Want to boost your cycling performance in your next triathlon?
If you aren’t already using aero bars, they’re a quick and easy way to increase your speed without putting in much more effort.
But what are aero bars and how do you actually use them? Are they a worthwhile investment? We believe so!
Here’s everything you need to know about this easy-to-install tool. Not only will they help speed you up on the bike, but you’ll look like a pro in the aero position too!
Keep reading to decide if you need these handy bars for your next triathlon. We highly recommend them!
What are Aero Bars?
Aero bars are a type of bicycle handlebar. Triathlon bikes usually come with aero bars, but you can attach them to road bikes pretty easily as well.
There are two parts to aero bars. First, the tube, which is the actual handlebar part. These are usually ergonomically-shaped for comfort and jut out in front of your bike’s handlebars.
Secondly, the armrests. These are also usually anatomically-designed for the highest comfort, and most use soft padding to help you stay comfortable for many miles at a time.
They’re also known as clip-on bars or tri-bars.
Why Use Aero Bars?
If you’re wondering why to add extra handlebars to your already existing handlebars, we can assure you that aero bars can do what your regular handlebars can’t.
That is, they help you to get in the most aerodynamic position possible, known as the aero position.
This position is when your torso is lowered and your arms are tucked in. It’s almost impossible to get into this position on a regular set of handlebars, and definitely impossible to maintain for a long period of time.
This is because normal handlebars don’t offer support for the arms in that position. They’re designed to be used in the upright position.
Aero bars allow you to really hunker down and become super streamlined, while your arms are well-supported and you can remain comfortable for long stretches at a time.
In this aerodynamic position, you have less wind drag and can actually go faster without putting in much more effort in terms of power.
So not only do you become more aerodynamic, but you also save energy in the long run (or ride)!
Aero Bars Come in Two Primary Types
Clip-on bars are exactly as they sound. You “clip” these onto your existing handlebar, and then tighten them with the screw to make sure they’re properly in place.
They’re an excellent choice for beginner triathletes who are new to using aero bars. Generally, they’re fairly easy to install and can be adjusted to your own liking so you can find the position most comfortable for you on long rides.
Clip-on aerobars fit onto most road bikes and some time trial bikes.
They also come in two types within this category: those with independently-moving bars and those with fixed bars (one-piece). Those with moving bars are more adjustable than fixed bar systems.
Full Aero Handlebars
A set of full aero handlebars includes a base bar as well as your two aero bars. The base bar is an aerodynamic handlebar that replaces your current regular handlebar.
These are obviously somewhat more pricey than the clip-ons, as they’re a two-piece system. Base bars are placed quite a bit lower down than regular handlebars on a bike.
That makes a huge difference in helping you keep your upper body lowered and can make you significantly more streamlined when you’re riding.
If you’re new to aero bars, you probably won’t need a full aero handlebar at this point. As you become more invested in your sport, you may choose to get one to shave even more precious seconds off your end time.
What Should You Look For In An Aero Bar?
Not all aero bars are created equal. When shopping for your own set, here’s what you should consider.
Does size matter? Sometimes!
You’ll have to choose between short and long aero bars. Obviously, your arm size will play a role, but there are other cases in which you may or may not be able to use certain sizes.
Short Aero Bars
Short aero bars are the bar of choice for elite athletes riding in races where drafting (sitting in someone’s slipstream for aerodynamic purposes) is legal.
Typically, amateurs won’t be allowed to use them, regardless of whether the race is draft-legal or not.
Short aero bars must be no longer than the handlebar, or must not exceed your brake lever hoods.
Long Aero Bars
Long aero bars are typically used in races where drafting is not allowed. These are usually longer distance races.
They allow the rider to maintain an aerodynamic position for longer without becoming uncomfortable.
If you happen to have fairly long arms, short bars may not be comfortable for you no matter what kind of race you’re doing.
Choosing a comfortable aero bar shape is quite a personal thing. The most popular shapes are those with an S-curve or L-curve to them. These are ergonomic and easy on the hands and wrists.
The ideal situation would be to test a few shapes before buying. If you have friends who already have aero bars on their bikes, try to get a bit of a ride in with a few different shapes.
That way, you can feel what’s most comfortable to you before you spend money on your own. There’s nothing worse than buying a new product and finding out later that it’s uncomfortable!
The kind of material your aero bars are made of is also important, not only for comfort, but for durability.
But in the end, it once again comes down to personal preference.
Aluminum Aero Bars
Aluminum aero bars are tough and can easily withstand a fall. They may get a little scuffed up, but they’ll last you a long time.
These bars also weigh slightly more than others, but not so much that it weighs you down on your bike. Most triathletes won’t even notice!
Carbon Aero Bars
Carbon aero bars are also super strong, but their biggest draw is that they’re extremely light. If weight is a concern for you, then carbon should be your go-to material.
Be aware that carbon aero bars are more expensive than aluminum ones. If you do fall and scratch them up a bit, you’re likely to cringe more than you would with aluminum aero bars!
Advantages of Using Aero Bars
There’s a reason elite athletes use aero bars! They offer some amazing advantages, such as:
Make You Faster
Aero bars are all about getting you into the most aerodynamic position possible. You quite literally can’t assume and remain in this position without these bars.
Once you’re there, though, you’ll be surprised at how much faster you are without having to put in extra effort on the pedals. It’s thought that using aero bars properly can save you between 1 and 2 minutes per 25 miles!
Aero bars can be quite cost-effective. They’re certainly cheaper than buying a proper triathlon bike, especially if you already have a road bike.
Depending on whether you choose clip-ons or a full aero system, you can expect to spend $30 to $300 on a decent set.
Safe If Used Correctly
If you’ve read horror stories about aero bars being unsafe, you can stop worrying! It’s all about using them the right way and being aware while using them.
It’s a good idea to practice moving one hand at a time to the base bar or your normal handlebar. Newbies can feel quite unstable on the aero bars, but a bit of practice will soon make you feel more confident.
Also, be aware that your reaction time will most likely be slower than usual for braking and changing gears. You’ll need to move your arms off the aero bars to change gears and brake, but with some practice, it’s perfectly safe.
Comfortable on Long Rides
The padding that comes with your aero bars makes a huge difference on long rides.
The armrests are usually well-cushioned, so staying in the same position for hours won’t cause you any extra strain.
Disadvantages of Using Aero Bars
Of course, as with all cool and useful gear, aero bars do have a couple of disadvantages.
But the pros far outweigh the cons. Here’s what you need to know:
Harder to Change Gears and Brake
When you invest in a proper triathlon bike, the gear shifters are built into them so you don’t need to move your arms to change gears.
But clip-on aero bars or add-on aero systems designed for road bikes don’t have that. Your gear shifters will still be in the same place, which means you’ll need to move your arm out of position in order to change gears.
The same goes for the braking system. Be aware of this when riding, because if you need to brake quickly you’ll have to know exactly where to move your hand to.
These two things get better with practice, though!
Fitting Them Can Be Challenging
If you’ve never used aero bars before, it may take a bit of work to get them installed and set up exactly to your liking.
But you’ll also most likely have to adjust your seat to tilt more forward, which will accommodate you in the aero position without straining your hips.
You’ll need to find the right width for your aero bars too. If they’re too far apart or too close together, you’ll feel uncomfortable leaning on them, especially for a long period of time.
If you can’t get this quite right on your own, visit a professional bike fitter.
How Do You Install Aero Bars on Road Bikes?
If you choose clip-on aero bars, they’re quite simple to install. They have clamps that are easy to slip over your handlebars, and then all that remains is to tighten the screws so that they stay secure.
It’s a good idea to place electrical tape or duct tape on your handlebars underneath the clamps, to protect your handlebar from scratching.
Typically, once they’re installed they’re not removed. You can definitely remove them if you have to, but it can be tiresome taking them on and off every other race.
If you chose a full aero system, you’ll need to replace the entire handlebar. Make sure that the diameter of the bar matches the stem clamp diameter of your bike before buying a system!
If you’re worried about getting this wrong, you can always take it to a professional to get it fitted.
Are All Aero Bars Road-Bike Compatible?
Aero bars are designed specifically for road bikes. But road bikes do come in different handlebar sizes, which means that there’s a small chance of your chosen aero bars not fitting on your existing handlebar.
Double-check your bike’s handlebar diameter before buying a set of aero bars to avoid disappointment here!
If your handlebars are a problem, it’s worth going for a full aero bar system with a basebar.
When to Avoid Using Aero Bars
Aero bars are an excellent tool for triathlons and time trials, especially on long rides. But there are certain cases where using them may not be the best decision.
Keeping in mind the disadvantages—that is, difficulty changing gears and braking—it’s best to avoid using your aerobars in group rides.
In fact, in races in which you’re likely to be stuck in a peloton, using aero bars without easy-access brakes is forbidden!
If you go on long rides often with a group, it’s best to avoid using your aero bars. You don’t want to have to brake suddenly and get it a little wrong, which could make for a large, multi-person accident.
For the same reason, you shouldn’t be on the aero bars when you’re heading down a steep downhill. You won’t be able to be on your brakes to keep yourself safe.
On bumpy roads, you may end up hurting your arms (although the armrests are padded). But the pressure of your arms on the pads may also cause the armrests to move out of position on bumpy rides.
If your route has a lot of twists and turns, you’ll need a bit more stability than you get on the aero bars. Use your regular handlebars in these situations, as well as in traffic.