Highlights Magazine; Google image

As a kid, one of my favorite magazines was Highlights. For those readers who are under the age of 30, this may be foreign to you. However, for you who were born in the late 60’s or 70’s, you know exactly what I mean. As soon as I got a new copy, I would seek out the “What’s Wrong?” page and  go to town!
Last week’s posting (The ABCs of Group Riding) touched on a few topics related to safety in group rides. This week we will take a look at the sensitive subject of aerobars in group rides. The photo used was a very nice shot of a long pace line as the group was tearing through the the flats of central Florida.

Credit: Spacecoast Freewheelers

What’s wrong with this picture? The number two man in line is in aero position in what appears to be a time trial bike. Two eagle-eyed readers caught the ‘mistake’ that I  planted. Now that it’s out in the open, let’s take a look at this potential hazard of riding in aero position within a group.
The Purpose of Aerobars
Positioning is critical in time trials, endurance events, triathlon, crits and road racing.  Each discipline has its own unique set up to benefit the cyclist for speed, comfort or bike handling ability.The aero design was developed to put the rider into a lower position to reduce wind resistance, enabling him to go faster on rides 25 miles or less. In these races comfort takes a back seat to speed. Aerobars are best used in time trials and triathlon events when drafting is not a concern. Generally, the use of aerobars is frowned upon in group rides as they inhibit the cyclist’s maneuverability in braking and bike handling; many crashes have occurred while riders have been in this position in rides / races.

Credit: Buddy Verderber

Group -vs- Individual 
One of the main purposes for riding in a group is to conserve energy. We use each other to draft, to block the wind and to share the work load. However, along with these benefits comes great responsibility to look after each others’ safety. We owe it to our riding partners to look out for their well-being. Aero-position riding, particularly on a time trial set up is not benefiting the group; it benefits the individual. Remember that group riding is for the good of the group. If you want to work on your speed or in aero position, it would benefit you more if you do it on your own.
Clip Ons, Tri Bikes and Elbow Riding

Clip on aerobars are less offensive on group rides since they are short and the rider may still use the drops and brakes in a typical fashion. However, a time trial bike set up is less welcome on a group ride as the rider’s position is specific to helping that individual and not to helping the group. The rider’s balance, braking ability and reaction time are much different than on a road bike set up. An exception: team time trials, which can not be mistaken for a standard group ride as we know it! Let’s leave that one to the professionals.

There are riders who have put in the time and mileage in to ride with their elbows on the handlebars while on flats on their own. While this may be okay to do within a small group who is comfortable with each other, in a larger group or with unknown skills of other riders within the group, it simply is not worth the risk. It can be unsettling to other riders and, again, puts group safety second to individual comfort.

This short clip shows a crash of a rider while in aero position. It has been said that a broken spoke caused the wreck. No matter the cause, look at how reaction time is delayed due to his aero positioning.
Final Thoughts
If all you have is a tri bike, does that mean you should not ride in a group? Not necessarily. Know your group. Know yourself. Know the safety considerations. Be alert and perhaps stay in the back of the group. Look back at the linked photo mentioned in paragraph two. How many riders would this chap take out of he went down? Are you willing to take that chance? Think about the purpose of group riding, the purpose of aero positioning and decide for yourself whether or not the two mesh. Above all – be safe!