Table of Contents
The California Bar by American Barbell is the company’s multi-use athlete barbell that is a competitor with bars like Rogue’s Ohio Bar. The build quality is excellent and it is built to handle the high demands of barbell sports, although there are some issues with coating longevity for the zinc coating. Overall it is a great bar that performs very well for weightlifting, powerlifting, and Crossfit for a reasonable price.
The people at American Barbell have been making bars for a long time, and this expertise shows in the quality of the bars they produce. Despite the quality of their equipment, American Barbell seems to have gone under to radar in the fitness community for several years, and only recently does it seem like they are becoming a popular brand in home gyms and some larger gyms facilities.
I bought this bar 3 years ago (December 2015) and have been using it as my main barbell in my garage gym. It has taken beating as I primarily train for weightlifting, but have done Crossfit-style workouts with it as well. It has taken the abuse well with no bends or problems other than a few cosmetic issues.
The bar is built to IWF specifications with a 28 mm shaft, IWF length, and IWF markings (as well as IPF markings). The shaft is 190k tensile strength steel. The sleeves contain composite bushings, which is standard for bars in this class. I have the 20 kg version of the bar, but it also comes in a 15 kg women’s version. The bar has a moderate whip that makes it great for weightlifting, but may not be suited to powerlifters who prefer a stiff bar for heavy squats and bench (although the bar does not tend to whip a ton on these movements until ~405 lbs).
The bar has what has been called “volcano” cut knurl. This means the knurl is cut in as little pyramids that then have the peaks cut down (resembling a volcano).
The knurl is cut very cleanly, with sharp endings at the markings and the sleeve. The knurl goes all the way to the beginning of the sleeve, which is great for longer-armed weightlifters who need to grab out to the sleeve for snatches (I am one of them if you could not tell). The knurling is not super aggressive, but does provide good grip. Grip has never been an issue for snatches, cleans, or pulls. I honestly only use chalk if my hands get sweaty as I’ve found that I do not really need it otherwise. There is no center knurl, which saves your neck in cleans and front squats, especially for high rep work, and I have had no issues with it slipping on back squats.
Sleeves and Spin
The sleeve coating is hard chrome. They spin on aircraft grade composite bushings that provide a smooth and durable spin. The bushings have more spin resistance than needle bearings, but I have never noticed any issues with spin during snatches or cleans compared to bearing bars like the Eleiko. The bushings are contained in a casing that keeps chalk and dust from getting in the bushings and affecting spin. Over 3 years of chalking up and grabbing at the sleeves during the aforementioned snatches seems to have done nothing.
The loadable portion is welded with American Barbell’s unique recessed welding that lets the plates be pushed in as close as possible. This weld is super high quality and looks very clean. Personally I like this look, but it will vary by aesthetic preference.
The sleeve is smooth so plates slide on and off easily (vs. sleeves with small ridges) and clamps are recommended as plates tend to shift on the chrome during squats or high rep Olympic movements. The sleeve coating has held up fairly well. There has not been any major chipping, but there are places that have rusted as taking plates on and off has removed some of the chrome. The sleeves still look good, however, as chrome is the best coating option for durability besides stainless steel.
The finish I got on my California Bar was the black zinc shaft coating. This is the only complaint I have about the bar. The day I got it I set the bar on my safety catches which are just steel bars, and the coating was damaged immediately by just touching the metal as I did not even roll or drop it on the catches. I have UMHW plastic on my J-hooks that the bar has always rested on and I have never dropped the bar on the catches bailing from a squat or bench, and still the coating has been removed just from rubbing against the plastic. This has not affected the performance in any way, nor has the steel underneath rusted, it just does not look great.
Since I bought my bar, Cerakote has become a popular barbell coating for durability and corrosion resistance, and the California Bar is now sold standard with a Cerakote sleeve coating. The barbell is the exact same with a better coating, which should not chip or rub off.
Pricing and Recommendation
When I bought my bar, it was being sold for $275 plus shipping, but I was able to get it for $250 shipped. At that price point, I was very happy with the purchase. Since then, they have replaced the shaft coating with Cerakote and the bar now sells for $335 plus shipping (which is usually ~$20 depending on where you live). For $350, I would still recommend this bar for anyone who does general training with weightlifting and powerlifting movements, or trains Crossfit-style workouts as this bar is high quality with great durability. I would also recommend this bar for boxes that tend to put their bars through a lot of abuse. This bar should last a lifetime for any home gym owner or commercial box gym. I wish the price were a little lower (probably ~$300) but the pricing is on-par with Rogue’s Cerakote Ohio Bar, and, having used an Ohio Bar, I would recommend the California bar first.
The California Bar by American Barbell is an excellent quality bar for functional training as well as weightlifting. The only issues I have had have been durability of the black zinc coating, which has since been fixed by the company with an updated Cerakote version. It is not the cheapest barbell of its kind, but it should last forever no matter what type of training you put it through.