PD J5/F40tt: Bicycle Companies, are you listening?

Profile Design, which I will be calling PD for the duration of what comes below, has just come out with new, and great, front-end products for tri. This is important for several reasons.

First, I’m always going to default on “contacts points” as the most important part of a bicycle riding experience. Saddles, aerobars, anything that touches the body, but especially anything on which you rest your weight, is where you need to choose most carefully. Aerobars are a contact point (in 2 places, elbows and hands), you rest your weight on them, and they are responsible for both fit and handling. You might say your choice of aerobars is more important to your riding experience than your choice of the bike they’re on.

Bicycle product managers can (and often do) ruin an otherwise excellent tri bike via the placement of a bad aerobar (or a mismatched aerobar) on the bike. I can think of several examples of this for sale right now. Companies that want to save a dime by making their own bars (or spec’ing an open mold no-name aerobar) can ruin an otherwise fine bike (all that R&D, marketing, and start-up money down the drain).

So, the aerobar is probably the single most important element to a tri bike, and I’d rather have the right bar and a substandard frame than the other way around. That’s why I’m going to spend a lot of time on what will probably seem a tl;dr product review to a lot of you.

Based on both function and price, PD already made the best clip-on aerobar with its J4 bracket and an F35 armrest. A lot of you are never going to know this bar because you’re more familiar with PD’s not great J2 bracket with either a F19or F22 armrest. These are truly forgettable bars and Zipp and 3T shot ahead of PD when PD was still horsing around selling its J2/F19 (which is still for sale today). But PD’s T3 + Carbon and T4 + Carbon, at $199, were simply world beaters. They were easy and quick to adjust, comfortable, rather range-expansive in adjustability, and in particular adjusted wide enough.

The main problem with this system is that it was made with 2 forgettable extension shapes (T1 and T2) and the X dimension jumps (cockpit length) were 15mm, which was industry standard but could’ve been shorter. Finally, the T3 and T4 carbon extensions did not contemplate Di2. They work perfectly for both mechanical shifters and with SRAM’s eTap, but they’re awkward with Di2.

With the intro if the J5 bracket and F40tt armrest (what I’m reviewing here) its already excellent aerobar system (J4 bracket, F35 armrest) has been rendered largely moot. You may still see the J4/F35 but if you do it’ll probably be coupled with aluminum extensions and will replace the J2/F19 systems. If so, that clip-on will probably sell for $139 or $140 and you’re a fool (!) if you buy a clip-on other than this one to save $10 or $20. You deserve either a J4 or J5 bracket topped by either a F35 or F40tt armrest. Anyway…

This new system is the brainchild of New Zealand’s David Bowden (CyclenutNZ on the Slowtwitch Reader Forum), working in tandem with PD’s engineers at its Taiwan headquarters, and improves on the J4/F35 combo that was largely achieved under Mark Vandermolen, who was at PD for many years before recently moving over to FSA. I’ll be writing about what FSA/Vision is up to later; as well as the excellent work Nathan Schickel is doing on aerobars over at Zipp; and we’ll also talk about 3T (SuperDave Koesel!).

But today belongs to Profile Design because it just throws down with this new system.

Some of the nomenclature is a little confusing. I’ll do my best. There are two aerobars I’ll be writing about here. The first is a new Aeria, the Aeria Ultimate, which is PD’s halo one-piece bar and it comes at a halo price of just over USD $1000. The second is the T4 + Carbon clip-on. They’re side by side in the image highest above. Next image down are these bars with the pads removed, and you’ll see that the Aeria Ultimate has a different armrest cradle, with 5 holesets x 3 holesets. The clip-on bar’s cradle has 4 x 2 holesets.

Furthermore, the brackets underneath these pad cradles have different configurations. Not only that, if you look at these brackets from the side, the Aeria Ultimate’s bracket features the ability to rotation the armrests separate from the extensions. Not so the standard J5 bracket for the clip-on bars. You can see all of this in the image just above and just below.

The pads themselves, the armrests, on the Aeria Ultimate are called F40, while the armrests that go on the clip-on line is the F40tt. But the brackets they mount on are both called the J5 although it’s clear the brackets are not identical. I’m sure David Bowden will explain this in a Facebook comment at the bottom of this article. Look for something like, “Dan, you ignorant slut…” followed by the illuminating response.

Each system retains what is one of my favorite elements of the J4 bracket, which is the rearward-facing 5mm Allen bolt that tightens a wedge that affixes the extension in place. The only difference is now it’s a 4mm. As you can see below, both the J5 brackets have this (I’ve got red arrows trying to show where they are).

Another element I loved about the J4/F35 was how wide you could adjust the pads without any kind of bracing system. Same with the J5 except you can adjust it even wider and as opposed to the 3 width options with the J4 there are 8 with the J5.

How does this compare to other aerobars out there? As noted I’m going to be reviewing the new Zipp aerobars separately and the chart below is not fair to Zipp because it as made based on its previous design. Also, my guess (I didn’t make this chart) is that the chart below does not contemplate Zipp’s pad extenders. What you can see is how wide this new PD bar goes and every data point below is a discrete place you can position the pad. If there are fewer data points, that means there are fewer positions in between the widest and narrowest position.

One of the issues with the 3T Vola/Revo is its lack of ease in width adjustment. You can see this in the chart. This is one reason why Cervelo’s P2 is often an easier bike to fit a customer to than its P3: the P2 had the J4/F35 system, the P3 the 3T system.

Now, about fore/aft adjustment. This is a little fuzzy to me. You can see all these holesets in the armrest cradles. These holes are 15mm apart, that is, when you put the pads in a forward or rearward holeset you're moving the pad fore or aft 15mm. But what I’ve gotten from PD is that the bar is that fore/aft adjustability can be had in 7.5mm increments. How? If you look, you’ll see that the holes are a little further away from the leading edge of the armrest versus the trailing edge. How much? About 7.5mm. The pad itself is about 82.5mm long, front to back, and the center of the holes seems to me to be about 35mm from one end and 42.5mm from the other.

This tells me that if you swap the left and right cradles you’d have that 7.5mm offset. Is that what PD has in mind? Dan, the ignorant slut wants to know. David? A little help here? In any case, that’s what I did for the image below.

What if I swap the brackets? For this I simply took the extensions out and stuck them in backwards, and then swapped the cradles. Voila (below). Now I have a lot of forward pad adjustability, for those of you whose bikes are too small (lengthwise) and you need more cockpit distance. (If we can’t do this David will let us know.)

There is a hydration option built into this system, but I’ll cover than in a follow-up. Profile also introduced a stem that mates with this Aeria Ultimate, making the whole thing look like a superbar. Here it is. It’s a big weighty, at 330g on my scale compared to a typical road stem which will weigh between 140g and 200g, and that’s without its top cap. PD claims it's 380g, but that might be the 100mm version (there’s this length as well as a 70mm), and with the top cap. Are these enough lengths? Yes, considering the massive adjustability of the new bars I’m writing about here.

The stem is sexy! Especially when paired with the Aeria Ultimate. Is there any other advantage to it? Well, yes. There are ports for aero cable routing. I haven’t seen this stem on a bike so I can’t opine as to the utility of these ports. I’ve heard that Ceepo may be using this stem with the clip-on version of PD’s new aerobars I’m writing about above (and just a typical pursuit bar is my guess). That would be interesting to see (if that’s true).

The clip-on versions above, the new T3 and T4 + carbon, will cost in the USD $225 range. This is for carbon extensions. In my opinion Profile Design ought to get rid of a lot of its product line, certainly the J2/F19/F22 stuff, as well as the T1 and T2 extensions (double upturn and S-bend). I heartily endorse the J4 and the new J5, the old F35 and the new F40 and F40tt. I also like the original Aeria and the new Aeria Ultimate and the new Aeria Ultimate stem. I can’t speak to what Gran Fondoers might put on their bikes, or gravellers, or draft-legal racers, but for no-draft triathletes and for the product managers spec’ing tri bikes you should first check out these bars written about here. Forget every other aerobar PD makes.

Then, look at what Tririg, Enve, PRO, 3T, Vision, Zipp are making. Then make sure these other bar companies are making a product that meets or exceeds the value and the performance of these bars on this page. Then if you want to buy something other than these bars written about here, okay. Just, these bars above are the standard the industry is going to be judged on.

Moreso, if you’re considering a superbike with an integrated bar system, I’ve only found one that is the equal or superior to the system above and that is the Bontrager system on the Speed Concept. It’s a bitch to adjust, and there are some other issues, but it’s a great system. With this exception, and perhaps the Enve system on Cervelo’s P5X, none of the integrated bars are as good as the bars written about here. Memo to tri bike companies: look at PD before you embark on a futile mission.

The only downside to this aerobar is that it’s not low-profile. There’s no config where the pads are much lower than about 60mm above the centerline of the pursuit bar. What that means is that you’ll have to use another bar (e.g., TriRig) if that’s what you need. Just, one caveat on the lowness thing. The Aeria Ultimate, because the centerline of the pursuits sit lower than the center of the 31.8mm clamp section, does sit lower than the clip-ons, and paired with PD's new stem that may well be a fairly low profile combo. But you can't get this lo-boy config with the clip-ons, only with the integrated superbar.

On the other end, this bar comes with 75mm of pedestals so you can get the pads about 140mm above the pursuit bar center. Of course, if you need all 75mm you probably either need a new bike or a new fitter. But that’s another story.