Are Custom Aerobars Here To Stay?
Our expert fitter dives into the evolution of the full-coverage aerobar and dissects why you need (and why you might not need) custom aerobars.
The aerobar, unlike most other components of a modern-day bicycle, has its roots firmly planted in triathlon. Triathletes, always willing to try something new and not hamstrung by tradition or pesky rules, make great test subjects for new technologies and are very much responsible for making the aerobar what it is today. The aerobar has seen many regrettable features come and go over the years, like flip up arm pads or “S-bend” extensions but the latest advancement of aerobar design is likely here to stay.
A typical aerobar has an arm pad that’s roughly 100mm wide by 100mm long, designed to support the rider’s arm below their elbow or on the muscular portion of the forearm. The aerobar extension extends forwards from the arm pad and provides a contact point for the rider’s hand to hold onto the bike. When set up correctly, roughly half of the rider’s upper body weight is transferred structurally (as opposed to muscularly) through the upper arm and into the arm pad. The goal of most aerobar-based bike fits are to allow the arms, shoulder, and hands to relax as much as possible and for the upper arm to act as a column, requiring the rider to activate as little muscle as possible to hold themself up. This posture allows the position to be sustainable and relatively comfortable for long periods of time—essential particularly for long-course racing and multi-hour rides.
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The Evolution of Aerobar Coverage
Over the last few years, we’ve started to see more and more products pop up that change the way the rider’s hands and arms are supported on the bike. Veterans will remember the crazy-looking Xentis aerobars made famous by Ironman World Champion Faris Al-Sultan in the 2000s.
Fast forward 10 to 15 years and we saw a similar concept that was the end result of a collaboration of Swiss-Side and Canyon win at the 2018 Ironman World Championship underneath Patrick Lange.
The following year, we saw a nearly-as-advanced Speedbar on Lucy Charles-Barclay’s 2019 Kona race rig featured here.
Most recently, we noticed the (presumably) custom made aerobars aboard Kristian Blummenfelt’s Olympic gold-medal-winning race bike. These history-making aero bars all feature arm pads that extend far beyond just the end of the forearm—they cover as much of the forearm, wrist, and hand as possible, and in some cases they are custom manufactured to the exact shape of the rider’s body. Just this week we saw an up-close look at Charles-Barclay’s new custom-made Cube aerobars for her assault on 70.3 World Championships.
There are two potential advantages to a full-length and custom-made aerobar: aerodynamics and comfort. From a directly aerodynamic perspective, there are some aero gains to be had by custom forming the arm pad and extension to the shape of the rider’s arm. With this construct, the body and bar become one as far as the wind, with no gap in between, reducing the number of objects the air must pass over and allowing for the opportunity to shape the leading edge in an aerodynamically efficient way.
From a comfort perspective, bars like this allow for the arms to be supported in their entirety, reducing pressure spots to a minimum and a rider’s fit to be dialed in to an extreme degree. Do you like to wear a watch on your arm? That can be accounted for. Do you like one arm turned in a tiny bit more than another or do you like to hold your wrist in a particular angle? No problem. Do you have a sensitive area due to a previous injury? We can avoid pressing there. And so on.
What’s Out There?
There are numerous options available for those willing to fork over some serious cash to get custom-made bars that aren’t much different than what Patrick Lange was privy to back in 2018. Custom-made bars are painstakingly made by the likes of Speedbar, Speeco, Radsport, and Uniqo. Custom-made bars don’t necessarily solve all of a rider’s fit needs, however and due to their custom nature and general lack of adjustability—compared to ordinary aero bars—a rider should be 100% sure of their exact position before punching in their credit card number. If you are a rider who likes to move around on the bike and change hand positions often, then these bars may not be for you.
For those looking to get in on the latest trend without endlessly deep pockets, there is a much more modest option to consider from stock brands. For instance, the TriRig Scoops (available in three variations: open back, closed back, and closed Back + Extension) bring a large surface aerobar to the masses. The extra long and curved cups from the Scoops will cover two to three times more surface area than a traditional arm pad, providing a much greater pressure distribution; the closed back Scoops also provide a greater level of security than your traditional arm pad. Some users have reported that they have a hard time matching their desired hand position and extension shape to their Scoops setup, while others love them right away. The universally mountable arm pad will integrate better with some aerobar systems’ hydration setups than others, so your experience may vary and some trial and error will ultimately be needed.
In the end, custom aerobars might be the latest and greatest thing for triathletes who are racing as a job, but as they proliferate the pro ranks, stock and semi-stock options can still deliver good value for everyday triathletes looking to make a meaningful change in their aero setup.