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Using clip-on aerobars on a road bike…how I did it.

If you’re new to triathlon, or are considering jumping into the pool (no pun intended) – you probably at one pointed eyed getting a road bike and using that.  You may have even advanced that line of thinking to also include grabbing a pair of aerobars, slapping them on the bike, and calling it macaroni.  So – how did I start out – and did I take the same path as many others?

My First Season (or rather, 1.5 Seasons)

My very first season I actually didn’t use aero bars at all – strange, I know.  I was still getting used to the whole road bike thing and reasoned that the aero bars were only more likely to cause me to crash than assist.  Thus, I just focused on cycling.  Therefor when I went to do my very first half-iron later that year…I did so without aero bars, as you can see here:

BikeSanFranSign

However, after that race – I decided to take the plunge.  I had the Nation’s Triathlon a few weeks later, so figured that’d be an ideal opportunity to do one race as well with them and see if they had any impact.

Not knowing what to choose, I headed down to my local Performance Bike and picked up pretty much every pair of aero bars they had there.  Given the support staff was of no help in this category, I simply solved the problem be going into trial mode.  With Performance’s return policy, this made it easy to return ones that were less desirable.  I actually documented the whole process in this two part series.

Eventually, I ended up with the Profile Designs T2 aerobars, which you can see here in my 2007 Nation’s Tri photos (sorry, all I have is tiny sample photos):

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Now, you’ll notice I have terrible position here– which undoubtedly hampered my performance.  This was because I did the install (as opposed to a qualified person), and didn’t really consult any fit experts.  I would highly recommend getting a bike fit expert to get your position functional…it’ll save you time and pain.

I continued to ride this road bike and that lovely aerobar position throughout the winter.  In fact, I even bought another pair of these bars for a Fuji road bike out in Seattle.

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Once spring sprung, I went onto compete in two more half-iron’s.  First up, was Oceanside 70.3 in March:

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And next up about a month later was the Wildflower Half in May:

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Actually, I did slightly improve position here in these last two – helping to make the situation just bad, instead of really bad.  You can see the difference pretty easily if you scroll up/down to the earlier photos.

However, for me the situation didn’t really improve dramatically until I got a new bike that fit me, which ended up being a triathlon bike – that helped improve these pretty significantly, which I then raced and trained on for the remainder of the year and until present day.

The benefits of clip-on bars:

However, one thing that isn’t often mentioned is how clip-on bars can actually be more customizable than some stock bars.  For example, take the stock bars offered on the Cervelo P2C and P3.  Both of these bars lack the ability to slide the bar position fore and aft (back and forth) – rather limiting position changes to only side to side and up and down movements.  And sliding up and down (vertically) also requires you have the right spare parts.

You can see this in the below photos if you note how the screws intercept the bar from above the numbers that there is no way to adjust it frontwards/backwards:

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Meanwhile, the off the shelf Profile Design T2+ bars can be adjusted about 128 different ways – without any parts.  You can see below how you can easily unscrew and adjust them any number of different ways.

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That’s not to say that other stock aero bars are equally as limited, nor is it to say that other off the shelf clip-on’s are as robust.  Just simply pointing out that clip-on’s don’t always deserve the bad rap they get.  But it’s one consideration when you’re looking closely at new aerobars, especially clip-ons – how much adjustability do they have?  Can you go left/right?  Can you go fore/aft?  Can you go up/down (height)?

A new home for my old bars:

Despite my move to a new tri bike, that didn’t mean the bars had met the end of their life.  For a while I took them off my road bike and placed them in my spare bike parts bucket in the garage – merely because that meant I had a ‘true road bike again’, as opposed to a semi-sorta-road-tri-bike.

Then one day The Girl noted that her stock bars on her Felt were too bulky for her desires (they were kinda beast-like), and more importantly, were also putting her in a less than ideal position.  After some chatting with Coach, she was actually about to go out to the store and buy the exact bars I had sitting in a box.

So a bit of box digging later, I handed over the dusty components to her…who in turn handed over the dusty components to Coach, who in turn swapped out all the parts and re-cabled everything.  Pretty sweet!

After all was said and done – new bars on bike:

IMG_0716

And, given her podium results since (just about every race over the past year, either on the overall podium or the age group)…I think they’re working out quite fine!  Thus proof, you can do quite well with off the shelf $78 clip-on bars.

33 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I currently only have a mountainbike and want to get into triathlon. Given that I wouldn't want to spend more than about $1500 do you think I would be better to get a road bike
    (and maybe get an angled seatpost to set the saddle more forward +aerobars) or triathlon bike?

    Reply
  2. Wes

    funny. I noticed your changing positions on the roadie right away. I need a life :-)

    Reply
  3. Given my email and your post I guess I have to thank you ;-)

    -- Umberto

    Reply
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply
  5. I just installed the same bars myself. You're right about how adjustable they are. In fact, I mounted the aerobars UNDER the road bar and used the spacers to allow the elbow pads to be just barely above bar level. This gives me a lower position and keeps the bars from being a bulky apparatus on top when I'm just out doing normal road riding.

    Reply
  6. when picking clip-on aerobars how important is it that they're draft legal?

    Reply
  7. Not at all important. I suspect you're Canadian - as that's the only place it tends to say/note that.

    Nonetheless, draft legal is referring to ITU rules for racing at the ITU level (essentially, the circuit where pro's can obtain Olympic qualifying points). Those bars have to be less than a certain length.

    Given that there are pretty much zero draft-legal triathlons in the US (or Canada) for age groupers, you're good to go with anything you find!

    In short, unless you're planning to race in the 2012 or 2016 Olympics, it won't matter and isn't a rule for age groupers or even elites/pros in non-drafting events. Only ITU events leading to the Olympics have such a rule. :)

    Reply
  8. Thanks Ray, I am Canadian but living in London,England. I've got my first tri coming up, the Virgin London Olympic length this July.

    From what I've read aerobar use seems to be for downhills or times when you would use drop handles. but I'm assuming your using them all the time from the photos and other posts.

    Do you experience power loss from an aerobar position and if so does being more streamlined make up for that?

    do you still sit up while your cresting a hill?

    Reply
  9. There's a small loss of power for me, but being aero means I have less resistance to overcome, so net-speed wise is higher.

    From a cresting standpoint, it depends on speed honestly. If we're talking 8MPH - then usually I'll sit up. If we're talking a 1-2% hill at perhaps 18MPH, then it's aero. Usually at about 12-13MPH I'll situp (assuming there's no headwind).

    Reply
  10. hi,

    i've used my aerobars for 2 long rides right now, i wonder if how many inches of distance from the CLIP ons to the STEM? 20mm or 10mm or a lesser, please help.

    thanks.
    Don

    Reply
  11. Hi DCR,
    I'm curious; The posture improvement experienced between the 2007 Nation’s Tri to the Oceanside 70.3 It's just you? Didn't you replace seatpost, stem or maybe removed some spacers?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Same exact bike. I may have raised the seatpost, but nothing else as far as adding or replacing any components. Keep in mind, the picture angles may or may not help each case.

      Reply
  12. sam velazquez

    I am looking for aerobars. I do long rides 50- 100 milers. will aerobars help with fatigue? Also what other components are needed?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Yes and no. They may not help with fatigue on a road bike unless you have a fit done (actually, they could add to it). But if properly fit, then they could help.

      Reply
  13. Matthew

    Aero bar clip ons-- I use a road bike (much like your early tri days) and wonder about the value of the Aero Bars not just in biking but from bike to run? Can the Aero Road Bike Conversion lessen the fatigue/ strain of biking and help going into the run? Or is the road bike still to upright to do anything but cut down on wind resistance?

    I see this post is several years old by now, so maybe you have some more experience to compare it to?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      It can be a mix actually. Meaning that if the bars put you in a non-fitted position, then it may adversely impact your run. But in a proper position/fit, it might help Ideally the position is aimed at reducing the impact a tiny bit (not a ton though) on different muscle groups that can diversify overall fatigue.

      But primarily it's about reducing wind resistance, and thus reducing wattage (and in effect, heart rate) required to maintain a given speed.

      Reply
  14. Dan Torres

    My next Tri is in 8 days. I am not currently nor have I ever used aero bars. I feel this is definitely one of my next moves. Would you say I should get more time under my belt getting the feel of them that what I have available? Also, even riding without aeros my neck starts to bother me from the head angle vs. spine. I would think this would be even worse with aeros?

    Thanks...

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      I would definitely not switch with only 8 days.

      After your tri, I'd look at getting a bike fit + aerobars at the same time. It sounds like a bit position change may be your best bet for the pain. You'd be amazed what they can do. Just be careful on them getting you into too aggressive of a position.

      Reply
  15. Delaney

    Where in DC did you find clip-on bars?

    Reply
  16. Tri_rbennu

    Ray,

    I'm contemplating buying aerobars among other things. I think my general question is, should that be my next purchase, I have a stock Fuji Roubaix 2010 ACR 2.0 and I ride in a hilly section. Are aerobars the best move, or should I look to possibly swapping frames, or different tires. I feel I'm in a quandary I have budget for improvements but don't want to fall into bike envy or necessarily "buy speed" but do want to compliment my improvements and better keep up with the advanced riders. (I'm also eyeing the the WAHOO KICKR as winter will be here soon and I don't think a basic trainer will keep my attention) Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      It really depends on what your race goals are. If you're looking at Sprints/Oly's, then I'd stick with clip-ons for the near term and focus on the training benefits of a trainer (and trainer time). But, if you're looking at long-course (half/full), then the benefits of a good bike fit on a frame designed for aero position can't be overstated.

      Reply
  17. Llama guy

    Hi Ray,

    I live in a tiny place far away from pretty much anything.

    I want to get a proper bike fit, is this possible online?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Not really. You could do some stuff via photos back and forth however, but it wouldn't be of the same quality. Perhaps doing a video conference with a fitter using something like Google Hangout.

      Reply
  18. Michele D

    Do you have any idea when you might do a full review of the Redshift Aero system? I'm looking to add clip on aerobars (never used them before) and think I'd really consider the Redshift because of the ability to shift the seat. I love the price point of the Profile Design, so I have to wonder if the price gap is worth it for the Redshift.

    Also, would you recommend getting used to aerobars with the bike on the trainer, or just get on the road and give it a go???

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      I'll definitely be looking at them again as they near final production in the next month or two. In the meantime, here's a post I did about 45 days ago with them: link to dcrainmaker.com

      Absolutely for getting used to them on trainer - mostly from a back/flexibility standpoint.

      Reply
  19. Dan Torres

    Aerobars: Take 2

    Background... recreational Tri-guy... only done Sprints, might try to tackle an Oly next season. Don't expect to do any more than that. Mid-pack AG at Chicago last year (60-64). Not much excess baggage (160lb). Only bike I have ridden is current one... Specialized Tricross (2010?). I posted earlier this year about aerobars. Wandered around Performance Bike a couple of months ago and I'm liking the Kestrel 4000 Pro. Ultegra was first choice, but thinking 105 is all I need. I want to go aero next season. Should I take the leap and upgrade bike or stay with the Spec and add bars? I only use my bike for training (solo)... rarely/ever do group rides. Is the geometry of the Kestrel better suited to an aero ride?

    Thanks, Dan

    Reply
  20. Courtney

    Have you done a review on the different types of aerobars and their bends? I'm looking to buy my first pair of clip-ons and I'm curious if the type of bend in the bar will make a huge difference. I'm looking to ride half-ironman distances this year, so I know I don't want anything with a straight profile, but is there an advantage to an S-bend over a Ski-bend? I am a 5 foot girl putting these on a road bike, so I know I need something with a little more flexibility and adjustment.

    Thanks for all of your help and any advice you can provide is greatly appreciated!

    Reply
  21. JG

    Thx for the review. For folks interesting in using aero clip ons, another relatively inexpensive mod is to get a Profile Design fast forward seat post which will move the seat way forward to create more of a "Tri bike" angle. Of course get a bike fit, but consider a new seat post and aero clip ons simultaneously. And ride in that position for a few weeks or months to get used to the different affect on your muscles. It may take a while to build up to your top speeds for race day. At first you may feel slower, but eventually you will be faster than ever!

    Reply
  22. TimmyB

    Hey, DCR! I read your posts ANY time I am looking for info, before I purchase, so I knew for this question, I needed to look here first. :)

    My wife and I are doing a tri/duathlon in two weeks. This is her third, my first. We both have road bikes and we are OK with that, as they are just sprint races. However, she has injured her wrist and the doctors can't pinpoint it; they seem to think a bad case of tendinitis. She cannot bend her wrist backwards, which obviously makes it difficult to rest her hands on the hoods of the shifters. I am thinking if we got an inexpensive aerobar, as you described above, she could still ride comfortably for a majority of the time. It's only a 10-mile ride, but I don't believe she could complete it, as it stands right now. She has even considered racing on her Trek hybrid, with its straight handlebars and vertical extensions.

    Your thoughts, please?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Hmm, that'd honestly be tough because even if she gets into aero, depending on the route she may not stay in aero. The other concern would be for both shifting and braking she'll need to switch over to using that - so that still might inflame things.

      Reply
    • TimmyB replied

      Yeah, that's kind of where we are at with our thinking, as well. I just wanted to hear from someone whose opinion I trust without question!

      We're going out for a workout this morning and she's going to try the hybrid to see if that gives her any grief.

      Thanks for you quick reply. :)

      t

      Reply
  23. Brian

    As usual a great article. I have been running for a couple years and have all the fun gear, mostly thanks to your awesome reviews, but just made the switch to Triathlons this year. I am easing my way in did a try-a-tri and 3 sprint Tris, next year want to move up to the olympic distance. I have no bike gear, I ahve a $150 road bike and a $20 helmet I picked up at Canadian Tire, and that's it. I plan on expanding my bike collection gradually over time, so what would be the first thing you suggest I invest in? Quite frankly a proper bike is out of the budget right now so assume I keep this bike for at least one more season. People tell me clipon shoes, aerobars, special wheels, quite frankly I'm overwhelmed and don't know where to turn. Your advice is greatly appreciated.

    Reply

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