Aero Bars and Group Riding

Are aero bars really a problem when riding in a group?

I have playfully teased many of you for years about leaving your aero bars in place during group rides. Those whom I tease are strong and seasoned riders and I am confident they are well aware of the risks posed by riding with aero bars in a group. But this teasing does beg the question, “Are aero bars really a problem when riding in a group?” For the veteran riders, probably not. Do I worry about my safety when I see them riding on the aero bars? Not really. Am I concerned when I see new riders immediately adopt clip on aero bars.

Emphatically YES.

Here are 3 reasons why.

  1. Riding from aero bars is an inherently less stable position. Think about standing with your feet one in front of the other as opposed to shoulder width. Pushing you over from the former position is much easier than from the latter.
  2. Unless you have routed separate brake lines, and this is rarely the case with clip ons, you are a long ways away from the brakes. In addition to the distance, you now have to remove one hand to access the brakes. Your other hand remains on the clip on leaving your body in an even more compromised position.
  3. Riders new to the sport may perceive riding in a group to be an easy skill to adopt, but they would be wrong. The subtle dynamics of road riding take time to learn and are hard to teach. Until new riders can comfortably pull their weight in they absolutely should not use aero bars at any time during a group ride.

Two reasons you don’t need Aero bars on group rides.

  1. The whole point of riding in a group is to reap the benefits provided by the leading riders slipstream. Riding in the slipstream requires much less effort, sometimes up to 40% less. This makes aero bars unnecessary in group rides.
  2. The second main point of riding in a group is to get stronger! Embrace the natural wind resistance and power through using your leg muscles.

Many groups simply won’t tolerate aero bars on a group ride. If you find yourself attempting to ride with one of these groups be prepared for them to politely (or not) say you can’t ride with them. The bottom line is that riders who choose to ride on aero bars are a threat to the rest of the group.  When the group doesn’t know your skill level they have no obligation to accept that risk into their ride. Whether it is fair or not, if you show up to a new group with aero bars on your road bike they will assume your skill level is low. You may be thinking this is rude and unacceptable and behavior and I can assure you the feeling is mutual! Unfortunately for the aero bar rider, the group has science on their side! These aren’t just my opinions or those of the screaming minority.

Thoughts on the matter from around the web.

“While there is no “cycling law” against the use of aero bars during group rides, any cyclist with common sense knows that it is a bad idea. Joining a group ride with aerobars is a scary, dangerous thing to do and some cyclist are too stubborn to change their ways.”

-The Bill Bone Law Group

“Now it’s not against the “cycling law” to show up with aero bars on a group ride, but it is against all good common sense and safety standards to “use” them around other riders.”

-Bama Cyclist Blog

“ The odd time I see someone who I don’t recognize riding with a TT bike or aerobars bolted on I’ll get as far in front of that rider as I can as I don’t feel safe – even if they’re on their hoods.”

-Cycling Tips

“Never be in the TT position when you’re in the bunch. You don’t have access to the brakes when you’re on the aerobars. Always be on the hoods where you have much more control. Only when you get to the very front should you ever get into the aero-tuck position and go into timetrial mode.”

-Cycling Tips

“A history of ‘Bunch Etiquette’ (which is currently all we have to rely on in the impending dangers of bunch practices) has it that riders who want to ride on TT bars should responsibly choose one of these options:”

  1. Ride off the back of the pack or off the front of the pack (not hard to do with the aerodynamic advantage).
  2. Go riding in a group of riders all using profile bars together.
  3. Go riding solo

-Cycling Tips

“…when I see aerobars or a timetrial bike in the bunch rides my only aim is to get ahead of it. These bikes are not designed to be ridden in groups even if held on the hoods. The UCI banned the use of this equipment in the peloton for good reason!”

comment from:-Cycling Tips

In Closing

I have personally borne witness to riders sporting aero bars being told in a less than apologetic or sympathetic manner to “piss off” when attempting to join a group ride. Though I do agree that this is rude and unacceptable behavior, I also agree that riding with aero bars has no place in the group dynamic. This is my attempt to educate you on why and prevent you from enduring the wrath of less accommodating cyclists. If you still choose to ride with aero bars in a group you must extend the rest of the riders a common courtesy and only ride on them when at the very front of the pack, bearing in mind that your aero advantage is the following riders drafting disadvantage, so don’t be offended if they see you as a selfish rider and don’t wait on you in the event you get dropped or have a flat.

Aero bars can coexist with group rides but much like raisins and cookies… they probably shouldn’t. 🙂

Until the next ride,

Will Conkwright

Oriental, NC

March 2, 2016

William Conkwright

Will Conkwright is the owner at Circle Squared Publishing, LLC, a photographer, writer, full stack web developer, Google Street View Trusted Photographer, competitive cyclist, endurance athlete and adventure junky who loves riding motorcycles.

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