Every triathlete likely knows that the single best way to get faster on the bike is to get into the aero position. The research is clear, and the presence of aerobars on 100% of bikes in any triathlon of any significant distance demonstrates this knowledge. However, the question remains as to whether this head knowledge translates to real life application.
To find out, we attended a recent Ironman event and set up a check-point at a somewhat (except for the terrain) random location that included a reasonably flat to slightly downhill section with no turns involved. It has been shown that individuals are most likely to utilize aerobars during flat/downhill sections and less likely during uphills or when turning corners. We chose this setting since the purpose of this activity was to monitor the % of triathletes using their aerobars in a situation where use was expected. We tracked a total of 438 Ironman triathletes who would be considered the front/middle of the pack, finishing the bike portion in 5 1/2 to 6 hours.
The results were quite eye opening. Of the 438 athletes tracked, only 242 (55%) were in the aero position as they came by our checkpoint. This means that 45% of the triathletes were not utilizing the most valuable tool available for improving their race outcome at that point in the event. Obviously, this one check-point is not a reflection of their entire race and certainly these athletes did spend significant amounts of time in the aerobars throughout the race. However, it is a clear reflection of a great opportunity for improvement that is worth noting among both athletes and coaches.