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Bar Wars.
By Tom Demerly and Colin McMahon.

 

Read this first about our reviews


The ultimate hot-rod accesory: Integrated aerobars.

$379.98 Profile Carbon X with Dia-Compe 188 Brake Levers (Stem Integrated) 1180 grams
$529.98 Vision Tech Pro with Dia Compe 188 Brake Levers (Stem Integrated) 1322 grams
$529.98 Hed Aero Bar with Ritchey Stem (Brake Lever Integrated) 1176 grams
$299.96 Syntace C-2, Stratos Base Bars, Ritchey Stem, Dia-Compe 188 Brake Levers 1002 grams

Prices shown include everythig in description (stems, brake levers where mentioned). Weights are actual and verified.

The front of your bike is the best place to get aero and save time. We look at the best integrated aerobars in depth here.

The front of your bike pierces a placid cushion of gas that hugs Mother Earth and brings us life in the form of oxygen. During a race this cushion of air becomes an impenetrable layer that relentlessly governs your forward progress: The faster you go, the harder it is to go faster. The atmosphere conspires against you.

Improving aerodynamics gives you a substantial advantage in limiting the amount of air we disturb, thus allowing a less invasive passage through the atmosphere. You use less energy to go the same speed, or the same energy and go faster.

If you've read more than one article on bike fit or aerodynamics you know the most important improvement you can make is your body position. The lion's share of drag is created by you- the rider. A delicate balance between comfort, power output and aerodynamic positioning can yield a level of synergistic elegance that will result in enormous improvement. I've seen a re-fitting on a bike give a customer a 7 minute times savings over 40 kilometers (24.8 miles). That is going from a horrible fit and position to a very good one. Fit and position are the most important thing in improving aerodynamics (and comfort and power output). This is especially true for beginners.


Integrated bars are heavier than seperate base bars and aerobars but save time with big aerodynamic gains.

Once you get the fit and position correct it becomes a nickel and dime business- but fortunes are made of nickels and dimes, and most people neglect this free (well, you have to buy the equipment) ticket to easier races and faster bike splits. With the explosion of ultra-distance races an aerodynamic overhaul can give you substantial double-digit time savings on an Ironman distance race- making your run easier and the race more enjoyable. If you are more of a "A" type personality it may make the difference between breaking 12 hours at Ironman or qualifying for Hawaii.

The front end of your bike is the first thing to begin the incision through the air. The cleaner the incision, the less speed and power you bleed. This is one place to start.

Wheels are key, but this article is about an emerging category: Integrated aero handlebars. Integrated aero bars combine aerodynamic handlebars, bullhorn base handlebars, in some cases stems and even brake levers into one unit. The advantage (or goal) is better aerodynamics at the critical front of the bike. This is accomplished through smoothing everything out and combining separate components into a smooth-flowing unit. The effects on aerodynamics are substantial. You will save time.


Profile Carbon X: Good.

We evaluated three of the most popular integrated aerobar systems: Vision Tech, Profile Carbon X and Hed. This is not a ride review in the strictest sense of the word. I have only raced on one of these bars (Vision Tech) and ridden the Carbon X in training less than 500 miles. I have not ridden the Hed aerobar as it is brand new and has (as of this writing) only been in our store for a week.

This is a comparison of the features and benefits, drawbacks, installation considerations and weights of the various integrated aerobars. It is not an empirical examination of their aerodynamics: We don't have that capability. However, we will touch on this.

Let's look at each of these bars individually:


Vision Tech Pro: Better.


Hed Aerobar: Best. It's easy to imagine why these bars save big time over traditional aerobars. The wind sees very little.

Profile Carbon X.

The Carbon X has been around for three years, consistently refined and improved. The bar is an elegant marriage of aluminum and carbon fiber. They are made for Profile in Taiwan by a "Variety of vendors". Perhaps more than any other integrated bar the Carbon X has a proven track record.


Carbon X bars create a seamless melding of carbon fiber and aluminum.

Carbon X bars include an integrated handlebar stem. They are available in 40cm width according to Profile. We measured the width as 42.3 cm. from outside edge to outside edge of bullhorn base bar where you actually grip the bar. Profile's 40 cm measurement was obviously an attempt at center to center measurement. This is another example of why we verify manufacturer's measurements here in our store. They are frequently measured ineffectively or different than you may expect, changing the fit.

Profile claims the weight as 1000 grams. We went to some expense and trouble to buy a Tanita digital scale accurate to +/- 1 gram. We zeroed the scale, made sure the bars were clean and had packaging removed and weighed them with a pair of Dia-Compe 188 brake levers (to make an even comparison with Hed and Vision Tech- more in a minute). Our weight was 1180 grams exactly including Dia-Compe 188 brake levers. The brake levers themselves weighed 160 grams.

Profile Product Manager Mark Vandermolen says the Carbon X is designed with "As much adjustability as possible." Peter Reid and Joanna Zeiger, two athletes of totally different sizes use the same bar. Two stem lengths are shown on the Profile website and catalog, but the 120mm stem length will be delivered late in February accord to Profile. Both 1" and 1&1/8" steer tube versions are available using the shim system we normally see- one bar does both.


Top Pros like Chris McCormack use the race-proven Carbon X.

There is a lot of length adjustability in Carbon X bars. This includes the ability to use the aero extensions very high, above the base bars and with elbow risers. Realistically, if you are sitting this high the aero advantage of an integrated bar is likely lost anyway. If the aero extensions (where you put your hands while using aerobars) are adjusted far back then an excess of carbon bar protrudes rearward. Vandermolen told me it is OK to cut this excess provided there is still 3 cm. of bar protruding outside the clamp. Always be careful when cutting any component. Remember that modifying aerobars is NOT recommended and does void all warranties. Mark Vandermolen was careful to say you should never make any other modifications to the bars and I agree with him.


We felt the elbow pad adjustment on Carbon X did not go narrow enough. Profile plans to improve this in the future.

A word about adjustability in aerobars: In integrated units there needs to be some adjustability. However, I don't want to pay for and carry around all the holes, bolts, clamps and hardware necessary to fit Mini Me and Michael Jordan at the same time. I just want them to fit me. That's all. In fairness it is unreasonable to expect anyone (except Vision Tech, who does…) to make a bunch of different sizes. It's too expensive to make and too expensive for retailers to carry. When I have one pair of Carbon X bars in stock I have a full size run, and retailers appreciate that. Vision Tech is a lot less adjustable, but sold in sizes, and as a result a little more elegant (and expensive, and harder to get).

My experience and that of several of our customers is that we can't get the elbow pads on the Carbon X bars to get narrow enough. When I asked Mark about modifications we had seen on pros bikes he said, "I don't know about that… You should never modify your aerobars." In reality, Mark is married to quoting the company line, and he did that well. I do think the Carbon X needs a narrower adjustment for the elbow pads. Vendermolen told me that is in the works for future versions, as well as greater rearward adjustment of the elbow pads.


With lots of aerobar extension length adjustment you may want to remove the excess bar pointing rearward: Be careful. Cutting or modifying bars is dangerous and voids your warranty.

There is a 2-year recall of the ZB elbow pad bracket that was formerly used on the Carbon-X. It is important to point out this was not a recall of the Carbon X, but of the bracket used to fasten the elbow pad. All current versions use a new, fortified and welded bracket that is extremely strong. Profile Product Manager Mark Vandermolen told me there were less than 20 failures of this bracket, very, very few of them on Carbon X bars. Considering there are 8,452 bars in distribution using the ZB bracket (3,102 of which are Carbon X, according to the CPSC voluntary recall notice) this is a miniscule amount, only.238 percent (two hundred thirty eight thousandths of a percent).

I like the Carbon X, it is a good bar with a three year track record. It isn't the newest kid on the block, but it is the least costly at $349.99 and one of the lightest. I don't own or use the Carbon X because I like to have my elbow pads a little narrower and the base bars feel pretty darn wide to me. They also feel a tad bit "flexy" on the road when going hard out of the saddle or 'honkin on the aerobars. We do sell a fair number and I feel it is an excellent product considering it is three years old.


Considering their reasonable $349.99 price the Carbon X is impressive at only 1180 grams including Dia-Compe 188 brake levers.

Set-up with these is easy and straightforward: Zero problems. Be sure your cable lengths are correct and your housings and inners have been properly prepared.

Vision Tech Vision Pro.

I have done Ironman and several other triathlons on Vision Tech bars. They are excellent. All Vision Tech bars are hand made in the U.S. by Vision Tech. It is a lengthy process with super high quality control. The bars are an absolute work of art- flawless and sculpted. Look closely at the workmanship on these. Now look even closer…. These are like a Tiffany's diamond.


U.S. Postal Service used Vision Tech bars with another logo on them.

Vision Tech bars are all aluminum, composed of different casting and extrusions hand assembled and welded then aligned. The result is a super stiff pair of bars that make the front of your bike feel like granite but maintain excellent ride comfort.

Vision Tech set-up is difficult though. You must build your bike (effectively) around Vision Tech bars. The Vision Pro model uses a high stem extension negating the need for spacers and making the front all the more stiffer and more reliable. If you don't have enough fork steer tube left you are not going to able to use these bars. I am scared people will try to retro-fit these bars to existing bikes and forks and realize they don't have enough steer tube left on the fork then just try to wing it. Don't do that, it's dangerous. You must have enough steer tube inside the "quill" clamping portion of the Vision Tech stem.

Vision Tech bars are also primarily for riders who can maintain a good aero position for a long period of time. Newer versions allow a much more upright posture with improved comfort (but less body aerodynamics). Routing the cables on Vision Tech is easy and straightforward. There is not a ton of adjustment but what is there is adequate. Fitting them is tricky and it is easy to get bars that are too large. There are four sizes named Extra Small, Small, Medium and Large. Two widths are available called 40 cm and 42 cm measured center to center. We measured them at 43.5 cm outside edge to outside edge of base bars on the size called 42 cm. Several sizing accessories, such as risers, are available as well as a variety of elbow pads.


Relying completely on aluminum, the vision Tech Pro is the heaviest at 1322 with Dia Compe 188 brake levers.

Vision Tech bars tip the scales at 1322 grams, independently verified here with a pair of Dia-Compe 188 brake levers (again, more on that later). That is a bit portly at over 5 ounces heavier than a Profile Carbon X and Hed aerobar. To put that in perspective that is the same weight as four packages of Clif Shot energy gel (we weighed those too). However, If you've ever climbed Richter Pass at Ironman Canada with four packages of Clif Shot in your jersey pocket you know it is like carrying a raccoon on your back. A big fat raccoon. Yeah, 5 ounces can be a lot….

One criticism is the bullhorn base bars are angled downward too far. When you climb out of the saddle your upper torso is pretty low. I think Vision Tech needs to make a bar with flat base bar extensions. The current extensions have substantial "anhedral", so much so that the base bar position is too low. A flat version would be fantastic.


I like Vision Tech but would welcome a version with less drop at the base bars.

Don't hold your breath though. The guy who makes Vision Tech bars is a great guy and very interested in talking about his product. Too interested. I challenge you to have a short conversation with him. As a result of his meticulous nature (which makes the existing bars so good) new products are slow in coming and in short supply. This guy is a perfectionist. Nothing leaves his place until it is perfect. It took a long time (a year) to drag Vision Tech, kicking and screaming, into the 1&1/8" steer tube diameter world. Those bars are precious and in short supply.


Be sure there is enough fork steer tube in your "quill" clamping section of the Vision Techs.

You've seen Vision Tech bars used by Lance Armstrong a year and a half ago as well as the rest of U.S. Postal Team. Even when another handlebar manufacturer was sponsoring Postal they used Vision Tech on their Time Trial bikes with the sponsor's decals.

To Vision Tech's credit they are the only ones to really take a semi-credible attempt at talking about how much time you save using their bars. According to their website and the data depicted there you save about 1:40 (a minute forty seconds) at an average speed of 22 m.p.h. I can't verify that, but I buy it. Compared to using Syntace aerobars (separate Stratos and C-2 bars with a standard handlebar stem) you are paying about $2 per second of time savings. I used Vision Tech at Ironman Canada in 1999 and saved over 21 minutes in more difficult conditions than my 1997 race on the bike. Some of that was because I was more fit on the bike- a lot of it I know were these handlebars. They are faster- quite a bit faster.

Vision Tech bars retail for $499.99 and are very, very good. For the last two years they have been my integrated bar of choice. I know they offer a substantial time savings at Ironman distance and are mechanically rock-solid.

Hed Aerobar.

Oh, what was that sound? Hed hitting the ball way out of the park. Before I get into it I'll tell you up front: I think these are the best. Nope, I don't have a thousand miles on them. Or even one mile. But I know about aerobars and these blow the others away. They're the best.


Light, elegant, refined and super aero: Hed integrated aerobars are the current state-of-the-art.

In fairness to Profile and Vision Tech, Hed was wise enough to not be first or second. Sure, Profile has been able to sell several thousand of their Carbon X, which have been pretty easy to buy anywhere that sells Profile. Hed bars are like albino whale sharks right now: Rare and valuable. That is likely to change somewhat, but not much. Everyone wants these and they are hard (and expensive) to make. We tripled our order after we saw the first pair.


Hed took out what didn't belong: Look how minimal the grip section on the Hed bar is compared to Profile and Vision. This is true design elegance and they seem to work perfectly.

Why so good? They did their homework, or rather, Lance did their homework. Armstrong had considerable feedback on the design of these bars over about a one-year period. That's noteworthy since before Lance used a bar nearly identical to the current Hed bar he was using Vision Tech. So it would seem the Hed bars are the next phase of evolution after Vision Tech. In evolutionary vernacular Carbon X is Zinjanthropus, Vision Tech is Australopithecus and Hed made the leap to Homo Erectus. As is typical with much of Steve Hed's best work the results have been ripped off (but NOT duplicated) by other handlebar manufactures already. But they aren't anywhere near as nice as Hed.


The integrated brake levers are an impressive feature.

First off, the base bar is flat. Perfect. Especially perfect for Ironman. Second, the part you grip the base bars at was fashioned to feel like your brake lever hoods. That's what Armstrong wanted. It works. As I said, I haven't ridden these but I can tell you from handling them and working with them: They will feel awesome on a long, hilly course. There is also a little integrated brake lever in these. The cables come routed from Hed but the routing is not rocket science. The entire base bar is genius. Perfection is not when there is nothing else to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. Hed's approach to base bar design is minimalist. And it works.


The novel rotating "hinge" enables you to adjust the angle of the Hed bars. Elbow pads have two possible positions for width adjustment: That's all I need.

The unique thing about these is there is just enough adjustment for angle and length. There is currently no provision for height of the elbow pad on the aerobar, but that is not necessary because of the one unique feature that makes the Hed bar so nice:

You can use any standard 26.0 inside diameter front-clamping stem. That means these bars are more versatile for fit and compatibility than any other integrated bar. You can use any stem. Awesome.


Adjusting the Hed aerobar actually makes it even lighter. However, this is a"measure twice, cut once" situation to avoid mistakes.

Furthermore, there is an overall level of sophistication with these bars. The hardware is precisely long enough to do the job: No longer. Nothing is wasted. Adjustments for angle are achieved through a brilliant little hinge built into the base bar. The elbow pads have a textured surface to prevent a wet elbow from sliding around after the swim exit and give you better traction on the pad. The whole design and execution are clean and well conceived.

My only criticism is also a complement: To accurately size the aero extension you must cut it to your preferred length. That means once you adjust it you can't make it longer. Measure twice- cut once. For me, that is the way it should be. I don't want to carry the extra weight of adjustability with these. But I do think some people will cut these too short and think "Oh sh&%!". Even for them though, replacement extensions are available.

At this time there is one size available for width and length. As I mentioned, you cut it to length but there is no provision for width. Doesn't bother me- this width is fine.

The reason we weighed the other aerobars in this article with brake levers is because Hed includes brake levers in their base bar. To make an equal comparison with Vision Tech and Profile Carbon X we added brake levers to those and then added a Ritchey Pro handlebar stem to the Hed aerobars when weighing them. We picked this stem since it is largely representative of a good quality, high-end aluminum stem. Including the stem the Hed aerobar weighed 1176 grams in our store. You could go much lighter though if you wanted to. The stem itself weighed 178 grams but there are stems as light as 100 grams. That could result in a 78 gram, 2.78 ounce weight savings. You also would be shaving a few more grams since you wouldn't use handlebar tape on the base bar section of the Hed bars, but I did on both the Carbon X's and Vision Techs I used. I know, we're splitting hairs- but someone will ask…. Once again, any way you look at it- Hed is the lightweight leader.

I have no aero data to support this, but I wager they are the most aerodynamic too. There just isn't much handlebar here. AS viewed from the front the bars virtually disappear, not unlike the Vision Tech, but much less bulky that the Carbon X.

The biggest thing about these bars to me is they will be functional for the type of racing we are doing around here. I am using them at Ironman Wisconsin. I know I will be able to climb well on these. Unlike the Vision Techs you don't have to bend over as far to get into the climbing position. Nice.

Final Thoughts.

For the purposes of comparison we put a Syntace Stratos base bar, Syntace C-2 aerobar, pair of Dia-Compe 188 brake levers and a Ritchey stem on the scale also. The combination weighed 1002 grams. That's lighter than any of the integrated systems- but that isn't the point with an integrated bar. Incidentally, Syntace claimed their small C-2 clip-on weighed 370 grams and we got 394. That's almost a one once discrepancy. Yes, we checked our scale, yes, we measured three pairs. They were all within 1 gram of each other.


A basic Syntace aerobar and bullhorn set-up with Ritchey stem and Dia-Compe 188 brake lever is inexpensive and light, but not nearly as aerodynamic as the integrated aerobar systems.

The purpose of integrated aerobars is not to save weight. It is to go faster by improving aerodynamics. And they do work. I put the total time savings at about the same as race wheels. That is a big improvement.

There are other integrated aerobars on the way- or so their manufactures say. Easton showed an impressive prototype at Interbike Las Vegas 2002 but has yet to deliver any production examples. Oval Concepts, John Cobb's new component company, has also shown the new A700 aerobar that will sell for under $400 and is supposed to be quite light. None have been delivered as of this date, but it appears they will be arriving at U.S. distributors within the next 15 days. Syntace briefly showed an integrated aerobar concept called The Blackbird but has not moved much beyond concept phase as of this date.

Integrated aerobars are a big upgrade for any triathlon bike. You will go faster. There is no denying that integrated aerobars also say, "I've got the best stuff, no compromises". And for some people there is a lot of value in that too.

For me, I think they are a viable upgrade that makes racing easier, faster, and more fun.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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