The following article is written in English for a change. Why? Just because I wrote a good part of the reasoning already inside the english Facebook group for the Transcontinental Race.
I guess there are two main reasons why one would want to fit aerobars to a normal road bike and therefore most probably a typical drop handlebar. Either to gain speed and coming as close as possible to a time trial bike setup without really owning one. E.g. for participating in time trial events or in triathlons. Or to gain comfort and support for covering extreme distances by providing alternative hand and a sort of „resting“ positions – while at the same time providing a bit of extra speed through aerodynamic advantages.
Depending on the course (of the time trial event), the length of the route and the experience and training level of the rider both aims and set up characteristics may overlap. But I think it’s save to say that the first group is trying to change their road bike (at least temporarily) to a complete time trial set up and aim to ride their events as close as possible on the aerobar position. This means they also can and really should change their saddle position and their whole position on the bike. Basically, the whole rider rotates forward. This means, they most probably want short head tubes, horizontal or negative rising stems and pads with low stack heights, so they can achieve the sought after deep and aero body position.
On the other hand ultra cyclists pursue an array of different aims with aerobar setups. First, they want a position to let them rest their hands from the constant pressure when holding a normal handlebar and instead rest on their forearms or better the part just below their elbows. Then a position to have part of the body not supported by the hands and arms but by resting on the passive skeletal structures is quite helpful. On the same time, variety and versatility is key. So the normal riding and handlebar positions shouldn’t be compromised. Either lowering or raising the normal handlebar for significant amounts just to accommodate a particular aerobar model is most probably not an option or at least not sound. This is also true for the saddle. Well, there is a solution which consists of a special kind of seat post with two positions – changeable midride. If it weren’t for seriously hampering any kind of saddle and seatpost mounted luggage this would be a very nice thing, I guess.
So we established, that most probably as an endurance cyclist, you will have to stay with your tested and proven normal contact point setup and fitting. This means you can’t bring your saddle up and/or forward (at least only very little so) and you probably can’t or didn’t want to bring your normal handlebar up and nearer to you.
Add to this, that the position you are trying to reach, should be sustainable for hours and days. You also want to cash in that aerodynamic advantages, yes. But not for the prize of additional muscular strain. On the contrary, you want less muscular strain ideally. So you don’t want to go too low with the aerobars. This is also of importance because there is a condition which got dubbed „Shermer’s Neck“. As far as I read it’s more prone to develop if you are constantly on the (low) aerobars, (over)extending your neck the whole time, just to be able to see ahead.
This all means, that while a time trialist or triathlete may look after models of aerobars which can be mounted rather low an endurance cyclist and very likely a beginning user of aerobars may look after models of aerobars which can have the pads mounted rather high above the base handle bars and which can be also mounted at a range of distances forward and back in reference to the handlebar.
I made a row of figures to explain these basics a little better by showing the joint and limp positions in several riding positions and why some aerobar positions are to be preferred. However you may reach them. Either by leaving the handlebar where it is and position the aerobars accordingly high and a little further back or by moving the handlebars up and closer to the saddle and mounting the aerobars closer to the handlebar.
Well, all this may be a nice theory and the fact is – yes, I wrote this text because I, like many others, asked myself the question: „Do I need aerobars for ultracycling?“, „Will aerobars be of advantage when participating in the Transcontinental Race?“
Followed by the finding, that the majority of participants of such events and also the majority of the members of the pointy end of such races tend to use aerobars.
Because, well: comfort, free speed, more places to hang donuts onto – what’s not to like?
Well, there’s the headaches: Which model should I use? How do I don’t block the normal handlebar positions with mounting those things? Will I like the riding style? How long will it take me to get used to riding in the aerobars (and not develop strains in tendons or soft tissue because of different positions)?
So I began already this spring with trying out several different aerobars. Who hasn’t yet read Chris White’s excellent site on everything bikepacking and ultracycling related – please do so. I really recommend it and it was what I did then and doing since over and over as a rookie myself. :) He has a nice section on handlebars and aerobars.
Well, I read it and figured: Yeah, I need a flip up solution. And he stresses the point of low stack height of the pads. So my first aerobar model were the Profile Design V2+ Flip-Up Aerobars. I didn’t like them. First I found, that the concept of pads over the base handlebar, extensions below the base handlebar doesn’t float. I’d wager they float not only not my boat but neither everybodies. Why is that so? I can imagine only a certain height difference between pad surface and grip area of the extension bar which is feasible and will work. With a handlebar diameter worth between lower pad cup and extension bar this height difference is already to big. And if this is difference is to big, even with a very pronounced ski bend you can’t really grip the bar without over-extending your wrist. If you can reach the extension bar at all. Which is very possible if the aerobar model feature straight or low s-bend extension bars.
Well, that was shortcoming number one for me. Shortcoming number two was the flimsy flip up arm design with a flimsy spring. The pad levers were rattling annoyingly and I questioned the durability of the springs or their staying in place over several hundred kilometers. Let alone several thousand kilometers.
Shortcoming number three of such an design: you can’t adjust the pads. Not in height – not only is this not possible you would also only exaggerate the problem of not being possible to grip the extension bars which remain down low below the base handlbar – nor in their position relative above or behind the base handlebar.
Back they did go.
Next came the Syntace C3. I take it they are pretty popular despite being not very cheap. I also found many things to like in them. They are surprisingly light, they feature a nice form and grip position and they seem rather sturdy (well – the base bar part, the pad shells not so much). Mostly because the pads support is welded to the extension. But this is also of disadvantage. As you can’t slide the pads fore or aft. You can only adjust the lateral width between the pads. Also they are available in threes sizes… for some reason the only measurement which really changes is the length of the last grip bent. Not the distance between pad and grip.
The positive things of the C3 is the lightness, comparatively sturdiness and the pretty smooth bottom of the pad area. Meaning, you probably won’t hurt yourself while gripping the handle bar tops underneeth the pads (if there is enough space due to using several riser pieces).
In the end I came to the conclusion that I would be only happy with a model which provides adjustment in every direction: Rise (pads and extension bars) over handlebar, lateral width of pads (even better: also pad angle) and distance of pads and grip independent from another in fore aft direction.
The third aerobars I tested beside of the Syntace C3 are the Profile Design T1+ Aluminium. They are cheaper and the needed riser pieces are much cheaper than the Syntace C3. They are also heavier. But they are adjustable in every needed way. But – what can be adjusted can also go loose… Everything hinging on a round extension bar profile could possibly slip if not fastened tight enough and encountering a pot hole… But I think you can prevent this by proper mounting.
But my remaining gripe with all these options is… the Pads do get in the way. In the needed height and with a good comfortable lateral width I only just have enough clearing to the forearms when in the hoods of the base handlebar. With me being tired or wanting to adjust the angle of my hands (i.e. hinging me on the hoods towards the handle bar insides…) which will be important for long time comfort and preventing hand problems I’m afraid to touch the pads or being blocked. Just getting a slight irritation would be a long time problem.
And I didn’t even touched the position ‚on the tops‘ yet. That position is only possible of the needed rise which is around 20 mm for me. But even so I just can grip the outermost part of the tops, pretty much half in the bends already. I am really not satisfied with this yet.
I would love there would be a feasible flip up solution for the T1+. But alas, there is none. If you ask me, a real gap in the market.
But by switching back and forth between the Syntace C3 and the Profile T1+ and fine tuning the positions of the pads and lateral width of the bars I arrived at a set up I think I’m satisfied with.
I now think I have a good height and angle of the aerobars, have clearance for my knees and for the arms, have no hindrance to use the hoods and the drops and have a very usable tops position (although on the tops I can come into contact with the pads outer rims). But they are far enough behind the handlebar, far enough in the middle and shaped advantageously so to give the most possible clearance for my forearms. And – should all else fail and I find me on extended days in the mountains where I find I want all of my handlebar tops I could simply losen the screws of the pad arms and rotate them up…
In the following I show you some iterations of my testing and my final set up as of yesterday. There is no guarantee given this will be really the final set up for me and also no guarantee that this will bring me fast and without problems through Europe. But I sure do hope so. :)
First three photos of the Profile Design V2+ Aerobar. This is a flip up version. As I wrote above I wasn’t satisfied at all with this aerobar.
Then I tested the Syntace C3 Aerobars. I had both those and the Profile Design T1+ and switched a little back and forth between them. BTW: my C3 Aerobars are now for sale. :)
Next up are the Profile Design T1+ Aerobars. I like their complete adjustability. Really every measurement and angle can be adjusted. Pads in x and y direction. Pads angled also perpendicular or parallel to the stem. Grip area also back and forth independent from the pad position. At first I used the normal T1+ ski bend extensions.
But I kind of liked the shape of the Syntace C3 extensions so I looked for similar shaped extensions which I could buy as spare parts. I found some from 3T. They are the same diameter as the Profile Design extensions so you can swap them as you like. Through some iterations I also found the lateral and horizontal positions of the pads I like. I have used original Profile Design 30 mm riser pieces to mount the aerobars 30 mm above the handlebar.
Now I will have to think about finalising my cockpit. Where to mount all the other stuff like handlebar bag, food pouch, smartphone and lights… :)