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The Aero Evolution: Pushing the Limits to Cheat the Wind

Aerodynamics have been in the news again this week with Visma | Lease a Bike’s new time trial helmet, the Giro Aerohead 2.0. It caused quite a stir on Monday when the rider’s of the Dutch team used it in Tirreno-Adriatico’s stage 1 time trial. This gives us the opportunity to look back at Ed Hood’s take on the aerodynamic question a few years ago.

Tirreno 2024
Jonas Vingegaard giving the Giro Aerohead 2.0 its first airing

“I’m never happier than when I’m writing.”
~ Ed Hood, as spoken to Martin Williamson from the passenger seat, driving along a stage route at the Tour de France.

Dear Readers – Our beloved colleague and friend Ed Hood suffered a serious stroke in February.  We don’t expect Ed will make it back into our bunch, so we’ve started a GoFundMe page to help Ed with his future.  Read the full post here – and please consider donating.

** Click this link to donate to the GoFundMe page to help Ed **

We’ll be posting a selection of Ed’s work from the past 16 years, because great story-telling never gets old.

Ed’s rant: The UCI has announced that they will be looking at dangerous behaviour in a peloton, including adopting dangerous positions on the bike; descending on the top tube. Ed Hood takes a look at descending, handlebars and aerodynamics in general.

tour20 jansen
No more ‘puppy dog’

‘The UCI Management Committee also decided to reinforce the regulation concerning potentially dangerous conduct of riders, including throwing a bottle onto the road or within the peloton (which may pose a danger for following riders), and taking up dangerous positions on the bike (especially sitting on the top tube).’

Not a good look

So, the position which ‘The Froome Dog,’ employed to prove that he could actually look worse on a bike than he usually did has been banned. In his case, no loss, I could hardly bear to watch him, he looked so ungainly – but I have to admit that watching the likes of Matej Mohorič adopt it was pretty spectacular.

Mohorič – Impressive

Wind tunnel tests would indicate that apart from being damned uncomfortable and difficult to maintain, the aero advantage is negligible. Some are in favour of the position, arguing that it’s spectacular to watch, adds interest to the sport and no one has crashed whilst employing it. Critics would add the word, ‘yet’ to the end of that sentence and endorse the UCi stance.

Pantani – off the back

But ‘rad’. Descending positions are nothing new, remember the late Marco Pantani’s, ‘bum over the back wheel’ style – which incidentally, according to the test data I’ve seen, as with the ‘Froome Dog’, confers very little advantage.

sean yates
An aero big man

Then there’s the Sean Yates ‘tuck in;’ hands together on the tops of the bars, elbows pushed down low and chin almost touching the stem – this position does confer an aero advantage but isn’t for the faint of heart. I’ve heard, but never seen photographic evidence that ‘Big Sean’ would take one hand off the bars and tuck this arm behind him to lessen the aero drag even more. Crazy man.

Deep square for Merckx and sloping for De Vlaeminck

But the debate got us to thinking about, ‘the humble handlebar’ over the years. When I started cycling back in the early 70’s, the market leaders were Cinelli with the ‘square,’ deep Model 66 ‘Merckx’ or the shallower but still ‘square’ Mod. 64 and the Mod. 65 ‘Criterium’ which ‘flared’ after leaving the central ferrule and was favoured by Roger de Vlaeminck among others. If you were hip, you knew to chop at least 25 mm off the ends of the ‘bars, a subjective thing, they just looked better like that.


The next fashion was for the ‘anatomic’ bar with ‘straights’ below the brake levers to give a better, more comfortable grip. Grooved ‘bars came along to cater for concealed cables as the cycling really woke up to ‘aero.’

Alf with his brake levers behind the bars

English time trial legend, Alf Engers grasped the importance of aerodynamics before most and placed his brake levers behind the tops of the ‘bars, tucked out of the wind. The ‘grey men’ of the RTTC – Road Time Trial Council the governing body in England rushed through legislation to outlaw ‘King’ Alf’s innovation with a regulation stating that, ‘brakes had to be operable from the normal riding position.’

Daniel Gisiger – Less than aero bars

I used to wonder what those dudes would have made of our next subject – ‘tri bars.’ Eccentric Swiss genius, Toni Maier of Assos fame sowed the seeds in the mid-70’s with his inverted ‘bars set up, ridden on the track by Swiss ‘chronoman’ and super stylist, Daniel Gisiger.

fignon tt
Aero bars for Fignon – But no tri-bars

The East Germans and Cyrille Guimard, manager of the mighty Renault pro team quickly cottoned on to the concept and Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon were soon astride Gitane Deltas. The search for ‘marginal gains’ is not a new concept. ‘Bull horns’ begat the ‘tri bar’ attributed to Boone Lennon whose background was in downhill skiing and well aware of the benefits of having an athlete slip more easily through the air.

Greg Lemond gaat Laurent Fignon in de allerlaatste tijdrit op de Champs Elysees met 8 sec verslaan, foto Cor Vos©
The famous Paris TT

His 1987 patent received a huge stamp of approval from Greg Lemond’s now legendary 1989 Tour de France final time trial triumph. Purists like me could just about cope with the tri bar but it lead to an explosion of ever-more hideous contortions of tubes in the name of ‘handlebars,’ with Greg Lemond again at the forefront.

‘a scaffolder’s truck’

Eventually, things settled down albeit we had to endure the ‘Spinacci’ clip on extensions, favoured by the likes of Claudio Chiappucci. It’s not often I agree with the UCi and their ever-more Draconian rules but I had to agree with them when they out-lawed these things which looked as if they had fallen off the back of a scaffolder’s truck.

Tortona - Italia - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Matej Mohoric (SLO - UAE Team Emirates) - Pavel Brutt (RUS - Gazprom - RusVelo - Vincenzo Albanese (ITA - Bardiani - CSF) pictured during team stage 13 of the Giro D’Italia 2017 from Reggio Emilia to Tortona, 162.00 km - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2017
Matej Mohoric ‘puppy paws’

This of course lead to riders adopting what Eurosport commentator, Carlton Kirby now nauseatingly refers to as the ‘puppy paws’ position, forearms on the tops, and before Shimano concealed all the control wires, gripping the cable outers. The pros are all skilled bike handlers but not a safe thing to witness from youngsters on a club run, seeking to emulate their idols.

Mathias Le Turnier
Don’t try this at home

The quest to get aero meant that the old concept of wide bars, 42, 44 and even 46 cm. wide ‘to keep your chest open and aid breathing’ has flown straight out the window with riders like Adam Hansen adopting ever-narrower ‘bars in the quest to reduce their aerodynamic signature. I read an article the other day discussing the benefits of 34 and even 30 cm. wide ‘bars – I won’t be buying those any time soon – but more on narrow ‘bars later.

Victor Campenaerts – Aero, but…

However, I did like Ritchey’s over-size ‘bars; the larger diameter ideal if you have big hands, comfortable and strong – but Ryanair still managed to bend mine. After initial concerns about strength, ‘King carbon’ pushed alloy aside as the number one material for ‘bars – however, you can still race on with bent bars after a crash, difficult to do with half a handlebar dangling by the cables.

Two is better than one

The relationship of handlebars to the saddle is an aspect on which there’s no hard and fast rule, despite the training manuals and bike fitters doctrines. Pippo Pozzato took ‘slamming’ to new levels with a massive drop from saddle to ‘bars, a position which some track sprinters would find too extreme for a 10 second effort, never mind the seven hours of the Primavera. But then Giovanni Battaglin pulled off a Vuelta – Giro ‘double’ in 1981 with his ‘bars level with the saddle.

Battaglin had no problem with aerodynamics

In recent times the demand for ever-more ‘aero’ has lead to ‘airfoil’ tops to ‘bars and ‘cockpits’ with one piece carbon ‘bars and stems – smooth and sleek but costly and unforgiving if you want to tweak your position.

Not much adjustment there

Then there’s the cross-over from gravel; shallower and flared as favoured by the likes of former World Points Race Champion, Jan-Willem Van Schip. He’s a big man at 6’4” but riding ‘bars just 32 cm. wide in his quest to, ‘get aero’.

Jan-Willem Van Schip
Aero, maybe… A good look?

The future?
We go back to that man Van Schip, who, in conjunction with Dutch company Speeco has developed the ‘Speeco ABB [Aero breakaway handlebars]’ with integrated stem. Cost? A mere 1,500 Euros with 500 of that as a deposit.

€1,500 worth of handlebar

But you can still find Cinelli 65’s on eBay for around 30 Euros. . .

Old Cinelli bars still available

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