Aerobars. Professional triathletes use them. Should you use them too? Similarly, if you are a golfer and a friend tells you that they are able to hit further when they use a new brand of golf ball, you interested? Skeptical? You may or may not be planning on standing on top of the podium at the end of the race, but we all want to be as fast as we can be. We want to better our own time from our last race or last year.
You may already have aerobars or are considering installing some on your bike to get a little more edge for your next tri. Is it really that simple? Theoretically, it is. Just by having aerobars on your bike and using them you will be faster, aerodynamically speaking. But this is where it gets interesting. Consider our golfing example; is it possible that there is more to it than just the ball? How about the clubs your friend uses or, more importantly, the swing they use? It is not just the fact that you have aerobars that make you as fast as you can be, but the way you use them and the duration you are able to use them during your event that really makes the difference in your time. Remember, if you are not in the aerobars they are not doing you any good! The longer you are in the aero position the better. Let’s discuss fit and how it can help you stay aero as long as possible.
I have been a triathlon bike fitter for a few years now and have seen many different and unique situations. I have seen customers with new aerobars come to the shop after a race and tell me they were only able to stay on the aerobars for half or even less of the bike portion of their tri. They struggled with lower or upper back and neck pain. Some have even complained of having one of their worst runs after an hour on the aerobars. Most of these individuals end up scheduling a bike fit with me because they don’t want to go through that frustration again. When I talk to customers about triathlon fitting, a common thought is that they are different from the pros so they don’t need a “pro position”. Pros are pros because they are able to absorb calories faster or have a higher VO2; because of their dedication to training and their physiological makeup. Remember, however; pros want to be comfortable too. So yes, the proper tri position does look like the pros and is actually very comfortable for us average athletes! Besides, comfort equals power and sustainability… two things we can all use when competing in triathlon. The proper aero position is easily recognizable when you know what you are looking for. Proper saddle height and arm position on the aero bars is what you will see. The rider will look comfortable. The lower half of the body is doing all of the work and from the waist up the rider will look motionless and relaxed.
There are three major areas that should be evaluated during a bike fit: saddle height and seat tube angle, distance from saddle to aerobars, and the height difference between the saddle and the rests of the aerobars. The distance between the saddle and aerobars is probably the one that is overlooked the most. I am 5’9” tall with a 34” inseam. My torso is short for my height and my arms are proportional to my torso length. Someone who is also 5’9” tall but has a 31” inseam and long arms could not ride my same sized bike comfortably due to the importance of the saddle to aerobar distance. There’s much more to a proper fit than your height! A bike fit should address each individual’s needs on a case by case basis to maximize power and sustainability and help each person reach their specific performance goals. Some cases, such as injury, fitness and pain warrant special consideration. Sometimes it takes a progression of several fits to achieve the most optimized position. Triathlon bike fitting is definitely a dynamic process. The saddle height is simple to find, but the aerobars in relation to the saddle is completely different and must be experimented with to find the best height. Over time this could change too, depending on your increased comfort, fitness or a number of other variables.
Another interesting aspect to consider when looking to purchase a new bike is that most bikes that are being used for triathlon actually came from Time Trial racing in the Pro Tour. Cervelo, Trek and Felt fall into this category. As triathletes, we manipulate the fit to accommodate our needs. Increasingly, bikes are being specifically designed for triathlon, and I am glad to see this. Additionally, not all bike frames fit every body style. I have had customers buy new or used bikes from another location or the internet and schedule a fit with me only to find out that the bike they just bought will never be able to fit them really comfortably, no matter what adjustments are made. Bike selection is important for a proper fit. On the flip side, I have had customers come in with their current bikes, complete a fit, and call back later with great excitement over their new-found speed and comfort.
At SBR Sports, we follow the F.I.S.T. protocol. During a F.I.S.T. fit with me, I will look at the three areas mentioned above and focus on your comfort. Every time I complete the fit process with an individual, the results fall either within the F.I.S.T. fit parameters or close to them; again, based on comfort. The importance of being properly fit is becoming more and more recognized by triathletes as we become more educated. The more we know about ourselves and what we have experienced on our bikes, the closer we are to maximizing our individual performance on the bike. Who cares what the frame is made out of and if it is shaped like a super plane; if you can’t stay in the aero position you wasted your money! If any of this article rings true, maybe it is time to have your bike adjusted by a certified fit professional specifically for you.