Aero bars

Posted by SuperClydesdale on May 19, 2010 under Commentary, Road Bike Components | Be the First to Comment

I was scorching on my velocipede yesterday…  going down Sacramento’s American River Bike Trail, which is moderately safer on a weekday evening.   On a weekday, the number of baby strollers, dogs on long leashes, and walkers/waddlers is reduced to the point where the trail is usable.  Once Spring hits, the number of people using the trail on weekends skyrockets, and while this makes for great people-watching, it’s not so good for riding a bike above, say, 15 miles per hour.   It can become an obstacle course.

It was a pretty good day and I was able to cruise at a good clip.

Among interesting sights were two rattlesnakes (within the first 6 miles) which I missed by inches, and two suicidal squirrels that I was convinced were going to run under my wheels the moment I passed.  Far less interesting but equally disturbing were the large number of people with aero bars.

Aero bars have always been a puzzle to me.  I understand their purpose — to reduce wind resistance —  and I can see an appropriate time and place for their use, such as a time trial, or preparing for a time trial.  I can see them in ultra-distance events where you just want to get the ride the hell over.  Beyond that, I am always curious as to who puts those things on their bike for everyday use?  What’s the point?

First (from a purely analytical approach), aero bars make it hard to react quickly, as well as making it hard to turn in general.  Anyone that doubts this should simply man a turnaround point on an out & back time trial.  You’ll see an impressive number of crashes if aero-bar users are forced to make a 180-degree turn in a tight space.   Most aero bar users are not skilled enough to safely use them in crowded areas.  That’s why many organized rides don’t allow them to be used – it’s a safely issue.  Not only is turning difficult, but braking typically requires that you get up out of the aero position and grab the brake lever on the handlebars.   That takes time.  So, using aero bars while riding with others  is making the statement that you don’t care about your safety, and  – more important — you don’t care about their safety.

Second (from a philosophical approach), why the hell are you riding anyway? Isn’t it to get a workout?   Are you trying to slip through the air to make your cruise that much easier?  Why don’t you take the next logical step, and buy a recumbent?  If you are able to steal an hour or two from your schedule to fit in a training ride, wouldn’t it be best to get a better workout?  Maybe its because I don’t use bike trails much (they don’t have them up near me), but I don’t see many aero bars away from bike trails – what I will call real riders don’t use them, unless they are in a time trial.

“Daddy, what’s that thing on that man’s handlebars?”

“Don’t worry son, those are called aero bars.  It just means that you are lazy and you want everyone to know it.”

the combover dude

Think I look good now? Wait til you see me on my aero bars! I'm a speed racer!

Third (from my natural approach, which is to point out and then laugh at the flaws of others), if you are so damn fat that you cannot both use aero bars and pedal with your knees pointing in the direction that the bike is going, then you should reconsider the use of said device.   I saw three people yesterday that had to pedal with their knees way out on the side so that they could remain hunched over on the aero bars and not have their knees and thighs pushing up against their gut.  That’s a good look.   I think these are the comb-over guys, who are so unaware of how others might perceive them that they think that they actually look cool.

“I’m a racer.  I am so very speedy.  I haven’t seen my feet in two years, and my wife has to tie my shoes, but I am a racer.”   The funniest thing is that with their knees out to the side, and their legs at 30-degree angles away from the top bar of the bike, they are almost certainly catching enough air with their legs to negate any wind-cheating benefit of the aero bar.

I also read that riders feel more powerful when in the “aero position.”   Why not… ride more?  Why not actually get more powerful?  Then, you’ll feel more powerful.  If you are such a casual rider that you need aero bars to feel more powerful, then you have no business using aero bars.  If you ride so little that you need the aero bars, then you are not experienced enough to use them safely.

There needs to be standards of behavior, and who better to both establish and enforce these standards than me?  So, some aero bar rules:

  • You can use aero bars if you are participating in a time trial, or preparing for a time trial
  • You can use aero bars if you are participating in or preparing for a triathlon
  • No using aero bars in group rides, or in and around traffic
  • No aero bars in pacelines
  • If you can see another rider or another rider can see you, no aero bars
  • If you cannot see your feet when standing normally (not bending at the waist), no aero bars for you.
  • If you cannot tie your own shoes, no areo bars
  • If you have a golf handicap of 10 or less, no aero bars (such a handicap will almost certainly mean that your use of aero bars is already disallowed based on previously stated rules)
  • If your average in bowling is greater than 180, no aero bars (again, your use of aero bars is likely already disallowed based on previously stated rules)

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