Saturday, March 20, 2010

Syntace C3 Aerobars: 1 Yr After

It's been about a year since I got my aerobars, and they have turned out to be a god-sent for my sore wrists, wrist numbing, and getting me home when the local Delta Breeze (15-20mph) kicks up in the summer. This was the 3rd kind of aerobar I tried. I hated the other two so much I removed them. The last set were Profile Designs, the other brand I don't recall. It's the shape and mounting system I love about the Syntace C3s. Oh, and the bombproof quality.

The sales info on Syntace's English site is terrible, and their assembly instructions still worse, so I was not surprised when someone considering them wrote and asked me for an in-depth evaluation, and details of my computer mounting system.

There has been a debate raging in my club about the safety of aerobars, and I had been considering writing a follow-up piece anyway, so the request came at an opportune time. I wrote Syntace and offered to write their English site for them in return for products, but they refused. A pretty stupid move given how crap their docs are.

In this view you can see I have swapped brake  cables. This allows me to keep my left arm planted, and avoid the instability and weight shift attendant with moving your arms. Having 9-10 gears AND your front brake in your right hand is a huge help in general, and especially with aerobars.  I was also able to remove about 3" of brake cable, which gives the front brake lever a lot more feel, allows for a very supple modulation of the front brake, and tremendous power if you need it.
(The front brake had to be in the left hand when using downtube shifters, because the right hand is a LONG ways from the brake handle when shifting. This requirement vanished with the introduction of paddle shifters. Sheldon Brown was a fan of swapping, and the women's road racing champ in Beijing had hers swapped.)

This is your view of the world when riding in the aerobars. My Garmin's signal quality went from good to excellent with no metal to interfere with the GPS signals, and the wireless sensors' ANT+ signals never get lost now. I used more vinyl tubing over the zip ties this time to get more grip, as the tubing not only protects the surface, but is quite sticky when compressed like this. I'm not crazy about the red zip ties though. I might go back to black.

As you can see , this mount is extremely aerodynamic, having almost no frontal area at all. You can adjust the position of the Garmin to get rid of glare by just moving it around. The mount will pretty much stick where you place it. This mount also creates a clean airflow for the altitude sensor, which works off of barometric pressure.

At speed, having it mounted on the top of the stem will put it in a low-pressure zone created by the slope of the stem - throwing off the barometric altimeter. It's much easier to read being this far forward, and provides a stop for your arm when you bring it up onto the bar. You might also notice I have applied skate tape to the ends of the bars to keep my hands from slipping off the ends. Even when my gloves are 'greasy' from being soaked with sweat, this grip is bomb-proof. It's also very reflective as it turns out, which is a plus at night.

This is a pre skate-tape view of the cockpit. I have moved the mounts out as wide as these FSA K-Wing bars will allow, as I have a 47" chest and the shoulders to go with it. I'm considering moving them in a bit on the bar and pushing the pads out though to get a more comfortable position. Always another tweak in the endless cycle of body adapts to machine adapts to body.

A close-up of the zip tie mounting of the Garmin. The mount is a 30mm piece of steering tube sawed off a friend's carbon fork. Ultra light, very strong, and invisible to radio signals. Also note the detail of the C3's mounting on the main bar. The workmanship is just fantastic. Look at that gorgeous weld! You can make a little cleaner profile than I have here by pulling the zip-tie ends up so they're in front of the lower part of the Garmin's body.

I used a needle-nosed Vice-Grip to pull the zip ties tight. You will likely have to work to get the clear plastic tubing positioned correctly on the ties as you tighten them. To get the zip ties through the tubing, lay a book on it to flatten it into the same general flat shape of the zip ties. I tend to cut the tubing a little long, so had to cut 3-4 ties off with a set of wire dykes and try again. The zip ties I got from Kragen Auto Parts. Nothing special. Don't be surprised if you break a tie or two, but you will do better if you pull the ties a few inches away from the catch when pulling them tight.

This should give you some idea how much space is between the main bar and the Syntace bar. Once you get used to it, it makes a pretty good hold when reaching for water bottles or coasting. I have also learned to jam my hand under the ends of the aerobars while hanging onto the ends of the main bar when going over rough road with just one hand on the bar. It is IMPOSSIBLE to have your hand ripped off the bars with such a grip.

When climbing you can get a pretty standard bar-top close hold by placing your hands so the middle of your palm is bisected by the inside edge of the pad, and then wrapping your fingers around the front of the main bar. It feels a little flakey at first, but in time you'll come to trust it, and climbing efficiency will be as good as with flip-up pads.

A closeup of the width markings. Each end can be adjusted 50mm in or out.

A close-up of the zip ties showing how the Garmin mount is first tied to the carbon fiber tube, and then the tube is tied to the aerobar. Note the way the vinyl tubing is pinched between the tube and the bars. This is very important in keeping the mount stuck where you position it. I have never had it move, no matter how rough the road, and that was before adding the extra tubing across the outside and top of the aerobar.

Access to the width adjustment bolt is given by ripping the replaceable pads out of the Velcro-surfaced pad cradle and loosening the 5mm bolt. It never even thinks about moving. Rock solid, even over very rough road. In fact, for really rough road it is my favorite riding position as the Syntace bars have just a bit of give in them, and the pads absorb a lot of road chop.

FSA offers another mounting option for computers they call the Control Center. It clamps around the main bar right against the stem. I am going to use this to mount a MagicShine light below the bars, but for a computer you would position it above the bar. It's not as streamlined, as far forward, nor as sturdy, but it creates needed separation between the light and the aerobars. If you get one of these don't use the included bolts - use a zip tie. Stronger and doesn't rely on the strength of the plastic clamp material. The zip tie has it's own strength and is just squeezing the 'clamp' - which is then completely passive.

I don't have my bars mounted in a real aero way, as avoiding wrist pain was the primary motivation for getting them. They have exceeded my expectations in this area too. As for speed, they add about 1.5 to 2.5 mph at speeds from 19-25 mph.

When drafting, make it a loose 5-10 ft draft unless you know the locomotive pretty well, or he is obviously well versed in pacelines. You will find if you talk to someone you are drafting off of that you aren't sucking on them very much, even with a tight 2-3ft draft. You also aren't going to provide a great draft for someone sucking on your wheel.

In particular, your draft won't be very deep, so expect people to draft you closely in a stiff headwind. It's important to be very smooth and keep your eyes looking up the road in either case. I have never had a complaint about the shallow draft. Everyone is just very happy they don't have to buck those heavy winds alone. If you slow down enough, you can make a lot of friends! In my case, I rarely get to ride with others anymore as I am just blowing right by them. However, when I do get company it's from strong, competent riders and that makes for a lot of fun, high-speed riding. Here's my response to objections raised by my riding club.
The reason they don't allow aerobars in most pro races is because they have huge peletons to draft off of, they ride in close quarters all the time, and it would shorten the race so less event time to sell ads during. I don't use them in close quarters either, and when on club rides, usually only use them when out in front.

This brings up an important point though, just because you have them mounted doesn't mean you have to use them. Especially when drafting in them I am aware of how technical the course is and will come out of the bars when the course gets twisty, bumpy, steep or when approaching traffic.

I haven't noticed a core strength issue, but they do require a few weeks for your upper back and shoulders to get used to. On the other hand, the C3 Syntace bars have so little to do with other aerobars there are limits to making generalizations. If I'm careful to keep my knees to the bar I can crank out 5-600 watts in my aerobars without rocking the bike, but that much power does take some core.

My advice to anyone getting aerobars is to ride alone for a few rides first and then be cautious for a month or so. The biggest adaptation is in where you look going through turns. You have to look further up the trail. In part this is due to the longer riding position inhibiting sharp turns, and in part it's because you're going faster.

As for crashes, I know riders who have ridden in them for years without any accidents. I've had mine for a year now and the only close calls I've had were times I wasn't in the aerobars, but in traffic on the hoods. I did run over a pointed rock on the way down from Monitor Pass and punctured my back tire at 55+mph in my aerobars and got stopped OK. Scary, and I'm sure there was some luck involved there, but having more weight on the front wheel likely helped me there.

One thing I have noticed is I can watch the road better than in the drops, where it's taxing to hold your head up all the time. This is especially helpful when on the bike trail going through turns with oncoming traffic. I can watch them the whole way through the turn.
You can mount parallel brake and shift levers on most aerobars if you like, but I chose not to. The time it takes to get to the brakes or shifters is less than from downtube shifters, and at least for me, less than from the drops.

You can always call out obstacles to anyone riding so close that you are covering the road ahead of them. A loud barking 'WHOOT' works very well. The last time I caught an orange plastic road post in the groin there were a half dozen riders riding without aerobars who said nothing. I bark 'GLASS' all the time from aerobars.
I disagree that they are unsafe in any way, and think they are an excellent idea, especially for thin, lightweight riders. Professional riders use them all the time in TTs, including team TTs, where they are riding with 5-6 riders drafting each other, and are not complaining about them being dangerous. They are also used almost exclusively by Tri Athletes, and again, no complaints about safety.
In summary, I see it as just another body position to be used appropriately. For long training rides, touring, double centuries or those with hand numbing problems, they are a god-sent.
Sizes: S(12.5-14"), M(14-15"), L(15"+)

For sizing, place arm on table, and measure from table top to top of fist. Using this measurement, find which size range it falls into. Mine is a medium.

UPDATE: 5/14/2011 
Minor editing, and I removed the caution about the mount failing if the zip-ties fall off. After 2+ yrs, and 3 crashes without issue, this mount is at least as tough as any other on planet Earth. I've even, on occasion, stuck my finger in the mounting tube when climbing and it hangs tough. At the end of the day, time is the best test of durability. 


Stephanie Gehrsitz said...

Roy, I don't know what is what here!!! LOL!

I hope you are enjoying yourself and are having a wonderful spring time:-)

Grey Beard said...

Yes, the weather is beautiful, and I have been riding a lot during the week. Was looking forward to a ride to Rescue today, but took some allergy meds that put me in la-la land, so hoping to do that tomorrow.

I was having fun geeking out on all the bike bling. At least Google search has found this post, so I may get some notice for all my work.

Btw, with your body type you would benefit a lot from aerobars, assuming you ever get into road biking.

Hope you are having fun and getting in some good training too.

Espidi said...

Good review.

Thanks for the pics.

Are durable the pads?

Grey Beard said...

Thanks Espidi. I'm glad you found it helpful. It was a hassle to interrupt the work to take pics all the time, but I'm happy with the result - especially since you are.

The pads are durable, and replaceable. It's a good idea to wash them in anti-bacterial soap and warm water from time to time. Especially in the summer, they get dirty and salt-caked, and with bare arms that isn't a good thing.

Espidi said...

Hello Roy,

I need your help again.

I don't know which size to purchase because I am at the limit of two sizes.

I am worry about my elbows weren't on the middle of the pads.

In the diagram of that link, Syntace specifies the length from the end of the clip to the axis of the handlebar. If it were the length from the end to the middle of the pads, it would be easier for me to find my size.

So, which is the size of yours?

Which is the length from the end of the clip to the middle of the pads?

Or if you prefer, which is the total length, from one end to the other one?

Maybe the length between the axis of the handlebar and the middle (or the end) of the pads be the same in all sizes.

Best regards.

Grey Beard said...

Sizing isn't done by measuring the bars, it's done by measuring your arm. The correct method for measuring is shown here.

Basically, you put your elbow on a table and measure from the table top to the top of your fist.