Do I NEED A Triathlon/Time Trial Bike?

| Greg Hodges

A question we are often asked in the shop is whether an aspiring triathlete NEEDS a time trial specific bike or if a standard road bike with aerobars will do the job. It’s an interesting question, one who’s answer lies in some deeper investigation of the rider, their skill level, aspirations and whether they deem themselves a competitor or simply a participant, trying to survive!

The first question that generally starts the conversation is the do I NEED one? Well, do you like going fast? Do you like slicing through the wind like a knife through hot butter? Of course, we all like to go fast but there are some important differences between a traditional road bike and the sleek, aerodynamic triathlon bike and knowing those differences can help anybody make an informed decision. Of course you need one. N+1, right?

Seriously, if you are a new racer, the only way you should be throwing your leg over a triathlon-specific bike is if you have plans on finishing in the top 5 and people ask you for your autograph as you make your way to the start line.

Now, if you’ve done a fair amount of triathlons (or local time trials, as we don’t want to leave them out) then you might be looking for an edge to gain that few seconds, or close that gap to the person you always seem to be right behind, then you MIGHT be in the market for a triathlon bike. Okay, now that I’ve typed triathlon and time trial a bunch of times, I’m moving forward with TT because spelling those out is tiresome and, well, I can. Anyway, back to bikes…

So, you’ve been at this a bit, your road bike is okay, but come running time, it’s jello legs for the first few miles. The biggest difference between a road bike and a TT bike is the geometry between the two. The road bike has a slacker head tube and seat tube angle, making the bike handle slightly less aggressive and also neutralizing the weight distribution between the front and back of the bike. The TT bike moves the rider forward over the front wheel, placing weight nearer the stem and over the front wheel, also bringing the rider further over the cranks, more closely mimicking the muscle use from running and minimizing the feeling of rubbery legs. Now, the drawback to this position is that it is not conducive to cornering or climbing, and while very fast in a straight line, handling isn’t awesome. The decision for most riders generally just comes down to whether they can afford one and feel that the benefits of the specific-use bike will get them better results than what they might achieve on their regular bike. With all of that being said, I’ve been dropped by old guys on steel bikes in sneakers and my fancy bike and kit didn’t help me then, I don’t think getting a fancy aero, TT bike is gonna help me much, but you know, N+1…