They’re dorky, antisocial, and dangerous. So should we outlaw them?
It’s a delightful afternoon on the local shared path. Runners are running, bicyclists are bicycling, shirtless bros are gliding preternaturally by on remote-controlled electric longboards. Then, as if with a sonic boom, a rider swoops in and explodes this idyll. With Lycra-clad trunk splayed out over the aerobars and twin water bottles protruding from beneath the saddle like a pair of butt rockets, this profoundly intrusive rider cuts off a child on a balance bike, sends a pod of power walkers scattering, and, like, totally harshes the mellow of the bro on the longboard before disappearing into the crowd like a pickpocket in a triathlon singlet.
When it comes to going fast on a bike, there’s a time and a place. Those with an unerring ability to miscalculate both always seem to have one thing in common: Aerobars. Oh sure, aerobars have their place in competitive cycling events, but using them to full effect in crowded public recreational spaces at peak times is like showing up at the symphony in one of those beer helmets—and then pushing your way through the audience to get to your seat because you got there late. They can also be dangerous. Yes, a cyclist killing a pedestrian on any type of bicycle is an aberration, but the last person who managed to do so in New York City was riding in Central Park on a bike equipped with aerobars.
So is it time to ban them?
Well, if you’re a competitive cyclist who participates in events that require aerobars, then of course your answer will be, “Over my dead, skinsuited body!” After all, for every doofus hammering into the park at full speed while there’s a charity walk going on, there’s doubtless a responsible rider who’s simply tooling around on the TT bike in order to tweak her position for a future sanctioned event. And what’s wrong with that? Certainly it’s not fair that the responsible cyclist should have to pay for the sins of the hopelessly deluded, and it feels like a fundamental failure of democracy if a few energy gel-slurping pathletes were to become the reason we can’t have nice, aerodynamic things.
At the same time, why do we need aerobars anywhere? Yes, sure, we need them to go as fast as possible in certain sporting events, but why? Not to be the eleventy billionth person to reference that old “Spinal Tap” bit, but instead of having aerobars be the fastest bars you can use, why not make aerobars illegal and make drop bars be the fastest instead? There’s already plenty of precedent for this: the UCI banned “funny bikes” with dumb tiny front wheels at the dawn of the 21st century, and most cyclists are familiar with the concept of the “Cannibal time trial,” a race against the clock in which the riders compete on non-aero equipment just like Eddy “The Cannibal” Merckx and his contemporaries. Plus, if it’s the wind-cheating sensibility you’re after, today’s carbon aero road bikes have all the fairings and teardrop shapes you can possibly want, even without the aerodynamic bars.
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