So you’ve seen others using them, they look cool and let’s face it, it’s all about aero isn’t it. Isn’t it?
The simple answer is yes. But beware …… there are some hidden risks associated with bolt on aero bars.
I’d competed in a few of the shorter distance Tri’s (Qld Gatorade Series) and had seen lots of competitors using them. And because most of them were flying past me at the speed of light, I figured surely it must have something to do with the bars. So with little to no research, and an event on the weekend, I borrowed a set from my neighbour and bolted them on and went for a ride.
Wow they felt awesome, comfortable and of course “aero”. I was going to be unstoppable. I wonder how many people I’ll pass with these babies on board? How cool am I!
The night before the event I got a call from a mate to wish me luck. Paul was a PT and had competed in a number of ironman events across the world. Paul: “Hi Karl, just wanted to wish you good luck tomorrow”.
Me: “Thanks mate, I’m really looking forward to it, and I’ve got a new toy for my bike”.
Paul: “Oh really, what did you get?”.
Me: “I borrowed Rob’s Tri bars”.
Paul: “Take them off”.
Me: “no no, I’ve practiced with them, they feel great”.
Paul: “Take them off!”
Me: “But …”
Paul: “You have to trust me on this one, TAKE ..THEM .. OFF! If you use them tomorrow you’ll regret it”
Now Paul knew something I had no idea about at the time. Tri bars help make you aero but depending on the set up and length, they can also change the angle of your hips relative to the seat. “So what ?!” I hear you say.
Well in my case this change made me lean further over the handlebars, narrowing the angle of my hips. The potential impacts of this being; higher oxygen usage, higher heart and breathing rates, and most significantly, a change to way my leg muscles were being used which would directly impact my ability to run off the bike. (Obviously this is a very non technical explanation so if you want to get a detailed explanation jump on the interweb as there’s heaps of information out there that can assist)
So in the end I reluctantly took them off and went racing. At the end of the race I was chatting to another guy from my club.
Me: “How’d you go?”
Dave: “Great on the bike but really struggled on the run”
Me: “Oh really. What happened?”
Dave: ” Not sure really. Just felt stiff all through the run. The only thing I did differently was …”
Can you guess what he’d done? …… Yep you guessed it ……. he bolted on a new set of Tri bars. Bloody Paul was right!
So what’s the trick to making these things work? Two words…. Bike, fit.
Put simply, you need to make a few other adjustments to your bike set up to accommodate the new riding position and open up your hip angle while in the aero position. These things include:
– Moving your seat forward and potentially up a little
– Shortening your handlebar stem
– Ears over elbows
You basically want to keep as open a hip angle as possible while still maintaining a crouched aero position so you can ride fast.
– You can’t just bolt on a set of Tri bars to a road bike and make it into a TT bike
– You have to look at your overall position on the bike and potentially (depending on your original set up and the bars you get) make changes to the seat post, seat position and handlebar heights.
– Make sure you have practiced not only riding with them but also running off the bike.
– Work on strengthening your core muscles as you’ll need these to remain in the aero position for longer periods of time (I’ll save this for another time)
Aero bars will definitely make you go quicker but you do need to do your homework. So before you rush out and spend your hard earned cash. Do your research. Chat to the guys at your local bike shop, a guru friend or consult Dr Google.
They are ICU legal and I didn’t have to make any other changes. They are perfect for my situation as I didn’t want to make adjustments to the set up that would impact my ability to go for a weekend coffee ride.
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