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Triathlon Bike Buying Guide
Buying Guides: Road Bikes | Mountain Bikes | Tri Bikes | BMX Bikes | Bike Tires

Finding your tri bike couldn't be easier! Just choose your price range, or if you know what you're looking for, check out bikes from all the top triathlon bicycle manufacturers.

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Choosing A Triathlon Bike

There are three main criteria to follow in order to choose the best triathlon bike for you:

  • budget
  • bike fit
  • flexibility

If you think road bikes have a wide price range, and they do, then prepare for sticker shock in a lineup of triathlon bikes. Before you look at bikes and determine your top 4-5 picks, you'd better establish your budget, else you will be tempted to drop a bit more coin than you'd rationally have planned for otherwise. Generally speaking, you would choose either $1,500 or $2,500 as a cutoff price point, since there is a huge range of tri bikes that are designed and spec'd to sit right about those price criteria. You will be amazed at just how much bike you can get right at that $2,500 cutoff price - a proven aero frame, top shelf components, and overall a bike that stacks up just fine against triathlon bikes costing more. There is an adage that applies right about that $2,500 price value - the time savings due to aerodynamics, and the weight savings from more expensive parts, measure merely in the seconds and in a few grams here and there as you add $100's of dollars to the purchase price. The biggest bang for your buck in terms of getting just about the best, if not the equivalent best, in bike aero design, technology and "trickle down" benefits is right around that $2,500 dollar value, as we'll see in some example bikes below.

The next two criteria, bike fit and flexibility, are very related but slightly different. Traditionally, road bike measurements were reckoned in terms of seat tube height and top tube length. The triathon world introduced another way of looking at these two things: stack and reach.

Stack Height and Reach
Stack and Reach

What stack and reach does is normalize, to a large degree, the sometimes ambiguous measurements that bike companies use to name their frame sizes. Also, every bike has different angles, from the all-important seat tube angle for triathlon bikes to the headtube angle to the fork rake. When you add it all up, it can be tough to find a triathlon bike that fits you just right. Stack and reach aim to specifically address your anatomical makeup, allowing you to zero in on the ideal frame proportions for you. Once you know your stack and reach, you can consult bike manufacturer specifications to find the right size bike for you. Then it's just a matter of moving your seatpost up or down, your saddle fore or aft, and getting the right size stem (length and angle) along with any spacers in place to get your tri bike fit right for you. The ideal is that you have as few headset spacers as possible, or best would be none. When you choose a bike that ends up requiring too many spacers - or perhaps ends up with the saddle extremely far forward or back - you've likely not chosen the right bike for you. However, there are tradeoffs in setup, and you sometimes have to make choices.

As for flexibility, bear in mind that you may get perfectly fit on a given tri bike, in a fantastically aero beautiful position, the envy of all your tri friends. The question is, can you hold that position for 40km? Or perhaps for 180km over the Ironman distance? You need to be realistic about your flexibility and determine your stack and reach measurements accordingly, based in large part on your hamstring, lower back, and neck flexibility. And let's not forget, your gut has to be able to digest and process food while you're riding, so you can't be stuck in a position that impinges your innards in a bad way. The thing is, once you assess your flexibility, you have to bear in mind that you can usually improve it with stretching, yoga, core strengthening, etc. So choosing your bike fit for today must be balanced with imagining your bike fit later, if you plan to increase your flexibility.

To sum up: decide your max price, and get an initial idea of how flexible you are. These two criteria alone will help guide you toward the right mix of triathlon bikes to consider.

On a personal note, I was once deciding between the Cervelo P2C, Felt B2, and Orbea Ordu. So how did I decide? Using the exact criteria I just spelled out above. The Felt B2 had a price tag of $5,500, including Zipp wheels, while the Orbea Ordu was priced at $4,800. I found the Cervelo P2C frame, fork and seatpost for $1,800, and building it up with SRAM Red would total about $3,500, which was my price point. I got lucky from there: I rode both the Felt B2 and the Orbea Ordu, and the stack/reach configurations were just too aggressive for my level of flexibility. Still, I tried to find a way to make the Felt B2 work, because it was my favorite bike simply based on its beautiful design as well as being spec'd so well. I finally decided on the Cervelo, though, for all the right reasons: it felt just great when I rode, it was clear that I would fit properly on it, and best of all, the frame design was proven in the wind tunnels, unlike many other bikes which make aerodynamic claims but are not proven. The Cervelo P2C truly falls in the category of a triathlon bike that is built like a Ferrari - it is/was Cervelo's best, most aerodynamic design at the time - yet prices at that magical $2,500 level when built up with Shimano 105 and good quality components. It's a lot of bike bang for the buck!

The Bike Frame

Cervelo P2C Triathlon Bike
Cervelo P2C

Aero Goodies

Specialized TT Bike
Specialized Shiv TT Bike

Triathlon Accessories

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