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« The UCI Disc Brake Ban, and the American Market | Main | Minimalist »

Why the proliferation of clip on bars?


How about someone educate me for a change? Why the popularity of clip-on aero bars? Is this just an East Coast thing or a nationwide trend? Because when I am out riding nearly every cyclist I see has these bars fitted and is in the laying down prayer position.

Is the sport of triathlons really that popular? I’ve never seen any publicized in my local paper, and I’ve never met an actual triathlete in recent years.

So my questions are: Are these triathletes or are they just using the aero bars because they think it looks cool?

It kinda reminds me of the person at the super market who is too tired to hold themselves up, so they lean with their elbows on the shopping cart.

If these are not real triathletes then who are their role models? Who are they trying to emulate.

When I started cycling as a teen in the 1950s, I rode with my spare tubular tire around my shoulder like the European Pros did. It was the look that all aspiring young cyclists were going for at the time.

With all the Spring Classic races and the Grand Tours being readily available for viewing online, one would think any newcomer to the sport would want to look like the current crop of pros. And pros don’t use clip on bars.

So my question is: Is this just an American thing, or just certain areas, like where I currently live? Or will this simply become the natural human posture for all activities, and mankind will end up with a permanent stoop and two enormous opposable thumbs.  

So educate me please. Am I that much out of touch?

It seems the older I get rather than gain knowledge, there are more and more things I know nothing about. 



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Reader Comments (21)

Hi Dave - Having used clip-on bars, possibly I can shed some light. Maybe not, but I can tell you what went through my mind. First, some history. I lived in an area where headwinds were a constant factor for at least half of any ride. I tried a Zipper fairing first (as a wind-cheater) but found it flat dangerous in areas where I hit swirling winds at speed. A few years later Greg Lemond used some aero bars (not clip-ons) in that final time trial into Paris. After that I started to see aero bars cropping up, but didn't have the $$ to try them (and besides, my bike was a daily rider, an event bike, and also a touring bike and I didn't want to be swapping bars all the time. Then a friend loaned me a set of clip-on bars and I noticed that my speed, at the same effort, was ~3mph faster on the bars. I was hooked.
I'm not a triathlete (can't run with a da%&) but I liked going faster, so I kept using them.
But now I don't. Why? I'm older for one, and the bars seemed pretentious. And the only guys I see these days who have any aero setup are passing me so fast, well, they can't even hear me say hi. :-)
So, no education here, right? But maybe a good read, like your article.
Have fun!

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNeale Barret

I like most, tried clip on bars, never could get the right feel for them. Had problems going around corners etc. My son Paul who raced at one time, said they could take several mins along with aero helmet and skin suit off a 40k TT. I still see a few riders including gals using them on the trails around Parker, Colorado but getting less now for some reason. As I age? I like now, to sit more upright and smell the roses. Riders with clip ons, seem to always be in a hurry to go some where, fast on, a mission or some such.

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

I see people riding with them often here in Ottawa. Many are riding mountain bikes. I suspect they are in part seeking an aero advantage, but i also wonder if they are simply riding ill-fitting bikes, are seeking a more comfortable position, or lack core strength... Would be a great research project!

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNeil

Latest numbers I could find, Triathlon USA has 550,000 members. USA Cycling has 74,516 members. For South Carolina, I found 32 triathlons: http://www.trifind.com/sc.html

Triathlon is a pretty huge sport. The difference between tri and road racing is that a road racer will tend to race almost every weekend during the season whereas a triathlete will train and focus on a few key events.

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRoland

Dave - I know several folks here in the Rocky Mountains who have clip ons. However, they are using them for bike packing or long form endurance rides such as the Colorado Trail Race or the Tour Divide. Most of these bikes we would recognize as mountain bikes, not road bikes. Some guys are putting the on Ti road frames and "converting" the bike to a gravel grinder; basically a road bike with wider tires and bags for long trips.

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

Hello Dave,
I have used aero bars for most of my cycling years, since Pete Penseyres pioneered them in RAAM. Their use for me is not at all about racing or appearances, but rather the riding options they offer. On windy days, the aero bars are worth their weight in gold for the more aerodynamiic position they allow the rider to assume. Another huge benefit is ride enjoyment; I have some arthritis in my thumb joints, and the pressure of a position on the brake hoods (and even the bars) after a while is somewhat painful. The aero bars offer a wonderful positional option that takes all the weight off the hands and relieves any pressure-induced joint pain. Other benefits the bars offer include a neat way to mount a small bag, GPS, or light. Also, I perceive I am able to produce a bit more power to the pedals in the aero position, although I'd like to see some studies on this. In summary, all my bikes have aero bars, and I would never ride without them.

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEd G

Hi Dave,

The answer is simple. Aerodynamics. I know because I was the first one to make them. I built a set for Jim Elliott to use in the 1984 RAAM. Pete built a set for his brother Jim to use in the 1985 event after seeing my bars on Elliotts bike. Pete then used them to smash the RAAM record in 1986. The rest is history!
Richard Bryne
Speedplay, Inc.
San Diego, CA

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Bryne

Actually in the Charleston area there are quite a few triathlons. There is a sprint series at the James Island county park that has run for many years now and a half-iron distance that goes out past Mt Pleasant. Not to mention Kiawah international distance. I guess they don't publicize very well. You should check one out this summer. They are usually well attended.

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPG

Here in Northern California they were a thing back in the 1990s but seem to not be so popular anymore. A sign the rider spends too much time dealing with headwinds or likes to ride Ultras.


April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTomg

And yeah, the younger generation is going to have / has major problems due to leaning over their phones and wireless devices. I know this as my 16 yr old daughter has neck / shoulder / head pain made all the worse by her permanent attachment to a cell phone.

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTomg

don't see them so much nowadays as you did in the early 90's, at least i don't, i associate them more with the aero bikes with the smaller front wheel and dropping top tube (forgot what you call those bikes)... they had appeal to me when i was a younger person, back then i was curious to try them but never did, and then i put some on last year, they were good against the wind, but i felt like an 80 year old man wearing a tight fitting pair of black leather trousers, so off they came, so to speak

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterG.T

I see a lot of them around here, Chicagoland, being used on road, mountain and even comfort bikes, and I think a lot of it has to do, like Neal said, lack of core strength.
These are just people out riding their bikes, slowly, probably looking to make it easier.
There are also go fast types riding them, maybe 50-50 between the two types.

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTonyP

I think the real question DM is asking is not, why aero bars, but why specifically clip on bars. If you want an aero position, why not buy a tri bike with real aero bars?

I don't have an answer, my impression is that tri bikes with real aero bars are around aplenty (here in San Diego near the water there are lots of triathlon events, riders, and bikes), but clip-ons were a transitional accessory that are not used much anymore.

I have read also that when clip-ons were popular, they were sometimes marketed as "comfort" bars. For a few people (like Ed G above) they may offer significant comfort benefits, but for most, they are less comfortable since proper use requires being hunched over a lot more. Which led to bikes with extra extra comfort of clip-ons installed onto raised bars -- thus completely negating any potential aero advantage!

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

Living in the Washington DC metro area there are indeed many tri-types around. They seem to like "training" on poorly fitted road, hybrid, and mountain bikes on the local bike paths. A little bit out of the city I almost never see aero bars in use. Lack of core strength, lack of sizing and positioning, and lack of handling skills (or even knowledge of the concept) seem to correlate well with tri-bar use. At least in this area.

When I worked in a local bike shop I'd do my best to encourage customers to get sized properly, learn how to be comfortable on a bike, give themselves time to acclimate to the positions, and then and only then get aero bars if they really felt the need - but please don't ride them in traffic! On the other hand, folks would pay an amazing amount for those things and I was happy to take their money.

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEd

Hi Dave, As a former mechanic who worked in a Triathalon store I agree with many of the other's responses. Most of the serious tri / time trial bikes use steep seat tube angles (78 degrees is common) and the bars have aerodynamic advantages. Having ridden literally hundreds of customer's bikes on test rides I can assure you they are not very comfortable when ridden upright. I used to advise serious customers to have two bikes. A road bike for 95% of your riding and your Tri bike for events. The steep seat tube angle "rolls your position forward almost begging you to use the position. They also climb terribly compared to a standard road bike. But because many of the customers were serious riders they put in many miles and as others have mentioned the clip on's help in the wind. I agree some people just want to "look" cool ( if that's what they feel looks cool) but like golf and fishing these riders are mostly accessory hounds. I used to tell newbies to go ride hills because they make you strong. And because these folks didn't follow the grand tours they never knew that for the most part the Grand Tours are won in the climbs and the time trials.So yes Dave, some people buy the bars to look cool and some actually use them. I'll end this by saying it's a new way for idiot's to stare at their electronic leashes while they ride ! HA HA HA

April 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBrain

Many of them here in Florida. They are however much less common in France.

They do offer an aerodynamic advantage, but I think that advantage is perceived differently in both countries: in the US, many people will cite Lemond's victory in the 89 Tour as proof that aerobar can make a decisive difference (and Lemond's setup looked a lot like today's clip-on bars).
The French consider that Fignon's loss was entirely due to his saddle sores, and that the aerobars had no impact on the final result. Many french cyclist believe that a good position on curvy handlebar is as efficient as cilp-ons (which are assumed to be less effective than a real time-trial or triathlon bike), and using them would make you less of a "pure" cyclist.

April 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterFrancois

Remember bar ends on MTBikes? Hardly used anymore. Some neophytes mounted them on riser bars, which looked as bad as people riding with clip-ons angled up so much they look as though they’re in easy chairs!

With today's prevalence of selfies and mirrors, you would think people would notice something.

April 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I live in north San Diego County. We really do have a lot of tri riders here, so it's not just in your area. Besides, you haven't been gone that long. For my 2¢ worth, I think for a lot of recreational riders the position looks comfortable and aerodynamic. You don't have to use muscles to hold your upper body up on a bike that might be a bit too long for you. Your hands don't have to carry any load. What more could you ask. When I ride Coast Hwy I see a lot of recreational riders with tri-bars, but only the really fit ones are using them. That is those who can maintain the position. It takes a lot of flexibility that I don't have any more. By the same token, how often do you see people really using the drops.

April 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRob

I have known various riders use this position as an alternative position to relieve wrist stress rather than an improvement in aerodynamics. For them this is a better option than an more upright position with more weight on the saddle.

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike

As I said on another blog, we used to call these LDS bars. This has nothing to do with the mormon church but rather it stands for Lay Down and Suffer. A good way to suck all the joy out of an otherwise pleasant ride.

April 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhilco

They are banned on most group rides, and there is a reason...

April 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve
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