Triathlon Bike vs. Road Bike: What’s The Difference, And Which Should You Use?

Confused yet? If you’re new to triathlons, you may have heard the term “triathlon bike” and wondered how it was different from a standard road bike. Even more importantly, you may be wondering which one you should shell out your hard-earned cash for. In this article I’m going to explain the difference between the two types of bikes so that you can make an informed decision. (While you may see triathletes doing races on any number of bicycle types, including beach cruisers, recumbent bikes, or hand cycles, the vast majority of athletes use either a triathlon bike or a road bike.) To complicate things a bit further, a triathlon bike is very similar, but slightly different from, a “time trial” (“TT”) bike.

Let’s kick things off by showing each type of bike in use. The time trial bike is on the left, and the road bike on the right:

The difference is clear – the time trial cyclist has a much more forward-leaning position, and rests his elbows and forearms on the aero bars of his bike. The road cyclist has more hand placement options; this one is riding with his hands on the brake hoods.

Now to the reason you’re really reading this article: which one should you buy?

Road Bike Time Trial Bike
Pros:
  • Cheaper
  • More comfortable
  • Less learning curve
  • Easier to repair
  • Can be used in triathlon and road races
  • Can be used on a group ride
  • Lighter
Cons:
  • Slower (worse aerodynamics)
Cost (entry-level): $500+ $1,000+
Recommended For: Entry-level or youth triathletes Intermediate or advanced triathletes

It’s very easy to get caught up in the “arms race” culture of cycling, but you don’t need to go out right away and drop several thousand dollars on a triathlon bike when you first start the sport. I’d recommend a solid entry-level road bike at first, and you can always upgrade later. In addition, an intermediate solution is to spend about $100 on aero bars for your road bike to move you into a more aerodynamic position while still enabling other hand placements.

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