Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Syntace C3 Aerobars - 1st Impressions

(see 1 year after report here)

(Artist's rendering of the "Johnny Cash" bridge without chainlink bike barrier)

After days of welcome rain, the skies cleared yesterday, and with temps in the low 60s I headed out for a nice 33 mile ride from my front door to Beal's Point at Folsom Dam. It was the first good outing for my new Syntace C3 aerobars with the "Double Helix Bend" kinkiness that is supposed to support better climbing and produce less shoulder and upper back stress. If nothing else, they'd make great sock drying racks.

The new bridge gives us bikers on the American River Parkway Trail - bought, built and maintained by bikers for bikers at the turn of the last century - our own spectacular underpass. No more weaving through construction zones, forests of orange hazard cones, movable chainlink barriers, and the occasional earthmover or three. There is an 8' tall chainlink barrier, with rolls and rolls of razor-wire on top to keep Al Queda from blowing the bridge supports (roll eyes), but that barrier is all that will keep you from falling head-first 200" into the river below. It makes for a breathtaking view I just have to get some photos of.

I couldn't help myself, and did a bit of racing near the bottom of the descent. The trail is rough and broken in places, but once the descent straightened out a bit I was able to catch and pass my rival. In spite of braking and killing most of my speed to avoid a head-on collision, I ended up on the wheel of a pair of riders I passed going up a short hill. Riding together and drafting into a decent 10mph headwind, they caught me a half mile later. I was surprised how long it took them to rejoin me, and pleased I could pull them for another mile or so before tiring. We took turns at the front of the draft until they peeled off at Hazel St and headed for the Nimbus Fish Hatchery.

The wind along the west side of the lake is pretty strong, getting funneled into a narrows flanked by a steep embankment of 150ft or so. The effect of the aerobars was pretty obvious there, and later as I powered home on the bike trail from Hazel to Sunrise.

My upper back is a bit sore today as the hunched position seems to have aggravated an old injury sustained in an auto accident, but not cripplingly so. I have hated ALL of the aerobars I have tried before, but these are much kinder on the back and I am really liking them, so I hope the back strain issues will not prevent me from using them. Part of the problem is my unfamiliarity with them, which is causing me to ride tensed. I kept catching myself and relaxing during the ride. So much nicer riding relaxed.

The climb up to Beal's is from 5-9% grade, and I did all of that climbing in the aerobars. My neighbor who is riding Syntace SLS bars warned me I would not be able to climb in the bars, so I was quite happy he was proved wrong. They are also quite stable in turns, and I think that is because having the elbow pads behind the main bar, the normal biometric motions that make for turning left or right work as expected.

My goals for the bars were to increase my average riding speed, and to get an alternative, comfortable position for long, flat rides. We have a lot of very flat land around Sacramento if you ride down-river, as indicated in my ATOC coverage. Of course, if you head up river you are into some very serious mountains in 15-20 miles. I am happy to report that these bars provide a VERY comfortable position to ride in - cushy even. I find myself favoring these bars when the road gets rough or broken because the combo of the fork, stem, bars, and bar pads makes for a Lazy-Boy recliner comfortable ride - even over 2-3" asphalt washboard.

I made a few changes after a trial ride as follows.
  1. Moved the seat back 7mm
  2. Lowered the nose of the seat 5-7mm
  3. Raised the tips of the aerobars 30mm
The aerobars are mounted as far apart as I can get them on my FSA wing handlebars, and the pads are within 5mm of their widest position, which produces a nice clean line at the end of the pad mounts. I have wide shoulders, so I am riding a 46cm bar with "lots" of drop - not that any of the current crop of Wunder Bars seems to have much drop. Riding in the drops on a bar with classic drop dimensions will add 1-1.5mph to your speed, more in the wind, but gimmicks such as shallow drops and short reaches seem to be ruling marketing departments right now. At any rate, I opted for the full drop bars, not the compact bars.

Assuming my low back flexibility issues won't prevent it, I'll probably flip my stem to get the aerobars into a lower position, as I think they are still a bit too high. I wouldn't mind having the drops be actual drops, and if I don't have to ride in them too much, in favor of riding on the hoods or on the aerobars, I think I will have a better set of trade-offs. I'm also considering a front brake handle on the left bar and rear shifter on the right bar so I have my most important controls on the aerobars. The danger seems to be during the transition from the main bars to the aeros and back, so I'd like to eliminate as many of those transitions as possible.

I have thought about going to a long, droop-nosed saddle for climbing, and the forward position those saddles are designed to support, but that purchase has been escalated now because the forward position, and more position choices in general, are needed with the aerobars. At this point I can see myself spending 80% of my riding time in the aerobars, if the injury history of my upper back and shoulder allows it. Spending that much time in a more streamlined position will help on long Century rides - long on the clock - and plowing through strong headwinds out in the Delta this summer.

In summary, in spite of a long layoff due to rains, using these bars made for one of the fastest and most comfortable rides yet up to Beal's point, and with a little luck, will prove a great addition to my bag of riding tricks. I highly recommend the C3 aerobars.

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