Looking for a comfortable place to rest your body? Profiled here are three of the very best clip-ons you can buy today, and I mean the best, irrespective of price, yet the most expensive among them costs $230. Pics of these bars follow the text.
All three of these clip-ons below exhibit themes worth hearing and remembering, because aerobars are a "touch" or "contact" point of great import. This product makes a world of difference in your cycling experience, road or tri, but especially in tri.
This was the second company to make aerobars, right behind Scott. But Profile lost its way 15 and more years ago. For the last 10 years it's been finding its way back, and as of this year it is nailing several categories — tri saddles, hydration systems, and aerobars — and we'll be profiling its wheels this Summer. This company now makes what is in my opinion the best clip-on bars in the industry. The T3 + Carbon clip-on is the best clip-on you can buy at any price.
Pad comfort: Profile Design had featured a pad that, well, was okay. The F19 and F22 pads supported you, and I was willing to live with these pads until 3T came along and changed everything with its “comfort” pad featured on its Ventus bar (I’m not writing about 3T now because it really doesn’t feature in the clip-on category). Once that 3T pad arrived, it set a new standard for armrest performance, and Profile Design had some catching up to do. It went back to the drawing board and came up with the F35. Wow, what a nice pad. Of course, this now places pressure on Profile Design’s own F19, which is still sold and in production on other Profile Design aerobar products. Nevertheless, the F35 is is the pad. This is one of the top 3 or 4 pads made by anybody, any company.
Pad width: One criticism I often hear about aerobars is that you can’t get the pads wide enough. Not so this product. You can move this pad quite narrow or quite wide without the use of a separate extender piece, which is required on 3T and Zipp.
Wrist ergometry: Some years back Blackwell Research made an aerobar that featured an extension shape called the Wrist Relief. It was a game changer. Two companies have expertly mimicked this shape: Bontrager and Profile Design. The T3 employs this shape and does it so well this is my default aerobar extenion when I use just about any aerobar made by any other company (almost all companies makes their extensions in 22.2mm diameter, so you can swap extensions between bar companies).
Planar integrity: when you lay your forearm flat on the armrest pad, an extension ought to be there to greet your hand. If there is not an extension waiting to be gripped, then you don’t have a planar relationship between the pad and the extension. When you lay your forearm on this Profile Design pad, a Profile Design extension is sitting there, waiting to be gripped.
Correct pedestaling: For some reason aerobar companies are fain to demonstrate on their websites or in their tech literature how their bars pedestal. If you take it as true that the best way to achieve a change in aerobar elevation is to pedestal the bars rather than use headset spacers, and that a stem pointing up in the air is also not ideal, the right way to do this is to preserve the spatial (the planar) relationship between the pad and the extension. If you pedestal the pad only, then you no longer have planar integrity (see the paragraph just above). The T3 + Carbon pedestals correctly, as do the other Profile Design aerobars in this class (T1 thru 4 + Carbon, all of which are identical except for extension shapes).
I have a lot of respect for what Bontrager’s done in recent years, in particular with its Race X Lite Aerobar. The problem with that bar? Price, mostly. $800. But most of what you get out of that bar you get out of the Race X Lite Clip-On, and this is a $199 product. Further, one thing I don’t like about the full Race X Lite Aerobar is the pursuit position. It’s projected too far out in front of the handlebar clamp. The “steering lever” you’ve got on that bike is ginormous.
The Race X Lite Clip-on can be placed on any 31.8mm pursuit bar, so, you can pick a pursuit bar that has any shape and geometry you want. In fact, I could imagine a Bontrager Race X Lite Clip-on mounted to a Zipp Vuka Bull zero drop pursuit bar with a Felt pursuit grip, assuming I could get that grip around the bulgy part of the Vuka Bull.
Here’s the one problem with this bar which is, incidentally, just about the equal in my view to the Profile T3 + Carbon in terms of comfort and ergonomics. The bar does not pedestal. At all. This is curious, because it would be easy for this bar to pedestal. If you follow the links to the Zipp Vuka Alumina Clip review I wrote a year ago you’ll find an image showing the pedestals that sit right on the of the pursuit bar, in between the bar and the clip-on. Profile Design uses the same motif for its T1 thru T4 clip ons. It would be next to nothing for Bontrager to design this for this clip-on, which would instantly vault this bar into a virtual tie with Profile Design’s T3 + Carbon as best clip-on aerobar made. In fact, there’s a chance that somebody’s existing pedestal — maybe Profile’s — will work with this bar, and I’ve got all the parts coming to me to see if that’s possible. Bontrager’s full Race X Lite Aerobar has a pedestaling option, but that can’t be used with the clip-on.
And this is where Bontrager falls down, in my opinion. Without Trek's engineer and industrial designer Carl Matson jabbing his cattle prod up the you-know-what of the Bontrager people to give him all the functionality he needs for his new bike design (the Speed Concept, in the case of this aerobar here) the Bontrager side of the building stops imagining what aerobars should and could be. They’ve taken everything they’ve already made for the Speed Concept 9-series integrated bar and repurposed it for aftermarket, as a clip-on (there is a very good aftermarket integrated bar as well). Good. But, think fellas, think! If the Speed Concept needed pedestaling, why wouldn’t the aftermarket clip-on? If the Speed Concept motif isn’t feasible, that’s not the only pedestaling motif in use. This product is too good to let it just sit there three-quarters finished.
That critique aside, this is a much better aerobar than the Race Lite clip-on, which is spec’d on most of the 7 Series Speed Concepts. I can imagine one piece, one mold — that pedestal the Race X Lite clip-on needs — enhancing the entire utility of the 7-Series line of bikes.
I’ve written extensively about this bar previously. It’s a great move forward for Zipp, and gives this company a value priced bar that ticks all the boxes. It’s got a nice, broad pad that cradles the forearms, it’s got a planar relationship between pads and extensions, and it’s got pads and extensions that pedestal as a unit, with aero pedestals underneath.
This clip-on can be had, all in, for less than $200, and you buy it via sub-assemblies, so, if you really like (let us say) everything about this clip-on but you want a wrist-relief style extension, just don’t buy Zipp’s extension. Buy a Profile Design or Bontrager extension.
I’ll not go into further detail on this bar because I’ve already written about it comprehensively. However, since I wrote about this bar I have fit people on this bar in large numbers. Most people will find the pads too close together. You can’t adjust the pads wide enough. Not to worry. There are pad extenders that make that happen. But it’s another sub-assembly and at $25 it’s kind of a pricey accessory. Nevertheless, the bar with that pad extender set is still quite reasonable.
The Big Picture
These clip-on bars establish, in the aggregate, a standard set of features that I think will create a norm for the category. Many aerobar makers today struggle even to make a bar as good as the Syntace C2 clip-on, and that aerobar is more than 20 years old! It seems as if the dominate motif today is a clamp through which the extension slides fore/aft, with an armrest that clamps to the extension. This works fine. But there is one reason why this is preferred by a lot of bike companies: superbikes don’t have very many stem options, and this style of bar allows the bar to do the work that the stem is supposed to do. “Why not?” you might ask. Yes, you can “fix” an overlong cockpit by just sliding the extensions back, which brings the pads back as well, since the pads clamp to the extensions. But the pursuit bar stays put. If you have a pursuit bar that thrusts the hands well in front of the steering axis — the 9-series Speed Concept is a case in point — using the aerobar to make up the gap between the two available stem lengths (that are 5cm apart in length) can result in a very bad fitting bike when you’re out of the aero position.
But what is necessary these days are modular extensions, and the motif above allows extensions to be swapped back and forth. This is not the only way for extensions to be modular. Visiontech, HED and 3T (in the Aduro) all allow for modular extensions in a way that does not use the above motif. The trick is to come up with a different way of changing extensions while still preserving that planar integrity between armrest and extension. When you pedestal the armrest, the extension has to pedestal as well.
Right now, Profile Design's T3 + Carbon ($230) is the best clip-on going, full stop, bar none (pardon the pun).
These extensions, reminiscent of the now-defunct Blackwell Wrist Relief (a John Cobb idea), is the gold standard for extension shapes.
Bontrager's Race X Lite Clip-on comes darned close to being my favorite. It just needs a pedestaling system like that used in the Profile or Zipp system. Notice the Wrist Relief style extension shape?
Zipp has done a nice job with pad and pedestal configs for its very nicely priced Vuka Alumina Clip.
This is an aerobar stand I made for our fit workshops, to show retailers how aerobars might be displayed so that a customer can bend over at the waist, move from one bar to another and test what's comfortable. Good bars will pass the "palpate" test, executed in a fashion such as this.