For your first few triathlons you probably borrowed a bike or dusted off the old bike that’s been hiding in the garage for the past decade, but now that you have done a few races and you know you love the sport, it’s time to find the perfect racing bike. As you begin the search for triathlete bikes, you may quickly become overwhelmed with the process—after all, tri bikes can range from several hundred dollars on the low end to more than you would pay for a car on the high end. Here are a few tips to help you narrow down the right bike for you.
Aerodynamics Trumps Weight
Training and competition tri bikes generally come in four different materials—aluminum, steel, titanium, and carbon fiber. Aluminum is probably the most common and popular because it’s lightweight and can hold its own under pressure. It’s relatively inflexible, though, which can make it uncomfortable for long rides on bumpy roads. If you’re a heavier athlete, or planning to ride shorter distances, consider aluminum.
Steel bikes have been around for decades—they have great shock absorbency for long rides (Ironman or Half Iron distances), but steel tends to be heavier than other options. On the other hand, carbon fiber is one of the lightest materials, and because it is more flexible, tends to be a good option for lighter athletes as well as those who value comfort over everything else.
Finally there is titanium, which is the most expensive. It’s lighter than steel with a similar ride quality, absorbs the bumps of a poorly paved road, and will likely last a lifetime (or longer, if you want to bequeath it to your children). If you can afford it, you will probably not regret a titanium bike.
Balance Comfort and Aerodynamics
Buying the wrong size triathlon bike can have disastrous consequences, especially for long races. If your bike is too small or too large, you will not be able to get into an optimal position for comfort and aerodynamics on the ride, and you could end up with severe pain and soreness after your ride.
The best way to determine what size bike to purchase is getting fitted at a professional cycling shop—often they will help you find your size for free and you don’t have to buy a bike. If you don’t have a shop nearby or you don’t want to go in for sizing, you can do it on your own to get a rough idea. There are several suggested methods for measuring using your height and the length of your inner leg. Do a quick search for “measuring for a triathlon bike” to find one that works.
All bikes are measured in centimeters, but keep in mind that just like clothing, not all brands size their bikes exactly the same.
The position of your body can make a big difference in your comfort and muscle fatigue during the race. You want to be sure your saddle is the right height, so your knee is slightly bent when it reaches the bottom of the pedal position, and hips remain aligned during pedaling.
Your handlebars should also be an appropriate distance from the saddle so you can comfortably rest your hands or arms on the handlebars. Whether you are more upright (shorter reach distance) or bent (longer reach distance) is often a matter of flexibility, body proportions, and personal preference.
Finally, consider the “drop”, or the height of the handlebars relative to the saddle. The handlebars will usually be slightly lower than the saddle so you are at a steeper angle, but that could be different for inflexible athletes, or those with hip mobility issues.
Getting the right triathlete equipment is essential to your comfort and success in the bike portion of the race. The wrong bike can leave you sore and fatigued, making the run more difficult and costing you precious time during the race.