Top-tips on how to pick the best triathlon bike for you.
Choosing the best bike for triathlon isn’t easy. A simple walk through any transition area will give you an insight into this quandary with super light, state-of the art aerodynamic dream machines stacked up next to hybrids with thick tyres and mudguards.
The bottom line is it’s a scary minefield out there for newcomers to the sport with literally thousands of bikes in different sizes, weights and shapes available, making it tough to know which is right for you.
To make it easier to pick the best bike for triathlon, we have compiled a list of our top 3 things you need to consider before buying your dream machine.
- TRI BIKE (TT) vs ROAD BIKE vs AERO ROAD BIKE?
The world would be a simpler place for triathletes if we could answer this question in one sentence. Each type of bike has its advantages but will suit different types of riders. The trick is to work out whether your long-term plan is to compete in triathlons competitively or whether you just want to get around the course and cross the finish line with all four limbs still intact.
- TT Bike
The advantages of a triathlon specific bike are straightforward – the increased aerodynamic set up means quicker bike and run splits; quicker bike splits as you have less wind drag, and quicker run splits as the bike set up forces you to use the quad muscles rather than the hamstrings (predominant running muscles) to power your bike, which means fresher and less energy-sapped legs as you leave T2.
Buy a TT bike if smashing PB’s is top of your 2013 to-do list.
- Road Bike
Standard road bike geometry means that speed is sacrificed for comfort. That said, unless you have aspirations to be at the top of the triathlon game, these speed gains remain fairly marginal. Road bikes are much easier to handle and so remain the best choice if you plan to do group club rides or tackle particularly hilly or technical courses where cornering is an issue.
Buy a road bike if completing and not competing in triathlons is your priority.
- Aero Road Bike
Aero bikes are the ultimate all-rounder, combining many of the aerodynamic features of a TT bike without sacrificing the comfort you get on a road bike. You’ll see many Pro Tour teams on these bikes, which are becoming ever more popular. Price wise, aero road bikes tend to be less expensive than TT bikes but more expensive than road bikes. Most of the big bike companies such as Felt, Cervelo, Boardman, Trek and Scott already have aero bikes in their line-ups, with other manufacturers also responding to this growing trend.
Buy an aero bike if you want to be competitive at events but don’t want (or can’t afford) separate bikes for training and racing.
2. BIKE FIT
It really doesn’t matter whether you spend £500 or £5000 on a bike; if the bike doesn’t fit and you’re not in biomechanical harmony with your trusty two-wheeled machine then you will loathe cycling, be plagued by injury and never want to ride your bike. A professional bike fit should be at the top of the any triathletes priority list to ensure long-term cycling comfort, enjoyment and performance.
Whether you go for a state-of-the-art retail fit or a simpler approach, there are many great bike fitters out there, so find one near you and book yourself in.
3. FRAME MATERIALS AND COMPONENTS
Your choice of frame material and components will largely be determined by your budget; the lighter your bike the faster your ride, which means the more you spend, the less you get (weight wise).
Our top piece of advice is to spend the biggest chunk of your budget on the bike frame and just upgrade your components a couple of months down the line when you’ve some spare cash lying around.
The most common bike frame material out there for 3 reasons: it’s (fairly) lightweight, stiff and cheap. Aluminum is a great choice for sprint lovers who don’t want to lose any power or forward motion as a result of frame flex. That said, its biggest strength is also its major weakness – the stiffness of the bike means that it will reduce even the most hardcore triathletes to tears on long rides with bumpy roads.
Comfortable and light, this is a Godsend for injury prone athletes who need a frame with good shock-absorbency qualities. Loss of power through flame flex is fairly marginal and pretty much cancelled out by the aerodynamic shapes manufacturers can produce with carbon that are impossible with metal, even using hydroforming technology.
Titanium frames combine the best features of carbon and aluminum, creating frames that are stiff, light AND comfortable. They are also incredibly strong, which can be especially valuable for surviving the perils of travel and the hurly burly of a congested transition area. But be warned though, they don’t come cheap.
The 3 main players in the component market are Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. Each manufacturer has created a hierarchy of component parts and there isn’t much to choose between them when judged from a technical point of view. In terms of price, Shimano and SRAM tend to offer cheaper (comparable) components than Campagnolo and so dominate the market, but Campag were the first brand around and so have an enviable elitist tag still attached to all their products.
At the end of the day it comes down to personal choice, so just go for whichever group set you feel most comfortable with and best fits your price range. Remember you can always upgrade.
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