Handlebars: Can We Fix These?

I like Elon Musk. Probably not his politics. Definitely not his antics! But... SpaceX, the Boring Company, Tesla, PayPal, SolarCity. Here’s what I think I’ve learned over my reasonably long life about extraordinary people: The trait that makes you win is the trait that makes you lose. Musk wins the battle of ideas; he appears to lose – heck, he's a train wreck – at the game of everyday life.

The best ideas solve the simplest, most obvious needs. Stuff that sits out there in plain site. Musk is extraordinarily good at recognizing a need. You might think his ventures not so obvious. They are if you live inside each industry. As in, the ease of paying for stuff online: Do you use PayPal?

I have a little bit of Musk’s approach, the result of a confluence of three things: My recognition that I am annoyed; my willingness to do something about it; and the fact that what annoys me will probably annoy you. I was annoyed by my swim in 1986, and fixed it with a device or invention or design. I was annoyed by my bike ride and fixed it in 1988. Elon Musk and I are similar in one other respect: We shamelessly dove into industries that we knew very little about. If you really want to solve problems, shamelessness helps.

So let me dive into something else I don’t know very much about. Handlebars. I’m annoyed. And I have been for a long time. Handlebar companies know this, because I’ve been talking about my annoyance for about a decade. I just haven’t been very public about it, but I’m going to be public now because I finally see glimpses of this problem getting addressed. I've got two gripes: one about road bars (further below) and one about aero bars.

Aero Bars

I have been saying, writing, pleading, for about 20 years now – the length of time Slowtwitch has been around – for more surface area on the armrests. But it all has to be forward of the existing pad’s footprint, or armprint, or whatever you want to call the basic shape of the armrest. This extra surface area must extend forward only; if the armrest extends backward you'll face knee clearance issues.

As you probably know, I’m a big fan of Profile Design, because of ergonomics, range of adjustability, ease of adjustability, solidity, compatibility and cross-compatibility. PD just has it down. I’m getting ready to write about the latest from Zipp and FSA/Vision. And about certain built-in aerobar systems on superbikes: those I like and those I don’t like.

But this thing about surface area, if your bike fitter has a Gebiomized pressure mapping system here is what makes me hit my head with a ball peen hammer: We spend a lot of money pressure mapping the armrest, to get it right. Just expand the surface area! All those red pressure map areas will turn blue! And the bike will get more aero, if you strategize this right.

Graham Pearson sneaks up on this now and then. Wiggins’ Pinarello Bolide for the track. But now we see this idea more in bloom with the Speedbar, aboard which Victor Campenaerts broke the hour record yesterday. From what I hear, you’ll see a blizzard of pro triathletes moving to Speedbar. We’ll see.

We saw Patrick Lange aboard a similar design last year. Not quite the same. But similar in this way: The pressure on his arm was lessened because it was displaced across the entire forearm. Above you see the images of Campenaerts' Ridley and Lange's Canyon Speedmax, each with their bars that incorporate this basic idea.

Just, this is not a new notion. I’m wracking my brain, trying to remember the name of the fellow who showed up at Steve Hed’s factory in the early to mid 1990s, with a monocoque beam bike that looked a lot like Cervelo’s P3X or the Diamondback Andean, except it also had an aerobar that looked a lot like the Speedbar. It was, according to Steve, the fastest system he’d ever tested in the wind tunnel, and by some margin. The bike never made it into production, but it was a couple of decades ahead of its time. Image a Cervelo Baracchi, just with the armrest cups extended all the way forward, like these Speedbars.

I don’t remember what brought this man and his bike, and I, and Steve, together in Steve’s Minnesota factory at that time. I only remember that we were all there, and that bike made an impression on me.

Road Bars

Okay, this isn’t near what I’m looking for yet, but it’s emblematic. What you see here is a gravel bar. It’s from Redshift Sports. It’s got a loop in front for a pseudo aero position and there’s nothing new here. Cinelli and other companies have had this for decades. Just, imagine Ergon’s MTB grips strategically placed around the handlebar, where you rest your hands, again, spreading out the area of impact, of weighting, so that your weight is displaced over a greater surface area.

These bars are a little wide for my taste, but I think you see the idea. Mostly what I want you to see is where the bar is, well, un-round. Below the hood. And this is critical. Bars need to be ergonomic, form fitting, everywhere where you’ll place your hand. The reason bars are round until the “tops” is so you can place the levers where you want, and, so you can route the compression ring or collar up to the eventual placement. The compression ring has to go! There should be one place on the handlebar – a boss – into which you bolt the lever. If you make the handlebar right, and the lever right, it’s a system, one placement, done. This means you don’t need the bar to be round below the lever.

Furthermore, can someone tell me why the bar is round where it affixes to the stem? Because, if it’s so you can you rotate the bar to suit, then what about all the new road superbikes with superbars? That have stems built in? Either one system is wrong or the other is. If road bars have one proper placement, and don’t need to be rotated, then: Of the infinite number of shapes, round is the one shape that makes no sense. You take much stress off the system if you don’t have to consider the torque applied to that specific place.

One obvious problem, if you're a road bar maker, and you want to take me up on my ideas: Do you make your road bars to fit SRAM, Campagnolo or Shimano? Or FSA? ROTOR, or whomever comes along with a lever? To that I say this: Shimano, SRAM, FSA already have handlebar divisions they own. Surely Zipp could make a handlebar that precisely mates with SRAM's levers. Same with PRO and Shimano.

I not only could say this; I have said this. To these folks I'm like the guy you want to invite to dinner, but you know at some point I'm going to veer the conversation to the religion to which I subscribe; or the multi-level marketing product you should buy from me. Nevertheless, I think the trajectory of aerobar design is already changing; and I don't see why we should make road race handlebars the same way we've made them for 70 or 80 years.