I love seeing companies up their game. The world of triathlon equipment is like any other, in that it benefits from fierce competition among manufacturers, and Profile Design is really upping the ante with some of their new products for 2013. I looked at some of them during Interbike, like the upcoming HC Bottle for BTA applications, and the Aeria aerobar, which is the subject of this review.
The Aeria is Profile Design's new top-of-the-line bar. It's based on modern bar design and is a beautiful match for modern bikes. It's clean, elegant, easy to adjust, and is by far my favorite Profile Design bar ever made. That's not to say it's perfect, because it does have some quirks of its own. But this is a VERY good bar that will work well for a lot of riders.
To begin with, the bar is based on a popular modern concept of stacking everything above the base bar rather than trying to run extensions through it. There are some real advantages to this kind of design. One is that you can leave the aerobars low, without ruining your bike's clean aerodynamics with stem spacers, and then get your pad height set via the much more aero pad spacers on the bar. Moreover, the extensions and pads rise together, to preserve the relationship between pads and shifters. You can take this concept a bit too far, because if you use too many pad spacers, you end up with too much drop to the base bar, compromising your fit or comfort when out on the hoods.
In my experience, if you end up with more than about 80mm of drop from pads to base bar, you are better off using a couple of stem spacers and dropping a couple of pad spacers. You'll essentially keep the same pad stack, but bring the bars up a bit. For reference, the Aeria's pads start with 55mm of drop in their lowest configuration, to which you can add spacers as desired. The Aeria comes stock with 80mm worth, so if you added them all it would come to a total of 135mm in drop. That seems a bit excessive, but they're available if your fit needs demand it.
There are several bars on the market that use this kind of geometry. But Profile has done a really great job with their interpretation. One of the novel features of the Aeria is how the whole structure mounts to the base bar. To reduce frontal area, Profile Design developed an internal wedge system that simultaneously affixes the clamps to the bar AND tightens the extensions in place. It's a beautiful and well-thought-out mechanism. And the best part is that it works on the industry standard 22.2mm diameter, so you can install your favorite third-party extensions.
The result is a system with very low frontal area, very simple construction, and relatively low weight. My sample came in at 670g, which puts the bar in mid-weight territory. There are fairly adjustable bars as light as 595g like the Felt Devox, so Profile Design isn't going to win any weight weenie contests, but they're not doing too bad.
Then your arm cups bolt onto that mechanism, in one of three width points. For most riders, one of these three width positions will work out just fine. But my minor gripe is that with some minor tweaks to the geometry, this could have been an even better feature. For example, if the base bar hardware was a little shorter, and you instead put more width adjustment onto the arm cups themselves, the hardware could potentially be flippable. That way, instead of only adjusting outwards, you could adjust the pads inward, for riders who like a very narrow, elbows-touching position. As is, the bar can't do that. So if you are riding elbows together, the Aeria isn't your bar. But again, it's gonna work for most riders.
With the hardware covered, let's take a look at the ins and outs of the bar itself. To begin with, the Aeria is based on a 3-to-1 aspect ratio, making it legal for all UCI events. I'd like to see more manufacturers throw the UCI bit out the window, because you can make a faster bar that way. And the overwhelming majority of competitive triathlon is conducted outside the realm of the UCI. However, the aero chord of the base bar is good - it's a true airfoil, and is vastly superior to the cylindrical cross section of a standard bar. And because the extension hardware clamps directly to the bar, Profile didn't have to waste any frontal area on additional room on the 31.8mm clamping section. That's a good thing, and keeps the bar looking very clean indeed. Pair this thing with a stem like the Sigma and it's going to rival most integrated bars.
The brake grip portion of the handlebar features a short section of upturned length. Personally, I hate this kind of geometry, because it increases frontal area, for a supposedly more stable surface against which to brace yourself on descents or corners. In practice, I find that flat hand holds are never a problem if you just use bar tape, or even without tape if you just have your wits about you. However, Profile Design found that sales of their flat handhold bars were much weaker than their bars with upturns. So apparently the public at large disagrees with me about this. Normally I wouldn't care too much, because in many cases you can just chop the upturn off, but that won't work on the Aeria, because the internal diameter of the bar is not consistent or even circular aft of the standard brake mount location. That is, you can't modify this bar to have flat hand holds. The upturns stay. For their part, Profile Design said that their Prosvet bars with upturns have tested faster than the Svet and Svet Zero bars that have flat hand holds. Say what they will, I still prefer flat.
There are plenty of routing options on the bar. Ports underneath and on the back side of the bar mean you can choose the cable path that best suits your own bike and preferences. A big bravo to Profile for going this route. And of course, if you don't like the look of the exposed holes, you can always cover the ones you aren't using with electrical tape.
My only other gripe about the base bar is that there's no way to route Di2 (or other electronic shifting) cables through it from the extensions. That is, your Di2 cables can't route from the extensions, then into the base bar and out the back. To be fair, there are very few bars that offer this capability. But the ones that do make for the cleanest setups, because then you can ultimately all the Di2 can be hidden, including the junction boxes.
As I mentioned at the top of the review, I think this is Profile Design's best effort to date. It combines a very good feature set with clean, elegant construction. I have my minor gripes, but there's a lot to like here.
Perhaps the best compliment I can give the bar is that it will be going on the build for the Ordu I'm about to review. As long as you don't have peculiar fit requirements like ultra-low stack hardware, or ultra-narrow pad stance, the bar will probably work well for you.