Gotta love 'em. They give us the ability to go at least 2 mph faster when we are riding along, and to me, it always seemed that I felt stronger in that position. I was narrower, lower, and more powerful as I hammered along the back roads of Montgomery. There's no doubt that aero bars have their place in cycling. But there are times when they need to be avoided like the plague.
I'm sure that if you have been to any group rides you have witnessed people in the group riding on their aero bars. 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. Many people ride so much on aero bars that they do it without even thinking and feel that it's the most comfortable way for them to ride...maybe so, but it's also the most unstable position to ride a bike. Some also say that they always leave plenty of room when they are on the bars. They may do that but it only takes a nano-second for that space to go away in an emergency and, unless you are Superman with exact reflexes and skin that can withstand the scraping effects of slag pavement, you can't get from your elbows to a position of control in time to save yourself and everyone else who is around you. One might argue that it's only skin off his own nose if he crashes. I agree that it's really none of my business if one wants to put himself in danger of crashing, but it becomes a bigger issue when others are involved.
The main purpose for aero bars is aerodynamics. This being the case, you don't even need them in a group because you get more aerodynamic effect from the other riders than you do from aero bars. Besides, there are lots of problems you can run into by using them in a group ride. One main problem (as stated previously) is that a rider on aero bars is not as stable as one on regular bars. Of course some people are more stable than others and there are some people who are very steady on aero equipment, but no one can win an argument if they take the position that steering with your elbows is steadier than steering with your hands. With your arms on the elbow pads of aero equipment, any input (like the jarring effect from the road, hitting debris, or bumps from other riders) is magnified in to the steering of the bike. Your elbows don't have any leverage to control the path of the bike and you are a prime candidate for a face plant if the front wheel is deflected or you get bumped. It's much easier to become a loose cannon within the group even from just hitting a rock in the road. We lost a rider on a cross country ride last year with a broken collar bone when he hit a bump while riding on his aero bars when he reached for a water bottle. It wasn't a large bump either, he just lost control and bit the pavement.
Another problem is your hands are away from the brakes. Now you may say that's an advantage since you shouldn't brake in a group anyway. While this is basically true, there are times when slight speed adjustments are necessary and reaching for the handlebars in an emergency situation takes too long. What's more, when the group comes to a stop or approaches a turn there will have to be a time when the aero bar rider has to transition from aero bar to handle bar to brake. There's really no good time to do that in the close proximity to other riders let alone when the group is changing speeds or slowing down. As a side note, I once saw a person who put his brakes on the end of his aero bars. His reasoning was, that's where his hands were most of the time. This is the type of person who needs to wear a sign...WARNING...ACCIDENT CLOSER THAN IT APPEARS. Remember your physics...put your weight even farther forward as you apply the brakes...I wonder what's going to happen? DUH!
The last point I'll make is that IF one uses aero equipment in a group, it should only be used if that person is pulling at the front (I'm not really convinced that's even a good idea, but at the front you are less likely to hit someone's rear wheel and cause an accident). Resist the urge to stay on them after you break off the front, rejoin the pack at the back, and when riding adjacent to or behind anyone. Believe me, it won't take long for everyone in the pack to forget how they were impressed when you pulled strong and only remember you as someone they don't want to ever ride with again if you disregard their safety when you are not at the front.
When you are riding in a group, you should have confidence that everyone is riding for the good of the group and that no one will behave in such a manner as to put the group in danger. Aero bars are good things...but they have their place. Use them as designed...as an aid to going fast when you are alone or doing a time trial event. They really have no place when riding with a group.
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