, and that $250 price tag works out to be about $60 less than the Absolute to your door.

Rogue Ohio Power Bar vs Vulcan Absolute 2.0 Power Bar

So what is the difference between the Ohio Power Bar and the Absolute? The Ohio is a bit less rigid. It is not a dramatic difference, and most lifters would probably never even notice, but if you’ve got a 500+ pound squat then maybe you would. The Ohio Bar also has slightly sharper knurl and a much, much more aggressive center knurl – something I consider to be a drawback of the Ohio for those who high-bar squat or power clean.

Additionally, the chrome sleeves and black oxide shaft of the Vulcan Absolute will be much easier to maintain than the raw Ohio.  Granted you could opt for the stainless steel version of the Ohio, but that’s a $400 bar and you still have that brutal center knurl.

So the question is: if I had neither of these bars but had to choose one, which would it be? If budget isn’t an issue then I’d choose the Absolute – better oxidation resistance, stiffer and stronger shaft, and a better center knurling. If the $60 mattered that much to me then I’d be more than content with the Ohio Power Bar. When it comes down to it both are great values and incredible bars for the money, and both are more than enough bar for all big-3 lifters.

Keep in mind the $250 Ohio Power is a 45-pound bar, not a 20 kg bar. In case that matters to you.


Absolute Power Bar vs American Barbell Power Bars

American Barbell currently offers a handful of different power bars. The Elite Power Bar and the Mammoth Power Bar are high dollar bars that are a bit out of the Absolute’s price range (they are both stainless bars), but the $295 AB Power Bar and the $250 Grizzly Bar are not.

American Barbell Power Bars versus the Vulcan Absolute

As with all American Barbell bars, these two are very fancy, well-refined power bars. They look great, they’re durable as hell, and they both have oxidation-resistant, chrome finishes. In terms of specifications though, the Vulcan Absolute shames these two bars.

All American Barbell power bars have the same moderate knurling, and the shafts are only rated at 190k PSI – a rating more appropriate for a WOD bar than a power bar. Now both of these bars have great finish and assembly tolerances unrivaled by anyone, and the Grizzly is actually one hell of a deal at $250, but a powerlifting bar should have a bit more bite than these two do. The softer knurl is acceptable with the stainless steel AB bars (Elite) because stainless helps with the grip, but light knurl on chrome isn’t very power bar’ish.

I find that in the powerlifting world, black oxide is not only acceptable, but also preferred to the oxidation-resistant finishes like zinc or chrome. This fact makes the chrome finished AB power bars less appealing since the resistance comes at the cost of knurl quality and grip.


Absolute Power Bar vs Vulcan Elite Power Bar

The Vulcan Elite Power Bar is an interesting power bar. It’s one of the only power bars with a bright zinc finish – no chrome, no oxide, no bare steel. It’s a super rigid, 196,000 PSI bar. Not quite as high as the Absolute or the Ohio, but still somehow stiff as a board even when loaded to the hilt.

The Vulcan Elite Power Bar versus the Absolute

The Elite is odd in that it has dual markings, but that doesn’t really change the performance of the bar. The knurl of the Vulcan Elite is similar to the knurl on the old Absolute, but when it comes down to it the minor $30 difference combined with the upgrades to the Absolute V2 make the Elite far less interesting. The exception might be for people who live in extremely humid regions and are willing to forego a little tensile strength for a oxidation-resistant, zinc finish.


Oxide Absolute vs the Stainless Steel Absolute

The two different Vulcan Absolutes happen to share the same name, but these two bars are actually quite different… and I don’t even know where to start!

Vulcan Black Oxide Absolute versus the Stainless Steel Absolute

The Stainless Steel Absolute has a 240k PSI shaft – nearly 20k PSI higher than the already high 221k PSI rating of the Oxide Absolute. Surprisingly, the entire SS Absolute is stainless steel; not just the shaft like most SS bars. It has fine grooves in the sleeves, classy beveled collars, and completely different end caps. It doesn’t have the laser etched Vulcan logo like the oxide Absolute, and that would have been a nice touch, but it’s still a gorgeous piece of equipment nonetheless. The SS Absolute truly stands out among other bars on the rack.

It goes without saying that the Stainless Absolute is a nicer bar, but it’s also over $200 more expensive. It’s a luxury bar; there’s no doubt about it. If you can afford to own a $550 power bar then by all means have at it, but you should know that the oxide variant of the Absolute is still way more than enough bar for most people. If $339 is all you can comfortably spend, don’t feel bad – you’re getting a badass power bar with the oxide Absolute.


Vulcan Absolute Power Bar Review Summary

I liked the Vulcan Absolute a lot before, and I like it a lot more now; it is a top-tier power bar at a very reasonable price. It is definitely not your only option these days, but it is one of the better options now with the recent upgrades. The tensile strength is obscene, the knurling is basically perfect now, and the improvements were all just that – improvements. I don’t think that the Absolute is missing anything, and I do not see $339 busting most people’s bank.

To put it another way, I have bars that cost a lot more that get used a lot less, and I give the new Absolute Power Bar 2.0 a solid five stars. An easy decision.

Check out the new Vulcan Absolute Power Bar


 

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Marc March 9, 2018, 10:06 pm

    Excellent review!

    Is there a ‘donate’ button or link someplace on your website?

    Will there also be a Vulcan SS Absolute 2.0 released?

    How would you compare –

    the knurl of the Vulcan Absolute 2.0
    vs.
    the knurl of the Vulcan SS Absolute?

    • jburgeson March 9, 2018, 11:58 pm

      Thank you. Actually I didn’t want people to just give me money. What I did instead was start shop.garage-gyms.com to sell t-shirts and such. That way people can help fund the site and reviews, but actually get their “donations” worth in goods. Selection is still limited, but it’s growing.. it’s still relatively new.

      It’s my understanding there will be a 2.0 because the hash marks on the current SS are not right. I think the knurl is comparable between the two though, but I’ll get more specific after I lift on the SS a bit. I’ve been toying with this oxide one only so far (I also still need pics of the SS, so I don’t want to chalk it and drag steel plates down the sleeves before I do that), and I do know that knurling that 240k stainless isn’t the same as knurling carbon steel so there is a chance it’ll feel different in actual use. I doubt it though.

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