December 15, 2017

Road Bike VS. Triathlon Bike: Which To Choose?

Jarrett Pflieger

So you are trying to decide which bike to use/buy for your first or next triathlon race. What are the differences between a road bike and a triathlon bike? Which one should you choose? The answer is actually simpler than it may seem.

Without getting into detailed technical differences between the two, there are a few major things that set the two types of bikes apart.

Tri Bike vs. Road Bike:

A tri bike is specifically designed to be ridden as fast as possible while minimizing drag and energy expenditure by the rider. To increase aerodynamics, tri bikes are fitted with aero bars that allow the rider to lean forward and rest their forearms on pads located on top of the handlebars. This exposes less total frontal surface area and allows riders to cut through the wind instead of acting like a sail as if their body was in an upright position.

The seat tube angle is also steeper on a tri bike than a road bike. What this means is unlike a road bike where the seat angle points towards the rear of the bike, the tri bike’s seat in more vertical. This positions the rider closer to the front of the bike and allows the rider to maintain a larger hip angle while in the aero position. This benefits the athlete by allowing them to utilize hamstring and glute muscles more effectively without relying too much on the quad muscles. You need as much energy in your quads that you can manage when it comes time to run off the bike, so minimizing quad strain on the bike portion of the race is crucial to fast triathlon run and overall times. In terms of pure speed and saving energy, a triathlon bike is king.

A road bike is designed a bit differently. They are meant to be more dynamic, maneuverable, and optimal for power production due to constant changes in terrain, breaking and sprinting by fellow riders, and overall unpredictability of the pure cycling races. They do not have aero bars and are meant to be ridden mostly in a relatively upright position with hands on the top of the handlebars. The seat tube angle is less steep which allows for better power production since you can better utilize the powerful quad muscles.

Which bike should you choose?

The short answer is…it depends. If you are new to triathlon, use whatever is available. Whether it is a used road bike on eBay, old mountain bike in the garage, beach cruiser, or pink huffy, it doesn’t matter. If you are a new triathlete, don’t spend money before you absolutely know you will continue with the sport. You won’t set any records your first time out, so don’t worry too much about it.

If you have done a few triathlons and are ready to buy a bike but don’t have the money for a full triathlon bike, a road bike with a set of aero bars strapped on works just fine. You may shave a little time with a tri bike, but road bikes are usually cheaper and more easily accessible than tri bikes and unless you are a very good athlete, the differences are negligible.

If you have a few races under your belt and are starting to become competitive in your age group, or plan on it in the future, definitely think about getting a triathlon bike. If you are a complete newbie, but want to blow a few grand on a tri bike just because you can afford it, go for it. It makes it easier for us athletes on a budget to pick up a barely used tri bike cheap on Craigslist when the owner decided they didn’t want to do triathlons anymore after only a few races.

Bottom line, when trying to decide between the two types of bike, just go with whatever is easier for you to get. Beginner triathletes are better off buying a used road bike with aero bars and putting the extra money they saved into some good coaching. Trust me, it will save you more time in the long run than an expensive triathlon bike.

Post to Twitter

Speak Your Mind