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Starting Out in Triathlon:  Another Option on What Kind of Bike to Get

For many people considering their first bike purchase after they have decided to get involved in triathlon, there is often a dilemma: what kind of bike to get when you're starting out?

A road bike with traditional frame geometry and road drop bars?

Or, a tri bike with a steeper seat tube angle and a full aerobar set-up?

 

Each type of bike has distinct advantages. The traditional road bike has the brakes and shifters in easy reach; the drop bars have lots of hand positions available; a road bike is typically more welcome at group rides; a road bike allows for faster (and safer) descending and cornering; and it's far more versatile for utility riding like riding in traffic, trips to the store, commuting, etc. But a tri bike has its own set of advantages. A bike dedicated for triathlon is often faster and the frame is significantly more aerodynamic (both pretty important qualities for a tri race bike); a tri bike usually allows the rider to get into a better position for generating good power while in the aero position; and a triathlon bike is often more comfortable for riding on the aerobars (if fit correctly, of course), etc.

 

Most new triathletes end up choosing one or the other. A common pattern for many new triathletes is to start with a standard drop-bar road bike and then they add clip-ons to make the bike more suitable for triathlon racing and training. A few seasons later, the athlete returns to their bike shop and then buys a second bike, a triathlon bike with tri-specific geometry and a full aerobar set up. Sometimes the athlete sells their used road bike and use only their newly-acquired tri bike, and sometimes the athlete ends up with two bikes. There is nothing inherently wrong with this pattern if it fits in one's budget and is compatible with your desires.

 

The Third Option

But there's also a third option that can give new athletes the best of both worlds and might even end up saving them considerable money, and from buying more bikes than they want. That option is a tri bike, but one fitted with road drop bars and a set of well-designed clip-on aerobars. In many ways, this creates a true multisport (and multi-course) bike because it makes for an aero tri bike that is equally fast on super fast descents, steep climbs, rolling hills and pancake-flat race courses. The tri bike with drop bar option can give a new athlete essentially all of the advantages of both bikes, but all in just one machine. The drop bars (with clip-on aerobars) do give one a slight aero penalty vs a similar full aerobar set up, but the aero penalty is fairly small, a few seconds per 40k (depending on your cycling speed).

 

In addition to being low-cost on the onset, this third option also gives a new triathlete lots more options as they progress in skill and experience. For example, over time, one can (1) keep the drop bars and clip-ons on the triathlon bike and just use it that way for training and multisport racing. Or (2), one can keep the drop bars on the bike, take off the clip-on bars, and use it for road riding if the rider's triathlon passion morphs into a bike racing or grand fondo passion (because 95% of tri frames, with a few small position tweaks, can--and do--function perfectly well as road frames). Or (3), one can switch out the drop bars and clip-ons for a set of full aerobars if the athlete wants to fully maximize all his/her aero advantages on super flat courses.

 

For an example, below is a photo of a Felt DA tri bike set up exactly this way for a triathlon with considerable climbing and descending. This bike belonged to former pro and 2-time IM Kona winner Tim DeBoom. One nice thing on this machine, DeBoom had his shimano electronic shifting controls set up to allow shifting from both the brake hoods and from the ends of the aerobars.

 

 

We also have lots more images of other tri bikes with similar drop bar set ups in a photo gallery, via our facebook page:

 

 

In the end, there is no right way or wrong way to get your first triathlon bike. We suggest you learn as much as you can, and then try and consider every good option. Then make the best choice for your budget, for your lifestyle, and for your goals.

 

Happy riding,

The DSW Team

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