I am a triathlete, which means I compete in races consisting of swimming, road biking and running. I train for each of these events but I most enjoy road biking. Competing in triathlons forced me to try using aero-bars on my road bike.
I’ve been road biking for many years, but only competing in triathlons for a short time. Biking in a triathlon is different than regular road biking. I was used to riding in a pack, or group of riders; there was strategy involved in drafting and pulling.
A triathlon however, is an individual sport, there are rules against drafting off another biker. In fact, if you’re within three bike lengths of another rider for more than 15 seconds you can be disqualified. Because of this rule triathletes use aero-bars to make themselves more aerodynamic.
If you buy a triathlon specific bike you’ll notice the aero-bars are built into the steering column. I don’t own a triathlon specific road bike, so I bought the aero-bars separately, and attached them.
Since they are removable I figured I could take them off when I went on a normal group ride. It is considered bad etiquette to use aero-bars on a group ride. There are two reasons: one, you don’t need the aerodynamic benefit, and two it’s harder to steer, making them dangerous in a pack.
After using the aero-bars I noticed that my back never got sore on longer rides. Normally after 30 or 40 miles my lower back would start getting stiff. The aero-bars give me another position to ride in greatly relieving my back issues.
Having my elbows supported in a down position is comfortable and also seems to concentrate my leg effort more on the hamstrings rather than the quadriceps.
Using your hamstring muscles rather than you quadriceps is also beneficial to the triathlete because you need your quads to be as rested as possible for the run portion of the race.
Aero-bars are a bit tricky at first. When I first went down into the aero-bar position I felt like I couldn’t steer very well. This feeling went away after a short period of practice.
I actually found it beneficial to concentrate on my elbows rather than my hands. Since the elbows are spaced further apart than the hands it’s easier to steer with them.
The literature says that the aerodynamic position will increase your average speed by at least 1 mile per hour. I found this to be an understatement. I’ve found that over the course of a 25 mile ride my average speed increased by 3 miles per hour.
The aero-bar position feels fast too. Indeed, you feel aerodynamic even more so than when you’re tucked into your drop bars. Being out over the front wheel gives you a real sense of speed, real or imagined, it just feels fast.
I won’t rock the boat by bringing my aero-bars on a pack ride, but sometimes when my back starts hurting I wish I could.