Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
This story originally appeared on CyclingTips.
British brand Aerocoach has unveiled its new road-going aero bars, and refreshingly, much of the fuss is not about the bars.
In a time when aero gains are more marginal than ever and many aero designs are offering low single-digit wattage savings at best, Aerocoach says it matters less how aero its bars are and more how the rider uses them.
Most estimations put the rider’s contribution to the total aero drag somewhere around 80 percent. As such, any marginal improvement to the bike is even more marginal when considered as a percentage of the complete system.
That’s not to say aero components offer no advantage, they do, and Aerocoach has provided some data on how its new bars compare to other aero drop bars but the brand is also keen to stress the biggest benefit of the bars is in the aero position they help the rider adopt.
Speaking with CyclingTips, Xavier Disley of Aerocoach pointed to all the real-world road bike aero testing the brand has done as a key component in understanding what riders need from a bar. “While the handlebar is aero and its got nice aerofoils,” Disley explained, “it’s what it does to your body position that gives the biggest advantage.
Dr Xavier Disley, Aerocoach: “It’s less about the bar as it is about the rider position with the bar.”
The bars are certainly narrow, but measuring 325mm wide at the hoods with a slight flare out to 375mm (c-c) at the drops, they do pass the UCI’s 350mm minimum handlebar width rule. With that UCI requirement in mind, Aerocoach is offering the Ornix in just one size, which makes sense, given if it were any narrower it would be illegal and any wider might defeat the purpose. But the bar width is just one part of the Ornix picture.
Disley describes the carbon bars as “purely racing handlebars,” with “no compromises made for long touring rides.”
First, the designers extended the reach out to 91mm compared to the more typical 80mm found on many bars. They did this by shifting the tops further forwards, offering the added benefit of providing extra wrist clearance for riders in the sprinting position.
This extra reach is critical with a narrow bar. As Disley explains, simply going narrower without increasing reach will see the rider sitting more upright and could actually make them slower.
There’s also a brace across the front section to improve overall stiffness, something Disley said is crucial for high-speed bunch sprint bike handling.
“We wanted to give people a handlebar that allowed them to do all the things they would typically do in a race-winning scenario.”
But Aerocoach hasn’t just focused on aero gains and stiffness numbers, the bars are designed with ease of use and function also in mind. Disley explains the narrower design should eliminate the need for riders to aggressively angle their levers inwards to help adopt an aero position.
While riders can get more aero with levers angled as such, he sees such setups as extremely dangerous as they limit access to, and control of, the brake levers. The Aerocoach team specifically designed the top section of the Ornix drops to hide behind the brake levers in the more traditional straighter position. At the same time, the narrow width also means riders can still achieve the same aero gains.
The bars aid riders in adopting and holding a parallel arms breakaway position for extended periods. Even the top front section of the bars features a curve designed for easier access to Garmin head unit buttons.
In talking with Disley, it becomes clear just how much thought went into every aspect of the bar, it’s a level of design detail he explained is only possible thanks to the group of similarly performance-minded riders working at Aerocoach.
But with so much talk of wake and vortex generators of late, I was keen to ask Disley why, at least in the Ornix bars webpage blurb, Aerocoach wasn’t making any similar claims. Somewhat refreshingly, Disley explained that while the bars are specifically shaped and textured to help manipulate the airflow, and despite the benefits this offers, Aerocoach had decided against making any such claims right now.
“We would rather people understand the rider is the largest proportion of the drag rather than adding to the quibbling over half a watt here and a watt there,” Disley explained before continuing, “the main improvements are from putting the rider in a better position more comfortably. We will tell you more about the aerodynamics later.
“Even if someone uses our data on the website to go out and buy a cheap child’s handlebar to make them more aerodynamic in a longer and narrower position, then we’ve done our job.”
I put it to Disley that for all the thought and design that went into the bars, had Aerocoach sacrificed some gains by sticking with such deep and round drops?
His answer is another indication of the comprehensive and practical design philosophy. He first points to the ability for the brake levers to hide the drops as mentioned earlier, suggesting the aero penalty is less than it may seem. But also admits that while an improved aero shape like that found on the brand’s Lann track handlebars could be faster, the compromises in finding a solution for attaching road shifters to such a design is just more hassle and potentially problematic for the end user.
If there is another thing in addition to touring bars the Ornix is not, that’s lightweight. As Disley puts it himself, these are not handlebars for hill climbers at a claimed weight of 355 grams. Asked if the bars could be lighter, a natural assumption given there’s just less of the narrow bars, Disley explained to make the bars any lighter would have compromised on stiffness and potentially safety, given the reinforcement needed for the intricate design along the tops.
Given that I recently learned of the 3D-printed handlebars Chris Froome was using in the Tour de France as far back as 2018, I asked Disley if 3D printing could deliver the same aero and stiffness gains in a light and safe package. The answer was “absolutely” but at six times the price or more, 3D-printed Ornix will remain a made-to-order offering at best.
Regarding pricing, Disley suggests that at £350 ($425) the Ornix, while not cheap, offers greater aero savings than many more expensive aero wheels and components. He suggests even the two grand or more 3D-printed Ornix might offer a better £:watts saving ratio than some offerings, but given the small weight saving, he doesn’t see the benefit in spending the extra money for most riders.
Lastly, the elephant in the room, how do the long and narrow bars actually ride? We haven’t yet had our hands on the Ornix so we can’t yet answer that question. Aerocoach are sending a pair for review but Disley explains that while the bars look different, “it’s not something you need to take months getting used to. After a few rides, it feels normal,” and my own experience of other narrow bars is in line with Disley’s claims.