Aerobars are the extra handlebars on the front of time-trial and triathlon bikes, which allow a much more aerodynamic position for a cyclist looking for peak performance. Aerobars were first used to great effect by Greg Lemond in the 1989 Tour de France and have since become ubiquitous in short-distance bicycle races. Fitting aero-bars to your bike could be the performance boost you need to improve your time in a short-distance cycling race.
To Use, or Not To Use
Aerobars are not ideal for longer rides because the riding position isn't as comfortable as regular drop-bars. The ideal pedaling efficiency and aerodynamics, though, can provide a serious edge to cyclists looking to improve their sprint times. Fitting aerobars to your short-distance bike will let you bring your torso closer to your bike's top tube, or cross bar, which provides substantial wind reduction when you're moving fast. Most bicycles can be fitted with removable aerobars so you can decide when to use them and when to save bicycle weight without them.
To fit aerobars to your bike, you'll need 2 to 3 centimeters of space on either side of where your stem attaches to the bar. Most detachable aerobars will clip directly to the bar using a hex bolt, and can be tightened and loosened with an Allen wrench. Aerobars consist of two elbow pads and two straight bars that extend parallel to your top tube in the center of your handlebars. Make sure the bars are set without a tilt so your arms are parallel to the ground. Some aerobars come built in to a set of bullhorn-style handlebars for time trial bikes, and can be fitted directly to the bike using the stem. Unlike clip-style aerobars, you'll need to rewire the cables for your brakes and shifters to use them.
Proper bicycle position is essential for aerobars to improve your efficiency. There are two major angles with a properly fitted aerobar. Your torso and your legs should be approximately 90 degrees from each other for proper efficiency, even when you're using your normal drop bars. When you tilt lower for your aerobars, a second 90-degree angle should form between your upper and lower arms. Having your arms set at a 90-degree angle puts your torso lower and reduces wind resistance across your chest, but you'll still maintain the angle of your body that is best for efficient power transfer to the pedals. Have an accredited bike fitter help you get your aerobar setup dialed in perfectly, since the position is difficult to determine, especially for beginning riders.
The best time to use your aerobars is on flat sections of a race or steep descents. This is where your bike will reach it's highest speeds and the highest levels of wind resistance. As you reach a steady pedaling cadence, take your hands off the handlebars and place your elbows in the aerobar pads, grasping the aerobar near the very front. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed, and tilt your eyes up so you aren't craning your neck to see. In this position, your torso should be much lower than when you're using your drops, giving you a smaller aerodynamic profile. When you're climbing at lower speeds, you don't need to be aerodynamic since wind resistance will be much less. Keep control of your bicycle using your regular riding position.