Comfortably Aero – Why aero bars are making you worse.
Aero bars? Comfortable? Does that even exist?
I come from the era of cyclists/ triathletes that were told that to be fast on the bike, you needed to be slammed as low as you can go.
In fact, it was a badge of honour to have your set up as flat as you could, and extra points if you could ride that TT position with the bars pointing towards the road (instead of straight ahead).
Spacers?! They were for losers.
At the time, there was evidence (wind tunnel testing, road testing, etc) that gave credibility to that extreme aero position. Once the Pro Cyclists and Pro Triathletes pick up on it, it trickles down at a very rapid rate to the consumers (age groupers); if they are doing it – we should. Unfortunately, that works for good things and bad things.
See, that slammed low aero position “looked fast”, therefore it must be fast. But let’s be honest – it never really was.
The answer to your question – Why Aero bars? is simple. They look fast.
But, it took a lot out of the body to hold such an aggressive tuck for 180km, with flat TT extensions. The strain on the neck, the kyphotic position of the thoracic, the shortening of the hip flexors, and the lengthening of the lumbar stabilisers – all leads to a very compromised position and limited ability to apply real power to the pedals.
Worse, that position completely hinders your ability to get off the bike and run with efficiency. Pro Tour riders can get away with that – they only need to hobble to the team bus and get a massage (which is why aero bars and their after effects dont even factor into their minds).
But in triathlon, you still have to run off the bike.
And you can see it at races: those buckled bodies trying to unfold into running form; it’s like a really bad version of origami – you know what’s it’s supposed to look like, but it certainly doesn’t end up like that. Why aero bars havent been thrown out with 5-finger shoes Ill never know.
Racing well is about setting yourself up for success. Doing everything you can, to put yourself in the best place to have a great day. So why would you crunch yourself into a position that “looks fast” (*insert: cool), instead of one that is comfortable?
I believe, and so do the best bike-fitters and coaches, that an athlete can be comfortable and powerful and efficient on the bike.
Look at the shift the industry has made in TT extensions: we are seeing less of that slammed, flat bar look, and a shift back to the raised “ski-ends”; bringing the arms up in front of the riders face, taking pressure off the forearms and neck and placing the weight more into the elbows. Further, we are seeing a move away from those tiny elbow cups, and into longer, more curved shapes, that actually hold the elbow-forearm (rather than just let them rest on top).
Do you think this matters? Absolutely it does. There is the anecdotal evidence from pro and age group athletes, as well as the wind-tunnel testing by the big bike brands. And the feedback from all camps is that by placing a rider in a more comfortable position, whilst staying reducing frontal drag, you can tap into more power, and far less stress on the body.
The less stress, the better you can perform.
But comfort doesn’t start with tweaking your bike position. It starts with working on your body. As I said, amateur athletes are terrible at ensuring they move well before trying to perform well. Harsh? Maybe. But true.
I have repeated this ad nauseam for a long time now but if you cannot spend time invested towards flexibility, mobility and stability, then you should not be investing in slick, two-wheeled machines and their accessories. That ‘bowerbird’ mentality drives me crazy as a coach; the need to have all the shiny things, yet ignore the very thing that actually operates the things with efficacy.
Ask yourself – right now: how many hours last week did you spend working on your flexibility? Mobility?
If your answer is in minutes, then you have a problem. If your rebuttal is that you do not have time, then your priorities are wrong. Or maybe you simply do not know what to do.
Think about this: is your desire to be Aero AF actually negating your performance on the bike, and the run?
Are you ignoring the fundamentals of athleticism in favour of looking fast (yet not actually getting any faster)?
My friend, I hope not. If you are, it is holding you back.
And for my sake, please stop trying to mimic the aero shapes of others. Get a professional bike fit, spend time on your body, and re-fit more than once every 5 years.