David is the head of R&D at Profile Design and if you see something clever from this company there’s a very good chance it incubated in David’s brain. He’s one of the people in our industry whose judgment I trust at least as much as my own, and I know that when I ask him a question I’ll get a more fully fleshed answer than I could come up with on my own.
David lives in New Zealand with his wife Nicky and their two daughters. He’s also a bike fitter and coach (speedtheory.co.nz). In my opinion, it’s never a bad idea to look at the bike position of your own bike fitter, and David’s is pretty good.
SLOWTWITCH: How long have you been the head of R&D for Profile Design and how did you land this gig?
DAVID BOWDEN: I started consulting to Profile Design in 2015, providing fit expertise for new aerobars. After some personnel changes I wound up being in charge. The relationship goes further back to around 2007 when I was working for a company in New Zealand, I designed wheels based on tire scanning and CFD, back when such things were rare. Profile Design bought the IP to initiate their wheel program. My colleague Ian Scott went to work for Profile Design and spent the next few years pushing them to engage my services for aerobar design.
Over the same period of completely revising the Profile Design Aerobar range I also founded and launched a bike fit software company [Velogicfit], but exited that in 2020. The different aspects of my working life tend to go through stages: at various times coaching, software development or Profile Design work have taken priority. Right now I'm trying to keep everything at a stable, moderate level because I'd like to get fit again and the last few years of having young kids and a lot of work demands meant that something had to give. My enthusiasm for competing has not waned, so I'm working to restore my ability to do so. Having said that, for the last six months I've been spending a lot of time renovating a house we bought in Taupo [where IRONMAN New Zealand is held] because we like the town and I wanted a different challenge, but that hasn't hampered training too much as the running options are better than at home.
As an aside, when I was 15 sitting at the back of physics classes drawing aerobars instead of listening I had the thought that Profile Design would be a cool place to work. The Airstryke was the top aerobar around at that point which was about as much as I knew about the company. Aerobars have become a lot more sophisticated since then but new designs still start as scribbles on random bits of paper.
ST: I know you’re a coach, and a bike fitter. Do you feel being a trained bike fitter is an imperative when designing handlebar systems for bikes?
DB: That's a loaded question given I know what you expect to hear! I'll just refer you to the article you wrote in 2018 about our bar lineup.
Seriously, any field requires a subject matter expert to ensure the product is fit for purpose. The reason I wanted to work for Profile Design was that I saw bars getting treated as an aerodynamic feature rather than a core fitting element. Especially items like minimalist armrests that only make sense if you tunnel test with no rider, but even a large armrest is not harming aerodynamics when you put someone's arm on it.
I think it's safe to say that I have analyzed more aerobars, in more depth, than anyone else in order to build my fit calculators. That particular obsession is of use for designing products to offer useful adjustment. Further to that, doing bike fits regularly gives me the opportunity to identify product gaps and to test prototypes. Admittedly, it's only the prototypes that don't suit my needs that go on anyone else's bike.
The coaching skillset doesn't come into product design so much, although I do a lot of energy/fluid intake calculations for my athletes so that informs what I want to achieve with hydration/storage systems.
ST: Do you have a preferred technology for aero testing? Wind tunnel, field trials, aero sensors, Chung method? How much testing gets done on PD product?
DB: Definitely eyeball. He has to look fast. [David is kidding when he says that.] For product I like wind tunnels. For rider position I like field testing – regression or Chung – doing a deep dive on the power file. We've been using CFD for development since before I started, validation testing depends on the product. Standard clip-ons don't get that kind of testing. With new high end aerobars on the way I'll be back to the tunnel to evaluate those.
ST: We just held a F.I.S.T. Bike Fit Workshop here last week, and Brian Stover attended for the first time. He’s done a lot of testing of positions, of course, and he said something I hadn’t heard – if I understood him right – which is that “high hands” is position best suited for high speed; otherwise a flatter forearm is better. Do you take this kind of information into account when you design timed-race front ends?
DB: I started consulting to Profile Design just as the Aeria 2 was about to start development. Built-in tilt adjustment was one of the core fit elements I insisted on and the resulting bracket design is still a very efficient item. For Profile Design it's not about picking a certain position style that we think everyone should aim for, it's giving the flexibility to make adjustments easily. Very hard to know whether tilting the bars up helps or hinders if your equipment doesn't allow you to try.
My job in designing for PD is to give guys like Brian – or me, with my other hat on – the tools to fine-tune positions. Nearly all riders stand to gain more by engaging someone to help them trial and assess positions than by buying cool stuff. Every aerobar product starts with a fit range, then the gaps are filled in for shape and hardware.
ST: I have an idea running around in my head. As you know we have fit assistance threads on our Reader Forum and they’re very popular. I thought about a thread where we help people construct their hydration and nutrition storage and deployment on the bike. I don’t know what my question is here, but I guess I’m just angling toward something with this and the prior question about high or level hands. Profile Design makes a lot of different aerobar and hydration systems. Do triathletes need guidance on which products might serve them best, based on their existing equipment, and on their own needs and habits? Is there a best format for that?
DB: PD isn't quite ready for that. Once the [stuff he’s working on that we can’t talk about yet] are ready we'll have a much more complete offering. I'd be wary of a thread like that though as people manage to get heated about hydration systems. What I want to do when next in the tunnel is test all the placement options to develop a guide. I've had this on the list for years because bottle placement is more significant than a lot of other so-called upgrades, but have been waiting to get the full product suite lined up.