Tri-bike makers recognize price categories too, and the most hotly contested is that which consists of bikes selling for as little as $1,500, on up to $1,800. This is the sweet spot, where bang meets buck.
The world's best tri bikes aren't in this category, but the world's best tri bike values are. Here's how several of them line up for 2005.
Trek's Equinox 7 is the best tri-geometry value this company has ever produced. Its price sits at the bottom end of the range and, considering the updated frame for 2005, this is a good value that just got better.
Trek specs its tri bikes nicely, with a saddle you don't need to swap out and Bontrager wheels that aren't going to go out of true immediately after wheeling your new steed out of the bike shop.
At the top end of this price range is Trek's Equinox 9 -- same frame better parts. However, the Equinox 9 is a 9-speed bike, and there are several 10-speed bikes in this price category. Therefore, the Equinox 7 might be the pick of the litter.
As is the case with Trek, Cannondale does a good job with spec on its Ironman 800. The bike sells for $1,600, and Cannondale's modest spec'ing through the drivetrain -- 105, Tiagra and Truvativ last year -- is updated to 105, Ultegra and Truvativ.
There is still a Selle San Marco Triathgel saddle as original equipment, and last year's Continental GP3000 tires have given way to Michelin (perhaps an equal swap, though I might prefer the Conti tires). As with Trek's Equinox bikes, this C'dale is improved over last year's model.
Specialized is relaunching its Transition, a bike it made then abandoned upwards of a decade ago.
The new Transition is actually a family of bikes, four in all. The Transition Elite is a $1,600 bike, and not a bad re-entry into the market, considering its fairly aggressive tube shape and aero seat post/seat tube complex. However, a truck could drive in between its seat tube trailing edge and the rear wheel's leading edge, compared, for example, to the Quintana Roo Tequilo's tight rear wheel.
However, the Tequilo is an extra $300 to $400. The Transition Elite's other difficulty is its 9-speed Ultegra/105 mix. Yes, that competes favorably with C'dale and Trek, but for an extra C-note you get Ultegra 10-speed from Cervelo, and for $200 you get Dura Ace 10-speed from Felt.
Felt's S25 sells for $1,800, plus or minus, and sits in between QR's Kilo and its TeQuilo. Its most likely competitor is Cervelo's Dual, and these two bikes will fight it out tooth and nail in 2005, as they did the year prior.
The S25 has a Dura Ace 10-speed shift system, a tour de force for a tri bike at this price. How does Felt do it? This company continually surprises with its great value.
For $1,499 complete, the Dual is probably Cervelo's best value, if not its most popular bike. It's got the P2K's tube shape and seat tube/seat post complex, but with a slightly longer chain stay and an unfaired rear wheel.
OK, it's slightly less aerodynamic than a P2K because of that. But not by much. There are bikes ridden in the front men's pro pack at Kona that are not as good as the Dual. At $1,699 you can get the Dual as a 10-speed bike (Ultegra) and this makes the Dual the least expensive tri bike with 20 gears on the market, to the best of my knowledge.
Giant's TCR Aero 1 is your best bet if it's a slacker-angled (75-degree) bike you're looking for. Its drive train is built around Ultegra 10 speed (Dura Ace rear derailleur) and its $1,799 price tag is very appealing when you consider this is an STI-shifted bike (a set of Ultegra 10-speed STI levers is expensive).
This geometry is built around road bars and clip-ons, making it a versatile "tweener" bike -- not quite road, not quite full-blown tri. My only gripe with this otherwise very fine bike is the Syntace C-2 clip-ons. I love these bars, but only on full tri bikes.
The TCR Aero 1 cries out for a low-profile S-bend clip-on, and Hed's clip-ons come to mind, as do some very nice Profile Design prototypes I just saw at the Interbike Show (no idea when those are going to make it into stores).
One final note on that: The bike shown at Giant's Interbike display had the C-2 clips. Giant's brochure says Easton clip-ons. For this bike, I'd probably prefer the latter. When you and I see it in shops we'll know what this bike really comes spec'd with.
As you enter through the bottom of this price range Quintana Roo's Kilo, at $1,495, is an intriguing option. This bike is most likely the least expensive tri bike with a rear-wheel cut-out (allowing for a slick, customized fit, just like its sister the Tequilo) and rear-entry dropouts with adjustment screws (just like the TiPhoon's dropout).
The Kilo has been QR's flagship model for a dozen years and just keeps getting better and better. I don't know if there's a bike under $1,500 that is the Kilo's equal, although Felt's S32 would give it a run.
Quintana Roo's Tequilo is just past the top of this price range at $1,900 and change, but bears mention. It is yet again another 10-speed bike, and uses the frame that was on QR's Caliente last year. This bike sometimes gets lost in QR's lineup, and that's too bad. This bike is a great value.
Softride is often considered a brand you don't want to look at unless you're willing to part with $3,000 or more, but its Classic frame and beam sells for about $1,600 when it's built up into a complete bike.
There are thousands of triathletes that would quit the sport if forced to give up their Softrides. If comfort is at the top of your hierarchy of needs, best to give this one a look before committing to a choice you'll later question.
A brand you might not have considered in this price range is Javelin. Like QR, Felt, and Cervelo before it, this is another company that started small and is looking to make the jump to hyperspace (that is, to make bikes in bulk, drop its price, and increase its exposure).
Its Varese sells for $1,800-ish, and sports a Campagnolo version of 10-speed (Veloce). This is a very pretty bike, well-spec'd, and well-made.
These aren't the sexiest bikes the industry builds. Who wouldn't want a QR Lucero, a Cervelo P3 Carbon, a Felt DA, or a Kestrel Airfoil if given the choice?
The companies making these bikes would certainly prefer it if you'd buy at the higher end. They have to sweat and strain to make any money in the under-$1,900 price range. Price pressure has wrung every nickel out of the bikes I describe above. That's what makes them so appealing.
Dan Empfield is the publisher of the online triathlon journal Slowtwitch.com, and is the founder of bike- and wetsuit-maker Quintana Roo.