Submitted by Larry Hayes “Deerfencer”
As a former road bike devotee partial to 30-40 mile fast touring rides, back in the 1990’s I began experimenting with clip-on style aerobars on my road bike in search of more comfort and speed. The fact is, certain style aerobars can offer as many as three additional hand/arm positions to most road or mountain bikes, so the motivation was there to play with various designs on the market until I found one I was comfortable with. This process took several years and a few hundred dollars, but in the end it was money well spent.
What makes aerobars so great? Most attractive is the ability to transfer your upper body weight load away from your hands and wrists and onto your forearms, often alleviating carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms in the wrist joints. Once fitted properly and practiced on, aerobars offer tremendous opportunities to relax the body on flats and descents for extended periods of time. You can even learn to steer with your forearms through mild curves.
On familiar descents over good blacktop with no car traffic, it is possible for an experienced aerobar rider to go well over 40-MPH and still feel relaxed and in control. And of course there is the huge aero advantage of getting the entire upper body of the rider low and narrow, greatly reducing wind resistance and adding gobs of speed with zero effort.
A properly set up e-bike can be a beautiful platform for aerobars, and since 2006 I have ridden Syntace 2 Clip-on aerobars on my Tidalforce S750X, where I took first place in the one hour 2006 Citizens’ Race at the Tour de Sol in Saratoga Springs, NY. (see photo) These bars have not come off my e-ride since.
Because an electric bike is faster than a pedal road bike, the benefits of riding with aerobars are even more pronounced than on a pedal bike.
The challenge with adding aerobars to an electric bike is how do you apply throttle while in the down position. There are 4 choices for accomplishing this:
- Add an extra throttle. This would have to be highly customized to work with your bars, ebike and riding position…a difficult proposition.
- Go throttleless. Build or buy a bike with a torque or pedal cadence sensor so that you can apply power with your feet with no throtttle. This is the easiest option.
- Add cruise control. There are some throttles available on the aftermarket that offer a cruise control option.
- Only use the bars when pedaling, or coasting down hill….not when using electric power.
Aerobars have a racing history dating back to the 1984 RAAM (Race Across America), a grueling cross-country marathon race. Rider Jim Elliot rode a prototype aerobar designed by his coach, Richard Byrne, whose earliest designs came out of extended velodrome track testing. Two years later RAAM rider Pete Penseyres took the concept and honed it further, bagging first place in the 1986 RAAM.
From there it was a short jump to the pro triathlete circuit, where Brad Kearns scooped the field in an upset win on Scott aerobars in the Desert Princess Duathlon in winter, 1987, setting the Tri-world on fire as riders demanded to know where they could get a set of these strange looking clip-on bars for their steeds. Their envy stemmed as much from the rider comfort they observed, as from the clear pure speed advantage these bars offered in getting the rider into a lower, tighter aerodynamic position on the bike.
In fact Boone Lennon, former head coach of the US World Cup Alpine team, was instrumental in tweaking early aerobar designs in an effort to imitate the dynamic body position favored by pro downhill skiers, i.e. arms, hands, and upper body forward, low, and narrow, with the racer’s back parallel to the ground. Modern day aerobars incorporate lots of wind tunnel testing in their R&D development.
Interestingly, professional peleton road riders initially scoffed at these bars as hopelessly nerdy—until Greg LeMond beat Laurent Fignon on them in the 1989 Tour de France, overcoming a 50-second deficit on the last competitive stage of the race, an individual time trial. Since then they have been a staple in pro time trial stages (though banned for obvious safety reasons in group field stages) with 100% of the pros racing on various aerobar designs.
(For more great history on aerobar evolution, see this piece from Slow Twitch magazine:)
So what’s not to like about adding both comfort and speed to your e-ride? Not much. Of course you sacrifice some real estate on your standard handlebars, and there is certainly a significant learning/testing curve involved as you search for just the right clip-ons and adjust them to your body and ride. For those of you who have access to non-electric rides I’d encourage you to “learn” these bars on a decent quality pedal bike with slick or semi-slick tires. It really doesn’t matter if it’s a road or mtb bike, but geometry-wise the bike should probably come close to duplicating your e-ride if you want to swap the bars at a later date over to your electric steed.
Expect to spend a lot of time getting used to the new riding positions aerobars require, and don’t give up if it feels strange at first—these bars often take a lot of tweaking/adjusting to get used to, and you may well have to make saddle adjustments as well, both height and forward/back positons.
The most popular aerobar brands right now are Visiontech and Profile , so you might want to start looking there, though I remain faithful to my old school Syntace 2’s because of their extreme comfort and stability. I would plan on spending at least a season or two honing your choice and practicing on them before adding them to your e-ride. Veteran road riders can probably shorten this window, but the crucial element is to be both comfortable and in control on your new equipment before ripping downhill on them, or passing herds of lycras on the flats at 35-38 mph. Plan on spending around $200 for a quality set.
Another option is to do a set of bar ends that arent so elaborate on the cheap such as the Profile Designs which can be had for as low as $38:
Start slow, practice long and hard, and I promise that once you find your sweet spot…aerobars will likely become a permanent part of your e-ride. Your wrists will also thank you.
Check out this article on more on seating position when riding with aerobars.