Okay, it took 30 years, but we do now finally have a coherent strategy for the use of the aerobar. Profile Design’s new product line is a template for this.
How about a brief history? The lay-down handlebar debuted in 1984, underneath Race Across America rider Jim Eliott and designed by Speedplay founder Richard Bryne. Pete Penseyres improved on it for his 1986 RAAM victory, setting an average speed record that lasted for decades.
In late ’86 and ‘87 Scott Sports – not a bicycle company prior to this – intro’d the Scott DH aerobar, the brainchild of Boone Lennon, a Sun Valley habitue, skier, national team ski coach, and bike racer. The notion was to create a profile of a downhill skier, in the tuck, while aboard a bicycle.
Inventor and product designer Charlie French was the first to ride Scott’s aerobars in competition, winning his age group at the 1986 Hawaiian Ironman. Charlie hand bent all the first aerobars out of ¾” conduit in his garage. Two journeymen triathletes, Andrew MacNaughton and Brad Kearns, shot to the top of the sport in early 1987. These two beat all comers, in part because of talent, but also because of tech. They were the first aboard the new Scott DH handlebars, and triathlon immediately embraced what the cycling world disdained (until Greg Lemond in 1989).
Profile Design debuted its aerobars in 1988, and a patent battle with Scott ensued that is not germane to the story.
In my view, by the early 2000s Profile Design had lost its way. It experimented with all sorts of aerobar shapes and styles. The company did not have a coherent theory of aerobar use.
Five years ago I wrote “3 Clip-Ons I Like" and one of them was the Profile Design T3 + Carbon. This product was, in my opinion, the basis from which Profile Design should proceed. What I’m writing about today flows from this system change.
Profile Design’s current lineup shows what happens when somebody who actually rides tri bikes understands the way tri bikes should fit, understands the imperatives of the product, is in charge of making the product. You might think that the norm in the bike (or run) business. Actually, it’s the exception. Run shoes are often conceived of and designed by 45min 10k runners and tri bikes, saddles, aerobars by folks who, if we’re lucky, have actually participated in a triathlon at least once. That’s why they so often don’t work, don’t fit, don’t handle, aren’t comfortable. Sorry!
Below I’m going to describe the fat of the Profile Design aerobar product line.
Profile Design will, during 2018, remake its product in two important ways. First, via 3 product platforms I will describe below PD takes a major step to replace its free-for-all, every bar for every whim, strategy with a coherent system for what aerobar gets used when, depending on the need. Second, PD will rename its bars in a way that I shall try to explain right now.
There is (or will be) no more T1 thru T5, which were descriptive of the 5 extension shapes (see the image of PD's extension shapes further below). There is no more J2 thru J5, which were the names of PD's various brackets (above is an image of PD's J2 bracket, just below is it's J5 bracket, now renamed the Supersonic bracket). No more T4+ (aluminum extension) or T4+ Carbon (carbon extension). Yes, if you go on Profile Design’s website you’re still going to see all this old nomenclature: T3+ Carbon, and so forth. But these changes will occur, little by little.
The meat of the Profile Design’s aerobar line ranges from a high of $237 down to $149. These bars are as follows:
• Sonic ($149): Pads 60mm above and even with pursuit bar centerline in its neutral position.
• Supersonic ($237): Pads 60mm above, and 15mm behind, pursuit bar centerline in its neutral position.
• Subsonic ($199): Pads 40mm above, and 15mm behind, pursuit bar centerline in its neutral position.
For some years now PD owned the price point aerobar product with the J2 brackets with the F19 armrests (an image above shows this aerobar system). It’s more likely you’re riding this very config than any other. We’re taking a poll right now and while most of you have a problem with your saddle (if you have a comfort problem) a lot of you still complain about your aerobar.
The Sonic (pictured just below) improves the clamp, and the armrest. In fact, the new armrest (called the Ergo, and pictured further below) will become the ubiquitous armrest on most of PD’s aerobars. The Ergo is launching on the Sonic aerobar first, and will later make its way onto the Supersonic (which I’ll get to further below). The Sonic bracket differs from the Supersonic in two ways: it doesn’t have that slick wedge mechanism for adjusting the extension length that the Supersonic bracket has. However, it’s still a 1-bolt adjustment, so I’m not complaining.
The second difference is specific to fit: This bracket places the armrest 15mm forward versus the Supersonic bracket, and most of PD’s prior brackets. Most of the time, when you put a PD aerobar on your bike, your pads are placed 15mm or 20mm behind the centerline of the pursuit bar if the bolts are affixed in the center hole of the pads. Not so this armrest. It’s just about right even with the centerline (as you can see). That’s okay, because look at this Ergo armrest (below). It’s got 5 sets of fore/aft adjustment holes (not 3, which used to be the case), and these holes are 18.5mm apart laterally and 15mm fore/aft from each other, on center. It can be adjusted well rearward (or forward). Just, if you’re a bike maker and you want to stock this bar original equipment on your bike (you will) please bear this in mind when you’re spec’ing a stem for your bike (spec a shorter stem!).
The Sonic is a price point bar. It’s $149. Therefore, it’s going to have aluminum extensions. The extension it will come with is called the 35a, and this is just a ski bend extension. Two more extension shapes are coming in the Fall, but the 35a is going to be my favorite. (The 35a is almost a duplicate of what was called the T4 extension shape, it's just got a slightly different bend angle – see the extension shapes below).
Why is that extension shape called the 35a? The ski bend is upturned at a 35° angle, and the extension is made out of aluminum.
Let’s see if I can reduce rather than expand any confusion.
The Supersonic ($237) is an approximation of what was the T4+ Carbon. Or, the T-whatever, because T1 thru T5 were different carbon extension shapes, all used with the same armrest and clamp system. Let’s talk about the extension shapes, because these are undergoing a fairly big change.
The extensions currently for sale are the T1 thru the T5 and you can see these in an image below. I don’t like the T1. The T2 is (for me) better, more ergonomic. It’s the only S-bend I like. But it’s leaving too. I’m not crying a tear for it.
The best shapes are the last 3. The T3 is my favorite. But it’s also going away! My guess is that after this year – or sometime this year – that extension shape will be discontinued. So, if I was a bike fitter, or a bike shop, I’d try to buy a bunch of those. The T4 and T5 are both standard race or J or ski bends, just, the J5 is a flatter upturn (not as much upturn). I like them all. These shapes will be gone by the Fall, and will be replaced by three new shapes, which are approximately those in the image below.
The sort of default go-to shape will be a 35c, and you should know what that means: a 35° upturn made out of carbon.
There will eventually be a 50c, that is fairly similar to the current T1 shape. then there'll be a sort of lazy S bend called a 45/25, where the extension bends up at 45° and then bends back the other way 25° (there's an existing undermount bar in the line that uses an extension fairly close to this and it's in the extension shape image below).
Now, to be clear, this is going to be a running change, both in extensions and in the armrest. The only thing about the Supersonic bar that you currently see is the bracket. What was the J5 bracket has been renamed the Supersonic bracket. When it’s all done, the F40TT armrest (also shown below) will be replaced with the Ergo armrest. Both the F40TT and the Ergo armrests are really good armrests.
Also, the extension shapes will be a running change. As the T1 thru T5 extensions are phased out, the 35c, 50c, and 4525c extensions will phase in (if it's the Supersonic; remember, if it's the Sonic bar it'll be the same extension shapes but 35a, 50a, because the Sonic uses aluminum extensions).
The Bike Fitter’s Prudent Decision
Let me be clear. If you are a bike fitter (or a neighborhood LBS), and you know a product is at the end of its cycle, about to be replaced, most of the time you wait for the new product, so as not to get stuck with the old. But, sometimes you scoop up the old product because it’s disappearing and then it’s gone and it’s going to be missed. In the case of the T3+ Carbon, and the T4+ Carbon, and the T5+ Carbon, you’re getting really ergonomic products that will serve you well. This is especially the case if you use the carbon extensions for mechanical shifting or for SRAM shifting. Or, for 1-button Shimano shifting.
Me? I would buy the T3+/T4+T5+ Carbon products now. I wouldn’t wait for the running changes to be complete, because you’ll miss the selling season.
To that point, and this is to both consumers and those who sell to consumers. And, sorry for the lecture! Just, I know what’s in stock. It’s a lot of J2/F19 aerobar systems. This is time-tested, but older tech. Bike dealers and fitters have spent tens of thousands in their fit studios, in training their fitters, in paying fitters, only to sabotage these efforts by not having the product to sell once the fit has been concluded and the prescription written. Do not wait until this season’s over, wasting yet again another season without the state of the art product.
On this aerobar (above) the pads sit 20mm lower than the pads on the Supersonic. There are, typically, two ways manufacturers get the pads lower: undermount, and mid-mount. Undermount can work, but it’s cumbersome. You need entirely different extension shapes for undermount than for overmount. Mid-mount – where the extensions protrude basically in-line with the pursuit bar – will give you (if well executed, and this is) a position as low as undermount, and it’s clean. You can pedestal it if need be (but you won't want to pedestal it much, or what's the point of having this bar?. This position is pretty low. The extensions slide in and out via a pinch bolt. The image above describes it.
This is a $199 bar. The armrests are the Race armrest, which I'm not describing here because I don't yet have it in front of me (I have the Ergo armrest in hand, so can speak to it). Also, I don't have specs yet on the Race. I'll cover that in a future installment.
With the Subsonic we’re back to the pads, on center, sitting behind the pursuit bar center, just like in the Supersonic bracket (the Sonic is the only bar where the pads sit on-center rather than behind-center).
This is a mid-priced bar, and it’s that way because its bracket system is harder to make than the Sonic, but it’s not a carbon bar. This bar or something like it (low-profile, and low-priced) is an absolute necessity in a tri bike specialty shop or bike fitter’s studio, because it solves a fit problem.
Today, there’s a geometric convergence among bike makers. For me, a Dimond Marquise (in size M), a Speed Concept (size L), Quintana Roo PRsix (size 54), Cervelo or Felt (size 56) are all – notwithstanding their various sizing conventions – almost exactly the same frame (stack of 540mm, reach of 425mm) in terms of fit. What if I need a low position? Sorry! These frames are no help! Hence the need for aerobars to take up the slack in the geometric “sameness” exhibited by bike makers.
The extension fixed by a pinch bolt isn’t new. It isn’t even new for PD. But there’s a pretty good reason companies keep revisiting this design. It’s pretty useful. While this bar has a typical 35° upturned ski bend shape, if you’re a bike dealer or a consumer and you have some other extension shape sitting around that you admire, just stick it in there.
The Sonic aerobar is in stock now. The Subsonic lands in the U.S. on May 10th. The Supersonic is morphing as we speak: If you buy a T4+ Carbon right now you’re buying the Supersonic bracket. The extension on that bar will undergo a very minor change, a few degrees in the bend. The armrest today is the F40TT, but 6 or 9 months from now the Ergo armrest will start to show up on that bar.
I’ll be writing about more aerobars: both Profile Design’s more expensive aerobars, as well as the aerobars made by Zipp, 3T, TriRig and others. Just, it’s important that you all understand that aerobars are finally becoming a bit more of a science, both in fit and in ergonomics. As I’ve traveled to upwards of 50 retail stores over the past 2 years I’ve noticed how out of date, and out of stock, they are in the aerobars they’re offering. Time to get with the program.