Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you're reading this review and you're looking for a buffalo bar, odds are you have shoulder mobility issues, elbow pain, or possibly some wrist problems.
Maybe you're just looking for some additional variety in your training, deeper range of motion on bench, etc…
Either way, the buffalo bar is an excellent choice.
Historically, mainstream “bow bars” have been on opposite ends of the spectrum.
You have bars like the Kabuki Duffalo Bar which, for all intents and purposes, reigns supreme in this world. It has excellent fit and finish, it's strong, and by golly it's expensive.
Then you have bars like the TDS Bow Bar, which the Westside guys use. It's also strong, it lacks in fit and finish, but it's very affordable.
There really hasn't been much of an in-between offering… until now.
When Vulcan announced their buffalo bar recently, my heart overflowed with joy and a deep sense of euphoria fell over me…
Not really, but I was freakin' pumped.
It looked strikingly similar to the Duffalo Bar and it was priced virtually right smack in the middle – $370 shipped.
Sign me up.
In this review, I'll break this bar down, discuss some of its unique qualities in detail, and I'll compare it to both the Kabuki bar and the TDS bow bar.
In the great words of Nicolas Cage in the critically acclaimed 2000 blockbuster hit ‘Gone in 60 Seconds…' “Okay, let's ride.”
- Vulcan Buffalo Bar Overview
- Racking & Unracking
- Vulcan Buffalo Bar vs. Competitors
- Is it Right for You?
- Pros & Cons
- Full Rating
The buffalo bar from Vulcan is a really nice option in the “bow bar” arena. There are a couple areas of the bar that I absolutely love, like the bend profile and the knurling. There are a couple of areas of the bar that I'm just OK with, like the weight capacity and the thicker diameter. And there are a couple of areas of the bar that I'm not a huge fan of, like the sleeves and the zinc finish.
But make no mistake, this bar performs really, really nicely. While it won't garner 1st place honors in its class, at a price point of under $370 (shipped), it's hard to ignore its value.
Let's have a look at the specs, and then we'll break this bar down to see how it stacks up.
Bar Weight: 45 lbs
Shaft Diameter: 32mm
Center Knurl: Yes – Same Pattern
Knurl Marks: Sides + Center Ring
Shaft Coating: Bright Zinc
Tensile Strength: 165,000 PSI
Bar Length: 87.5″
Loadable Sleeve Length: 16.5″
Sleeve Coating: Bright Zinc
Made in: USA
In my opinion, the knurling on this bar is its best attribute aside from the bend profile. In case you haven't read my reviews on the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar v2 (my top pick for a power bar under $350) or the Vulcan Absolute Stainless Power Bar, I'm a huge fan of how Vulcan does their knurling. The Vulcan Buffalo Bar is certainly no exception even though it's slightly different.
My favorite part of this knurl is that it's fairly aggressive. It's not sharp, but it's definitely got a bite to it. If you look at the close-up photo, you'll notice that it's deeply grooved and quite vertical. At the tips though, you'll note that each point is pitted/”volcanoed”. By doing this, Vulcan has eliminated much of the sharpness that would otherwise exist had those pits not been formed. Considering the two primary uses of this bar are low bar squats and bench press, I think it's a smart move by Vulcan. More on this below in ‘Performance' section.
Another thing you will note about this knurl profile is that it's tightly packed. That is, the points-per-square-inch ratio is high. With more touch points on the bar, you'll feel a more even distribution of pressure in the hand. This, therefore, reduces some of the bite when compared to a knurl pattern that has a smaller point ratio.
All-in-all, the knurling on this bar strikes a very nice balance and it's generally just very well done.
When talking about the shaft of this bar, you have to first look at the bends. If you look at other buffalo bars on the market, you'll notice that not all of them are created equally. The TDS bow bar has a smaller arch, the Titan bison bar has a really big arch (6″), and the Kabuki Duffalo bar is somewhere in the middle, but still with a relatively big arch. The Vulcan Buffalo bar (4″) is nearly identical, if not 100% identical to the Kabuki Duffalo Bar. This is going to really excite people – it's been the single most asked question I've received on this bar so far. I personally love the bend profile on this bar, and I find it to be very comfortable.
Another question/topic of concern I've seen mentioned is the seemingly low tensile strength of 165k. This is likely due to the fact high tensile strengths are heavily touted/marketed on many bars these days, especially power bars. I'm sure many will also compare this to the 195k tensile strength of the Kabuki Duffalo bar. One interesting note is that the Duffalo bar used to have a 210k tensile strength. I do think tensile strength has some merit, but at the end of the day, it's a neat stat. It's not the end all, be all. Yield strength, which measures the minimum point at which a bar will become permanently deformed is a more useful measure, but most companies do not offer this information. This includes Vulcan and Kabuki as it relates to these bars.
And no, I'm not recommending you go out and buy a 130k tensile bar… my point is that the 165k PSI of this bar is not of particular concern to me. It's spec'd to have an 800-pound lifting capacity, so unless you're pushing that, you likely won't see a meaningful performance difference between it and a Duffalo bar, for instance.
The popular misconception is that tensile strength plays a major role in determining rigidity. In reality, that is mainly influenced by shaft diameter. It's why a 28mm American Barbell weightlifting bar with a 190k tensile strength is going to flex very similarly to a 28mm Eleiko weightlifting bar with a 215k tensile strength. On the topic of shaft diameter, the Vulcan website states a 30mm measurement, which matches that of the Kabuki Duffalo bar. After measuring the bar, however, it's actually 32mm. This isn't a huge deal to me since grip isn't a limiting factor on squats or bench, but I would personally prefer a 30mm shaft.
The shaft itself offers a bright zinc finish, which looks nice, but generally is not my favorite finish. As a plated finish, bright zinc will detract somewhat from the overall feel of the bar. Thankfully, as mentioned above, the knurl is deep, which still delivers a very nice feel. Zinc will also not fare as well over time as some other finishes when it comes to oxidation resistance. If you train in a humid environment, I would encourage you to brush and oil this bar fairly frequently to limit the effects of oxidation.
The center knurl of the bar, which offers the same pattern as the rest of the bar, has a smooth center ring. This is a really nice feature since it helps in lining up for a lift, particularly the squat. All of the knurl termination points are very well done. They're tight, clean, and exactly what I've come to expect from Vulcan.
Buffalo bars can be a bit awkward when racking/unracking, especially the first few times you use one. Due to the nature of the bar, the bend will likely sit in the J-cup, which will cause it to turn. Depending on how you have your cups set up, they will either turn inside or outside of the rack. If you have a drop-in set of cups like you would find on some racks (Hammer Strength, New Vulcan Half Rack, etc…), or if you have mono arms, this shift won't occur. After a few uses, you'll get the hang of it as it relates to your specific setup.
What is common across any type of cup is the act of adjusting the bar when racked. In either direction, it's awkward and somewhat difficult. If you like to shift a bar side-to-side when setting up for a squat, for example, you may be met with some resistance if the bend gets inside the inner edge of the cup. You may also have to deal with the J-cup shift itself as mentioned above.
If you like to roll the bar forward and back when setting up for a bench press, for example, you will quickly realize that it's not easily doable. In fact, you'll really need to slide the bar to the front, which will largely be dictated by how much weight you have loaded. At the very least, you'll want a firm grip on the bar to prevent it from flipping over. The most common way to unrack on a bench press is to have the bar balanced on the back of the cup. This isn't ideal since you have to move the bar a little further on lift-off, but it's a trade-off with this bar.
Due to the nature of a buffalo bar, it has the tendency to sometimes flip when not in use. That is, when you release your hands from the bar, it may roll over 90-180 degrees. The more weight you have loaded, the less likely it is to roll. This is going to destroy my sandwich cups (in the picture above, you can see where the knurl ate the UHMW). To be clear, this isn't necessarily going to affect everyone, but if you have a rack with a 47″ width, you may want to consider extra preventative measures. The issue with a 47″ rack (Sorinex, for example) is that the cups are slightly closer to the center of the bar, meaning they're making contact with the last little section of the knurl. As the bar rotates, that aggressive knurl is going to eat away at the inner edges of your cups, and in relatively short order. To combat this, you can either put something on top of your cups when using the bar, or you can wrap that last little section of knurl with some sort of tape. Neither is ideal, but I'd rather not ruin my cherished cups. The below image is after one lifting session.
Again, I don't think this will be a huge issue with 48″ racks, like Rogue, etc… unless you rack the bar awkwardly too much to one side (which is entirely possible). But it's worth a mention regardless.
If there's one area of this bar I'd like to see improved upon, it's the sleeves.
First, the good… the sleeves are 1.97″ in diameter, which is around what you would expect from a traditional barbell (1.96″). This means you can use your normal collars, and you can rest assured the plates will fit nice and snug to the sleeve. The sleeves are also 16.5″ in length, which offers plenty of room to hit the max lifting capacity. If you're using competition bumpers, you can load up well over 600 lbs with enough room for a collar. If you're using calibrated plates, you'll have no issue getting to 800 lbs.
The most notable drawback to these sleeves is that there is a noticeable amount of lateral sleeve movement on both sides. In the image above, the discolored part on the shaft represents the distance in sleeve movement. The exact measurement is 1.5mm. While that may not seem like a lot, it's very evident when moving the bar around unloaded. To my surprise, it's really not noticeable when actually lifting weight. I thought for sure this was going to be a big issue based on my initial reaction, but thankfully it's turned out to be pretty inconsequential. If you don't have a consistently level bar path though, I have to imagine you're going to notice it. At the very least, it's sort of annoying when moving the bar around/walking the bar out, and it generally takes away from the overall feel, which is otherwise good. If I'm Vulcan, this is the first thing I fix about this bar for subsequent production runs.
Another feature about these sleeves, which is normal on some other buffalo bars, is that the sleeves are angled upwards. Unless I'm missing something in terms of structural integrity (which I may), this seems very unnecessary to me. I've seen it mentioned by a few people with regards to the Duffalo bar that the benefit of these angled sleeves is that they help eliminate the potential of plates sliding off…
Yeah… I'm not buying that at all. I've been using straight bars for a long time and I've never, ever, wished that the sleeves were angled to prevent such an issue. I have two problems with this idea. The first is that, as I mentioned above, the bar may flip over when not in use (less likely the heavier the load). This will create a negative sleeve angle. That's not something I want when loading/unloading a bar. Talk about a risk of plates falling off. The second is when it comes to bailing on a bench press. I never bench with collars in case I ever need to dump the bar, at which point I want the plates to slide off… quickly. If this upward angle makes that more difficult, then I have a safety issue on my hands. I've seen people struggle to dump plates even with a straight bar (a recent clip of Matt Vincent was alarming). I have to think it's even more difficult with upwardly angled sleeves. After all, that's the perceived benefit: to reduce plate slide.
The other thing I've seen mentioned about the upward angle is that it encourages a more optimal center of gravity since the plates angle in towards the middle. Again, not buying it.
What I would personally like to see is this type of buffalo bar with a straight sleeve. This isn't a knock on the Vulcan Buffalo bar more than it is buffalo bar sleeves in general. I just don't really get it… and now I'm rambling.
The sleeves themselves are finished with the same bright zinc as the rest of the bar, and they're grooved. Y'all probably know by now… I greatly prefer smooth sleeves. Load/unload this bar at the wrong angle and you're sure to get an ear full of ‘zzziiiiiipppppppp'.
The sleeves are affixed to the bar with a snap ring and they're also pinned. I think the end caps look really nice with the red-on-black, but I'm still not a fan of the warranty disclaimer. I get that Vulcan has a warranty clause, but I wish they wouldn't put it on the actual end cap.
Although the buffalo bar can technically be used in a number of ways (military press, rows, etc..), squatting and benching are the two main movements. I intend to only use it when squatting and benching personally, and I have to say… it feels niiiiiiice.
The Vulcan Buffalo bar feels great on squats. You can use it for low bar squats, high bar squats, and even front squats, although low bar is likely the biggest beneficiary. Up to this point, I've mainly been using it in that fashion.
One of the primary reasons to squat with a buffalo bar is that it closely mimics a competition squat (i.e. straight bar) while giving your upper extremities some relief. Specifically, if you have shoulder, elbow, or wrist issues, this bar can come in very handy… especially if you want to maintain as close to a comp squat as possible.
In general, I agree that it does what it's intended to do… with one caveat. I feel that it pitches me forward ever so slightly. Due to the bow of the bar, it essentially wraps the bar around my back, which positions the plates a bit more forward than a straight bar. To be clear, it's nothing like a safety squat bar in that sense… it's a very subtle shift.
I absolutely can feel a difference with my shoulders using this bar, and my wrists feel like they're in a much better position. Another popularly held benefit of the bar is that it promotes a better scapula position. I tend to agree. Not only that, but because the bar basically touches the entirety of the back, it holds the scapula in that improved position.
I'm really digging this bar on squats, but I will add that I don't see this overtaking the safety squat bar for me personally. I will continue to predominantly squat with my SSB, but I will absolutely be throwing the buffalo bar in there with relative frequency.
As much as I like the buffalo bar on squats, I REALLY like it on bench. Actually, I love it on bench.
I have to admit something… I have baby wrists. No, like, my wrists are freakin' tiny. Straight bars have given me fits in the past, requiring me to use wrist wraps. I will continue to use wrist wraps with this bar, but I've found I don't have to until the weight gets a little heavier. To add to that, my wrists generally just feel like they're in a much better position. It's night and day, really.
Another nice benefit of this bar on bench is the increased range of motion. Due to the bow of the bar, you can naturally descend deeper. It seems a bit counter-intuitive at first since most people will associate shoulder pain with increased ROM, but due to the bar design, that's simply not the case. My shoulders feel terrific, and I actually felt my pecs carrying much of the load. That's something I, and perhaps some of you, have struggled with on bench. The first couple of days following my first bench day with this bar were met with soreness that I haven't experienced in a long time. Presumably because my pecs were activating and they were probably using some stabilizing muscles that I just wasn't accustomed to.
The one drawback to using this bar on bench is that you can't really move the bar front to back in the cups. This makes setup and the initial lift-off a little more challenging. If you have a spotter or mono arms, that will help. Right now I don't have mono arms, which reminds me… I need to get some mono arms.
Overall, I can't say enough good things about this bar on bench. I will be using it quite often.
The Kabuki Duffalo bar is the king of the buffalo bar right now, and it has been for some time. As it compares to the Vulcan Buffalo bar, it has quite a few advantages.
For one, it can hold a lot more weight. If you're someone who lifts more than 800 lbs, you're better off looking at the Kabuki Duffalo or the TDS bar below. Secondly, it has a loadable sleeve length that's nearly 3″ longer. Not only does this allow for more plates, but it arguably requires additional stability when actually lifting. Thirdly, it has a higher tensile strength (195k vs 165k) which, again, isn't the end all and be all. Fourthly, it comes in three different finishes, including zinc, black oxide, and electroless nickel, compared to only one with the Vulcan Buffalo bar. And lastly, it has a threaded attachment point on the sleeve to add a handle/chain hook/band hook.
However, the Kabuki Duffalo bar is far more expensive. With pricing ranging from $599 to $689, it's priced $230-$320 above the Vulcan Buffalo Bar. When you consider the Kabuki bar ships for around $70 (to my house in North Carolina) and the Vulcan bar ships free in the USA, the pricing difference is actually ~$300-$390. That's meaningful.
It's hard to argue that the Kabuki Duffalo bar isn't superior to the Vulcan bar in terms of specs and performance. In terms of value, however, Vulcan makes a very strong case if you're looking for a buffalo bar. Another thing to note is that Kabuki has been known to have production/delivery delays with their bars.
Vulcan Buffalo Bar vs. TDS Buffalo Bow Bar
The TDS Buffalo Bow Bar, also referred to as NYB bow bar, Mega bow bar, etc… has a really strong following since it's been popularized by the Westside guys.
This bar is similar in length to the Vulcan Buffalo bar, but it has a smaller arch. While they don't list a tensile strength for comparison purposes, it's a very strong bar with a higher capacity than the Vulcan bar. There are videos of guys lifting well in excess of the 800 lbs of the Vulcan. This bar is chrome plated, which some may find to be a little slicker than the zinc of the Vulcan bar. It also has a less aggressive knurl… much less aggressive by several accounts. You'll actually see some people heavily taping the center to get more friction. In fact, on the sale page of Westside's very own website, the bar is taped as such (see image above).
The other main difference between these two bars is price. The TDS bar is priced at ~$200 shipped, so roughly $170 cheaper than the Vulcan bar. Having used the Vulcan, I would personally choose it based solely on the knurl profile, but I also think it has other benefits over the TDS. This includes the arch height and, to a lesser extent, the… gasp… zinc finish.
For the record, I think the TDS bar is a perfectly fine bar. There are many who swear by it. I personally tend to lean more towards the Vulcan, however, and since 800 lbs isn't in my future, I won't really think twice about it.
So, based on all of this, is the Vulcan Buffalo right for you? I think ultimately this bar is a good option for you if:
- You have a need for this type of specialty bar at all (poor mobility, achy shoulders/elbows/wrists, additional ROM, etc…).
- You lift less than 800 lbs.
- You want to spend less than $375.
- You like the idea of a 4″ arch, much like that of the Duffalo bar.
- Multiple finish options isn't a deal breaker for you.
- Integrated attachment points aren't necessary for you.
If those are true, the Vulcan Buffalo bar at $370 is going to be tough to beat, in my opinion. Obviously, if you lift more than 800 lbs, you need to look at something like the Duffalo bar or TDS Bow Bar. But otherwise, the Vulcan bar represents a great value for a buffalo bar.
- The bends on this bar closely mimic the Kabuki Duffalo bar, which is essentially the gold standard of buffalo bars at this point.
- Squats and bench feel awesome using this bar. There is a noticeable benefit when it comes to shoulders, elbows, and wrists. The extra ROM on bench is also excellent.
- The knurling, like every Vulcan bar I've used, is absolutely top-notch. It's aggressive, but not sharp, and it's very grippy.
- The center ring is very helpful when lining up for a lift, especially the squat.
- The bar offers a very nice value at $370 with free shipping.
- The sleeves on this bar have a noticeable amount of lateral sleeve movement. Thankfully, this isn't a big deal when actually lifting, but it's evident when unloaded and even when walking a loaded bar out.
- The bar has a lifting capacity of 800 lbs, which is below some other bars including the Kabuki Duffalo and TDS bow bar. This is, of course, a non-issue if you don't lift 800 lbs… like me.
- Bright zinc isn't my favorite barbell finish. I would personally prefer a black oxide bar and accept the oxidation.
All in all, I think the Vulcan Buffalo Bar is really good, but not a great option if you're looking for this type of bar. It lacks the weight capacity and the fit/finish to truly compete with the Kabuki Duffalo bar, but it also costs significantly less. It has a better spec profile than the TDS Bow bar, with the exception of weight capacity, but it costs a little bit more.
Here's my bottom line on this bar: Buy it if you don't want to pay more than $600 and you lift less than 800 lbs. Otherwise, go with the Duffalo or the TDS.
If you want to read more about specialty bars or powerlifting equipment in general, check out my ultimate guide to building a powerlifting home gym.
If you have any questions about this bar or buffalo bars in general, please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you own the Vulcan Buffalo Bar and want to chime in with your own thoughts, please do so!
As always, I appreciate any feedback.
The bar is loaded,