Thursday, 5 September 2013

FrankenBike Pt. 2: Testing the New "Accoutrement"!

If you recall, I wrote a brief piece a couple of weeks back about some *ahem* modifications I was making to my bike to assist in the overall experience of riding long distances offroad.  For those who don't know what aero bars are, here they are:

Seen far more commonly on $10,000 carbon team racing bikes, the looks that these garner when attached to knobby-tired bike are priceless.  For long distance riding though, enduro riders swear by them.  If you watch the Ride the Divide film, or check out any blogs written by TD riders past and present, these contraptions are not only essential from a physiological perspective (it is heaven taking your hands off the grips for a bit...absolute heaven!) but do a great job at holding up a roll bag on the handlebar.  And the cherry on top of the sundae?  They also take gadgets like lighting, GPS, or a trip computer off the handlebar; which by now, I'm sure has already gotten pretty crowded with the brake levers, shifters, bell, light, trip computer, strapped down dancing hula girl, adds room and comfort.  AND (this is like finding a second prize in a box of Cracker Jacks!)...they apparently due a great job as a clothes rack for drying out gloves, socks, and anything else that might, and will, get wet on the trail.

I had the opportunity two weekends ago (Ed. Sorry for the late has been crazy lately and I haven't been able to write.) to get out for my first distance ride in about 2.5 weeks.  While not an epic ride by any stretch, it was nice to squeeze 50 km out of the old legs.  Again nothing overwhelming (I left from Cambridge to go to Paris on the rail trail like I did about 6 weeks back), but it did give me a chance to try out the new bars AND see my daughter play in a soccer tournament, so...yay!  So without further ado, on to the product.

The Bars: Profile Design T1+ Aluminum Aero Bars

  • Multi-position ski bend extensions suitable for triathlon or time trial
  • 6061-T6 aluminum extensions and forged brackets
  • Injection molded F-19™ length, width, and rotationally adjustable anatomic armrests
  • Equipped with “J2” Brackets™ for an adjustable lower arm position
  • 503 grams

  • First Impressions: The model I ordered were the Profile Design T1+ aluminum with the "ski-type" bend to them.  There are probably 20 different models to choose from in all sorts of configurations and layouts.  They even produce the bars in carbon - superlight materials for superlight riders with a penchant to look really, really fast.  I chose the T1+s not for scientific purposes, but because they work...or at least they've worked for most people as they are areconstantly featured on several gear lists for past TD riders.  My other logic was this: I felt that the bend in the bar would likely allow me to alter my riding position even further.  One thing that did surprise me, but probably shouldn't have, was the weight.  I'm not sure what I was expecting, but these things are quite light.  I'll bet the farm that the carbon versions are ridiculously void of excess fat, but the cost-weight ratio wasn't significant enough for me to justify the added cost.  These are more than satisfactory.

    Set-Up: Once word - tricky.  Out of the package, everything seems relatively straightforward, but with the miniscule instruction sheet (side note - As a technical writer, I abhore whoever wrote this manual and urge my brethren around the world to seek out the culprit and flog them with a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style!), the installation was a bit more of a challenge than I had thought.  The initial trouble was caused by the placement of the clamps on my handlebars, which in the centre start out at 31.8 mm and taper off towards the shifters.  Unfortunately, this gives a somewhat narrow profile and one that may cause a braod-shouldered fella like myself some consternation.  Once I finally figured out what my outer threshold was, I began to tighten the clamps to a point where I could then stand back and gauge the horizontal plane in relation to the rest of the bike.  I had to imagine what the best riding angle would be without actually being on the bike.  Can you see where this might get a bit frustrating?  Did I mention that the bars are also adjustable laterally - meaning I could slide the bars further back towards the saddle, something that many riders do as a result of the riding position on a mountain bike?  Sounds all sorts of technical, huh?

    The long story here is that setting up aero bars in this nature is trial-and-error type of process.  I had to get on the bike, lower myself into that riding position and see if this was something that I could live with.  So I did exactly that.

    Test Ride #1: Prior to loading the bike into the car, I took a quick spin around my parking lot using only the bars.  Snug at the elbows, this was my first ever attempt at riding in this position.  Understanding that tweaking needed to be made, it wasn't too bad.  A bit narrow, and a bit low, but this also made me consider a couple of things about how I ride.  First, it is entirely possible that my saddle position is too high.  I felt like I was bent forward too far to fully reach the ends of the bars.  This may be the vertical position of the ends, or perhaps the angle of the bar in relation to my seating position.  Or, as mentioned, maybe I was sitting too high.  Second, I hadn't adjusted the arm pads yet, which can supenate outwards.  For a guy like myself with broad shoulders, rotating them outwards might be a bit more comfortable.  So far so good...

    Test Ride #2:  I didn't get these bars to ride on the road.  I needed dirt.  Now, I don't expect anyone to use these while riding technical trails such as Hydrocut or Kelso unless you have a death wish.  These bars are not meant to supplement technical riding in any way, shape, or form.  They are meant for the long haul.  That being said, I took off down the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail with a bit of momentum and quickly shot outfront on the bars.  Without the aforementioned adjustments, riding on uneven gravel in this fashion was a recipe for disaster.  I knew immediately that adjustments had to be made.  Because of the position I was in, I was set at an angle that didn't allow me to fully power the bike ahead.  I was too low, and as such started to lose speed.  Also, because of the narrow wind-resistent profile I was striking, any nudge or rut would have caused me to topple.  Not something that I wish to have happen when isolated in the Rockies.

    All told, I'm happy with the addition.  As you can tell by the photo I have a bit of tweaking and adjusting to make.  The arm rests have to be readjusted.  The angle of the bars have to be realligned, and I'll likely be putting some cork bar tape on the ends to make the grip a little more robust and comfortable.  It looks like a strange arrangement, having aero bars on a knobby, but for those long stretches that I have to ride, taking the pressure off my hands will sure make a world of difference.  I'm planning a ride this upcoming weekend...I'll let you know how things turn out.

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