Aero bars were one of the first gear upgrades I made to my bike. They are relatively cheap and easy to put on. Just looking at my bike computer, I could see immediately that I was riding faster. However, it was a challenge to adjust them, and after being on my third set of aero bars, I will share the 8 things you need to know before buying a set.
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1. AERO BARS MAKE YOU ~1min 40s per 40KM FASTER
The advantage of adding aero bars on your road bike is to lower your upper body to a more aero position. You create less drag and hence go faster for the same amount of effort. Specialized studied the difference between riding with aero bars and riding on the drop and found out that 1min 40 sec was gained over a 40 km distance!
You might be wondering (as I was) at which speed this analysis was done. The faster you ride, the more seconds you will gain, right? Actually, the speed doesn’t really change the time gained. They explained why in another one of their videos in The Win Tunnel series.
2. THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF AERO BARS
There are plenty of options on the market, depending on your preferences:
- Short vs. long aerobars: elite triathletes use short aero bars (no longer than the handlebar) on short-distance events (draft legal). In most cases, amateurs are not allowed to use them in draft-legal races. For non-drafting races, the longer aero bars are the ones being used.
- One-piece vs. two separated bars: you might find aero bars where the two bars are fixed together. It will be simpler to install, but unfortunately, you are limited by the adjustments you can make. I prefer the two separate bars.
- The shape of the aerobars: depending on the position you want to hold, the bars can be curved differently, the most popular following an S or L curve. The best would be to try different shapes before buying one. Except if you already have tri-friends, it is, however, often not possible.
- Carbon or aluminum: mostly weight-related, and as such inversely correlated with price 🙂
- The number of adjustments possible: some aero bars offer more adjustability than others. It is worth checking if you can move the armrest (where your elbows rest). I ended up buying the Profile Design T4+ (picture below), where the armrest is independent of the handlebar fixation.
3. AERO BARS ARE RELATIVELY CHEAP
Compared to a set of aero wheels, which can go well over $1,000, the price of aero bars is relatively low. There are plenty of options available, from roughly $30 to $200. As with every other bike component, you will pay a heftier price tag if you are after the lightest carbon version.
Whereas you don’t really need a carbon set, you definitely should look for aero bars that you can adjust in pretty much any direction. It will make the fitting process way easier.
4. AERO BARS ARE NOT DANGEROUS IF USED CORRECTLY
Be aware that your reaction time will be slower for braking. You don’t have direct access to your brakes when being on the aero bars. There are a couple of situations where you should absolutely avoid using them:
- group rides
- steep downhills
- bumpy roads
Once you install your aero bars, you should definitely get used to riding with them on quiet roads. At first, you won’t be as stable as being on the hoods or drops. Try to move one hand out of the aerobars to the drops and then back again to the aerobars.
It is simply a skill that you need to practice, but it is absolutely worth it.
5. AEROBARS ARE COMFORTABLE
On top of making me faster, I also find that aero bars are more comfortable, especially over longer distances. If you feel the need to switch between different positions (hands on the hoods or the drops), the aero bars add a really different position into the mix. My upper body feels way more relaxed in the aero position. It needs, of course, some time to get used to this new position.
6. IT IS HARDER TO CHANGE GEARS AND TO BRAKE WITH AERO BARS
The added difficulty of changing gears is, for me, the biggest disadvantage of adding aero bars on a road bike. On triathlon bikes, the gear shifters are located at the end of the bars, so you can shift gears while staying in this aero position.
Adding aero bars on a road bike doesn’t modify the placement of the gear shifters. You need to remove one hand from the aerobars to access the shifter.
I live in a mountainous area. Therefore, finding completely flat roads is nearly impossible 🙂 In theory, I could replace my mechanical groupset with an electronic one and add shifters at the end of the aero bars. However, I have a hard time justifying this hefty price tag.
Concerning braking, make sure to use aero bars only where it is safe (see point 4), so you have enough time to react.
7. FITTING AERO BARS CAN BE CHALLENGING
Once you add your aero bars on your handlebar (tip: put electric tape on your handlebar to protect it), you will need to adjust your entire bike set-up for a proper aero position. Moving your saddle up and forward will already help to fix your position.
You can either try it on your own at home if you have a mirror, ask help from triathlete friends, or go to a professional bike fitter (in this case, contact the person even before buying the aero bars!).
I tried for a couple of hours to do it by myself, and I couldn’t find a comfortable aero position. I ended up doing a bike fit, which corrected my position (check my article: What You Should Know Before Doing A Bike Fit).
The biggest change we made was with the aerobars. The model I had before was not adjustable enough. I ended up buying the Profile Design T4+, where I could move the armrest.
8. YOU COULD SWITCH BETWEEN A TRI POSITION AND A ROAD BIKE POSITION ON THE FLY
If you are a triathlete who wants to add aero bars but still have the possibility to switch between a standard road position and a tri-position, the Redshift aero system might be an option:
You can add or remove aero bars and change the seat position within a couple of seconds. The aero bars will accommodate most of the handlebars, but the seat tube system does not work with an aero seat tube.
As you can see, there are a few things you need to consider before buying aero bars. The time you spend on research now will be highly beneficial for all your next triathlons!