Your next bike: Tri bike? Or nicer road bike?

author : FitWerx
comments : 0
BT Member Question:

"I have a road bike that I have been using for about five years now, and it has done pretty well. I recently put some Profile Design Aero Bars on the bike and I do like the position. I really like the LOOKS of a tri bike, but perhaps I would be better off buying an upgraded model of road bike -- something more current. Any thoughts? I do sprint triathlons about three to four times a year and a couple bike races a year, but mainly I am out on the road training by myself three times a week."

Answer from Dean Phillips
Fitwerx

It sounds like your current setup is working well.

The road bike is great for all-around versatility such as:

  • riding in groups
      
  • long solo rides where you can sit upright
     
  • charity rides
     
  • hill climbing
     
  • aggressive club rides
     
  • races

You can always add the clip-on aerobars like you've done to give you that extra position that is more aerodynamic.

Advantage: Tri Bike

So what advantages does a tri bike have over a road bike w/aerobars setup?

The biggest benefits come from the more forward saddle position and geometry of the tri-bike. This allows you to be positioned in the aerobars with a more open hip angle at the top of the pedal stroke. You're going to be more comfortable, powerful, and aerodynamic riding in the aerobars on the tri bike because the geometry better accommodates the aerobar position.

The wheelbase and steering of a tri bike are also designed to accommodate the more forward position so the bike will still be stable when riding in the aerobars. Often times when a forward seatpost is used to position a rider in a tri position on a road bike, the handling of the bike gets compromised because too much weight ends up over the front wheel instead of spread evenly between the two wheels.

A well-designed carbon fiber tri bike typically has more aerodynamic tubing than a road tubed road bike, so there's often some added time savings there. When taking everything into consideration, you'll simply ride faster on a tri-bike than you will on a road bike w/ clip on aerobars. Speed improvements generally are in the 1-3mph range on a tri bike versus road bike depending on the individual and how well you're positioned on each. How much do those speed savings matter? Every triathlete will have a different answer depending on how they balance their triathlon goals with other riding goals.

Advantage: Road Bike

And what advantages would you see in upgrading to a higher quality road bike?

Considering you "only" race in 3-4 triathlons a year and also participate in bike races, an upgraded road bike makes a lot of sense. You'll be able to use it in mass start bike races where you can't use the tri bike, and also clip on the aerobars to use in triathlons or weekly time trials as well.

As bike manufactures continue to advance the use of carbon fiber, there are a number of upgrades you'll likely see in a new road bike. New high quality carbon road frames can be lighter, stiffer, smoother, more aerodynamic, and exhibit better handling and stability than the carbon fiber frames from only a few years ago. Some frames offer an improvement in all areas, where some will improve some and give up some. For instance, a number of the more cutting edge aerodynamic road frames may not be the lightest and smoothest riding frames on the market.

I often find triathletes look past some of the great qualities a road bike can offer. Sometimes you want to think past what speed you averaged on a ride and just appreciate the ride of a high quality road bike - how it accelerates, how smooth it rides, what it feels like when you jump out of the saddle to climb a hill or bridge up to another rider. For bike racers or cyclists who enjoy trying to hang onto an aggressive weekend club ride, these small improvements in performance in a new frame, wheels, or components can end up making the difference on whether you can hang with the pack or get dropped. We all know how good it feels to hang with that group (or rider) that dropped you in a past ride!

The choice between a tri bike versus an upgraded road bike really depends on the individual and what best matches your goals.


Dean Phillips is a co-owner of Fit Werx² in Peabody, MA.  Dean frequently writes tech articles for BeginnerTriathlete.com and is humble enough that he would likely never tell you (so we'll tell you for him) just how fast he is on a bike.  Dean holds multiple TT course records in New England, having broken records previously held by some of America's best pro cyclists, and he set these while being a father of three young children and owning his own business.  Dean knows speed and how to get the most out of his training time.

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date: August 11, 2011

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FitWerx

Fit Werx offers the most scientific and complete bicycle fitting services in New England, the Northeast and beyond. Regardless of where you are from (Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Australia, Macau...) a Fit Werx' bike fit is guaranteed to be worth the trip.

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avatarFitWerx

Fit Werx offers the most scientific and complete bicycle fitting services in New England, the Northeast and beyond. Regardless of where you are from (Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Australia, Macau...) a Fit Werx' bike fit is guaranteed to be worth the trip.

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