30 March 2016

Assuming A Postition: Scott DH And Cinelli Spinaci

Today, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) is one of those organizations almost nobody loves.  There are plenty of good reasons for that:  The organization is often accused of looking the other way when riders are doping--and taking bribes to do so, and threatening lawsuits against those who accuse it of wrongdoing.  It was, essentially, duped (or so it claims) into violating a country's sovereignty.  And the UCI makes and enforces all sorts of rules that defy logic or reason.

However, there was a time--believe it or not--when the UCI actually made rules that made sense.  One of those occasions came in 1997, when it banned aerobar (a.k.a. "tribar") extensions from competition.

Scott DH bar, circa 1988.  Don't you just love that neon yellow? ;-?

You have no doubt seen, and possibly ridden, them.  Originally, they were designed and ridden by triathletes.  They caught on with other racers and wannabes after Greg LeMond rode the final time trial stage of the 1989 Tour de France on a bike equipped with Scott DH bars.  He began that day (23 July)'s stage 50 seconds behind race leader Laurent Fignon.  Rarely does any cyclist--barring a crash or mishap to another--make up so much time on a single stage, let alone the final one, which is usually an individual time trial and is, as often as not, ceremonial rather than consequential.

Greg LeMond on his time trial bike--with Scott DH clip-on aero bars--in the 1989 Tour de France.

When it was over, LeMond--whose 1986 Tour victory was the first by an American--left Fignon in second place, 8 seconds behind in the overall classifications.  That was, and remains, the smallest margin of victory by any overall Tour winner. 

Until then, the jury was out on aerobars.  But a lot of cyclists looked at that result--an 8 second lead over a three-week-long race!--and thought that if the aerobars weren't the reason, then maybe, just maybe...

Sales of Scott DHs took off.   The "forward" position mimicked the "tuck" of a downhill skier, which is where the "DH" came from.  (Before they started making aerobars, Scott was a ski-equipment company.)  At that time, a lot of road bikers were taking up mountain biking, some in the form that would later come to be known as "downhill".  That, I believe, accounted for at least some of the popularity of Scott DHs with wannabes.  And, at that time, some cyclists who'd started off as mountain riders were "discovering" road cycling.  And those triathloners who hadn't adopted aerobars up to that time couldn't wait to get them.

The popularity of those bars, naturally, spawned imitators and tweaks.  Some, like Profile, were made by companies that had never before made bike components.  And most of the handlebar manufacturers of that time got in on the action.

Cinelli Spinaci, circa 1990.

One of the best-known of that new breed of bars was the Cinelli Spinaci.  Its forward reach wasn't quite as far as that of the DH.  So, while it wasn't quite as aerodynamic as the DH, it allowed the rider to assume a position more aerodynamic than the normal road-riding position for longer periods of time.   Also, the Spinaci could be set up in a greater variety of positions.  That latter quality also was one of its downfalls.

The ideal position, or at least the one recommended by Cinelli, set the clamps at 45 degrees and the bars parallel to the ground.  But some riders tilted their Spinacis to the "wheel licker" position in the mistaken belief that being in a below-horizontal position made you more aerodynamic.  Others rode them with the bars tilted so that the end were almost in a direct line with the rider's face.  That position was about as aerodynamic as a boulder.

How do I know so much about the Spinaci? All right, I'll make a confession that might cause some of you purists to lose respect for me:  I used it.  I like to think I was young enough to consider it now as a youthful folly.  Although I knew that the bars would wreak havoc with the aesthetics of my Colnago, I rationalized installing the Spinaci because, well, it was Italian--because it was Cinelli, the same brand as the handlebars to which I was clamping it.

I didn't ride them for very long, though.  As I have  mentioned, there was no benefit in tilting them upward or downward.  And even though riding them in the horizontal position was relatively comfortable (especially with the arm rests), I didn't spend much time riding that way.  So, after acquiring them in the spring, I had little trouble selling them in the summer, as they were at the peak of their popularity.

The biggest drawback, though of Spinacis, DHs or any other aerobar lies in using them while riding them in a peloton or any other kind of group or pack.  When you're riding on the extensions, your hands are nowhere near your brake levers.  On traditional road bars, if you're riding in the drops, you can move your hands to the levers relatively quickly, usually enough to avoid a crash or lessen its impact.  The real danger, though, is not just in one rider using it.  As the UCI folk realized, in one of their rare moments of anything resembling clarity or magmamnity, if a hundred riders are using them and one of them goes down, or there is any other emergency, the result could be, essentially, a race that ends by attrition.

Now, having said all of that, I am not trying to dismiss aerobars.  I never cared for the aesthetic, but I can understand why some riders, especially time trialists, would like them.  The UCI, in one of its increasingly-rare instances of clear thinking, realized that there are some situations in which those bars shouldn't be used, and banned them for that reason.


  1. We used to call these LDS bars. It has nothing to do with the mormon church. LDS stands for Lay Down and Suffer. A great way to turn a pleasant ride into the Bataan death march.

  2. Phillip--LDS bars. I love it!

    It's funny how we thought that if you weren't suffering, you weren't doing it right.