Most people start out in triathlon by just adding some clip on aero bars to their road bike. This is what I did and had some success in my first year. The clip ons tend to be pretty clunky (though there are less clunky examples coming out all the time) and when people take things seriously, especially if they’re buying a TT bike, they start to think about getting some funky full on integrated aero bars. This this certainly how I started out and had some really cool (cool for 2004) HED aero bars.
I’m going to outline my progression with aero bars and offer a slightly alternative view which will be of definite use to those with only one bike to train and race on and probably for interest to more experienced racers.
After a couple of years of racing with HED Aero bars I had a season of racing both Lanzarote and Hawaii. I found the bull horns and brakes on these bars a little disconcerting when racing downhill at speed or in cross winds so when I upgraded my bike I moved to drops with aero extension. I used the Oval SCCS system. This allows aero bars on drops without being clunky and seemed the perfect solution. Many people say it’s not that aero but as highlighted above, it is correct but the impact is pretty irrelevant compared to the riders position. In fact, in some places the drops allow better aero.
I demonstrated this to myself on the monster fast downhill (normally with a tail wind) on the Ironman Lanzarote course. Even if you’re packing a 56 x 11 I’m pretty convinced you’ll reach terminal velocity. I compared this speed on my aero bars and on my drops with myself tucked in Tour De France style. I was quicker with the latter.
I’m aware of two offerings that make this set up sweet – Oval SCCS system and 3T’s Zefiro bars ( switch in aero bars). I have used both and currently have the Oval system out here in New Zealand and the 3Ts on my P3 back in the UK. Both work great. I’ve also tried various set ups which I’ll show here before explaining the transition.
Original Set up – Oval with under-over face plate. This meant I had the aero bars running under the drops, pads on top, standard drops (ie round tops) and bar end shifters.
Great when aero. Pads got in the way when on the tops of the bars. Bar end shifters meant that I couldn’t just remove the aero bars and have it as a standard road set up, say, for group riding.
Second set up. 3T Zefiro bars, oval extension mounted on top with pads attached to the aero bars, bar end shifters.
Awesome aero and these drops are beautiful and the most comfortable shape drop I’ve ridden (they’re also darn expensive). Same problems as original set up though the elbow pads were a little higher so this was slightly more comfortable on the tops of the bars.
Aero bars here are closer together than original set up and with these systems it’s not possible to change. For me this hasn’t been an issue as I seem pretty insensitive to the differences.
The main reason for getting the 3T bars was I wanted to test out doing away with the elbow pads and instead putting padding direct on the top of the bar. I tested this out at the National Relays with round bars. The 15k of that race was enough to make me realised round bars just didn’t work. Every bump hurt like hell !
Thus I got the 3T bars as they have gel inserts on the top. This is aimed ITU racers, I think, using the (cool) draft legal extensions that come with it. The gel just isn’t up to the job. I needed to add my own pads. When I got my QR I decided to shift to this new approach using Ovals R910 Aergo Bar.
Current set up. Oval R910 bar with under only faceplate which places the aero extension under the bar. Using pipe lagging, bar tape and some ingenuity I fashioned some super comfy pads. STI shifters (gear shift on the levels) – more on this later.
This is a super sweet set up. Riding on the tops of the bars is as comfortable as it would be without the aero extensions. Not having bar end shifters allows this to be switched between TT and road set up in a matter of minutes.
This gives a truly flexible set up. When I return to the UK I will be doing this setup using the 3T bars, which I have a hunch may be even better as the bar tops are deeper, on another bike. This set up on my QR will shift back to bar end shifters, not because I think it’s better but because thats the kit I have left and being a Yorkshireman and slightly skint I can’t go buying another set of STI’s.
Some final things to note if you are considering this set up:
As mentioned above the width of the aero bars is fixed.
The angle of the aero bars isn’t massively flexible. With the oval set up this means the aero bars run parallel to the stem. This can lead to some odd angles depending on how you set up (left is a picture of my setup for Kona this year. It was pretty comfy but didn’t look too cool). The 3T system has the aero bars parallel to the tops of the bars which means you can adjust it by twisting the bars.
I’ve not found this that restrictive but it should be noted that throughout my cycling career I’ve appeared to be very flexibly in what fit is comfortable.
Bar End Shifters ?
I’d always just gone with bar end shifters on my TT bike, figuring it made sense. I had noticed when I was doing all my riding on the bike, during the previous two summers (or is it winters?) in New Zealand, that for general riding it was a pain in the arse. It required you to decide your gear at the start of any hill that you’d be out of the saddle.
When I got the QR I decided to set it up with STI levers but also bought some simple friction bar end shifters to bring with me to New Zealand for use at Busselton (a flat course that I thought would benefit from them). Not having Bar end shifters was a revelation.
It allowed me to have a bar across the ends of the aero bars which was super comfortable
It made it super easy to switch to an road set up
When aero it was far easier to shift than I’d imagined. The movement to the levers required no real change in position and was easy and quick
When climbing it was easy to shift gears.
The main problem with shifting is when climbing out of the saddle. This is very difficult with bar end shifters but easy with STIs. Shifting when aero is more or less equally easy with both. It was so good I didn’t bother changing for Busselton and still managed a 4:49 bike split.
If you have a dedicated TT bike which will be largely used on courses that are aero the whole way then go for full on aero bars with bar end shifters otherwise I would seriously consider the set up above.
For those starting out with only one bike to train and race on this is a great set up thats easy to switch for race day and back for Monday mornings training ride. A TT bike will allow for a great aero position and can be comfortable as a road bike – you can push the saddle back a little if necessary but to be honest I’ve found over the course of three winters now with only a TT bike to ride that it can be pretty comfortable for normal road riding.
The final thing to remember is that you may have the most aero position in the world but if you can’t maintain this position for extended periods then all the benefit could be lost by sitting up. So make it as comfortable as you can and ride in this position regularly as the more you ride it the more comfortable it should become.
This piece was written in Christchurch but the earthquake prevented me getting round to posting it till getting back to the UK. I’ve now built up my new Look 576 bike as an aero road bike using the 3T Zefiro bar with the include ITU legal aero extension. This looks a very nice set up which I will be testing out on the EverydayTraining Camp. I’m interested to see how comfortable these shorter aero extensions are.