This blog is aimed at athletes who may be a little nervous on the bike, or feel they could improve technically around corners and on descents. You will ride better bike splits and save considerable money.
One of the common issues I face as a coach of age group and professional athletes (yes it applies to some of these too), is athletes riding a top of the range time trial bike with what they consider to be a state of the art aerodynamic position, yet they have difficulty controlling it. They have difficulty with balance and riding in a straight line, turning around and powering out of corners, and braking on fast descents - the narrow aero bars and tiny brake levers instill fear not control. They tackle these sitting upright making their state of the art aero position not only pointless but also slower, losing time on every corner and descent.
Many courses, especially sprint and olympic distance require going into and accelerating out of turns, and quick gear changes to keep speed. I've watched over a 1000 races and this specific problem is huge. Yes the bikes and bars work great in wind tunnel tests, however it is a different story in the real world. Other athletes around you, holes in the road to avoid, head wind, cross wind, corners, uphill and downhill, missed gear changes, unsteady handling, poor acceleration out of the turns is normal behavior, with wet roads only making the problem more pronounced.
We have achieved great success, and received short sighted criticism with our professional females riding road bikes in 70.3 / half distance races, or time trial frames with road handlebars, brake levers and clip-on aero bars. The great Bella Bayliss won 16 Ironman races and had 35+ podiums on such a setup. As a sponsored athlete with free bikes, she had access to the 'best' equipment. However Bella is like Nicola in this regard, down to earth and just uses what works for her, avoiding the noise of bystanders offering free advice. Both have excellent technical bike skills, but like me they believe that control is much better with 'traditional' road bars and clip-on aero bars.
For races without corners or hills, I do agree that the wind tunnel tested set up will be faster, but not in all circumstances. The position must match the athlete's ability to ride the position for the duration of the race, to hold a straight line, and to not compromise the run that follows. If you are attempting to be super aero with elbows jammed close together, but are unbalanced and can't steer the bike in a straight line you are adding distance (and time) with each deviation, zig zagging your way along the course. We address this by moving the elbow pads wider apart to allow you to be more controlled. This also makes the position more comfortable, easier to hold for the duration, and you will be less stiff getting off and transitioning to the run.
Look at it this way - we can all drive normal cars, but how many of us could drive a formula one car? Even low level professional drivers find it difficult to keep that monster on the track, let alone maximise the potential of the car as the world's best Formula 1 drivers do.
I contend it's the same with most of the top end bikes and aero bars. If you're a beginner, or simply have little confidence on a bike, the lesser options could and in most cases will allow you to ride a better bike split.
If you're more comfortable on your road bike than your time trial bike, think hard about going with road bars and clip-on extensions that are fully adjustable.
You might not have the coolest looking machine in transition but if function over fluff is your normal approach, that bike with road bars and clip-ons will deliver you a better bike split without one watt improvement at your current levels.
Just the way I see it