Get Aero?

Posted: June 6, 2011 in Bike

There has been an interesting discussion waged amongst the riders I cycle with during my Sunday morning group rides.  It has even been a bit of a touchy subject at times in the past and I only bring it up here now, not to fan the flames any, but to logically map out on which side of the debate I belong.  So, please, take no offense to the opinions expressed within this post if you happen to be one of those cyclists with whom I ride; know that I still love and respect you no matter how you ride.

Having said that, the debate goes thusly:  ‘is it acceptable (safe) to ride in the aero position while riding in group formation?’  In other words, should time trial bikes be encouraged on group rides?  Interesting, right?   Queue the Twilight Zone soundtrack…

Now, for the record, no one in my training group would ever discourage anyone else from ever riding a time trial bike, but the issue on whether they should ride it while aero or not within the group itself may come into play.  I can understand both sides of the argument, truthfully, as it’s the ‘ol classic ‘safety vs. skill’ issue.  I consider myself a somewhat skilled cyclist, but it is also said that there are only the two types of cyclists:  ‘those who have eaten asphalt, and those who are going to eat it eventually’.  Some happy thought, eh?  And knowing how quickly things can happen at 38 km/h, how much faith are you willing to give your skill (or others around you for that matter) when your luck fails you?  Just sayin’…

Having both a road bike (Daisy) and a time trial bike (Lucille) to take advantage of; I feel it’s not only important, but critical, for me to know the potential pros and cons of riding aero within that kind of group dynamic – particularly since I also subscribe to the notion that choosing the right tool for the job is absolutely crucial for any successful workout.

First, it’s important to examine the difference between riding alone and riding with a group.  When riding on your own you can get aero all you want and practice maintaining a pace over long periods, or perhaps work on your short distance sprints if you prefer.  Either way, you’re your own master when it comes to all control, reflex and directional outputs.  In other words, if shit happens it’s your own damn fault.  On a time trial bike you have less ‘control’ given that your arms are in the aero position and not necessarily on the brakes and/or gears.  So if something sudden happens, it will take you a moment to come out of that aero position and assume the proper position on the handlebars in order to resume ‘control’ with which to avoid the danger.  Good luck with that!  Likewise, road bikes are easier to balance; with a time trial bike it’s all hands on deck at all times…there is no ‘easy’ resting position like that which you can achieve on a road bike.  For that reason, ideally, time trial bikes are better suited for riding solo in my opinion.

Be sure to check your blind spot

In a group or as part of a peloton, cycling is a bit more complex.  There will be other riders beside, in front as well as behind you (often all at the same time) so not only do you have to be cognizant of maneuvering your own machine but also what the others around you are doing, or thinking of doing.  In my mind, that equates to more opportunities for those dreaded  ‘whoopsies’ while riding.  You can just tune into the highlight reel of any stage of the Tour de France to see the effects of bad spills within a group of cyclists.  On a road bike, regardless if you drop down to the lower handlebars in order to get more aero, you still have your hands near the vitals of your rocket ship at all times and that means more ‘control’ should that kind of shit storm happen to occur.  For this reason, whenever I ride with new riders I definitely prefer to ride my road bike until I have gained a comfort level in the skill and confidence of those other riders.

If I do decide to ride my time trial bike, I will only assume the aero position if I drop to the back of the peloton where I can draft for a while and work on my cadence spinning instead, or I might surge ahead on my own and force the others riders to give chase for a spell just to add an element of excitement to the ride.  Either way, I’m not necessarily worried about what the newbie beside me is going to do.  But whenever I ride with or begin to work my way back up through the ranks of the formation I will ride upright again for control-sake.

So what’s my verdict?  Personally, I’m going to continue riding my road bike on larger group rides or while cycling the city streets around my neighborhood.  There is just no substitute for control in my books.  I will ride my time trial when I am alone doing my mid-range speed workouts, or while cycling long with a smaller group of known established cyclists.

For those of you who may already ride with me, feel free to ride whatever makes you happy and most comfortable.  You can be particularly confident that if the ‘fit hits the shan’, so to speak, that I will just steer around you, safely, before coming back to identify the body help.  Please understand that it’s just my personal decision in order to keep both you and me safe and guarantee that I actually make it to the Cancun 70.3 starting line come September 18th.

  1. chuck says:

    Good comments for the most part. But if you are drafting you: 1) don’t need to be aero; and 2) must not ever be aero so that you don’t have to wake up in ER as they are pulling carbon shards out of your body parts.

  2. Both good points (especially the carbon shards). But if you don’t need to be aero, why ride an aero bike? They are not as comfortable to ride while upright anyway which only further supports my thinking – thanks!

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