Friday, January 05, 2007

Q and A - What type of bike for a beginner?

Here is a question and answer regarding bike type for a new triathlete from members in my club.


I am a new member who has just begun trianing for sprint distances. I am up to running a 5k and have been cycling for 3 weeks. My cycling has been on a mountain bike I purchased 2 years ago before I decided to train for triathlons. I am discovering that this style of bike is heavy, slow and provides to much drag resistance. I am seeking advice for what style of bike I should get and where I can find a used bike for training. If anyone has any advice ... please let me know.

Answer 1:
I'm currently at what I would call a "mid" level of tri experience, so take my 2 cents with a grain of salt.ultimately you will have to figure out what works well for yourself through some experimentation.

The way I see it, beyond a mountain bike, or a hybrid, you've got 3 different options you can go with:

1. A road bike with a road-type set-up (meaning there are NO aero bars on the bike, you are seated in a relatively straight up manner, and the shifting is right next to where you rest your hands on the handle bars). This type of set-up has the advantage of being MUCH more comfortable for long rides-flat OR hills on the ride. Most people who are putting in some heavy duty miles for their training have a road bike they take for they're long rides and save their other bikes for shorter rides or race day.

2. A road bike with a triathlon or "time trial" set up (meaning there ARE aero bars on the bike, you are seated in a relatively forward manner to place more of the stress on your quads to save your legs for the run, and the shifting is still on the handle bars next to or on the brake mechanisms). This type of set-up has the advantage of being more aerodynamic than a road bike, but it still will not be as fast as a true tri bike because of the weight of the frame and the (often) extra gear cogs included on the front cassette. However, with this set up, you can still ride both flats AND hills with the option of sitting up in a regular position or in
the aero position depending on the terrain.

3. A true tri bike (meaning there ARE aero bars, you are seated in a relatively forward manner, and the shifting is NOW located ON the aero bars so you do NOT need to take your hands off the aero bars in order to shift). Everything about this set-up is geared toward lightness, aerodynamic positioning and speed. It will certainly be your fastest option for a sprint distance, but it will probably not be a very comfortable bike to ride on very hilly rides since you HAVE to be in the aero position to shift gears and it's challenging to remain in the aero position on very steep climbs.

So, as you can see, each of the set-ups has their own advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you want it for. For you, since you are just getting into it and you're currently targeting a sprint level, I might recommend a road bike with a tri set-up. You DEFINITELY want something faster than your mountain bike, and you definitely want to be in an aerodynamic position because of the short miles for your bike legs. However, if you've never been on aero bars before, it's a much different feel. It would be nice to have the option of sitting up occasionally while you get used to the aero position, not to mention with this set up you don't have to worry so much about whether your training rides are flat or hilly. And finally, and possibly the biggest reason, is that you may not be in good enough cycling shape to really benefit from a tri bike yet. Now, some might argue this point, but upgrading from a mountain bike, ANY of these bikes will feel infinitely faster than your mountain bike. The beauty is that, once you get some serious miles under your belt, and you feel like extending your race/training distances, you may THEN want to get a tri bike and convert your road bike to a training bike for your longer rides. Until then, though, a road bike with a tri set-up will probably feel just as fast to you as anything else, until you can get enough experience under your belt to tell the difference.

Again, just my 2 cents, so take it with a grain of salt. Good luck with your search. :-)


Answer 2:
If you're serious about triathlons, go for a triathlon bike - not a road bike. They are designed differently in order to help save your running muscles for the run. Everyone says don't go to expensive if you're new to the sport because you "might not" stick to it, but I wish I didn't take that advice - but instead went a little cheaper and purchased a road bike. However, I hear if the course is very hilly, then a road bike might be better. But I could be wrong, like most of the time it seems.



  1. Anonymous12:14 PM

    If your focus is on Triathlons then go with a tri bike. Chances are you will probably only have the time and focus to only train for one sport (triathlon).

    If you are a begginer then an entry or intermediate level tri-bike is a great choics. You can get a new aluminum frame, Shimano 105 component bike on sale for under $1000 - and half that if you go used. You don't want to go for a carbon fibre, ultegra race machine unless you are very gifted natural athlete and will be competing to win in the next year or two or have more money than sense.

  2. Great information! Thanks!

  3. Thanks for this useful information on bikes for triathlon. I too am a beginning triathlete but I'm still a little unclear on the type of bike I should start out with. What exactly is a "triathlon bike"? Is it just a road bike with different handlebars? How is a "tri-bike" different from a road bike and mountain bike?


    1. The differences in tri bikes and road bikes are mainly the location of shifting components and geometry. The bikes look different and are designed for different purposes. Once you do a little research and see the bikes side by side it should be easy to get. However you won't really get a true understanding until you have put many miles on both types of bikes. One new note: there are now new electronic shifting mechanisms which greatly add versatility/safety to the tri bike however the electronic shifters are expensive.