So, you want to get into triathlon and you’ve got the cycling chops, but is your bike going to cut it?
In this guide to triathlon bikes, we’re going to look at what bike you need to take part, the upgrades that will make you more competitive, and the purpose-built triathlon bikes that will take you hurtling towards the podium.
Triathlon bikes come in a bewildering range of shapes, sizes, styles, and prices – so where do you begin?
With the help of some of our resident triathlon experts, we’ve created this step-by-step guide, summarising the different stages of developing your mechanical advantage for taking part in competitions.
From basic upgrades to get you started, to the precision-built air-slicing superbikes, getting the ultimate triathlon bike is a long but exciting journey that starts with the same thing that probably first sparked your interest in triathlons in the first place – the simple road bike.
Do I need a specific triathlon bike to take part?
You can take part in mostly any triathlon event on a standard road bike, as long as it conforms to the rules set out by the international sports cycling body, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).
Most road bikes are built to conform to these rules anyway, so it’s not worth being overly worried about these standards for now. However, if you’re interested, you can view the full detailed standardisation rules using this UCI downloadable document.
Stage 1 – getting started
So, you are at the beginning of your triathlon journey. You have a road bike, yet you’re wondering what you need to ensure you’re set for race day. The truth is that your common-or-garden, upgrade free, road bike is probably a good enough start.
For those just starting their triathlon journey, it’s worth noting small adjustments at the beginning will have a big impact on your efficiency. As you become more competitive, the gains you get from more sophisticated equipment become increasingly marginal, so get the basics right first before you go off and spend big on an aero-style helmet.
If you don’t have a racing-standard road bike, have a look at the impressive 2018 range at Wiggle.
Featuring a High Modulus T700 carbon frameset, the Vitus Vitesse Evo CRi is a pedegree racer. It comes with the BB 386 Evo - the widest and most efficient bottom bracket - as standard, as well as the Prime Carbon RR38 wheelset with Schwalbe Pro One 25c tyres.
De Rosa's slick SK comes with Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting system. The bike itself was crafted by Pininfarina, the legendary car designers behind the Ferrari P4/5 and GTO, giving this bike Italian flare to accompany its aerodynamic chassis and stunning good looks.
Another product of Italian engineering, the Wilier Zero7 comes accompanied by Campagnolo's superb Chorus drive train, as well as Campy's Khamsin wheelset. The bike features quality throughout, with integrated cables and front fork for better aerodynamics, and unrivalled stiffness for speed and responsiveness.
Stage two – basic modifications
Once you’ve dipped your toe into the world of triathlon and discovered it’s something you want to pursue, then begin with a few basic modifications to your road bike.
Firstly, adopt a more aggressive seated position by slamming your front stem, which should produce a more aerodynamic profile and a more powerful pedal stroke. This technique, however, only works well for some riders, and riding in this aggressive position takes some practice.
It's also important to ensure you have quality, fast tyres with low rolling resistance.
While not absolutely necessary at this stage - if the race features a long bike ride with lots of lengthy straights, you may want to take advantage of the aerodynamic efficiencies from aero handlebars.
These bars allow you to adopt an ultra-low and aggressive riding position, allowing you to cut through the air. However, make sure you practice riding with these bars as their impeded steering and lack of access to the brakes can take some getting used to.
Take a look at some of the aero bars from Wiggle...
Profile Design's T4 plus Carbon Aerobars help you find the perfect position, allowing you to you rehydrate without compromising your aero profile.
These lightweight, draft legal aerobars from Profile Design offer an integrated bracket allowing the rider to run a minimalist clip-on aerobar design with or without armrests.
These draft legal aero bars from Vision are compatible with any 31.8mm handlebar.
The new Metal Blast Aero Bars from Deda feature 25mm longer extensions (165mm) and a re-designed pads system made from a combination of Lycra, providing a more comfortable ride.
Stage 3 – The first big upgrade
The most significant upgrade you can make to your road bike for participating in a triathlon is investing in a quality deep-section wheelset.
For triathlon riding, there is little point investing in an expensive bike frame or components if you don’t already have a set of good deep-section wheels, so this is the place to start.
A good wheelset will have an instantaneous effect on your aerodynamic efficiency, improving the performance of your bike by an order of magnitude.
Whether you want to go tubeless, tubular or clincher at this stage is up to you, although many triathlon riders will stick to clinchers as they’re relatively easy to change should you develop a puncture mid-race.
The Easton EC90 Aero 55 Clincher Wheelset provides minimal drag, excellent acceleration and stability thanks to wind tunnel proven aerodynamics
These Red Wind XLR 80 wheels use aerodynamic carbon fibre profile rims (80mm) with an aluminium braking surface providing optimised performance in all weather conditions
The Campagnolo Bora Ultra 50 Tubular Wheelset is designed to make riders feel like champions. Featuring new enhancements the Bora Ultra 50 is versatile in all conditions due to its extreme speed, excellent aerodynamics and incredible handling.
The Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 C60 Carbon Disc Wheelset features a 60mm deep carbon rim with a 24mm width, a centre lock 11-speed hub & stainless steel spokes.
Once you’ve upgraded your wheelset, you can then turn your attention to more technical aspects of your bike, such as the groupset. A top quality drive train will provide faster, smoother, and more precise shifting to further your competitive edge.
Stage 4 – Buying a TT bike
Once you’ve exhausted the aerodynamic advantage of your aero-riding position, deep-section wheelset, and improved gearing, it’s time to consider purchasing a dedicated triathlon machine.
Triathlon bikes, also known as TT (Time Trial) bikes, are designed to maximise aerodynamics to preserve the energy of the rider.
Specialised triathlon bikes have a streamlined frame, with large flat or oval tubes reshaped to cut through the air easily. The frame geometry uses steeper angles than a road bike to keep the rider more upright and sat over the top of the bottom bracket.
The steering column is also steeper which, combined with the shorter wheel base, gives a stiffer feel to the front of the bike, making it more responsive during out-of-the-saddle surges.
Apart from standard groupset parts, other components on a tri bike include a set of fixed aerobars, lightweight brake levers, and bar-end gear shifters.
The Fuji Norcom Straight 2.3 offers more positioning options than any other TT/Triathlon superbike out there. It's wind-tested design helps you find the ideal balance of efficiency, comfort and aerodynamics. It comes with Shimano 105 components and a reputation for winning.
However, if you’re not ready for to commit to such a specialised machine, you can also explore the option of an aero-bike. These bikes are a hybrid of the normal road bike design with a number of aerodynamic design flourishes that greatly reduce wind resistance.
The Vitus Bikes ZX1 Team Aero Disc bike comes with the Dura Ace groupset, and is Aero optimised with Kammtail tube profiles, an integrated Aero fork, along with flat mount disc brakes and 12mm bolt thru axles.
Wilier Cento1 0 Air Road Bike is lightweight, stiff, and features the superb SRAM Red eTap groupset and Mavic Cosmic Pro Exalith wheelset.
The Cento10AIR has departed from traditional concepts to create an outstanding aero bike. It features an Ultegra groupset, Mavic Cosmic Elite Wheelset, and Alabarda handlebars to deliver a quality racing experience and performance.
Stage 5 – Going full aero
Once you’ve squeezed all the air-slicing advantages of riding a TT bike, you are now entering a new world of extracting split-second gains from increasingly extreme aerodynamic materials and design.
You’ve already lopped away all the main causes of wind resistance and now it’s time to get into the minutiae.
At this point, you will be looking at investing in an aero helmet, skin suits, aero-gloves and shoe covers to remove every last trace of drag.
This is a complex world of wind-tunnels, analysis, and attention to detail on a scientific level, with fluid dynamics playing just as big a role as power and performance.
The podium awaits...