This is a review for what is now the fourth Vulcan bar that I’ll review here at Garage Gyms; the Vulcan Standard 28.5 mm Olympic Bar; or what I think of as the Box Bar. Previously I reviewed the Vulcan Elite, the One Basic, and the Bearing Training Bar, and I think that it’s safe to say that the Elite and this Standard are my two favorites so far. Granted, these two are the more expensive of the four so it’s not a complete surprise that it would work out that way, but it is what it is.
Let me first say that as far as the brand goes, Vulcan is a great company. They are one of the few equipment suppliers that have yet to disappoint me in some way. The owner knows his stuff (especially when it comes to bars) the prices are competitive and reasonable, and all of the equipment I’ve handled has all performed as promised; if not way better. It seems like they take a lot of pride in what they do, and I like that.
Last update January 2018 – standard fact, link, and price checking.
So Why Another Vulcan Bushing Bar?
Like I just said I’ve already reviewed three other Vulcan bars, and all are priced under $400. So why would I review another mid-range Vulcan rather than a high-end Vulcan bar like the Pro Olympic Bar or the Absolute? I mean the 28.5 Standard is only a mediocre upgrade to the One Basic, and it’s not a high performance bar like the Elite, so why bother?
Well I became interested in the Standard after the owner of Vulcan Strength made a couple of interesting comments about it to me. To make a long story short, he claimed that this bar is manufactured to such high standards that it is simply the best mid-range barbell on the market for heavy-duty, commercial use. Better not only than the One and the Elite, but the competition’s mid-range bars as well; including the Ohio line.
To put that another way, he claimed that the Standard could withstand the day-to-day, long-term abuse of multiple athletes thrashing this bar without it breaking, developing a bend, or experiencing sleeve seizing or departure. All this durability along with a better than average performance for a bar in this price range is what makes it “the best choice for commercial gyms, boxes, and academic athletic departments”, or so the story goes.
My first thought was that if this bar can offer both performance and reliability in that kind of hostile environment, then it should have no problem whatsoever surviving in a home gym or garage gym that sees use for but an hour or two a day, four or five days a week. Since this claim is backed with a lifetime warranty against everything but simple negligence for a price under $300, I figured that it was worth checking out.
I want to be fair though. It would be negligent of me to not point out that pretty much every bar dealer and manufacturer out there wants you to believe that their bar is the best bar in the world; that you can’t possibly go wrong by giving them your hard-earned money. Try to find a product listing for a barbell that doesn’t in one way or another elude to the “fact” that their bar is the best.
In reality, not many bars actually will last a lifetime. Far too many bars can’t go even a year or two without developing a wobble or having a sleeve seize; even some of the common box bars out there are nothing more than superbly-marketed garbage. My experience with Vulcan thus far has been great so I don’t automatically assume this claim is false. All that said, the wool is not easily pulled over my eyes – I have to see it to believe it.
Vulcan Standard Specifications
The specifications are taken from the Vulcan 28.5 mm Standard product page found here.
- IWF-spec 20 kg Olympic bar
- 28.5 mm shaft diameter
- 194,000 PSI tensile strength
- Moderately aggressive knurl; no center knurl
- Dual-markings (IWF & IPF)
- Bright zinc finish
- Oil-impregnated bronze bushing system
- Grooved sleeves for friction/V-lock plates
- Made in USA with a lifetime warranty
- $286 with shipping included
I spent more time working with this particular bar than I typically do with bars that I review. I generally lift with a bar for about a month before I start writing the review, but I’ve been with this Standard for over three months now. I took my time with this one because I wanted a chance to use it for everything and put some serious mileage on it. I’m not a global gym or CrossFit box, so the only way I can get an idea of how it will hold up in a large box setting is to abuse it for longer than usual and actually try to ruin it.
On the off chance that you’re wondering why I usually take a month to review each bar, it’s because I find it to be a reasonable amount of time to see how well a bar performs and how it holds up, but not so long that I only get to publish a review once every six months. I’d love to get reviews out much faster than I do, and I’d also like to spend more time with each and every bar… it’s basically just the compromise between those two things I’ve come up with. Since I can easily update reviews with any new discoveries I make, it seems to work well.
In any case, I’m obviously satisfied with the amount of time I’ve spent with the Standard at this point, and as you’ll see as you read on, I am quite happy with it. It’s a great bar, and the price is right.
There is nothing cheap looking about this bar; the Standard is very professional looking. In terms of the overall finish of the shaft and the sleeves, it looks much more refined than the other Vulcan bars that I’ve reviewed (though that’s really due to many of them being black zinc bars.) The bright zinc finish is clean and consistently applied, and I’ve yet to have any issues with chipping, scratches, or oxidation.
One of the things I don’t like about many <$300 bars is that the sleeve shoulder is just way too thick; like 3″ thick! Not only is it an unattractive feature, but those thick shoulders equate to less weight on the bar (assuming the bar is to spec.) Fortunately the Standard has very slim shoulders, which means more loadable sleeve length. Considering that the Standard is a multi-purpose bar and not exclusively an Olympic WL bar, getting a lot of wheels on the sleeves may actually come up in your training.
The Vulcan 28.5 mm Standard is a dual-marked bar. I myself have the previous version that only has Olympic markings (which is why I am showing you this picture from the Vulcan site above), but other than that my bar and the just recently released dual bar are identical.
Initially Vulcan Strength was planning to offer both dual-marked Standards and IWF-marked Standards, but demand for dual-marked bars was so much higher that it didn’t make sense to offer both. I believe that it’s safe to say at this point that having both IPF and IWF marks on bushing bars is just the way of the future. If you simply must have a Standard with only Olympic markings, you’ll have to grab the Standard Bearing Bar version.
The knurl depth itself is probably just perfect for most people. It’s a very nice compromise between too aggressive and too soft. It offers a very firm grip but without feeling excessive during high-rep sets. It’s really the ideal knurl depth for a multi-purpose bar that will actually be used as such. You can easily move from snatches to bench press to power cleans and so on.
Worth mentioning is that the Standard is knurled all the way to the sleeves, which is always a blessing for us tall folks. That’s one of those things a lot of the other bar companies fail to do on their economy and mid-range bars; annoys me to no end that they couldn’t take that knurl another whole inch to the sleeves. What’s that cost?!
There is no center knurl on the Vulcan Standard.
Elasticity / Whip / Tensile Strength
The Vulcan 28.5 mm Standard is a 194k PSI tensile strength bar. This is an above average rating for a sub-$300 Olympic barbell, and it’s a rating that’s high enough to safely eliminate any concern that the bar will develop a permanent bend.
Worth noting is that the tensile strength ratings and yield strength ratings given for Vulcan bars are lab results taken after the shaft is worked, not the pre-worked number given by the steel mill. What this means is that 194,000 is an accurate number; not a guesstimate (or a total fabrication, as I believe happens quite often.) It’s also a minimum rating and not just an average. Technically any given bar could be higher, but I doubt that deviation is enough to warrant even discussing it.
The Standard displays whip on par with other mainstream 28.5 mm bars in the 190k-200k PSI range. It’s not as whippy at low weights as many of the more expensive and elite true 28 mm Olympic bars, but it has noticeable elasticity to it at moderate and heavy weights. In my experience, Vulcan bars usually do pretty well in the whole whip department, even with the economy bars. For the money, I doubt that you’ll have any complaints whatsoever.
Vulcan Standard Review: Rotation / Assembly
The Vulcan Standard utilizes self-lubricating bronze bushings. Bronze bushings (specifically these oil-impregnated sintered bushings) are the ideal choice for a bar due to the fact that they are virtually maintenance free. Other materials like brass and steel (even cast bronze) are more likely to lose their ability to spin freely over time (to be fair tho, spin can usually be completely regained after breaking down the bar to clean and lubricate the components, but who really wants to do that even once, much less on a regular basis.)
The fact is that bushings are one of the least expensive components in a barbell, so you’ll rarely see manufacturer’s cutting corners when it comes to them. If you’re running into a lot bars with steel or brass bushings, you’re probably looking for your training equipment in the wrong places.
Just like the elasticy, the Standard’s sleeve rotation is on par with other bushing bars in its price range. Turnover is smooth without being excessive, and there is no unusual noise, no grinding, nor any other sings of unwanted friction.
I’ve yet to experience seizing or catching in any Vulcan bar, and if it was going to happen, it probably wouldn’t be the Standard that does it. The sleeve assembly of the Standard is just done so well and the tolerances are too precise to warrant any concern. There is no lateral play in the sleeve, and there is no horrific clanging and banging when the bar is dropped. I expect zero issues with rotation over the life of this bar.
Be that as it may, this bar is warranted just as well as any premium Olympic bar. It has a lifetime warranty against not only developing a bend, but also against sleeves seizing. It’s not the only USA-made bar under $300 to have such a warranty, but their are more that have no such warranty than those that do, so it’s still a perk.
The Box Bar?
So is this the best mid-range barbell for a gym or box?
I’m not completely sure that I can answer that question as well as a box owner. For me, in my garage gym, the Standard has been great; very reliable. Unfortunately, I don’t honestly believe that the time I’ve spent with the bar with only a couple of us regularly using it even comes close putting the bar through the sort of abuse that it will receive in a box/affiliate or commercial gym setting; even with the extra time I spent with it.
I’ve tossed this bar around, I’ve intentionally dropped it unevenly, left it loaded in the rack overnight, and even stuck it in my landmine for some heavy bent-over rows (which is just awful for a bar in so many ways), and I haven’t managed to damage the 28.5 Standard yet. However, we all know that things will be much worse for it in the typical box or commercial gym setting because this stuff will be happening all day, every day, and by people who may not even know that the way they are handling the bar is negligent.
That said, I do think that the Standard is one of the best mid-range choices for a home gym or garage gym. I’d even go so far as to say that I have no reason to suspect that it’s not the best choice for a commercial gym. It’s definitely a better option than many of the bars that gym owners currently choose for their facilities. Matter of fact, I own many of the common box bars and I can say truthfully that the majority of them could be welded into the gun rack and no one would ever miss them.
In any case I don’t have any real problems with this bar. It could stand to be chrome but I get it that going with chrome would defeat the purpose of trying to offer a multi-purpose bar that can last a lifetime at a low price. The zinc is so well done it’s really a non-issue, and at least it’s not black!
Given the fact that the Standard does have a lifetime warranty and fact that I didn’t run into any issues with this bar, I’m going to thumbs up the claim despite my inability to test it to the degree that an entire group could. Still, I’d love to get some feedback from any gym owners (or even individuals) that have purchased this bar.
Vulcan 28.5 mm Standard Olympic Bar Review – Summary
So there you have it, my Vulcan Standard review. As always, do your research before you give someone your money. My opinion is just one of many, and even a mid-range bar is an expensive investment, so ask your gym buddies, and read those product reviews.