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You’re an idiot if you are running aero bars at Dirty Kanza!
“Are you serious, Geoff?” you might say. “The guy who won used aero bars last year! You’re the idiot if you are not running aero bars. You’ve never even been to Kansas and have no idea what you are talking about.”
What I can say is I have ridden in almost every kind of bicycle tournament over the last 25 years and aero bars in a mass-start event is a really bad idea. You can’t run aero bars in a mass-start road race. You can’t run aero bars in a mass-start cyclocross race. Triathletes absolutely adore aero bars and they even have aero bar restrictions in mass-start, draft-legal triathlon events. The reason there are rules regarding aero bars is that intelligent people decided it was a good idea for the safety of the group. I’m a little shocked that so many people think allowing aero bars is a good idea at Dirty Kanza, a mass-start event with thousands of people on loose, bumpy, gravel roads. Any experienced crusty old cyclist will tell you that is a very bad situation.
Gravel racing is so new that there are few rules and it is the wild west on the back roads right now. I’m no fan of rules for the sake of rules, but I believe there is a time and a place for a few good ones.
Primarily, my experience comes from mountain biking, which actually has some rules I think are a little bit silly. I certainly don’t like to see aero bars on a mountain bike, but I’m quite upset that curly bars are now banned in sanctioned mountain bike races. Mountain bike legend John Tomac running curly bars on his old Yeti is a great part of mountain bike history, for goodness sake. When curly bar bikes got banned after Sven Nys threatened to race one at London 2012, it was just a band-aid fix for some of the non-technical course designs. Make mountain bike courses technical enough and people will want to race mountain bikes. I don’t believe it is a safety issue, so let people try to have some fun on curly bars if they want to. My friend Barry Wicks is running curly bars on a full suspension mountain bike this summer — which is definitely pretty weird, but I don’t have a problem with weird bikes.
While I do think putting aero bars on a gravel bike is a bit of an abomination, this is not a fashion issue or an effort to enforce coolness. I thought it was a bit silly when uncool performance-enhancing aero skinsuits used in downhill racing became ridiculed and then banned. I used to really enjoy poking fun at grumpy DH racers wearing baggy clothes when skinsuits were still being used intermittently. I got no smiles when I jokingly told them that they just weren’t as committed to winning if they didn’t wear lycra. It is fair enough, however, that DH racers wanted to look cool, got together democratically, and initiated a process to change the rules to benefit their image and sport. It wasn’t a safety issue, but it is somewhat ironic to see DH racers wearing the tightest possible baggies now.
I’m sure many of my competitors will still be on aero bars at Dirty Kanza this year, but be warned: if you get on them anywhere close to me you might hear some choice words of advice. “But Geoff, everyone ends up riding by themselves anyway,” you might argue. Well, if you decide to use aero bars you best adopt Ironman rules. I’d recommend staying at least 12 meters away from me and everyone else on course. Heck, you may also want to consider running double disc wheels if you feel aero is everything. Or maybe you should consider a gravel recumbent because I’ve heard they are even faster.
I may very well regret my aero bar-free performance disadvantage after 10 hours in the saddle, but be forewarned that my tactic — to protest safety — is that I won’t work with anyone riding aero bars.
In all seriousness, this is just one issue that is a reflection of what I see on the roads and trails these days. With so many new people enjoying cycling in groups, there is a lot of knowledge and experience that would be beneficial to pass on to new riders. If you have the experience, don’t be afraid to speak out on group rides when it comes to safety and etiquette. I got yelled at a few times on rides when I was young, but I certainly appreciate those learning moments now.
It might not be the most friendly approach, but don’t get offended if someone calls you an idiot — they might just be worried about everyone’s safety.