Spoiler alert: YES tri bars make a difference. They are the quickest, cheapest way to improve your speed on the bike. If your finger is too tried to scroll these are my favorite ones right now right now-no TOOLS required once set up to get on and off easily. (They are a product of kickstarter too!)
There is a lot of gear around so focus on the few things that make the biggest difference.
All the other gadgets you can add on later (or not) but tri bars are one of the the most important pieces of kit that will make a measurable difference to your speed on the bike.
However, if this is your first season in triathlon or your first time on a bicycle for a long time, do not worry about using tri bars. Focus on improving your cycling skills, dealing with traffic, cornering, group riding and building your endurance.
If this is your second season or you have been cycling for a while and have been considering investing in tri bars- then GO for it. They are generally not expensive and will make a huge improvement to your cycling speed.
What Are Tri Bars?
Tri bars /aero bars are the handlebar extensions with forearm rests that allow the rider to get down low over the handlebars and cycle while resting on their forearms instead of their hands. The aim is to minimise the frontal surface area of the body to reduce the wind resistance and the drag.
Despite all the advances in carbon fibre materials, aero wheels and skin suits, the rider actually accounts of 80% of resistance.
So if you want to go fast, you should:
1. Lose weight (There is a reason Tour de France riders are almost skeletal)
2. Adopt an aero position
Tips For Fitting Tri Bars
Watch this awesome video showing you the main points of how to fit your new aero bars.
It also has a really good analysis of points to consider when buying them.
Why Do Tri Bars Make A Difference? (A Massive One!)
There are two main reasons for the dramatic increase in speed.
1) Reduced wind resistance (discussed above)
2) Forward on the bike allows you to generate more power
The first thing to do is to place a set of tri bars on your road bike and start getting used to this position.
Check this great article on the best value for money when getting aero.
As well as reducing your frontal area, the aero position changes the alignment of your lower limbs, so will take some getting used to. But gradually it will allow you to generate more power through the pedal stroke. If you set your bike up on the turbo and do brutal training DVDs like Sufferfest, be sure to ride in your race position and continually scan the body, relax your neck to optimise your position and get used to spending time there.
The second thing to consider is your weight. If you carry some extra padding, consider some adjustments to your diet. If you are overweight, you will get a lot faster by shedding excess fat than spending $7,000 on a new bike!
How To Get Used To Tri Bars
The aero position changes the position that your hamstrings, glutes and calves contract in. It also changes the angle your neck and back will stay in for long periods. This may feel uncomfortable at first. Your power may even decrease initially. Do not be alarmed.
This is normal. You are aiming for an effective aero tuck but without over-stretching or compressing your hip angle.
Adjust slowly and with care.
Respect the new position. Or you will get injured…
Take your bike out several times a week to do skills training.
Practice getting down into the aero position and getting back up safely.
Practice cornering and descending.
Practice changing gear and braking.
Practice eating and drinking from that position.
Build endurance in that position.
Take regular breaks and keep going.
Note that to reach the brakes, you will need to lift your hands back to the road bike position. So look ahead and anticipate early or it will only be a matter of time before you crash.
Make sure you stay on quiet roads initially and go by yourself so that you can concentrate.
Get your elbows close together.
Try to get your back as flat as possible. Try to get your forearms horizontal and parallel to the ground.
You should aim to just about feel your knees skimming your chest on the upstroke of the pedal stroke.
After a few weeks you should feel comfortable, you should notice your power and times dramatically improving.
You should feel so confident and pleased with your aero bars that you wondered why you did not get them sooner.
However if you don’t feel comfortable, it may be that the geometry of your actual bike needs to be adjusted as well. It is not as simple as slipping on some clip-on aero bars and getting selected for the national team.
Your seat may need to come forward.
Your seat angle may need to be tilted forward.
Your front stem may need to be shorter or angled downwards.
Test a few of these out by yourself if you wish. If you are doing half Ironman distance and above, I suggest biting the bullet and booking a professional bike fit. They will test you out, monitor all the angles in your hips, knees ankles, back and wrists and make adjustments so you feel comfortable and can generate the maximum power possible.
Which Tri Bars Are Recommended?
Tri bars range from $80-$800
The price difference depends on the materials used, weight and functionality.
The simple ones just clip onto your existing road bike handlebars. The more expensive ones combine the handlebars and extensions into one piece.
What’s not to like? This has it all…These aero bars might just about be my favourite as they allow you to change between road bike position and aero position very simply with NO tools. They improved and refined their design following a successful kickstarter campaign. These tri bars make a difference not only in terms of aerodynamics but also ease of use.
Got an event where you require your aero bars- no problem! Attach them back to exactly the same position in a matter of seconds. The wide range of adjustability: pad width, height, fore-aft, rotation and extension reach gives you the perfect fit.
Together with the Redshift Dual-Position Seatpost Aluminum (27.2mm x 350mm) – RED(sold separately), the Quick-Release Aerobars give you a truly integrated aero position, without compromising your normal road setup.
The aerobars are constructed from aerospace-grade 6061-T6 aluminum alloy. They are compatible with 26.0 and 31.8 mm handlebar diameters, and require 22 mm (7/8 inch) of straight cylindrical clamping length on either side of the bicycle stem. The aerobars weigh 630 g (S-bend extensions) or 640 g (L-bend extensions) including the handlebar clamps.
Transform your road bike into an aerodynamic triathlon machine.
These have carbon fiber ergonomic shallow angle ski bend extensions. This means you can achieve a neutral wrist angle which is absolutely crucial for comfort and reducing numbness in the wrist and fingers.
They weigh in at 605g and allow for internal cabling so you can get your gearing sorted.
The F-35 arm rests are wide and they are adjustable (a big plus!) featuring 3 x fore/aft positioning
The clamp fits 26mm and 31.8mm bars
The Profile Design includes its J4 bracket, which is controlled by a single bolt and allows you to easily adjust extension length and rotation.
These aero bars offer amazing functionality at great value. They fit 31.8 bar clamp diameter
They include Vuka Alumina Clip Top Mount and Vuka carbon race extensions. These certainly look awesome and will intimidate your competitors when you rack your bike in transition. (perception is reality in racing!)
One of the best things about Zipp’s VUKA line is that it has an app in the App Store to take your bike sizing measurements and “dial in” the aero bars down to the millimeter.
How great is that?
It’s free too so even if you don’t buy this brand, you can still use the app.
Once dialled in correctly you will notice you can push a much higher speed at a lower heart rate. Remember though it will take at least 4 weeks to see the benefits so do not throw a tantrum when after 3 days you cannot see any result! ☺
Where Most Aero Bar Riders Go Wrong
It is not simply enough to buy your $50 aero bars, clip them on and expect 2-3 minutes to drop off your 1 hour time trial.
You need to fit them, test them, tweak the position a bit, test again. Tweak the bike position and tweak your posture on the bike. By making small adjustments over time, you will optimise the faster position for you.
A common aero bar mistake is staying on them past the point of efficiency.
If your speed dips below about 12 mph, you lose most of the benefit of an aero bar.
If you’re doing long-distance riding, the torso-forward position can get tiresome. So mix it up a bit and change your position to stay fresh. But on the other hand, if it’s windy and you’ve mastered the aero bar, your ride will be much more efficient and you will greatly reduce fatigue.
Do Tri Bars Make A Difference?
On average about 2mph faster. Remember though that bike control whilst on the tri bars can be lacking.
If you hit a pothole, or a do not see a sharp corner- you will come unstuck. They are not good in group riding and they are not good up hills. But the more you practice, the more confident you will be come. They are awesome on long flat roads, high wind conditions and speeds above 14mph
If you love your cycling or triathlon, definitely buy a pair.
It will revolutionise your experience and your results. Do tri bars make a difference?
For us- we think they are a must!
Happy Training Peeps
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