How To Choose The Best Triathlon Bike In Five Easy Steps
Selecting a bicycle is one of the most vital decisions any triathlete can make. After all, when it comes to triathlon racing, should your race day go according to plan, you’ll be spending more time with your bike than you will with your swimsuit or running shoes. Luckily, there’s never been a better time to get yourself a new bike. There are countless options available from many companies in various frame materials and with a wide variety of component packages, to say nothing of all the other cycling gear and accessories you’ll undoubtedly want to get to accompany your new ride. But first thing’s first—you need a new bike. So whether you’re looking to jump into the sport for the first time and purchase your very first triathlon bike, or you’re a veteran triathlete who simply wants to add another bike to your collection, here is how to choose the best triathlon bike. These are the steps you should take to make sure that you get the right bike for your needs.
ASSESS YOUR GOALS
As you begin your search for your new bike, it’s best to start off by considering your riding, training, and racing goals. Are you looking to compete in triathlon racing? If so, what distance(s) are you interested in? In how many races do you plan on participating each year? How will your training support your racing ambitions? What sort of social rides will you be doing, and how often? The answers to all of these questions should help you form a baseline of what you’ll need in terms of features and benefits from your new bike. They’ll also help you start determining things like what handlebar configuration will be best for you, as well as how you should start aligning your budget for a new bike purchase—both of which are addressed in the next few sections.
Aero road bikes, like the AR, are ideal for triathlon races that do not allow aerobar extensions.
AEROBARS OR DROP BARS?
Once you’ve armed yourself with information regarding your honest goals and realistic expectations for racing, you’ll be able to start filtering out what bikes you will (and won’t) need to consider. First and foremost, bikes intended for triathlon racing can be most easily broken down into two categories: bikes with aerobars, and bikes with drop handlebars. Aerobar-equipped bikes are what most folks associate with triathlon racing: they involve two arm-length extensions that stick out from the front of the bike where you’ll be resting your arms and hands for much of your race, along with a set of brake levers positioned at the end of two wider extensions jutting out from the sides of the bike’s front-end. This type of bike is the most common in triathlon, as it offers the most aerodynamically efficient and versatile riding position (all other factors being equal, such as frame design, wheel shape, actual body position, etc.). However, aerobar-equipped bikes are sometimes not authorized to be used in competition in certain jurisdictions or racing leagues. Case in point, ITU discipline triathlon or Olympic-style racing requires the use of drop-style handlebar-equipped bikes—these are the very same as standard “road bikes.” Their front ends feature a drop-style handlebar with hand positions on the hoods and drops, where the rider can easily access shifters and brake levers. Check with your local racing league, as well as the organizing body for any event in which you plan to participate, to find out if they have any restrictions on the types of handlebars that they allow. If any of your chosen events require drop-style handlebars, then that’s the type of bike on which you should be focusing your search. For any other type of racing, consider aerobar-equipped models. As a side note, remember that many drop bar-style bikes (but not all) have the ability to utilize “clip-on” aerobars, which can be easily affixed to the top portion of a drop handlebar to gain an aero advantage—this type of setup gives you two bikes in one!
Bikes like the B model offer tremendous value in the form of a carbon fiber frame and fork combination, along with lower-cost components.
BALANCE YOUR BUDGET
Once you’ve determined what type of handlebar configuration your new bike should have, it’s time to think about the practical side of a new bike purchase. While we believe in the motto that life is short, so you should treat yourself to your dream bike, it’s important to recognize that this isn’t always the most practical case for every athlete. Again, consider your riding and racing habits, and how often you’ll be spending time in the saddle. This is another good opportunity along your new bike journey to again consider what aspects of a new bike are important to you. Do you want the lightest possible frame for uphill accelerations? Do you want the smoothest ride quality possible for providing comfort over rough racecourses? Do you crave the newest and fanciest shifting and braking components? All of these things can have a dramatic impact on the final price of a new bike, and should definitely be considered. Also, remember that picking out a new bike shouldn’t just be about the straightforward cost. Be sure that you’re also considering the value of what you’re getting. For example, if two bikes cost the same amount, but one features a higher quality carbon frame, or lighter wheels, or a better performing drivetrain, then be sure to factor that into your purchasing decision. There’s a lot of great bikes out there, so do your due diligence to ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
All Felt pro triathletes who compete in events that allow aerobars ride our best-performing model, the IA.
MAKE A SHORT LIST
You’ve determined your needs and double-checked your budget, so now it’s time to start narrowing down the marketplace into a short list of viable new bike candidates. As we’ve said before, there are a lot of great triathlon bikes out there, and oftentimes it can be daunting to make a final decision. Look for bikes that will support your aforementioned racing goals but not put you into a financial crisis, and start fine-tuning your selection process. Include bikes from reputable brands who have plenty of experience crafting great bikes and disregard those with spotty track records of performance. Selecting a new bike should also be a decision rooted in passion, and that means you should look for bikes that speak to you aesthetically, either through their industrial design or colors and graphics. Let yourself fall in love with your chosen bike and you’ll find yourself wishing to spend as much time with it as possible. If you’re not completely thrilled with the available complete bikes within your search parameters, consider getting yourself a frame kit and working with your local bike shop to build a custom setup unique to you, with your choice of drivetrain parts, wheels, and accessories—this is the best way to get a bike that is unlike anything else out there. If you’ve narrowed your search to one special bike, then go for it! Next, you’ll need a bike fit, so keep reading the next section. But if you’ve narrowed down your options to a select few and aren’t quite sure how to make the final call, one option is to bring in an expert and consult with an experienced bike fitter.
GET A BIKE FIT
Getting a proper bike fit is the single most important factor in maximizing your cycling performance and comfort. So if you’ve procured your new bike, congratulations! Now go find an experienced and reputable bike fitter in your area, and work with them to make sure you’re dialed in with your new ride. If you haven’t quite made up your mind on which specific bike you should get, but you have a few options in mind, then seek out that experienced bike fitter and ask for a recommendation or consultation. Just like when it comes to performance and comfort, not all bikes are created equal when it comes to their ability to properly accommodate the fit needs of their riders. For example, we design our bikes to be able to allow as many riders as possible to achieve their most powerful riding position, but this isn’t the case with all brands or models. So in certain instances, especially if you have a unique riding position or a physiological need that needs attention, an experienced bike fitter may be able to recommend one bike over another that will better serve your particular riding position needs.
STILL NEED HELP?
Don't worry, we've got your back. Check out the handy chart below to help you figure out what type of triathlon bike you should get.