First ride: Clip-on aero bars on a road bike

A story more interesting than the subject. Clip-on aero bars? Yawn. And yet my first ride took me by surprise. It was thrilling! My new found speed was electric, amplified by my new position closer to the ground. How quick? At least an extra 1mph for the same effort over 60 miles. It’s rare for me to ride at 19 mph over such a distance in the darkest days of winter.

Why the clip-on aero bars? I’ve randomly had the idea to attempt a few Time Trials this year, not the ones on dual carriageways, oh no, sporting courses that have more than 1 metre of elevation and fewer 70 mph cars.

Fitting clip on aero bars to a road bike

Bars borrowed from a club mate, there’s no bar tape but that’s not an immediate issue as I wear gloves. Longer term I should probably wrap them.

It took me a few minutes to attach the bars. Pro tip: cover your handlebar with electrical tape to prevent scratches.

A few spins on the turbo testing the bars. Comfort not speed the priority. No point having the aerodynamics of a bullet if it means the bad back of a crooked old man.

Do you need a bike fit? Not at such an early stage. That can come later once you’ve ridden time trials for a year. Find a friend or mirror or go pro and watch yourself in position on the bike.

It should feel comfortable, you should be able to easily keep your head up to see the road, shoulders relaxed, hips stable when pedaling. For the latter you might need to move your seat forward as leaning on the bars pulls you forward on the bike.

Remember to make sure the bolts are tight, you don’t want the bars dipping the first time you hit a pothole. Just be careful if you have carbon bars, use a torque wrench and carbon paste.

Oh and don’t forget to check your front tyre pressure. I usually run mine lower than the rear but I increased the pressure due to the extra weight on the front.

First ride with clip on bars

Bars on, it was time for a spin outside. I’m not going to lie, the first few attempts using the clip ons were horrific and I was wobbling all over the place. Probably should have waited to get out of central London first!

After a few miles the wobbles went away and I began to find a steady rhythm. So how was it? First the positives.

Benefits of clip on aero bars

  1. Speed. The feeling of speed was incredible, so much so that whenever I left the bars I felt an instinct, nay, a need to get back on them as quickly as I could. They were just so quick.
  2. Comfort. Now I know this is not usual, but I also didn’t have any problems finding a comfortable position. I’m one of the least flexible people I know yet perhaps all those years and miles riding with my arms parallel to the ground with my hands rested on the hoods has helped.
  3. Technique. It’s a bit like learning to ride again. It was hard not to envisage images of Wiggins or Tony Martin or Tom Dumoulin effortlessly gliding through the air. I can but dream. This immediately led to the challenge of technique and form, and trying to ride as if someone has balanced a glass of water on your back. Tricky.
  4. Riding up hill in the bars is also great if the hill isn’t too steep and you’re travelling fast enough to gain an aero advantage. This speed is about 10 – 14 mph depending on which studies you believe.

All in all I loved it. Not that all is cheery.

The disadvantages of clip-on aero bars

  1. Added danger. These being simple clip-on bars means there’s no way to brake without reverting back to your handlebars. This does mean you need to be extra cautious and I purposely found a route I knew would have little traffic or junctions and fewer potholes of course.
  2. Changing gears is a bit of a pain too, which probably contributed to my lower cadence as I was reluctant to leave the bars to change gear. To prevent this you could route some cables through the bars to add shifters. Very pro.
  3. Loss of vision. I’m usually a fanatic pothole spotter and avoider. That’s ten times harder on aero bars. Seeing them is more difficult from a lower position and swerving to avoid them feels much more dangerous when on the bars. Hitting them is also more painful, especially now your front wheel has more weight.
  4. Changing position. Getting on and off the bars was also a challenge the first few times, especially returning to a normal position. Yet this too was soon overcome as you learn how to rise one arm at a time.
  5. Bike set up. You immediately feel yourself pulled forward and I wished I’d have adjusted my seat. This can lead to some soreness down there although I wasn’t too bad. I’ve resisted moving the seat as I don’t want to adjust it every time I add/remove the bars.
  6. Cadence. I noted my cadence dropped dramatically from c.93 to 83, probably not helping that I was hanging off my saddle. The lower cadence helps you feel more stable. One to watch and practice.
  7. Breathing. Your new position may mean tighter angles between your knees and chest making breathing more difficult.
  8. Power decrease. You may struggle to hold similar power levels in your new position, I certainly found this to be true. The aero advantage should more than make up for the loss though.

Phew, that’s a much longer list of disadvantages but if speed is your concern then the negatives are easy to overcome or disregard.

Should I get clip on aero bar for my road bike?

Clip on bars, or TT bars, tri bars, doughnut storage extender bars. Whatever you call them, they’re worth trying if you:

  • Enjoy riding long distances but want to ride quicker
  • Want to try Time Trial races without the expense of yet another bike
  • Want to try mega long rides or audaxes and need to sleep, sorry, save energy
  • Simply enjoy riding fast, the faster the better

They’re not for you if:

  • You’re an aesthete. Yup, they’re ugly.
  • You’re a weight weenie. They add significant weight to the front end, which after getting used to I found reassuring when turning
  • You’re a traditionalist and the only thing you stick to your bike is you via cleats and clip in pedals
  • You enjoy group rides. Clip on bars are more dangerous for several reasons but mostly because you’re that much further away from your brakes.
  • You enjoy comfort or are not very limber. Some people complain of back aches. And then there’s soreness ‘down there’.
  • You like money. You know, just in case the clip on bars lead to a time trial addiction and an arms race to empty your wallet in search of aerodynamic marginal gains.

I’ve now been training for a couple of months with the bars indoors. Power is still marginally lower but no discomfort. My god it’s boring though and I thought turbo rides were boring enough! Yet the thrill of speed during Time Trial races certainly makes up for it.

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4 thoughts on “First ride: Clip-on aero bars on a road bike

  1. I put clip on aero bars on my bike for a half Ironman. I loved being able to change positions. But you’re right about feeling wobbly on them. When I was going downhill I left the bars and stayed on the hoods.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point it does allow you to change positions and avoid stiff necks etc. It does take some nerve downhill, nerve I’ve yet to find, especially if they’re twisty.

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    1. Worth sticking with them if you’re chasing free speed. Less so for the club ride. Realised today how little you look around enjoy the scenery with clip-ons. Fortunately they’re easy to get on and off.

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