Do You Need a Triathlon Bike?

Why is Frame Geometry Important?

Bicycle geometry affects the handling and comfort of the bike. For example, a steep seat tube angle is not as comfortable, or as efficient, when doing a lot of climbing, compared to a more relaxed angle. However, an aero position with the higher seat tube angle found on a triathlon bike can reduce the power output necessary to ride the bike as much as 20 percent when compared to riding a road bike with your hands on the hoods.

Should I Buy a Road Bike or a Triathlon Bike?

Some of the questions you need to answer before purchasing your next bike include:

  • What is the purpose of this bike and what will you use it for?
  • Is this new bike purchase the only bicycle you will own or will you own more than one bicycle?
  • Will triathlon become your sole focus or do you intend on doing a good deal of road riding or racing, including courses generously filled with hills?
  • Do your plans include participation in organized century rides and multiple day bike tours?

More: 5 'I Can't Do a Triathlon Because...' Myths Busted

Riding with Multiple Purposes

For beginning endurance athletes looking for a single bike to serve multiple purposes, I recommend a road bike. Road bike geometry is much better suited for multipurpose riding including bike tours, hilly road courses and an occasional sprint or Olympic distance triathlon. The big reasons for this recommendation include comfort and performance. The geometry of a road frame is better suited for group riding, climbing hills and the drop handle bars offer more hand positions to make riding comfortable.

Putting the short, clip-on aerobars on a road bike is a one option if you plan to do limited sprint and Olympic distance events and you have only a road bike. The short clip-on aerobars are the style used by many of the elite athletes doing draft-legal racing. Some of the short aerobars do not have elbow pads and they are not the most comfortable option for long distance racing; however, they offer some aerodynamic advantage.

One problem with modifying your current road bike, by adding aerobars complete with elbow pads and shifting finger-tip shifting, is that it compromises your body position and the handling characteristics of the bike. In the worst case, the compromise makes your bike handling dangerous and puts you in a position that potentially creates an injury.

More: How to Maximize Your Aero Bars on a Tri Bike

Triathlon Focus

If you plan to own one bicycle and triathlon training and racing is your only passion—no group riding, hilly rides or multiday tours—a triathlon bike is the best option. Full aerobars, complete with elbow pads and shifters located at your finger tips, is the best aerodynamic option for athletes focused on non-drafting triathlon competitions. Elbow pads make the ride comfortable and with the shifters at your finger tips you can minimize the number of times you sit up to shift, creating a sail to catch the wind with your chest.

Best of Both Worlds

If you have the luxury of owning two bicycles, a road bike and a triathlon-specific bike is the best of both worlds. The road bike can be used for some training, group rides and bike-only events. The triathlon bike can then be used for triathlon-specific training and all triathlon racing.

More: The Benefits of Training on a Road Bike

Budget

Determine your budget before shopping for a new ride. For all types of bicycles, you can find a wide range of prices. As price increases, the increase is related to one or more of the following factors: lightweight frame material, special aerodynamic frame design, aerodynamic wheels, lightweight components, high quality components that resist wear with higher volumes of training, or new technical advances in design.

Good Bike Shop

The most expensive bike in the world is useless for your training and racing if it doesn't fit. To begin your shopping, ask around to find out which local bike shops are customer-oriented. This means they take the time to help you get fitted on your new bike and are also concerned about your individual needs. You want a shop that will take care of you.

In the end if you have the right bike, or bikes, to meet your needs you will enjoy cycling more and there is a greater likelihood you'll get faster as well.

More: 3 Drills for Better Bike Control

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