The biggest purchase you’ll make for triathlon is also the one that can make the most difference to your race finish time and, more importantly, your experience.
Triathlon Bike vs Road Bike
The big question facing every triathlete when choosing a bike is whether to go for a specific triathlon bike or a road bike. As specific tri bikes are hard to find under £1,000 this isn’t an issue for a lot of new triathletes. Just choose a road bike with a low front end that will convert easily to tri bar use, rather than the increasingly popular high-fronted sportive bikes.
Even if you spend more than £1,000, a conventional road bike will be safer and more comfortable when you’re riding with a road club, or if your terrain involves lots of hills or rough roads. There are also far more road bike options than tri or time-trial specific ones. If you tend to do most of your training solo on flatter roads, then getting totally synced with a tri bike’s more radical position will pay dividends when you’re racing. One popular option for triathletes who can afford it is to use two bikes: have a cheap road bike (preferably with mudguards fitted) for most of your training rides, and a triathlon-specific bike to save as an instant boost for pre-event tune-ups and the races themselves.
THE RIGHT FRAME MATERIAL
Aluminium has taken over from steel as the most common bike frame material. It has the advantage of being lightweight and relatively cheap to produce. Over the past few years manufacturers have begun to use ‘hydroforming’ techniques to mould it into ever more elaborate shapes.
Titanium can be built into light frames that are super-strong, which can be especially valuable for surviving the perils of travel and the hurly burly of a congested transition area. Brands such as Litespeed and Van Nicolas specialise in titanium and make some beautiful frames – but be warned: they ain’t cheap.
Carbon fibre has become an increasingly popular frame material over recent years on bikes costing more than about £1,200. Its biggest advantages are its light weight and the fact it can be moulded into aerodynamic shapes that are impossible with metal, even with the use of hydroforming technology.
Why Pay More?
The groupset is the core of a bike’s components and normally includes the gears, brakes, cranks, bottom bracket, hubs and headset. The key manufacturers classify these components together in different levels. For example, Shimano’s top-end components are Dura-Ace, then you get Ultegra SL, Ultegra, 105 and so on.
As a rule, the more you spend on a bike, the higher the groupset components. But the differences are usually small. The main benefit is that you’ll get a lighter weight. That’s always worth having, but keep it in perspective as shaving a few grams is nowhere near as important as having an aerodynamic set-up.
It’s a fact men far outnumber women in both triathlon and road bike racing but that is changing fast, so bike manufacturers are producing more ‘women-specific’ designs. Choice is still limited compared with standard road and tri bikes, and you might not be able to find as many great-value packages as men can. Truly women’s specific bikes such as Trek’s WSD series, Specialized’s D4W and Felt’s FW models have different frame geometries to the men’s equivalents. Women have shorter bodies and arms and longer legs, so on a men’s bike they’ll have no trouble reaching the pedals, but will be overstretched reaching bars and brakes. So women’s frame shave shorter top tubes and higher head tubes to improve reach.
However, before you automatically plump for a female-specific frame, go to your local bike shop and have a proper fit. Higher front ends on bikes change the way they handle and you may find it doesn’t suit you.
Women’s bikes also have shallower drops, short-reach shifters, narrower bars and shorter cranks. Saddles are wider to accommodate women’s pelvis shapes.