Aerobars: Integrated versus clip-on - which is best?
Jack Sexty explains the pros and cons of both integrated and clip-on aerobars
The two main types of aerobar are clip-ons, designed to clamp on a standard road bike handlebar, and integrated systems, including both a base bar and extensions. Bike brands such as Cervélo and Canyon have gone a step further with cockpit integration by making their own.
Canyon’s base bar and extensions on their Speedmax CF SLX (used by Ironman world champion Jan Frodeno) come with various spacers and attachments to alter the stack to your preference, while the Cervélo P3X has a central riser that works like a seatpost to make your extensions higher or lower (a similar system is employed by TriRig on their innovative Alpha One aerobar).
While an integrated tri-bike cockpit will invariably be more aero, the advantage of clip-on bars is they can be added to road bikes and adjusted with minimal fuss, as they don’t interfere with brakes or shifters. Integrated bars have the brakes mounted to the base bars and shifters on the ends of the extensions, which makes changing your set-up far more time-consuming. Another big plus for clip-ons is their affordability, with basic alloy versions starting at £29 from Selcof and Aptonia.
How much time will clip-on aerobars save you?
How much time can you save for this small investment? In 2014, Specialized conducted a test in their own purpose-built wind tunnel to investigate the speed differences between using clip-ons and riding on the drops. They calculated their test rider would save 1:40 mins over a 40km Olympic-distance bike leg using the clip-ons. So with many studies claiming similar results, clip-on aerobars are arguably the most cost-effective upgrade you can make to ride faster.
Another variation of clip-on aerobars are stubby ITU-approved versions, used by elite triathletes in races with draft-legal bike legs. ITU rules stipulate these bars can’t extend beyond the imaginary line between the two brake levers on a set of drop bars, which is less advantageous than longer extensions but still provides some small aero gains.
Integrated aerobars can offer considerable aero advantages presuming the rider is well fitted on their bike. TriRig’s Nick Salazar claims their Alpha One bars can save over three minutes on a 180km Ironman bike leg compared to other less aerodynamic-integrated aerobars, and their wind tunnel data even shows that a cockpit upgrade can cut more drag than changing to a more aero frameset. While the best carbon aerobar systems can cost upwards of £800, there’s plenty of evidence to show that investing in your cockpit may be one of the most effective areas to upgrade if you want to slash your bike split.