Its worth understanding what the purpose of clip on tri bars is – They are intended to lower your upper body towards a more horizontal position, thus reducing the amount of windage you are creating, which obviously is faster. There however is a negative side too, in that for those not used to or well trained in a more horizontal position, it can be hard to generate as much power, and can get pretty uncomfortable.
Another reality is the overall geometry of your bike. If you take a closer look at a full time trial (TT) or triathlon bike, you’ll see various obvious things, like the handlebars/Tri bars are much lower relative to the saddle than a normal road bike. (There are many other differences that are more subtle and only obvious to an experienced observer, such as the angle of the seat tube and thus the relative position of the cranks to the saddle, and the angle of the front forks for example). This lower tri bar set up cannot be replicated on a road bike, as the physical shape of the bike prohibits it, so clip on tri bars are always a compromise.
Now, this all sounds like a list of reasons to not bother, but actually, that’s not my view. Even a few degrees of lowering your upper body can make a big difference to your speed, and for a fairly small investment, the gains can be significant. There is one other factor too… experienced users of tri bars actually find it less tiring as the weight of your upper body is more easily supported by your elbows on the tri bars (until they get to fairly extreme positions anyway!).
“However, tri bars are not a quick fix either”
You will definitely need to use them extensively before your race, partially to get used to the transition between a normal riding position and ‘aero’, but mainly to get used to the new riding position as it will feel alien and uncomfortable until you are used to it.
Also, the bike course you are targeting has some bearing. If it is particularly hilly, then tri bars have a much lower benefit as you will spend less time in an aero position.
The summary is, they nearly always do make a difference, and will almost certainly make you quicker on all but the hilliest of courses. They are a compromise to a full TT bike, but obviously a MUCH lower cost option, and will need to be fitted and used well in advance for familiarity. If you don’t have the time or confidence to get used to them, then you’re probably better off not worrying about them. And you’ll be far from alone in not having them!
Hopefully that helps…. i’d appreciate your feedback and thoughts!
In the near future, I’ll write a post on how to fit tri bars, and how to handle the process of getting used to them… especially your first ride or two, which can be wobbly!