Aero bars, also called tri-bars, are attached to your bike’s handlebars, with the primary purpose to get your body into a far more aerodynamic position. They’re mostly used by riders doing time-trials or triathlons (hence the tri-bars moniker) but they do offer benefits outside of those two fields.
On a touring bike?
There’s no set way to do cycle touring, nor is there a limit on what bicycle you can use. A friend of mine goes cycle touring on his 3-speed Brompton, while my bike is actually a gravel bike, but with a fair few modifications.
Right from the start I need to be clear that I’m not after aerodynamic gains here. After all, when fully laden, I have two Podsacs on the front fork, plus two panniers and a tent on the rear rack, so my bike is already quite UNaerodynamic! I expected that fitting aero bars wouldn’t really make a blind bit of difference overall here, in terms of aerodynamics.
So why fit aero bars?
Cycle touring can often involve spending many hours in the saddle. While my bike is a gravel bike, with more relaxed and comfortable geometry than a road bike, nevertheless I spend hours supporting much of my upper body with my arms. That means my hands, and my wrists, take all that strain.
Having aero bars offers me a different riding position, allowing me to take weight off my hands and my wrists, resting instead on my forearms. As an additional bonus, I gain the ability to strap a dry-bag with luggage under the aero bars.
This will be a very welcome bonus when going cycle camping in mid-winter, as I’d be able to carry an extra fleece blanket. That would make a big difference on a camping trip where temperatures dip well below freezing.
Learning to ride
I was warned against aero bars, and was told to expect my bike to feel extremely twitchy when using them. One person said they removed the aero bars from their bike, as they felt the bike was dangerously twitchy while using those bars. That made me feel quite apprehensive!
You obviously need to adjust the aero bars to fit your body. I chose the Profile Designs Legacy II bars, because they’re fairly adjustable. You can position the arm pads in any of three different positions, and you can adjust the angle of the arm pads. Obviously, you can also adjust how horizontal you want the bars to be.
Finally, I use 70mm risers. These literally raise the aero bars and additional 7cm above the bike’s handlebars. This is important, and makes a huge difference. Not only do they allow me a more relaxed riding position when using the aero bars, but it also means I can still place my hands on the top of the handlebars, below the aero bars.
The first outing
Almost immediately into my first ride with aero bars, I realised I had them angled too high. After two stops to finetune it, I got them into a position that felt more comfortable.
As I said earlier, I was apprehensive, but it turns out my fears were unfounded. Right from the outset, I found them quite straightforward to use, and my bike didn’t feel twitchy to me at all.
As I was riding on rural lanes, just wide enough for a car, practically any bend in the road was a blind bend, so on bends I had my hands on the brake hoods. That wasn’t because I felt it unstable to use the aero bars, but simply because I wanted to cover my brakes, in case I suddenly needed to brake.
I’m sure at least some of it was psychosomatic, but I completed my little 10-mile ride faster than I’d usually do. However, despite having had one pannier on the bike, I still believe I actually had an aerodynamic advantage, which is an unexpected bonus.
I’ll do a full review of the Profile Designs Legacy II aero bars later, once I had more time to ride with them.