Don’t be a Drag
As kids, who among us hasn’t stuck their hand out the window of the car and “flown” their hand in the air stream? Of course, everybody has done that—it’s fun and helps kill many minutes of boredom on a long trip. It’s time to look at that a little more closely.
If you hold your hand rather loosely (Fig. 1), the air flows around it in every direction and it offers a great deal of resistance. If you hold it flat and rigid (Fig. 2), the air encounters much less area and your hand begins to move efficiently through the airstream—it begins to “fly”.
In much the same way, the traditional upright posture when riding a conventional bicycle (Fig. 3) presents the largest, broadest area possible when you’re moving. This also means you’re offering maximum resistance to the airflow around your body.
As every child knows, however, if you want to go faster you have to crouch down (Fig. 4). They don’t have to be taught this simple matter of physics.
In the racing world they take this one step further by providing handles which protrude straight out in front, as close together as possible, which also provide armrests to take the strain off the hands and wrists (Fig. 5). This presents the narrowest and the lowest profile to the wind, thereby maximizing your speed. People will suggest that you need a $6000 triathlon bike, special skin-tight clothing, aerodynamic racing wheels to reduce parasitic drag, and a premium racing helmet.
However, dollar for dollar, your very best investment is a set of aerobars. You’ll sometimes hear them being called clip-on aerobars, but they’re not subject to easy removal or theft—it’s just a name.
They do come in several different styles, either as something that can be attached in addition to your regular handlebars, or as a complete replacement.
To break it down into actual numbers: a proper helmet will save you 5% of your energy at 40 kilometers per hour. Proper wheels will save you 1% of energy at the same speed. An expensive triathlon bike will save you another 1¼%. In comparison, aerobars will see you gain a rather remarkable 30%…
You already know what the conclusion is going to be. Unless you’re racing in international tournaments and wearing a lot of sponsors’ names all over your clothing, spending $6000 for an extra 2% of speed is probably counterproductive.
Go and get yourself a nice set of aerobars and a really good helmet and you should be able to go about 35% faster than a conventional bike for the same energy expenditure—that seems like a pretty good deal for a very modest investment.
How to Choose the Best Aero Bars for Your Road Bike
I’ve hand selected my top 4 choices from Amazon. I always make my choices based on overall rating, number of reviews, rank, and then I skim the actual reviews to see how useful the users have been. I would personally be comfortable purchasing any of these handlebars. Take note of the brand.