Roadie Arms Race.

When it comes to my bikes, I admit a certain amount of vanity. OK, a large amount of vanity. I like them to look fast just sitting there. Low and lean, with a certain aggressive air, even if the tub of lard sitting on the saddle exhibits none of those characteristics. Components that are too nice for the abilities of the driver. Like most roadies- dare I say most cyclists (even if they won't admit it publicly)- I like for my bikes to look the part.

Deep carbon wheels are a prime example. They just make a bike look faster. Since the advent of cheaper, open-mold carbon wheels, pretty much everyone can have that look on a budget. Of course, performance is another matter, because those wheels often have cheaper hubs and somewhat questionable braking characteristics. They can't roll worth a crap and won't stop worth a damn, but man, do they look cool. Slap a set of cheap carbon wheels on an entry-level road bike, slam the stem, and suddenly you have something that will impress the casual observer.

You see it in every level of the local road racing scene. Guys (including me) fighting for control in crosswinds as their fast-looking carbon wheels develop a mind of their own. Howling brakes on descents, as the riders pray that they'll stop before that T intersection ahead. All in the name of looking cool.

I won't deny the performance gains. I also can't say the investment is worth it, because that would imply some sort of tangible, measureable, and meaningful return. Some of those gains are likely between the ears. Nothing wrong with that. I probably would have been better off training more and spending less, but I like them. I like the way they look on my bikes. Again, they look cool, and there might be a small bump in performance to go with that as a bonus.

I have multiple sets for different purposes and different bikes. Most are in the 50mm range, which is the all-around carbon wheel size. I have a TT disc wheel that sounds really cool and demoralizes slower riders as you pass them. I have a big, fat rear wheel for sprints and hilly time trials. Eventually you have carbon wheels for every situation, plus a set to act as a spare in case you happen to flat right in front of the wheel pit instead of 20 miles away (never happens). The returns that started diminishing when you bought the first set have flat-lined, and you have to look for a new place to waste your money.

My bet for the next big trend in image-conscious fluffery? Handlebars.

I've always used aluminum handlebars with a flattened top section, because they were the most comfortable for my hands. Plus, they said aero, which added to the bling-factor. My go-to bars were 3T Ergonova Pros, with a matching stem to show I paid attention to system integration and all that crap. They worked well, or at least I never had a catastrophic failure attributable to them. The main problem I had was that they were flexy when sprinting out of the saddle. It took a significant amount of energy to flex those bars, energy not transferred to the pedals. Besides, despite claims of being aero, they lacked the surface area of the Spruce Goose's wings that would scream AERO! to everyone in the immediate vicinity (living or dead).
After doing exhaustive research, I ended up finding a set of Easton EC90 Aero handlebars for a reasonable price that provided both the looks and functionality I was looking for. I briefly considered a set of Chinese carbon bars, but after my recent clavicle mishap I was less than anxious to trust my well-being to a molded conglomeration of old dish towels and super glue. An established brand from a reputable company is about all I'm willing to gamble on in this case. Once installed (with matching stem, of course), they will pronounce my aero-ness to the world, ultimately triggering the next great bike arms race as all of the competition rushes to close the equipment gap.
If you think the arms race will stop there, you haven't been paying attention. After all, I have a lot of bikes...

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