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Game Changer : Scott Clip-On Aerobars

Scott aero bars
James Spender
11 May 2015

It's the bike product that thrust aerodynamics into the spotlight, creating the narrowest ever Tour de France win.

The concept of bicycle aerodynamics existed before the release of these Scott Clip-On Aerobars – riders could already choose from disc wheels, lo-pro frames and there was even the speculatively aero Dura-Ace 7300 AX groupset. But it wasn’t until the summer of 1989 that the peloton finally sat up (or rather, tucked down) and took proper notice. The day was Sunday 23rd July and the occasion was the final stage of the Tour de France, an individual time-trial from Versailles to Paris.

In yellow was Frenchman Laurent Fignon, and 50 seconds back was Greg LeMond. L’Americain’s task seemed as improbable as The Professor’s lead seemed insurmountable, yet somehow LeMond managed to claw back 58 seconds over the 24.5km course to win the Tour by the slimmest margin in history – eight seconds.

The key to LeMond’s win was his revolutionary Aerobars. ‘The idea was Boone Lennon’s,’ says Scott’s vice-president, Pascal Ducrot. ‘As a bicycle racer and a coach of the US alpine ski team, Boone was involved in wind-tunnel testing for downhill skiers, and understood the importance of aerodynamics. With Boone was engineer Charley French, who helped develop the first Aerobar prototypes.’

Sore bum, sorer loser

By today’s standards the Clip-On Aerobars might look rather agricultural. Made from a shaped alloy tube with forged clamp ends and chunky foam elbow rests, they added nearly half a kilo to LeMond’s Bottecchia TT bike. Yet subsequent tests by Scott showed the Aerobars were well ahead of their time. ‘Wind-tunnel testing has shown the Aerobars save around 90 seconds over the course of a 40km time-trial, better than any disc wheels or aero helmets,’ says the now-retired French. ‘Before this riders were using “cow-horn” bars in time-trials [including Fignon in 1989], which did the opposite of having the aero position of the Aerobars.’

So while hair-splitters might argue that Fignon’s saddle sores or flailing ponytail cost him the Tour (Fignon also eschewed an aero helmet), most experts agree that LeMond’s hands-together, narrow position is what made the difference. Which begs the question, why wasn’t Fignon using similar bars? ‘At that time bicycle racers were not noted for their forward thinking, and in the beginning no racer wanted to try the bars,’ says Ducrot. ‘On the other hand, it was quite easy to convince the pro triathletes. Many of them were using these bars in 1987 [such as Ironman legend Dave Scott] and bike split times began to improve drastically. After showing him these triathlete results, Boone was able to convince Greg to try the Aerobars.’

In his autobiography We Were Young And Carefree, Fignon claims that the Aerobars ‘bent’ the UCI rules as they provided a fourth contact point – the elbows – where the regulations at the time only permitted three: bars, pedals and saddle. However, Ducrot refutes this, saying, ‘Initially the UCI made the Aerobars legal for both road and time-trial, then for neither, then they made them legal for just time-trial.’ Regardless, the public took to the bars almost immediately, and the aero trend in road cycling took root. ‘The retail version [pictured here] sold for around $70, and in 1990 we sold 100,000,’ says Ducrot. ‘Overall they were a huge success, and I believe showed Boone Lennon, Charley French and Greg LeMond to be pioneers.’ Since then, the industry hasn’t looked back – except to examine laminar airflows of trailing edges, of course.

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