Read this first about our reviews
The ultimate hot-rod accesory: Integrated
||Profile Carbon X with
Dia-Compe 188 Brake Levers (Stem Integrated)
||Vision Tech Pro with Dia Compe 188 Brake
Levers (Stem Integrated)
||Hed Aero Bar with Ritchey
Stem (Brake Lever Integrated)
||Syntace C-2, Stratos Base Bars, Ritchey
Stem, Dia-Compe 188 Brake Levers
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Be sure there is enough fork steer
tube in your "quill" clamping section of the Vision
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.
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
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.
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
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.