When it comes to triathlons, there are no rules or specifications placed on what kind of bike you should use. You are free to choose any bike that you would like to use.
Whether that means you decide to use a bike from the local store or a tricked-out triathlon bike is completely up to you. But it must be said quickly: triathlon bikes are by far the best choice.
These types of bikes are much faster than the typical ‘road’ bike that you see. These bikes will help you push further toward your goals.
Whether you are trying to top your personal best or win the race entirely, a good bike can put you over the top and give you a much better chance to accomplish what you set out to do.
In this buying guide, we’re going to take a look at the reasons you need a ‘tri’ bike, what makes them the best choice, and we’re going to help you select the best one possible with tips.
At the end of our guide, we will rank the top ten tri bikes that are for sale this year.
Triathlon Bike Buying Guide
The point of this article is to make you more informed about all things tri bikes. But there are also some other things to consider before getting on too far. For one, a tri bike is heavily encouraged for anyone that is going to be doing a triathlon.
However, it should be said that it is not always the answer for you. Depending on the race type (we’ll look at that later) and the frequency of use, you may want to look at other options.
If you are going to be doing triathlon as a hobby in an inconsistent manner, it may not be worth it to you to buy a tri bike. You might want to instead get a decent road bike and call it a day.
Sometimes this is just the better option, despite what anyone will tell you. But if you’re ready to commit, then let’s look at some facts!
Another thing to look at is does the bike hold water bottles and how many does it hold? How many you want and need depends totally on the length of the race and how much you want to drink.
You’ll have to make sure to find one that meets your needs, or you could be left disappointed!
Reasons to Get a Tri Bike
The most obvious reasons to purchase a tri bike is to help you gain speed in a triathlon. Every second really does count, especially to those that compete in these types of events. But who am I kidding?
You probably already know that! No one likes to think that they are being slowed down by their equipment, so a tri bike can be the answer. It’s also important to quickly say that a bike isn’t going to just magically make you better, either.
Practice and training is very much still a requirement. So a tri bike is great because of its speed. Now, let’s look at why it’s faster.
Tri bikes are obviously built for speed, but knowing why is also very important to learn. Tri bikes use aerodynamics to full effect in order to help you go faster.
Everything is streamlined on this type of bike to allow you to go as fast as possible. This is a massive difference to what you will find with ordinary road bikes that you see every day.
No matter how small, light, or good looking they are, they’ll still be slower simply because of aerodynamics. The way that the frame is shaped allows the bike to be so much faster than what you would be able to do on a road bike.
For starters, the best tri bikes have a seat positioning that contrasts with that of a regular bike. The seat tube, which is the place where your seat post sets into, is much more upright than a regular bike.
This will make you closer to the bike, and thus you’ll become more aerodynamic as a result. In addition to the speed you gain, it also helps you be more efficient with your energy.
It literally saves your quads, a very important muscle for running, from being overused on this portion of the race, which will be a massive help to you as you run later on after the bike ride.
They do this by requiring you to use your hamstrings more in an effort to power yourself. This is the case as you are much lower than you would be on the road bike.
The second big thing to notice is the handlebars on a tri bike. In contrast to the regular road bike, they are positioned in a much different way. Instead of being straight across, it is effectively in a U, or a bent shape.
This is done so that it can cut through the wind better, which also adds to aerodynamics. It’s also made to help you be a little bit more comfortable as you’re going to be down lower than you would on a regular road bike!
Now, one thing that some people do is take a regular road bike and add ‘tri’ bars to it over time in an effort to slowly upgrade it. This is always an option, just in case you are looking that way.
The components of a tri bike are just important as anything. Components will determine how well your bike races and how well it holds up. If you’re purchasing a bike, you’ll need to make sure that all of the parts and pieces are in decent quality.
You can get away with some of them being cheaper made, but there is a clear rule here. The more cheaper components on it, the more likely it is to letting you down in the end. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to buy the most expensive bikes.
It just means that you need to aware of the fact that they are not all created the same. This a generic term for any of the working parts of the bike. These include the shifters, the brakes, the bearings, and even the pedals themselves.
These can make or break your day, and it’s important to take not when you see one that doesn’t look up to par.
The frame of a tri bike is something that is very important to look at. There are four main options that you can choose from. Each has advantages and disadvantages that should be weighed carefully so you get the best possible bike for you.
Steel bikes are the most traditional of the frames on this list. This bike was most popular way back in the 50s, and it’s held in high regard by old-timers and traditionalists alike. The biggest asset that steel has is that is a great shock absorber.
This makes it incredibly comfortable on bumps and especially during the course of a long race. The disadvantage of steel is that it’s seen as heavy.
Even though it’s sometimes just a couple of pounds heavier, some people just don’t want to be slowed down despite it’s comfort.
Aluminum bikes are the most commonly seen around. The reason is that they are both light and they are naturally stiff. This makes it great for coming out of corners as you can really accelerate very quickly indeed.
However, this kind of bike gives very little support for lighter riders over long races. For people that are pretty heavy, it can be a really great option because you’re able to take the bumps much better.
The suggested cut off is around 175 lbs, so be aware of that as you consider an aluminum bike!
Titanium bikes have been a godsend to the top triathletes in the world. This type of bike rides very similarly to a steel bike, but it is at less weight than steel. This naturally makes it very desirable to all kinds of different riders.
It is able to absorb bumps, it’s quick off the corners, and titanium is very durable and will last a while. Any guy or girl would feel great and be quicker on this bike, no matter their size or ability level. But the drawback is definitely the price on this one.
It’s not because of the titanium itself, but it’s all to do with how they process the metal to make the bike.
Carbon fiber is the bike for those that have bad backs and need a comfortable ride. It is the most un stiff bike out, meaning it is the softest riding one you will likely find. It has the best in shock absorption out there as well.
As you go on, however, this bike isn’t quite as good at preserving your energy as others would be. Still a great choice for those that are lighter in weight or those that have injuries that want to take care of.
As you can see, comfort plays a large part in this process. Without the correct fit, you are going to be left in a desperate state of affairs. So it’s crucial to find something that fits YOU well. It’s hard to find this with reviews online.
It’s great for general information to get you pointed in the right direction, but there’s nothing like trying out a bike just to make sure it fits you well. Then, you can always go back to the online method to buy if you like.
This is something that is very crucial. This is also dependent on how long races are in which you are competing and where exactly you are going to be doing it.
If you’re on a road that’s going to be bumpy and hilly, you’d naturally want a little bit different bike. Some people will want something in between all of the variables so that they won’t have to worry no matter what kind, of course, they are set to face.
Just remember that the more ‘tri’ in the tri bike, the more unforgiving it will tend to be. The speed is what you are looking for, and sometimes comfort will be thrown out the window.
But you must still find a degree of comfort unless you just want to grin and bare it for the entire journey.
Other Possible Options
There are some other options that you can find to give you more choices for choosing a tri bike. These options have specific functions, and they could serve you well depending on what type of race you are in.
If you know you’re going to be doing a short sprint mostly, or a race on flat and straight road, you might want to consider what is called a time trial bike. These are what you’d see Tour de France riders using in the last stage of the race.
Time trial bikes are even quicker than triathlon bikes, but they don’t offer as much comfort, shock absorption, or turn quite as well. If you are going to be on mountains or rougher terrain, it’d be wise to avoid these for sure.
Best Triathlon Bike Reviews
Here’s a great option for those on a budget – relative to our number 1 pick (Felt). Kestrel is one of those triathlon bike names that everyone knows and respects. In fact, if everyone had the budget, it’s either a FELT or a Kestrel that everyone would want to ride!
This legendary tri-bike maker has once again given us a winner for all triathletes. The 5000 SL from Kestrel offers 800K high modulus carbon fiber construction (which happens to be the lightest carbon fiber Kestrel has ever used).
Aerodynamics are incorporated into nearly every single component on the bike, like handlebars, seat tube, seat post and stays.
All components are operated by a cable that runs totally inside the bike to ensure the best airflow possible for ultimate aerodynamics.
The 5000 is made mostly for competitive triathletes looking for the fastest bike Kestrel has ever made, and something with lots of adjustability. However, the Shimano componentry is Ultegra which is meant to keep the already high price tag, as low as possible.
Kestrel’s Ultegra version features pro-proven components with trickle-down technology from Shimano’s top-of-the-line Dura-Ace series to offer the same level of performance, only optimized for a lower price point.
If you want a bike that functions at a pro-level, but without the bells and whistles of a pro model price tag, the Kestrel 5000 SL Ultegra is the bike you may want to consider.
The highest-end Shimano components would be Dura-Ace, but that would jack the price too high for all but the wealthiest few athletes in the country.
As an FYI, Kestrel actually made the world’s first all-carbon bike in back in the late 80’s, and have led the pack in carbon technology ever since.
- Unbelievable value for the price
- Contains many options (including looks) found on bikes costing 3 times as much
- Made by one of the world’s best-known names in Triathlon, or time trial bicycles
- Not the absolute cheapest bike you can buy
- Needs lots of assembly
I won’t bore you with Kestrel’s legendary name in the triathlon bike niche, so lets just skip to the good stuff! The Talon X is made of the highest grade 800K ultra-high-modulus carbon fiber. Light and strong – YES!
Featuring Shimano 105 front and rear derailleurs with micro shift BS-A11 bar-end 11-speed shifters, this is a performance machine to say the least!
Other features include Oval Concepts 327 wheels 20 spokes front / 24 spokes rear with Vittoria Zaffiro Pro, 700 x 25c, folding tires. It also offers Oval Concepts 750 6061 alloy base handle-bar with Oval Concepts 750 6061 alloy clip-on extension bars.
We love the reversible seat which offers 2 distinct profiles – road and triathlon racing positions.
Hopefully, this short outline is enough to get you at least mildly interested enough to further your research.
- Great look
- It’s a KESTREL
- Excellent aerodynamics
- Endless adjustability
- Full Carbon
- Very expensive
- Very expensive
- Very expensive
- Little bit pricey! (well, to be honest, it’s a lot LESS expensive than our #1)
This bike from Diamondback is one that looks out of place in our “battle of the high prices” list so far.
We ranked this bike up near the top of our list because we believe that unless you are a VERY competitive or pro triathlete, you’ll do just fine with a road bike price SIGNIFICANTLY lower than a high-end bike!
We really wanted to offer you a great bike at a sub-$2.5 K price point. We weren’t sure we’d find one until we stumbled across this one in our research recently.
This Diamondback 5 is a good performer that feels like a racing machine with a fully carbon frame and Shimano Ultegra componentry and hydraulic disc brakes.
- Affordable compared to time trial tri bikes
- Easy, straightforward assembly
- Not engineered 100% for a triathlon (which can be a good thing if you’re into road racing and staying in shape by riding).
In a nutshell, the SAVADECK Carbon road bike offers a T800 Carbon Fiber Frame, a Shimano 105 Groupset. It was designed in a wind tunnel so lots of details are aerodynamically contoured.
The stays, seat post and seat tube are shaped to cut through the wind for a noticeable difference in time over a longer run. It features a fully internal cable routing system so your frame remains as free from clutter as possible and that helps for both looks and aerodynamics.
Hydraulic disc brakes offer a high-end performance profile. The brakes offer a longer-lasting performance while being far stronger and more responsive than conventional V-brake systems.
We love the carbon wheelset and CST Bike Tires: Tires using CST C1808, 700C x 28C. 120TPI high-density gauze reduces tire weight and improve riding comfort.
- Very well appointed with componentry and 100% carbon construction
- Relatively comfortable
- Good speed
- No big name or reputation to offer some degree of “comfort” and familiarity
Savadeck is not exactly a world-renowned brand in the triathlon industry, but let’s just say, it’s making a LOT of headway towards that goal! The Toray T800 Carbon Fiber frame, fork, handlebar, seat post and wheelset, shoot this bike to the top end of our quality spectrum.
The Shimano Ultegra 8000 groupset speaks volumes to the quality of this road machine. The current profile is not 100% triathlon, but it’s fairly close (at least for beginners) and it can be altered for a slightly different racing profile.
This bike was designed in an actual wind tunnel and the stays, seat tube and seat post are all aerodynamically contoured.
This bike comes more “assembled” than any other you can buy from Amazon, and it even offers free pedals – which is a great addition for a typical high-end bike.
It’s good for any level of competitive triathlete (who can scrape up a few thousand measly dollars!) but we’d suggest it’s best for enthusiasts and beginners.
- Carbon construction with great groupo
- Mostly assembled on arrival to your home, and free pedals included
- Not 100% tri racing profile (this is set up as a road bike)
Valdora is not exactly a household name, but like a few other “no-name” brands on our list, it’s a capable competition machine for any intermediate (and even elite level) triathlete.
Because it is made of carbon fiber, it places itself squarely in the “not-so-cheap” category, no matter the name! Valdora has given much attention to geometry and proper ergonomics.
A bike may have good aero geometry, but if it’s uncomfortable, you won’t stay in the aero position very long – which defeats the whole purpose of having a time trial or triathlon bike in the first place. Valdora has taken this issue into consideration.
The ride is stiff, but that could be said of most carbon bikes and in most cases, that is a very good thing! Carbon has the least flexibility of all popular manufacturing materials used for bike frame building.
However, this frame only weighs 2.6 lbs. That’s ridiculously light! Even Triathlete Magazine couldn’t help comment on the PHX.
They said, “You’ll find that Valdora offers a light carbon compact that is every bit as much bike (and in some cases more) as is offered by the big boys, all the while leaving you less light in the wallet.”
There’s also a no-fault crash replacement warranty and a limited lifetime warranty.
- Really nice looks
- Great price for what you get
- Carbon helps you go faster
- Ships nearly assembled
- Not as cheap as the cheapest bike on the market
- “no-name” brand
Conclusion & Recommendations
There are so many different choices to be made in this category because triathlons are very lax in regards to the biking stage.
There aren’t many rules beyond no drafting or blocking/hitting others, so you can be sure that many will have a tough time deciphering what they need. Having a plan and knowing what you want is key.
Whether it’s for comfort, durability, or pure speed, there are plenty of choices out there. Remember that you must also get the right biking shoes if you want to ride at your highest level.
No matter if you’re budget is large or small, the right tri bike for you is out there, and it will help you go faster and feel better at the end of the day!