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Aero Road Bikes—Are They For You?

April 3, 2012

Us road riders have shown a growing concern with aerodynamics since at least 1989 when Greg LeMond won the Tour de France over Laurnet Fignon by 58 seconds in the final stage time trial. Since then, the advent of aero wheels, helmets, and even clothing specifically designed for road racing as opposed to time trialing has grown exponentially. While many of the aerodynamic advancements have come from the world of triathlon, it wasn’t until fairly recently that road bikes themselves became more like their time trial and tri cousins. And while a certain multisport bike company brought what many see as the original aero road bike to market, now nearly every major vendor has an aero road offering creating yet another category of road bikes for riders to consider.

Let’s consider the aero road bike. First and foremost, it is a road bike. That generally means that we’re talking about a bike whose geometry is best suited not for extended periods in a “stretched out on aero bars” position, but one where hand and body position change given the terrain, rider preference, and ride or race situation. Similarly, the aero road bike doesn’t place a pure premium on aerodynamics, rather it strives to add aerodynamics to the balance of ride quality, stiffness—after all these are primarily seen as race bikes particularly upper end models—and weight, as in lightweight. Sure a given aero road bike could potentially be more aerodynamic but that would likely have to come at the expense of some other attribute that road riders can’t or won’t want to sacrifice. The aero road bike has to go fast in straight line for sure, but it has also got to corner at high speeds, descend, accelerate, and climb like any other road bike.

Cervelo's S5 is their latest aero road offering and the most recent descendant of the original aluminum Soloist.

Aero road bikes also have to meet certain requirements for the sport’s governing body. While the triathlon world thrives on technological advancements, road cycling has rules whereby bike shapes and tube sizes have to be within certain parameters. Whether out of tradition or to make sure that it’s the rider not the machine, those rules are what they are. If you’re going to race a national level or international event, your bike has to comply. As a result, manufacturer’s offerings are constrained to those requirements.

Of course, very few of us are ever going to race at a national level event, much less an international one. But, many of us not only ride on the road we may enter an area road race occasionally, like to compete in the local weekly time trial series, or do a couple of triathlons a year. Or maybe we’re passionate roadies and early adopters of new technologies and are willing to try a new product for the potential gain we’ll see in our performance on our local club ride. Any of these situations make the aero road bike an excellent alternative to another “standard” road bike offering.  Why? Because it’s basically two bikes for the price one.

Specialized's S-Works McLaren Venge is the pinnacle aero road offering from the Big S.

Like my favorite piece of Fall cycling clothing—the convertible jacket—the aero road bike can, with a little work, convert itself into a capable if not actual time trial or triathlon bike. Many companies’ aero road bikes not only take design cues for tube shapes from their TT and tri models but they also utilizes features that make the aero road bike model a capable machine against the clock. This, to my thinking, makes them ideal bikes for the passionate road cycling enthusiast. Sure the truly dedicated road racer that has a TT bike and who specializes in the late-race breakaway can likely benefit from an aero road bike. But the rider who has a budget for one bike, but wants to take on a Central Texas stage race, both road and tri races, or who simply wants another available means to go faster will undoubtedly gain more value from the aero road bike.

Stay tuned for some reviews and thoughts on our aero road bike offerings from Cervelo and Specialized. In the meantime, next time in you’re in the shop, take a look at Cervelo’s S series bikes or the Specialized Venge–you might be looking at your next bike.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. George permalink
    April 3, 2012 12:24 pm

    I think there was a typo. You mean two bikes for the price of ten? At least in the case of the Mclaren Venge.

    • djcurtin permalink
      April 3, 2012 12:36 pm

      Thank you for reading, George! Ok. So the McLaren S-Works Venge is an extreme example in terms of cost! But like the S5 from Cervelo, the Venge comes in various build options at different prices. The shot of the McLaren build was just too tempting to not use in the piece! Have a great day!

    • May 21, 2017 5:20 am

      That’s an expert answer to an ineetrsting question

    • May 31, 2017 3:57 pm

      Hi and thanks for posting!In Portuguese a picture book can be called um livro ilustrado, or um álbum / álbum ilusrado. However the academics like to differentiate between fiction / non-fiction, so they sometimes use álbum narativo. Álbum has other connotations, and the Portuguese definition includes that it is hardback. Livro ilustrado is too like illustrated book, which is not a picture book! Bit tricky really, but I hope that helps.Sandie

  2. April 5, 2012 12:25 am

    Interesting take on the new aero models. If nothing else they look gorgeous, but I question whether they have a real impact on the average cyclist. Outside of the mental and emotional boost that you would get from riding such a hot bike I don’t think that the aero design will really amount to much of an increase in speed or effort given.

    I really enjoyed reading this though.

    • djcurtin permalink
      April 5, 2012 2:30 am

      Shawn: Thanks a bunch for reading! There is something to be said for the aero properties of this “new” wave of bikes (there have been “aero” bikes in the past primarily in appearance only) improving the performance of a given rider. When tested independently, these bikes show a reduction in drag and thus a reduction in effort required to propel the bike at a given rate. Having said that of course, different riders will, presumably, get a different advantage. Someone whose physical characteristics are themselves fairly aero, whose clothing fits particularly well, and has a fairly low position on the bike will likely benefit more than someone with a more upright riding position with a jersey that’s perhaps too big. Still though, the reduction in drag on the bike is still a reduction (I presume) and therefore there is likely some benefit. But as you put it, I imagine there is a phycological boost as well. Just a quick spin on one of these bikes and I felt fast! I’m going to spend some time on a couple of them and give a (very unscientific) report on my ride impressions in the coming weeks. If nothing else, it’ll be fun! Thanks again for reading and glad you enjoyed it!

    • April 11, 2012 9:50 pm

      I’m very fortunate, to have two nice road bikes. One of them has a carbon frame, is light weigh, handles well, and is very comfortable to ride. This is my Cervelo R3, my favorite bike. The other was mentioned in this post, a Cervelo Soloist; I bought it used and cheap, in an aluminum frame, to commute to and from work on. I need a metal bike for that, because I have to leave it locked up all day outside the building.

      In a straight line, the old Soloist is faster than the new R3, by about 1.5 to 2 mph at 25 mph.

      • May 21, 2017 6:10 am

        Talviflunssan torjunta-aseina on hunaja (lusikallinen aamuisin), luomu-rooibos -tee, kaurapuuro karpaloilla, smoothiet hedelmistä ja marjoista (c-vitamiini), tofu-kookoskeitto, joka sisältää mm. valkosipulia, marinoitua tofua, inkivääriä, chiliä, ba/pettia/parunaataorkkanaa tmv. kasviksia/juureksia ja kookosmaitoa… Ja jos flunssa silti meinaa iskeä, niin itsetehty fishermans friend -shotti minttuviinaan on aika tujaus, joka on hädän hetkellä ollut pettämätön! Melkoinen arsenaali, jolla flunssat ovat pysyneet poissa jo usean vuoden ajan – ja toivottavasti pysyvät jatkossakin. 🙂

  3. April 11, 2012 9:47 pm

    Your description of aero road bikes is very romantic; you make them sound like the hero in a Greek epic poem. I like. 😀

  4. djcurtin permalink
    April 13, 2012 6:43 pm

    Thank you for reading, Forest! Sounds like you really like Cervelo! I’ve owned an R3 in the past–great bike and a lot of fun to ride on rougher roads and uphill! Enjoy your bikes and thanks again for checking out our blog!

    • May 21, 2017 5:12 am

      Do you have more great areltics like this one?

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