Need to get aerodynamic on your mountain bike?

If you happen to be doing a road race in the mountain bike category, or you are flying solo along a smooth stretch of dirt or pavement during an XC race, you typically want to be as aerodynamic as possible without compromising control or power.

You rarely see any “aero tucks” during a mountain bike race, but at an uphill time trial on the road, you never know what you’ll see…

I prefer to keep my hands on the handlebar (as my mountain bike position is just as low and stretched out as my road position,) but I picked up a very intriguing aero tuck position from Zak Dieringer (of TeamSpin.com) that I wanted to share:

mountain bike aero position

mountain bike aero position

(You can click the pics to see larger versions.)

Yes, his hands are on the fork crown! I tried this on my bike, and it was not stable whatsoever, but it must work for Zak.

[Note: Zak is typically on or near the overall podium in this King of the Mountai race. Your results may vary!]

Tip from Zak Dieringer: This was at an up hill time trial, so speeds were low and aerodynamics were not terribly important. What was important, however, was power output. This position, as weird as it looks, put me very close to my position on my road bike, and at least I felt like I was pedaling harder. The handlebars are about level with the saddle on this bike, which works great in the woods, but I felt like my mom on her hybrid pedaling up this hill. I would also not recommend this position if there is another rider in within a mile of you, you have to brake or turn, or, most importantly, there is someone with a camera nearby.

Back to the topic of aerodynamics on a mountain bike…

What I tend to do if I need to get aero on my mountain bike is move my hands close together, but keep them on the handlebar. That puts my hands close to the stem; then I flatten my back as much as possible, giving me a flat back and forearms, which present a smaller profile to the wind. (If I don’t need to pedal, I can stand up and get my butt in the air to really flatten my back.)

With those techniques I’m still pretty aerodynamic but maintain control of the handlebar, which comes in very handy on dirt road downhills, the likely place where you could use such a position.

Caution: Riding in any position like this in any situation is very dangerous as you could easily lose control and hurt yourself or others!

Photo credits: Levi Bloom

17 Comments
  1. I usually put my fore arms on the bars just inside my shiffters and put my hands togeter like i’m bumping a volleyball. This puts you into a pretty standard time trial like position. I’m pretty comfortable that way and it seems stable on fairly smooth road.

  2. @Brad

    You know, I do see quite a few people using that position (even on a road bike if it doesn’t have aero bars,) but I just never liked it. The pressure point on my forearms is uncomfortable for me I guess.

    Also, it’s more effective when you normally have an upright position on your mountain bike. I’m usually so stretched out to begin with that my elbows barely reach the bar.

  3. What a stupid concept.

    The loon is trying to be more aerodynamic and what does he do?

    He unzips his racing shirt to billow out like a spinnaker on a sailboat.

  4. This position is absolutely useless and the rider should read basic aerodynamic posts. As jbesnson2 points out zip up the jersey and I might take you serious BUT…

    Hiding frontal area is the easiest way to get aero. Putting your forearms on the handle bars helps make it easier to keep them parallel to your direction of travel effectively reducing the frontal area of your arms to your hands and the length of your upper arm. Putting your arms this low exposes your forearms as frontal area and increase wind resistance. (Before you pull Levi out as a counter argument, there is a big exception there and I will not get into it)…

    Sorry Zak, aside from looking ridiculous you are doing yourself no good.

  5. @jbenson

    Good point about how an open jersey is not aero.

    However, this was an uphill time trial. The max speed for a mountain biker on this section of hill is about 12mph. So the jersey situation won’t really matter.

    @Emiliano

    Zak is consistently on or near the podium in this race (on his road and mountain bike,) so the position must work for him. [Note: his position on his road bike is much more conventional.]

  6. I would have thought that even if this position was more aero, it’s going to cut down pedalling efficiency. There’s a reason why the controls are where they are on a performance bike, road or mountain. OK on a MTB handling’s also a big thing, but even so, if you’re sat in the normal position, surely you can pedal harder than in this strange position..?
    If I want to go fast I usually find a steeper hill..! Don’t race a lot as you might gather!

  7. @Steve

    Yes. When I tried it out, it was unstable from a balance/control standpoint, but it was also hard to pedal very well at all. So it certainly didn’t work out for me.

    As with many things in the bicycling world, what works well for one person may not work at all for another.

  8. As I am the idiot being discussed, I thought I would add my response. This was at an up hill time trial, so speeds were low and aerodynamics were not terribly important. What was important, however, was power output. This position, as weird as it looks, put me very close to my position on my road bike, and at least I felt like I was pedaling harder. The handlebars are about level with the saddle on this bike, which works great in the woods, but I felt like my mom on her hybrid pedaling up this hill. I would also not recommend this position if there is another rider in within a mile of you, you have to brake or turn, or, most importantly, there is someone with a camera nearby.

  9. I don’t really get why do people do this kind of useless actives.They inspire the people to do the same.Its really very dangerous for common man especially while doing mountain biking.

  10. @Performance Bike

    The main concern for a racer is speed. Safety and comfort are low on the priority list.

    That is why the common man should not imitate the actions of professional bike racers!

  11. @Zak Dieringer

    Good to know you don’t think it’s aerodynamic. Since the position is about mimicking your road bike position then unzip your jersey and grab your crown! And sorry for the previous bashing but the position was presented as a aerodynamic solution.

  12. @Emiliano

    I should have put the emphasis on “crazy” rather “aero” 😉

  13. use flat bars and get bar ends, but put them in in the middle like little aero bars

  14. @Been

    I tried that once, but the biggest problem is that you can’t get the bar ends very close to the stem due to the taper of most handlebars – especially with the current 31.8mm bars.

  15. Thank you so much for this article. I was struggling to find a way to get my back straight and reduce frontal area. Dropped my handlebars to as low as the bike will let em and then tilted them further.

    This position is very easy to maintain. The only time its slightly unstable is when youre going slower than 10mph, you tend to lose balance. Throw in 2 water bottle cages with filled bottles, that improves the center of gravity and go full out. Your gluetal muscles are engaged much better. Your scrotum is shown mercy, and believe it or not, you can ride longer with a lot more juice left in your quads if you want to get out of the saddle and do some climbing 🙂

  16. Oh and this is strictly speaking, aerodynamics from an MTB perspective, and not aerodynamics in general. Basic rule of aero is if your arms tilt below a right angle, theyre useless.

    Heres a good example from dave zee http://images33.fotki.com/v1136/photos/1/108147/5921547/3301DaveZabriskie-vi.jpg

  17. Emiliano Jordan already mentioned that above, oops 🙂

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