The Bulldog Bar 1.0 Review: The perfect barbell?

The Bulldog Bar has intrigued me for a while. There isn’t much first hand experience published out there on this barbell so I thought I’d throw my money down and take the plunge so I could pull a review together to help anyone else looking for a decent barbell in the UK.

Fortunately I’ve got a couple of other barbells in the garage gym so we can do some comparisons versus the competition to help us decide: Which is the best barbell available in the UK?

So let’s take a look at what I’ve found out so far.

The Bulldog Bar 1.0: Reviewed!

At a glance…

  • The Bulldog Bar is my pick is the best barbell available in the UK in my opinion
  • Bulldog vs ATX: I prefer the more aggressive knurl feel of the Bulldog vs the passive ATX knurling
  • Bulldog vs Rogue: Price wise the Bulldog is better value than Rogue in the UK
  • But please note all 3x barbells compared are great products – you won’t be disappointed with any of them
  • The downside is that the bar needed a quick clean before I was happy to use it

Competitors: Bulldog Bar vs ATX RAM vs Rogue Ohio Power Bar comparison

There are a few great barbells out there – even here in the UK & Europe! I’ve pulled together a comparison between the Bulldog Bar, ATX RAM and the Rogue Ohio Power Bar – these are generally the barbells that interest most of us when searching, so lets put them side by side:

Bulldog BarATX Ram BarRogue Ohio Power Bar (OPB)
Bulldog BarATX RAMRogue Ohio Power Bar
Tensile strength250,000 PSI206,000 PSI205,000 PSI
Manufactured UKNot disclosedUSA
Sleeve typeComposite bushingBrass bushingBronze bushing
Diameter28.57mm28.5mm29mm
Shaft coatingNickel-zincBlack oxideBlack zinc
Sleeve coatingZincChromeZinc
MarkingsPowerlifting & OlympicPowerliftingPowerlifting
Knurl typeHollow volcanoFlat VolcanoHollow volcano
Knurl biteAggressivePassiveAggressive
Centre knurlNoYesYes
Available fromDirect – BulldogDistributor – TGR (UK)Direct – Rogue
Best bitsKnurl & nickel-zinc coatingSleeve design & finishBrand & familiarity of product
Worst bitsResidual glue on sleeves needed cleanedKnurl is comparatively softPrice, black zinc coating
Cost£295£269c.£360 (391 EUR)
Overall rank for UK/EU buyers1st2nd3rd
View & buyBUY DIRECTBUY VIA TGRBUY DIRECT

1st Place: Bulldog Bar

My latest addition has slotted straight in to the number 1 spot for two main reasons:

  1. Aggressive, deep knurl
  2. Fantastic tacky nickel-zinc coating

Pound for pound this is the best bar available in the UK right now if you like a strong knurl. Bulldog are an easy company to deal with, and the product is manufactured in the UK which keeps the cost profile lower than the likes of Rogue. 

One of the benefits of the in-house UK manufacturing base is that throughout the COVID pandemic Bulldog have been regularly restocking the bar as and when they can make a batch of barbells. It tends to sell through quickly when it is available, but if you sign up for a notification they WILL get one to you.

The downside of the bar is when it arrived I had to clean up the sleeves which had some residual glue on them from their manufacture. Not a big deal, but at this price point I would have expected this to have been cleaned before shipping.

If you prefer a passive knurl or need a bar with centre knurling then the ATX RAM bar is a close runner up.

Bulldog 1.0 vs ATX Ram: Side by side
Bulldog 1.0 vs ATX Ram: Side by side

2nd Place: ATX RAM Bar

The RAM is a brilliant power bar with my only criticism being its comparatively soft knurl. I could let it off if it was a more generalist bar but find it just too gentle for a power bar – especially as it is the harshest of the ATX range. It never feels like slipping and it does feel great in the hand, it just misses that last 10th of ‘locked in’ feel offered by a deeper knurling pattern.

Where it does excel is in overall build quality and sleeve design. I’ve had my RAM in daily use for years and it has needed no maintenance beyond a brush out of the knurl. Incredible really. The tolerances are extremely tight, the bar is really quiet in use and the sleeves are virtually perfect. I was surprised by how nice the chrome on the sleeve is in the flesh as usually experience of chrome on barbells is not good!

Check out the full review on the ATX Ram bar here.

ATX Ram vs Bulldog 1.0 - bar sleeves side by side for comparison
ATX Ram vs Bulldog 1.0 – bar sleeves side by side for comparison

3rd Place: Rogue Ohio Power Bar

It may not be 100% like for like comparing the Ohio Power Bar against the Bulldog when the Rogue 2.0 or plain Ohio are the more ‘generalist’ bars from Rogue, but as the OPB is so popular (not to mention my preference for a rougher knurl) it seemed a good benchmark for the others.

Like the other competitors here, the Rogue OHP is a fantastic bar and one you won’t be disappointed with AT ALL. The reason it comes in third on my list is principally down to PRICE.

We can get what we want from a barbell for less, elsewhere. Priced at around 391 EUR plus shipping it’s approaching £100 more expensive than the others here. The bar is fantastic – but the price differential is disproportionate especially with quality alternatives in the ATX and Bulldog.

Check out the OPB @ Rogue.

Rogue Ohio Power Bar (OPB) - A great bar, but a little expensive in Europe
Rogue Ohio Power Bar (OPB) – A great bar, but a little expensive in Europe

What is the Bulldog Bar?

Bulldog themselves describe this as ‘ultimate workhorse barbell’. Based on my experience I would agree with this – the bar has been designed to cover quite a few bases and is therefore well suited to a ‘general’ role.

This is ideal for home and garage gyms where we want equipment to be as versatile as possible so we can spend the minimum but get the maximum benefit from every item.

A 28.5mm diameter bar with dual markings and composite bushings is just about the ideal starting point for any general use barbell and Bulldog do not disappoint with their spec sheet:

  • Manufactured in the UK
  • 250,000 PSI tensile strength
  • Composite bushings
  • 28.57mm diameter
  • Dual knurling marks for powerlifting & Olympic lifting
  • Nickel-zinc coating
  • Zinc coated sleeves
  • No centre knurling

Similar to other European based brands Bulldog do not have the brand awareness of some of the large American alternatives such as Rogue Fitness, REP Fitness, Titan, etc. Luckily that does NOT mean the quality of the products in Europe is any worse, but it does make finding information a bit harder.

Bulldog are taking steps to build this presence – they have their website with supporting blog (recently migrating to a dot com from a EU domain previously), they offer international shipping and are building out a high quality social media presence

Their business model is ‘business to consumer’ so Bulldog sell to us end users directly. This is a different approach to one of their key competitors ATX where all purchases are via a country distributor. 

Unboxing: The barbell is shipped in a heavy duty tube
Unboxing: The barbell is shipped in a heavy duty tube

Who is this barbell made for?

With dual knurling markings and no centre knurl, the Bulldog Bar is aiming for a user looking for a versatile bar. If you enjoy CrossFit or the option to have variety in your weightlifting routine this bar would fit your use case.

Want to do Starting Strength with the power cleans? No problem. Want to do high and low bar squats? Can do. Want to do snatch grip deadlifts, bench press and push pressing? Step right up.

This bar is not targeted at a hardcore Olympic weightlifter who may benefit from bearings instead of the composite bushings if their training doesn’t involve much bench pressing (bearing bars and bench pressing don’t usually mix too well).

Composite bushings pictured here
Composite bushings pictured here

Similarly, dedicated powerlifters MAY prefer a two barbell set up with a thicker 29mm barbell for squats and bench, and a thinner 27mm deadlift bar. Powerlifters (who focus on hitting the highest weight possible for a single rep on squat, bench and deadlift) may not benefit from the lack of centre knurl.

This bar is aimed at those who want to do some overhead pressing, front squats, power cleans or various other moves where the bar is moving around near the neck. The lack of centre knurl means these can all be done with no issues at all. If the bar had centre knurl slight deviations in bar path could mean you sandpaper your neck, face or other sensitive areas!

What do I like about the Bulldog barbell?

Fantastic, grippy knurling

The main criticism I had of the ATX RAM barbell was the fairly passive knurl. The Bulldog by contrast has fantastic, sticky knurling.

Following the same knurl pattern as the Rogue Ohio Power Bar the Bulldog is just the right amount of course for me. It feels really DEEP when you grip it and it has a really nice feeling of stickiness. The knurl design is referred to as the ‘hollow volcano’ where each individual knurl diamond has a sunken middle (just like a volcano, funnily enough!)

This hollow volcano pattern gives the best level of knurl feel in the hand that I’ve experienced. It provides mammoth confidence in your grip while not tearing your hands up. When going for a bench or squat for example you genuinely feel keyed in to the surface of the bar.

Putting comfort to the test I’ve been doing snatch grip deadlifts with this bar as part of my current training block. Volume wise I am doing 6 – 10 sets of 5 – 7 reps each with minimal rest. The speed of the lift (I try and do it as a speed lift similar to the snatch itself) and the volume of reps done is a great way to challenge the knurl to rip my hands apart! I experienced NO callouses or tears of any kind, but the bar did leave that fresh ‘pins and needles’ feeling after the sheer volume of reps performed in a short space of time which I don’t get from the passive bars in my collection. I am fine with this and went on to do chin ups and other grip heavy work afterwards.

Very consistent, deep knurl on the 1.0 bar. Feels great in the hand. Courser than the ATX Ram alternative
Very consistent, deep knurl on the 1.0 bar. Feels great in the hand. Courser than the ATX Ram alternative

The knurling IS ROUGHER than the likes of the ATX RAM bar which – as commented on in the review of that barbell – is a more passive knurl. If you have sensitive hands or find knurling generally uncomfortable then the RAM is worth considering too.

The manufacture of the knurl is virtually perfect – there is a really nice run in and run out where the pattern has been applied to each section with obvious care. This minor ‘gentle’ run in is great for the integrity of the bar – if the knurl cuts in and out too suddenly it can create a stress point which can let the bar snap under load. Admittedly very unlikely to happen, but either way it’s good to see perfect execution in a premium barbell.

I would genuinely rate the knurling on the Bulldog Bar as a solid ten.

Nickel-zinc coating

The addition of nickel makes the coating on this bar really ‘sticky’. As an experiment I have been high bar squatting with the Bulldog Bar (remember it has no centre knurl) and the grip on my back is fantastic. I was expecting it to slip or put pressure on my arms, but it just gripped.

Pushing this further I have been doing some ultra close grip bench press work. Even then with my hand almost fully on the smooth centre the bar still has a satisfying tacky feel to it.

I put this down to the nickel element of the coating as my experience of plain zinc on a barbell was not one of such enjoyment… 

Having tried this back to back with two black oxide bars, I would rate the nickel-zinc as a better coating for bar feel. I will need longer to compare them in maintenance and longevity terms, but as the zinc is a hardier finish I am optimistic that it will age well.

Nickel-Zinc coating at the back, black oxide at the front

Dual markings

As a workhorse bar and one designed for CrossFit type activities & WODs this barbell comes with Olympic and powerlifting markings. At the moment I don’t do much Olympic weightlifting but I do like to try out different accessories – snatch grip work being prevalent.

For example I have regular snatch grip deadlifts worked in to my routine at the moment – and the Bulldog has the markings to make getting an even, consistent grip a little easier. Combine it with the smooth centre and it’s great for these as there is obviously no knurl to tear up your shorts / nether region!

The second set of rings lets me play with grip widths a little more – so index or ring finger on the Olympic marks for wide grip bench, etc. Again this contributes to the ‘generalist’ nature of the bar and just makes it a little easier to work variety in to your routines by removing some of the intertia from changing your set up.

If you do any Olympic weightlifting you will want these rings and this will be a dealbreaker. For me as a powerlifting / generalist? Not a dealbreaker, but adds nice variety.

Olympic & Powerlifting markings on the knurl
Olympic & Powerlifting markings on the knurl

Sleeve design

While not unique (see Strength Shop’s premium line barbells for a similar thing) Bulldog have a cutaway in the collar that you can slip a branded rubber band in to. The bar comes with two Bulldog branded rubber bands that fit these cutaways. The bands seem identical to the charity wrist bands that were popular some time ago – ‘Livestrong’ etc.

I think this is a nice visual differentiator for the barbell and it stands out from the traditional plain collar. That said it doesn’t ‘do’ anything or offer anything beyond a different aesthetic. 

The bold, simple Bulldog logo (very similar to the Rogue Fitness style too) appeals to me which may be why I like this feature. If this were the review of the b*stard bar by Strength Shop where I quite dislike the aesthetics of the logo I would probably be less keen (or frantically buying replacement bands via eBay)!

The loadable portion of the sleeve has pronounced grooves (or ribbing) running around the circumference. This creates a useful additional bit of bite on my snap collars and seems to limit them working loose as quickly. This is a recurring issue on smoother sleeves particularly when deadlifting or doing other work with drops to the floor as the plates ’walk’ down the bar. The downside is the noise when loading the bar – some of my smaller calibrated plates make a ‘zip’ noise when being slotted on!

Insert in sleeve for branded band & ribbed finish are nice differentiators
Insert in sleeve for branded band & ribbed finish are nice differentiators

What could be improved?

Finish on the sleeves

While I am a big fan of the sleeve DESIGN, I think the quality of FINISH could be improved.

When I received my bar the sleeves had excess glue (or other similar sticky residue) dried on from when the sleeve had been built. When unboxing the glue ended up with bits of packaging sticking to it and ultimately needed a little bit of time to clean up.

This is not a deal breaker as it was fairly straight forward to clean – but for a premium barbell it would have been nice for it to have arrived in ‘ready to use’ condition.

The packaging the bar arrived in was virtually perfect with the ‘usual’ 7 foot tube with industrial staples holding large, plastic & thick foam reinforced end caps on. The barbell was then wedged in to the tube nicely with no wiggle room.

Some residual glue left on the sleeve
Minor point – some residual glue left on the sleeve

If you buy this barbell then remember to use pliers to pull the staples out of the tube before sliding the barbell out. This saves the bar from getting scratched up!

Option for centre knurl

The lack of reviews or experience published online has stopped me pulling the trigger to buy this bar previously, but the other bit I was not sure on was centre knurl

Having exclusively used barbells with a centre knurl for a few years I thought I would give the Bulldog a shot and try something new. As commented on above I am blown away by the nickel-zinc coating, general knurl quality and grip on the bar. Centre knurl is not even on my radar when using this bar!

That said I think Bulldog could widen their audience by offering this bar with an option for centre knurling. That would get some of the more hardcore powerlifter ‘over the line’ and in to the fold and wider Bulldog brand. They could even run it as an option on their cheaper ‘Bulldog BOX’ barbell line to test the water.

ATX Ram with centre knurl (front) vs Bulldog 1.0 without centre knurl (back)
ATX Ram with centre knurl (front) vs Bulldog 1.0 without centre knurl (back)

Do I need centre knurling on my barbell?

Centre knurl is a personal choice and your use for it will depend on how you train. Four pertinent points to consider when deciding if you need centre knurl:

  • Do you front squat or overhead press? If so centre knurling is less useful as it scrapes your neck / face potentially when performing these
  • Do you high bar squat? If so centre knurling may be more useful as the contact point is the centre of the bar on your traps. Low bar squatters are relying more on their rear delts to support the bar which usually sit wider than the centre knurl
  • Deadlift stance – centre knurling can interfere with deadlift grips and stances if they are very narrow.
  • Any interest in Olympic lifts? Avoid centre knurl. As someone who has power cleaned with a knurled bar it is not great as the rack position will often lead to scraping your neck. Could just be my poor form on power-cleans though!

I’ve previously been an advocate for centre knurl and I still have it on some of my bars, but it is not something I would put in the critical list for future purchases. As a generalist with powerlifting tendencies I am finding this dual marked bar without centre knurl a good fit for my training.

Just today I was doing snatch grip deadlifts and I swapped out the ATX RAM bar for the Bulldog to save the centre knurl from scraping up the crotch on my lifting gear!

To have centre knurl (right), or not have centre knurl (left) - that is the question!
To have centre knurl (right), or not have centre knurl (left) – that is the question!

Conclusion

It is fair to say I have been blown away by the Bulldog BarWhen I ordered it I was 50/50 between it and an ATX stainless barbell, ending up with the Bulldog simply for some variety (I already have an ATX barbell).

Price wise the Bulldog Bar sits a little higher than the ATX RAM at £295 (at time of writing) vs £270 for the ATX. Personally I think the quality of the knurl and nickel-zinc coating is worth the additional £25 expense, and the dual markings are helpful.

So what is the conclusion? For me, the Bulldog Bar is the best barbell available in the UK for a home gym trainee interested in a variety of lifts and training styles!

Check it out here on the Bulldog site.