Don’t look now, but Bells of Steel is quickly making a name for themselves in the gym equipment industry.
Originally launched as a Canadian company in 2010 selling kettlebells, the company has greatly increased its product catalog to include racks, bars, plates, benches, etc…
Not only that, but they’ve also expanded into the United States with their warehouse in Indianapolis, IN.
This means fast… and free… shipping in the U.S.A. Within Canada, shipping is a little different, but they offer free pickup in nine Canadian cities.
When you consider their price point, the free shipping, and the overall product quality, it’s no wonder Bells of Steel is becoming a compelling option.
In this review, we’ll be taking a deep look at the Bells of Steel Utility Bar.
This multi-purpose barbell is extremely affordable at $177 to your door and it offers a nice overall spec profile.
There are a couple areas of the bar that I think can be improved, but on the whole, it’s a great offering for those looking for a budget-friendly, all-around barbell.
Let’s dig in.
If you’re looking for a multi-purpose barbell, you may have come across some of the more well-known bars like the Rogue Ohio Bar, the American Barbell California Bar, the Fringe Sport Wonder Bar, The Rep Fitness Gladiator MX Bar, etc…
Those are all nice bars, no doubt – a couple are even ‘great’ – but they’re also all more expensive than the Bells of Steel Utility Bar.
As you’ll read in the review, I think this bar at $177 shipped is going to be tough to beat if you’re budget-minded. Rest assured though, this isn’t just a value bar. It’s well made and, despite a couple of drawbacks that I’ll detail in the review, it’s a strong performer overall.
- Bar Weight: 20 kg
- Shaft Diameter: 28.5mm
- Knurl: Medium Knurl
- Center Knurl: Yes – Same Pattern
- Knurl Marks: Dual/Multi-Purpose
- Shaft Coating: Black Zinc
- Tensile Strength: 190,000 PSI
- Bar Length: 86.6″
- Distance Between Collar Faces: 51.5″
- Loadable Sleeve Length: 16.25″
- Sleeve Coating: Bright Zinc
- Bushing/Bearing: Bushing
The shaft on the Bells of Steel Utility Bar measures in at 28.5mm, which is consistent with the majority of other multi-purpose bars out there. This diameter accommodates a wide range of lifts, making it a true generalist bar. As someone who typically trains the Big 3 (squat, bench, deadlift), I normally use a 29mm power bar, but a 28mm-28.5mm multi-purpose bar can be quite fun to train with. Part of the reason is that it’s not as rigid. This creates a bit more whip, which can be useful when it comes to overload training (on the deadlift, for instance). Another reason I like it is that it’s easier to set a hook grip. I don’t have huge hands and, while I exclusively use a hook grip even on a 29mm bar, anything thinner is more comfortable…
… Ahhh who am I kidding – hook grip isn’t “comfortable” no matter what the diameter.
The knurling on the Utility Bar, like other multi-purpose bars, is mild-to-medium in feel. The profile isn’t flat, as there is some depth to it, but it’s definitely on the hilly side as opposed to a mountain or a volcano. The knurl itself is adequately grippy and not even remotely sharp, which is great for high volume/rep work. You may (like me), however, find it lacking when pulling heavy. To be fair, that’s not what this bar is necessarily intended for and it’s consistent with other similar options from the likes of Rogue, American Barbell, etc…
The black zinc finish on the shaft is a cost-effective coating and it looks nice, but it’s not the most ideal, in my opinion. I’ll detail visual attributes more in the aesthetics section below, but one of the drawbacks of black zinc when it comes to ‘feel’ is that it fills in some of the knurl depth. This takes away from the overall grip and it can also tend to create a slicker surface than what you would find on some other finish types. The workaround, of course, is a thin layer of chalk. The Utility bar takes chalk well and, once applied, I saw a very nice improvement in grip as expected. Just keep in mind that with a black zinc finish, you may find yourself chalking up sooner.
One of the things I really like about this bar is that it offers a center knurl. This isn’t typical for most multi-purpose bars, so kudos to Bells of Steel for adding that. For comparison, neither of the four bars listed above (Ohio bar, California Bar, Wonder Bar, & Gladiator Bar) offer a center knurl. This is a nice feature not only for lining up the bar for certain lifts, but also for providing some tactile feel on squat variations.
For the most part, the knurl is nice and consistent, but there are a few trouble areas on the bar I have. On a couple of sections near the endpoints of the knurl, you can see that there is some double tracking on the knurl itself. This likely won’t ever affect me since I’m not handling the bar in those specific areas, but it’s something to note. I’ve also noticed a couple of areas where the black zinc was applied too heavily. As you will see in the photo, this created a very smooth section of the knurl. These are small spots to be sure, but their location on my bar on the center knurl and near the power ring are places where you really want consistency. It’s likely that the locations are specific to my actual bar, and that may not be the case on others. That said, both the double-tracked area(s) and the zinc application can and should be refined.
The sleeves on the Bells of Steel Utility Bar are deeply grooved and finished in bright zinc. As a matter of preference, I generally don’t like grooved sleeves. I like the look, feel, and sound that a smooth sleeve offers. With that, what I’ve come to notice is that sleeves that are deeply grooved are much less offensive to me than a sleeve with fine grooves. Distance between grooves also makes a difference. The Utility Bar has a good amount of distance between each groove, which further reduces that horrifying ‘ZIP’ noise that a grooved sleeve creates when plates slide on and off.
The 1.96″ diameter sleeves measure 16.25″ in length, which is largely consistent with other multi-purpose bars. If I were to equate that with a full bar load using competition bumpers, it would exceed 600 lbs. I’m not sure what the yield strength of this bar is since it’s not mentioned in their specs, but with a tensile strength of 190k (similar to other multi-purpose bars), I’m confident the bar can easily withstand that amount of weight in actual use. Statically it’s been tested at 1,000 lbs. Generally speaking though, multi-purpose bars aren’t used for super-heavy lifting. Rest assured, this bar will handle pretty much whatever you throw at it.
The sleeves are rotated using a bronze bushing system, which is fairly common in this barbell segment. You will see some bars that use a composite bushing system (e.g. American Barbell California Bar), some that use a bronze bushing system (e.g. Rogue Ohio Bar), and others that actually use a bearing system (e.g. Fringe Sport Wonder Bar… which also can be bronze bushing).
The spin on the bar is very adequate and in-line with that one would expect to see on a multi-purpose bar. Both sleeves rotate freely and they each come to a gradual stop, which makes for a smooth ride the whole way. They’re each affixed with a snap ring, and they’re very secure to the bar – I haven’t experienced any sleeve slop in any direction. This too contributes to a smooth ride, and a quiet one also.
I’m impressed with the overall performance of the Utility Bar. It’s not the best multi-purpose bar I’ve ever used, but it’s pretty damn good for $177. As mentioned above, the 28.5mm shaft is great for general barbell work or if you just want to incorporate some overload training into your regular programming. I enjoy deadlifting with it when I’m doing higher volume training since the knurl isn’t aggressive at all. For heavy lifting, chalk or lifting straps will likely need to be used, at least eventually.
I’m so happy to see Bells of Steel add a center knurl on their utility bar. Again, this isn’t standard in this barbell class, and it’s a really nice touch. I definitely prefer a center knurl when performing any type of squat variation. Being a multi-purpose bar, you’re likely not going to be low-bar squatting, so the medium knurl is great on high-bar squats and front squats.
As far as the other lifts are concerned, this bar is going to be able to handle them. As I always recommend with multi-purpose bars, they’re great for general barbell work, if you’re just starting out, if you’re on a budget, etc… If you’re an olympic weightlifter, you’re better off buying a dedicated Oly bar. Likewise, if you’re a powerlifter, you’re better off buying a dedicated power bar. Bells of Steel, mind you, offers both an Oly bar and a Power Bar for $227 and $197, respectively.
Where I would like to see Bells of Steel improve here is on cleaning up the double-tracked knurl sections and the over-applied black zinc sections. It will only help overall performance.
Aesthetically, the bar looks nice. Black zinc has always been a good finish option for aesthetics… at least early in the barbell’s life. The bar’s shaft puts off some really cool highlights, which pop nicely under light. The long-term concern for black zinc is that it has a tendency to wear through over time, especially with heavy use. When this happens, it exposes the bare steel underneath and generally just looks tired. Black zinc is definitely one of those finishes that you’ll want to maintain throughout ownership to fight off oxidation and general wear. I recommend brushing out the knurl after every use and then hitting with some 3-in-1 oil every month or two, especially if you’re training in a humid environment.
The sleeves on the bar look great – they have a virtually flawless finish. I’m glad they didn’t elect to also apply a black zinc sleeve like the Fringe Sport Wonder Bar. The bright zinc will hold its look much longer. The face of the inside of the collars is absolutely gorgeous. I love the brushed look.
The end caps on the bar are simple and I really like them. They’re a little dirty in places, but they otherwise look great. I love the steel-look background and the Bells of Steel logo is generally just cool looking.
The utility bar isn’t going to garner any modeling accolades, but it does look nice.
Pros & Cons
- The value of this bar is undeniable. At $177 shipped, it’s one of the most cost-friendly bars out there.
- The knurl offers a mild-to-medium feel that is great for high volume and functional training.
- Center knurl! Woohoo!
- The overall specs of the bar are very good, and they’re consistent with other multi-purpose bars.
- The bar spins very freely and the sleeves have no notable sleeve slop in any direction.
- The knurling on the bar has some areas of double tracking and over-applied black zinc.
- Black zinc is generally a lower-end finish, but it looks nice when maintained and it’s cost-efficient.
- The sleeves are grooved, which may or may not be a con for you. I personally prefer a smooth sleeve, but at least these sleeves have deep grooves with wide gaps between them. This reduces the annoying zip noise.
If you’re looking for a multi-purpose bar that doesn’t break the bank and still performs well, the Bells of Steel Utility Bar is a great option to consider. It’s priced beneath several competing bars, yet it performs in-line with a number of them.
I’m excited to see the growth of Bells of Steel as an equipment manufacturer. I think they’re going to continue producing quality, lower-priced pieces. The fact that they now have an equipment warehouse in the States is great news for the U.S. consumer.
Good times, ladies and gents… good times!
Bells of Steel Utility Bar Rating
The Bells of Steel Utility Bar is a great option if you’re looking to grab a quality all-around barbell at a nice price point. It’s a strong performer and it doesn’t break the bank – my kind of combo!