Bulldog Gear Box Bar 2.0 20kg barbell review

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Bulldog offer a range of Box-branded barbells and I decided to take the 7ft, 20kg mens Olympic barbell for a spin (if you excuse the pun). The Box barbell is very affordable so I have high hopes that the Box 2.0 will be a high-quality entry level barbell for the UK market.

Bulldog Gear Box Bar 2.0 20kg barbell review

At a glance…

  • Check out the Bulldog Gear Box Bar 2.0 barbell here
  • It’s a great all-rounder well suited to varied workouts and CrossFit
  • Overall it is excellent value given the specification and reasonable price point
  • BUT it would be nice to have a few options to customise the bar such as different finishes

Best bits:

  • Great value
  • Sleeves – smooth finish with slim collar
  • Spin – facilitated by 5 needle bearings as well as brass bushings in each sleeve
  • Excellent all round bar and perfectly suited to diverse CrossFit or Olympic workouts

Considerations:

  • Black chrome is only available finish. A choice would be nice.
  • Knurl could be more aggressive for powerlifters
  • 3 year warranty – why not just make it lifetime for domestic users?

What is the Box Bar 2.0 barbell all about?

The Bulldog Gear Box Bar 2.0 is a 7ft, 20kg Olympic barbell aiming to deliver a ‘best bang for the buck’ experience to UK home and commercial gyms. It’s a generalist bar with both power and Olympic markings suitable for any lift and would make an excellent ‘only bar’ for a general garage or CrossFit gym set up.

Specification

  • 7ft Olympic-length barbell
  • 28mm diameter shaft
  • 240,000 PSI tensile strength
  • Black chrome coated shaft
  • Powerlifting and Olympic markings
  • No centre knurl
  • Flat mountain knurl pattern – passive knurl ‘bite’ well suited to higher rep work
  • Silver chrome finished sleeves
  • 5 needle bearings with brass bushings in each sleeve

What I like about the Bulldog Box 2.0

There’s a lot to like about the Box 2.0 barbell. Following the excellent Bulldog Bar 1.0 is a tough act but the Box undercuts it massively on price without scrimping on spec. Here are the highlights:

Good value at list price

The Box 2.0 represents great value for money. It’s well made, premium branded barbell BUT for entry level money. The combination of needle bearings and the brass bushings in the sleeves produce excellent spin and knock the socks off of the typical cheap imported barbells that use bolts to hold the sleeves on resulting in an inconsistent and grainy movement.

Some stiff competition: Box 2.0 was tested against offerings from ATX and the premium Bulldog line
Some stiff competition: Box 2.0 [right] was tested against offerings from ATX [left] and the discontinued Bulldog [middle] line

Knurl consistency and markings

The knurl pattern is very evenly finished and machined to near perfection. It’s really impressive in a bar at this price point and the consistency is easily the equal of the Rogue and ATX bars I’ve used. It certainly casts a lot of shade on other entry level options which I’ve found to have an inconsistent knurl.

The dual markings are well defined and easier to find on this bar than the Bulldog Bar 1.0 due to the glossy finish on the shaft making them stand out more both visually and by feel.

Knurl is beautifully consistent with clear power and Olympic rings marked

Sleeve design and finish

The sleeves are EXCELLENT. The hard chrome finish is smooth to the touch with a slim collar which is countersunk to accommodate the now customary Bulldog Gear branded band. I think this looks really cool and is a big improvement over the discontinued but much more expensive Bulldog Bar 1.0 which had a ribbed finish on its sleeves making for some pretty weird noises when loading and loading metal plates!

Overall the build and design quality of the sleeves feels equal to the far higher priced ATX RAM bar. That is VERY high praise for the Bulldog as the ATX sleeves are really excellent.

Box 2.0 (right) compared to Bulldog Bar 1.0 (middle) and ATX RAM bar (left): Sleeve is smooth vs ridged finish on original (much better!)
Box 2.0 [right] with smooth sleeves. Bulldog Bar 1.0 [middle] has a ridged finish. ATX RAM bar [left] also with smooth sleeves for comparison

Smooth spinning sleeves: Bearing and bushing combination

The Box 2.0 is the most free-spinning barbell I currently have in the gym. With a single 10kg plate the sleeve spins for ages with little effort. Each sleeve has 5 needle bearings inside the brass bushings facilitating the fluid spinning motion. 

Needle bearings are typically the most expensive bearing type so it is impressive to see them on a bar at this price point.

The spin has felt fine in all movements so far including presses. Needle bearings really come in to their own in faster, more dynamic lifts (such as cleans and jerks) but I’ve done a ton of powerlifting focused moves with this bar as well and it feels comfortable there too.

Overall the needle bearings offer a flexibility that will appeal to many home gym and CrossFit users who like the freedom to do a variety of lifts. Pure powerlifters can ‘get away with’ cheaper bushing-only sleeves BUT at this price point I think the construction of this bar offers a great appeal as an “all rounder”.

Brass bushing visible - inside there are 5 needle bearings providing smooth spin
Brass bushing visible – inside there are 5 needle bearings providing smooth spin

Easy grip: 28mm shaft

A 28mm shaft is as per International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) specifications and it is therefore IDEAL for lifters looking to do Olympic lifts or CrossFit. Surprisingly 28mm feels noticeably thinner in the hand than even a 28.5mm or 29mm power bar and it gives an awesome ‘grippy’ feeling as it sinks in to your hand just that little bit more.

Despite being a little thinner than a power bar I’ve had no issues performing power movements with it – in fact I prefer the thinner bar for deadlifts (remember that a dedicated deadlift bar is even thinner at 27mm!) – therefore it’s filling the role of ‘jack of all trades’ in my home gym well. 

I think this is important for most of us with limited space as we need to make the most of what we have and it’s unlikely we will have numerous niche barbells for each lift lying around!

The Box may not be suited to you if you are a COMPETITIVE powerlifter. If you do compete in powerlifting then you will benefit from a 29mm power bar for squats and bench press with a 27mm dedicated deadlift bar. The Box is great as a happy-medium with its 28mm diameter sitting in between these, but if you’re a competitive lifter it is always advisable to train with the equipment you will test with.

Box Bar 2.0 - Exactly 28mm diameter
Box Bar 2.0 – Exactly 28mm diameter

Not too whippy: High tensile steel (240,000 PSI)

Even with a 28mm shaft the bar is not particularly whippy. There is a lot to the science of ‘whip’ but a big part is the tensile strength of the steel which in the Box Barbell 2.0’s case is 240,000 PSI. 

This is quite a bit higher than some thicker power bars (ATX RAM is around 206,000 PSI and Rogue Ohio bar is around 205,000 PSI) and explains why it feels pretty natural to me when powerlifting with it as the thinner diameter seems to balance against the higher tensile strength.

High tensile steel construction limits whip keeping YOU in control of the weight
High tensile steel construction limits whip keeping YOU in control of the weight

Areas for improvement

Black chrome shaft the only finish available

The steel shaft is coated in black chrome which is excellent for resisting corrosion and therefore well suited to garage and garden gyms in the UK where we have ‘some’ humidity! 

The trade off is chrome is a thicker coating than the less resistant finishes like black oxide and is usually applied by dipping the barbell in to a bath of molten chrome. As a result it feels ‘slicker’ than the thinner (and less robust) coatings as the chrome is applied ‘on top of’ the cut knurling.

The trade off is the coating is SERIOUSLY tough. People choose chrome over zinc (another popular coating) as the zinc can rub off over time resulting in rust or patina. A well applied hard chrome finish won’t have this issue and it is therefore suited to dynamic movements such as Olympic or CrossFit lifts where there is a lot more gripping and slipping on the bar compared to powerlifting moves which are less dynamic.

Overall chrome is a jack-of-all-trades coating and very affordable, BUT it would be nice to have the option to order a different finish if you don’t need the ultimate in durability.

For example they could have offered nickel-zinc finish (which was available on the old Bulldog Bar 1.0). It felt remarkably similar to black oxide BUT with a little more corrosion resistance.

Black chrome shaft has a pretty photogenic glossy finish!

Knurl could be more aggressive

Warning: I am a knurl freak – the more aggressive the better for me. As covered above the black chrome finish on the barbell results in a slicker barbell and the knurl loses a little bite due to the thicker coating. I’ve not actually had any issues with the bar sliding in use (in fact the 28mm shaft makes it feel really great when deadlifting) so it is more of a perception thing.

The knurling pattern is ‘flat mountain’ – this is where each pyramid of knurl has a flat top. The most aggressive style is ‘pointed mountain’ where the knurl is a series of pyramid shaped metal spikes. 

This flat mountain knurling is much easier on the hand (no rips or tears for me yet) and well suited for higher rep work as typically done in home gyms or CrossFit environments.

Overall a LITTLE more bite would be great for those of us interested in powerlifting and heavy singles, BUT the bar is still very much usable for these lifts as it is.

Power and Olympic rings well defined: Knurl pattern is flat mountain

3 year warranty: Could extend to lifetime?

Bulldog will honour the build on these bars for 3 years. In my experience any issues with gym equipment tend to manifest pretty early on so this should be fine. It would be nice if this was extended to a lifetime warranty and I suspect it would have little to no impact to their bottom line given the quality of the product and the ‘fair use’ caveats.

I have no concerns with he build quality at this point, and will update this review if anything comes up over the life of the bar.

Who should buy the Bulldog Gear Box 2.0 barbell?

If you’re budget conscious and looking for an all rounder barbell for your home gym to hit a variety of training goals the Bulldog Gear Box 2.0 is aimed at YOU. And you should buy it as it is an excellent barbell for the money.

With that said, if you have a much higher budget or train exclusively in a single niche discipline (such as powerlifting or Olympic lifting) you may prefer to spend more and pick up a specialist barbell for your needs.

Customer reviews

At the time of writing the Box Barbell 2.0 had a score of 4.7/5 on the Bulldog site with almost universal praise. One that stood out to me I have quoted below as the author has experience of a ton of other brands so is well placed to comment. Overall comments are positive with no real negatives to draw out here.

Purchased 8 of these bars for our box which opened in January 2014 and they have been abused repeatedly on a daily basis since this time. They have held up brilliantly to the sort of use you see in any CrossFit gym including people accidentally dumping an empty bar and being loaded with 180kg plus of weight. They feel like really good quality and nothing like the budget option you would probably expect when paying this sort of money. I have used most bars out there and honestly for the money these are simply fantastic and incomparable to anything else except Pendlay bars which cost about a grand each!

Verified purchaser “Glen O”, sourced from the Bulldog website

Check out the Box 2.0 barbell here to see for yourself!

Conclusion

Overall I am HUGELY impressed with the Bulldog Gear Box 2.0 barbell. I was apprehensive when ordering that it would be overshadowed by the more expensive (but now discontinued) Bulldog Gear 1.0 barbell BUT that is simply not the case. If you are looking for a budget friendly all-round barbell in the UK then the Box 2.0 should be on your shortlist.

Best bits:

  • Great value
  • Sleeves – smooth finish with slim collar
  • Spin – facilitated by 5 needle bearings as well as brass bushings in each sleeve
  • Excellent all round bar and perfectly suited to diverse CrossFit or Olympic workouts

Considerations:

  • Black chrome is only available finish. A choice would be nice.
  • Knurl could be more aggressive for powerlifters
  • 3 year warranty – why not just make it lifetime for domestic users?

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