Getting started with aero bars
Published 8 January 2020. Written by Chris Worfolk.
Aero bars, also known as tri bars, are the handlebar poles that cyclists and triathletes use to get themselves into a more aero position. They can offer a big speed boost but are tricky to use. In this article, I will talk you through getting started.
What are aero bars?
You will find aero bars on time trial bikes and triathlon bikes. You can also buy "clip-on" bars that you attach to the handlebars of your road bike.
Using the bars allows you to get a lot lower on the bike. You put your elbows on the pads and hold the end of the bars. This enables you to get your back horizontal, creating a lot smaller footprint to punch through the air as you cycle along.
What is the benefit?
The benefit is a lot less drag.
When I bought my first pair of clip-on bars, I put them on my bike on Monday, had a quick go on them on Wednesday and then raced on them on Sunday. I produced 10% less power than the previous race on the same course and went 5% faster.
Similarly, when I did a like-for-like comparison on the same course over 38km, I took over 10 minutes off my time. These numbers are personal, so I cannot promise you will see the same results. But they do demonstrate there is a big aerodynamic advantage available.
There are drawbacks as well: it is harder to control the bike when holding the bars compared to the handlebars. There are no brakes on the end, and if you are using the clip-on bars, no gear shifters, either. It also takes some time to get used to the position.
When can I use them?
Aero bars are allowed in non-drafting races.
You are not allowed to use them in drafting races because, when riding in a pack, it is essential that you can access your brakes quickly. Therefore, they are not suitable for group riding.
How do I install them?
If you are using clip-on bars, they bolt onto the handlebars. I recommend using a torque wrench if you can, as it is important to get them to the correct tightness. Too tight and you could damage your handlebars. Too loose and they could slip down in the middle of a ride.
As you will usually be clamping metal on metal, you may wish to wrap your handlebar in some electrical tape first to prevent any scratching.
Before tightening everything up, you will want them in a comfortable position. Ideally, you will have a turbo trainer, as the easiest way to do it is to mount your bike on the turbo and play around with the position.
But here is a quick guide:
- Start with the bars in a horizontal position. Some pros ride with them pointing upwards, but this makes the bike even harder to control.
- Move them backwards and forwards. But your elbows on the pads and your hands should be around the end of the bars.
- Start with them nice and wide, as that is likely to be the most comfortable position.
You may need to adjust your saddle to get the most comfortable position. A lot of male athletes find they need to angle their saddle forward slightly to avoid crushing their genitals.
Riding on the bars
Getting started with riding on the bars can be a tricky business. You have less control compared with the handlebars, and that takes some getting used to.
You could start by having one hand on the aero bar and one on the handlebar. You can even lift that hand off when you are feeling confident. Some people have had success with this method, but I am not a big fan of it because riding with only one hand is harder than riding with two.
The faster you are going, the easier it is to stay balanced. However, when you are first getting used to this, going fast can be intimidating. So, here is my tip:
Find a small uphill gradient, say 1-3%, and ride up it. Doing this allows you to put a lot of power through the bike, without going that fast. This should help you feel a little more stable when trying to ride on the bars.
If you have a turbo trainer, you may want to practice the position on the turbo first.
Allocate some time to practising moving in and out of the aero position. Spending ten minutes moving your hands from the handlebars to the aero bars and back again will make you more confident in being able to do it at speed.
Finally, be kind to yourself. Even a lot of pros come off the bars when cornering. They are perfect for flat straights, but come back to your handlebars for corners and descends where you need that additional control.
Aero bars will make you significantly faster, even when putting less power through the bike.
They can be tricky to get started with, but my experience was that it was like learning to ride a bike: once it clicks, it suddenly starts feeling very natural.