Before buying my first triathlon bike, I am spending a lot of time comparing every bike on the market and getting recommendations from bike shops and fellow triathletes. Here is what I learned along the way.
Disclaimer: The Triathlon Tips of My Tri World are reader-supported. When you buy through links, I may earn an affiliate commission.
1. FITTING FRAME SIZE AND COMPONENTS
Buying the right frame size is important for any kind of bike, but it is critical when it comes to triathlon bikes.
As a triathlete, I am buying a triathlon bike to get a faster bike split, but I should still be in a comfortable position. I learned a lot during the bike fit I have done with my road bike (see my article: What You Should Know Before Doing A Bike Fit). Adjusting a couple of components made a big difference in terms of comfort.
For my triathlon bike, I plan to have a professional bike fit before buying it. It brings a couple of big advantages like knowing:
- the exact frame size and geometry that suits me
- the exact stem and crank length I need
- the saddle type which would fit me
2. DISC OR RIM BRAKES
Disc brakes have been around for a very long time in mountain bikes and are undeniably better for braking in tough terrains and conditions. Do they make sense for triathlon bikes? I personally think it depends on which kind of roads the triathletes are riding and on their personal preferences.
However, having now big brands in the like of Cervélo or Canyon switching their entire triathlon lines from rim to disc brakes, the move towards disc brake is clearly happening (whether you like it or not 🙂 ).
The rim bike versions are currently cheaper than their disc counterparts, which can be seen either as a good bargain or as a risk if you are thinking of future parts compatibility or even reselling your bike.
3. MECHANICAL OR ELECTRONIC GROUPSET
A mechanical groupset, which uses steel cables from the shifters to the derailleurs, is found on all entry-level or mid-range triathlon bikes. The gear shifters are located at the end of the aero bars. They work perfectly when riding in the aero bars but are more difficult to access while climbing.
An electronic groupset, on the other end, uses a system with batteries. It requires less maintenance and has a more precise shifting in all conditions. The gear shifters are located at the end of the aero bars and on the handlebars, which means triathletes can change gears while riding in both positions! For someone living in the middle of the Alps, it is definitely something I am interested in.
4. ADJUSTABLE COCKPIT
The front end of triathlon bikes looks very different than standard road bikes. You can’t ride on the drops, the aero bars are integrated with the handlebars, and finally, the shifters are at the end of the aero bars (as well as on top of the brake levers for electronic groupsets).
It is clear that this type of bike is built for speed. Spending so much time in the aero bars can come at the cost of discomfort if not adjusted properly. On some bikes, the aero bars are completely fixed on the handlebars, and the adjustments are really limited. On the contrary, on some others, you can adjust the height of the aero bars, the space between the bars, and the inclination. The more options there are to adjust the cockpit, the easier it will be for you (or a professional bike fitter) to find the perfect position.
5. HYDRATION INTEGRATION
For triathletes doing mostly short distance triathlons, a couple of standard water bottles on the bike will be more than enough.
Starting from half distance triathlons, I would consider additional hydration options that let triathletes ride in the aero position. Some hydration systems can be bought separately (for example, the bottle between the aero bars), whereas some others are integrated into the bike. It is the case, for example, with the high-end Canyon Speedmax 2021 (link to Canyon’s website) where the hydration system can be found in the frame or in the Specialized Shiv (link to Specialized’s website) where a straw is going from the front end of the bike all the way to the water box under the saddle.
If you are interested in learning more about the different ways to carry water, check this article: 15 Different Ways To Carry Water And Food During A Triathlon.
6. INTERNAL STORAGE
As for the hydration system, the internal storage is mostly found on high-end triathlon bikes. Some bikes will, for example, have a storage area built into the frame for a repair kit as the Canyon Speedmax 2021 (link to their website) or on the down tube like the Orbea Ordu (link to their website).
Most of the triathlon bikes will, however, have two holes on the top tube, which can accommodate a bento box (with two screws) for tools or nutrition. It is not really integrated but can do the job as well. A good example is the TriSeven Aero 10 (Amazon affiliate link) which can be attached with screws or with velcro straps.
The wheels are the first items on my list, which are less critical when buying a triathlon bike. Contrary to a frame or an integrated system, you can change them easily.
The move from entry-level to mid-range to high-end will often (but not always!) come with a better set of wheels: deeper section wheels for more aero dynamism and/or a more renowned brand.
As for wheels, you can often replace the drivetrain components on your own after your purchase. The majority of triathlon bikes come with a combination of chainrings, cassettes, and derailleurs made for flat or hilly roads. If you plan to train and race on mountainous terrains, it is worth checking the specific gearings of the bikes you like and see if it would be possible to change some of its components. In this case, another option could be to buy a road bike rather than a triathlon bike.
I was actually surprised how uncomfortable my saddle became once I was riding on the aerobars. Finding the right one can be challenging. I personally found a good one after measuring the width of my sit bones in a bike shop. You can also try to measure it on your own or with a professional bike fitter. In the latter, a good bike fitter will also have different saddle shapes that you can try.
Weight is definitely less important on triathlon bikes than it is on road bikes. The majority of races are on flat terrains, and the focus is made on aerodynamic. The vast majority of new triathlon bikes will be around 20 to 22lb (9-10kg). The frame is often (to not say always) made of carbon for new bikes. You might still find some second-hand aluminum bikes which weigh a bit more than that.
I listed the cost last, so you already know which of the first 10 items are most important to you.
The cost of triathlon bikes ranges from $2,499 for the first entry-level bike up to $16,999 for the top of the range. It varies greatly depending on the groupset, the wheels, and the integration systems (hydration and storage) provided. If you want to learn more, I wrote an entire article about it: The Cost Of Triathlon Bikes And What You Get For This Price.
As you can see, there are a few things to look for when buying a triathlon bike. Knowing what is important will definitely help to filter your bike options.