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I am trying to work on endurance in the hopes of one day touring the GDMBR in a reasonable amount of time and after watching Ride the Divide, I noticed a lot of the riders are using aerobars. When I am training, I can ride close to 40 miles on my bike with a Specialized flat bar but I am noticing significant pain in my back, tailbone, wrists and shoulders.

Are aerobars the answer to my pain problems? My assumption (from purely a comfort viewpoint) is that aerobars allow you to shift your weight occasionally and distribute your weight differently without stopping. If so, is there a certain type of handlebar I should be looking at for a mountain bike? I would prefer an easy to install/uninstall solution because I am not always looking to have these handlebars on. Also, is adding an aerobar the proper solution or am I looking at it wrong? I am questioning bikes at the moment and would be grateful on any tips.

I have never used any other type of handlebar other than a flat bar, so please include anything that may seem incredibly obvious.

Note: I looked at this answer but those look incredibly uncomfortable for long distances and seem pointless for what I am doing.


Specifications

Bike
Specialized Myka Sport 29er

Handle Bar Specs
Specialized flat bar, alloy, 640mm & 660mm wide, 8-degree backsweep, 4-degree upsweep, 25.4mm

Full Specifications

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I wouldn't have thought aero bars would necessarily help you in terms of comfort. I mean, the reason you use them is to make yourself more aerodynamic, and generally this comes at the cost of comfort. So if anything I would expect them to be less comfortable. My own experience is consistent with this - I've tried some on my road bike and never really got on with them. Yet... –  PeteH Aug 5 '13 at 17:31

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The main reason that aerobars may have an advantage over flat or road bars is that they are designed so that your main support mechanism is skeletal, rather than muscular. The longer the distance, the more this will hold true.

Normann Stadler

This picture is of a top triathlete. Note that the forearms are almost parallel, and the upper arms are at a 90 degree angle. This allows the main support for the upper body to rest on the bone structure, with minimal muscle involvement. (Stadler was an Ironman distance triathlete, bike segment of 112 miles).

While you may see variations on this, it is a general truism that the longer the race, the more comfort trumps aerodynamics, and vice versa (Short races aerodynamics trumps comfort.)

Many of the ultra mountain bike competitors set up their rides similarly, and have "wrap" style aerobars that allow them multiple different hand positions for control, as well as the resting position where their arm muscles don't have to do the work for support.

That all being said, I would point out that many riders go much further than 40 miles with no pain at all. This would suggest to me that your fit is not correct, or that you are not in shape enough for a 40 mile ride yet. Tailbone pain is (usually) a bad saddle and fit, and the rest is also easily attributable to fit. Aerobars will not be a magic cureall for an improperly fitted bike

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+1 for suggesting fit. I'm not a MTBer but it sounds iffy –  PeteH Aug 5 '13 at 20:13
    
This is good info, and thanks for the pointer about being fitted. I guess that might be what it is, because going 40+ miles I feel like my legs could go 40 more easily, but my back and tailbone are done. also, this is great info from a racing view, but I am only going to touring so I am looking for maximum comfort :] –  Carrie Kendall Aug 5 '13 at 21:41
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@CarrieKendall - The main thing that you want is a variety of places to put your hands, so that you can shift positions. Even with padded gloves, extended periods in one position can numb the hands and cause other problems. And don't discount the bars, I know quite a few long range tourers that have some variant of aerobars at various angles to accommodate leaning on the elbows/forearms for extended periods. You and the racers are both in the saddle for long periods, they just are going faster is all. :) –  JohnP Aug 5 '13 at 21:48
    
@JohnP Right. I guess that's why I assumed it would be more comfortable because right now that's exactly what's happening is I am unable to shift around and those elbow pads sure look inviting :P –  Carrie Kendall Aug 5 '13 at 21:51
    
@CarrieKendall - If you are serious about wanting to do some of these extended races, go to a reputable MTB shop in your town, with your bike. Explain what you want to do, and what is happening with your current bike, and let them help you get setup correctly. For you to be having that much pain where it forces a ride stoppage ~ 40 miles, either your bike is set up very poorly, doesn't fit, or both. –  JohnP Aug 5 '13 at 21:58

I see a few potential problems with mounting aero bars on a mtn bike. The biggest concern I would have would be maintaining control of the bike. Aero-bars are great for straight, flat and smooth paved roads, but I wouldn't think they would be great when riding on mountain paths. If it is packed gravel the entire way and you feel comfortable riding on aero-bars then go for it. The other main issue I see is not being able to brake or shift while in the aero position.

Aero-bars will take a while to get used to and may require you to change seat position to be comfortable in the aero position. The aero position puts stress on your lower back and glutes due to the collapsed position.

As a road cyclist, I prefer riding my road bike for longer rides over my Time Trial bike due to the comfort and increased control and I have never considered putting aero bars on a mtn bike, but I ride mountain trails and not packed gravel.

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I've generally seen the combination of mtb and aero bars in relation to the question, "I have a mountain bike that I want to ride on the road, what steps can I take to go faster". And aero bars are one of the suggestions because they will improve riding position. I agree the notion of using bars on a trail is kinda scary. –  PeteH Aug 5 '13 at 17:46
    
It all comes down to the stance of the rider. Having the arms closer together is less stable than a wide stance. Hence why TT bikes have narrow aero bars, road bikes have wider drops and mtn bikes have the widest stance of all, allowing for the best control and stability. –  sevargdcg Aug 5 '13 at 17:50
    
TT bikes have narrow aerobars for aerodynamics. The sole purpose of everything on a TT bike is to reduce the profile offered to the wind. TT bikes handle different than road bikes due to the frame geometry, not the width of the bars. You could put road drops on a TT bike and it would still handle like a TT bike. –  JohnP Aug 5 '13 at 19:15
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@PeteH - Agreed. Anyone that uses an aerodynamic bar and is in that position on a trail is suicidal. When I've seen ultra mtb events, when they are using aerobars it is generally on a wide, dirt/gravel road. –  JohnP Aug 5 '13 at 19:16
    
@JohnP While the TT bars do help with aerodynamics, they also affect handling rather drastically. Slamming aero extensions together makes a bike less maneuverable than if they are slightly wider. That's why cornering while in Aero is more risky (aside from having hands on the brake levers). The further out the hands are from center the more control you have over the movements of the bike. –  sevargdcg Aug 5 '13 at 19:20

Non-aerobar possibilities for you, specifically aimed at increasing the number of available hand positions, may include:

  • Regular old drop bars, possibly with a raised stem if a roadie bent-over stance is not comfortable for you (there's no rule that drop bars have to be lower than saddle height!)
  • "Bullhorn" bars
  • "Moustache" bars
  • "Butterfly," "touring," or "trekking" bars. If drop bars don't do it for you, these may be the next best thing. They are especially popular in Europe and among long-distance cycling tourists; in the US you'll almost certainly have to special-order them, but Nitto and Velo Orange have them. Personally, I can't even with drop bars -- keep those things FAR away from me! -- but I love my VO Trekking bars despite their persistent creak.

Any of these bar types should have a variant that is fittable to your mountain bike, though putting your controls onto butterfly/trekking bars can be an adventure, and you may find that you need a different stem as well (for length, or for correct angle). The inimitable Sheldon has a handlebars page with pictures, OR your search engine of choice will turn up plenty of pictures, OR check around Bicycles SE for the "handlebars" hashtag.

Handlebars are fairly reasonably priced, as components go. You can mess around a bit and not spend too much, if you're willing to put up with the hassle of attaching and detaching brakes, shifters, etc. Swap meets may also be a good source of handlebars, because other people experiment too.

Good luck! The right handlebars make a world of difference to comfort.

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I have had my aerobars (profile designs t1+) on my mtb for about 2 years. The GDMBR was my inspiration for doing so and they have allowed me to ride over 100 miles. It is so much more comfortable than only gripping the handlebars. Of that 100 miles I probably rode only 15 miles sitting up holding onto the grips--the rest of the time: aerobars. I like the t1+ because it allows me to adjust the armrests closer to my body and further behind the handlebars. This way I am not leaning over as far---just a comfort thing for me. My advice: really do some homework on different aerobars and see what features they offer because they are not all the same. SOme allow you to position the armrests further apart, some allow you do adjust them closer or further from your body, etc. really access what your needs are and make your purchase accordingly. Gud Luk

One last thing: don't get tt bars unless you want your wrists to be so sore you wont be able to pick your nose due to the excessive bend and strain put on them

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