How do I know what tri bike to buy?

All bikes are not created equal. And just because one bike is good for one person does not automatically make it a good choice for someone else.

Things to consider when choosing a bike for triathlon.

If you want to follow the numbers more closely I’m on Strava as Rob Cummins Wheelworx or if you’re more of a pictures instead of reading type I post on Instagram as wheelworxrob.

 

Chasing Kona book available

From smoker to back of the pack triathlete to the Ironman World Championships.

Read about how I overcame all of the odds and discovered what it would take to get to the Ironman World Championships – my eBook is now available to buy as an eBook on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes

It is also available as a paperback at Wheelworx.

  • What type of rider am I?

If for example I am a triathlete who has come from a cycling background and have developed very good cycling skills then how a bike handles is less important to me than if I am new to cycling and am a nervous rider.

  • How can a bike that is fast for a skilled rider be slower for someone who is nervous?

There is more to going fast on a bike than just the aerodynamic numbers. We don’t race in a wind tunnel or on turbo trainers.

A number of years ago we bought a new tri bike for Ais. It was to be her dream bike. Fast wheels, electronic gear shifting, custom paint, the works. She went slower on it than on her previous, non-dream mid range bike.

How could that be? How could she go slower on the same type bike that made me faster?

There are a couple of reasons.

  1. Ais is 5’2, I’m 6′ (more or less…)
  2. I learned to ride while racing mountain bikes and then did a few seasons of road racing before racing triathlon so my bike handling was pretty well developed before I rode a tri bike.
  3. Ais was an ultra runner who had never ridden a bike before taking up triathlon. So while she had a massive fitness base and could ride all day she struggled going round corners or downhill. Especially if the bike was twitchy or difficult to ride.

  • You might wonder what the hell our heights have to do with speed on a tri bike? It’s to do with the fact that as a bike gets smaller the geometry changes and the geometry is what affects how a bike handles. It can be more difficult to get a stable, easy to ride geometry on a very small frame. Different bike manufacturers take different approaches to this with varying levels of success.
  • Tri bikes ride and handle quite differently to a road bike and can take quite a bit of practice to be able maximise the speed advantage they offer. I adapted quite quickly to the difference after years of riding different types of bikes on different terrains, Ais took quite a bit longer.

Tri bikes are inherently “twitchier” but having ridden plenty of difficult to ride bikes before, I accepted this as “normal” and adapted my riding style to the bike. I also enjoyed the challenge of learning how to maximise what I could get out of the bike and didn’t see the difference in ride as a difficulty or problem.

Not everyone sees these difficulties as “fun” and something to overcome and learning to ride a twitchy, difficult to ride bike is just scary for a lot of riders. A lot of triathletes actually don’t like riding on the road with traffic etc and adding a bike that is difficult to control will only make matters worse.


Choosing a bike based on criteria like price, availability, colour or what works for your friend isn’t necessarily the best way to buy. Particularly if you’re a nervous rider, small, new to cycling or a triathlete.

If you buy based on budget but end up with a bike that makes you slower because it’s not suited to the type of rider you are then buying the cheaper bike is often going to work out either more expensive in the long run as you will need to buy twice or you will just end up disliking and fearing your riding even more, and most likely going slower too.

Choosing a bike based on what is the best type of bike for you as a rider is always going to be the best option.

If you are a nervous or new rider having a bike that is very stable and easy to ride fast is always going to make you faster than picking one based on price, wind tunnel numbers or what’s fast for someone else.

So how do you know what is going to be right for you? Obviously trying the bike is the best option but this isn’t always possible. Especially if you are interested in trying a few different models and you are only five foot tall. Most bike shops wont have a big range of €2-5000 tiny tri bikes in store to test ride.

It will often come down to trusting whoever is selling you the bike and if this is the case going to someone who has experience in selling the type of bike you’re interested in and dealing with a wide range of rider needs and preferable whatever your specific requirements are (nervous, short, tall, inexperienced) will be the most important criteria.

 

Rob

If you want to follow the numbers more closely I’m on Strava as Rob Cummins Wheelworx or if you’re more of a pictures instead of reading type I post on Instagram as wheelworxrob.

 

Chasing Kona book available

From smoker to back of the pack triathlete to the Ironman World Championships.

Read about how I overcame all of the odds and discovered what it would take to get to the Ironman World Championships – my eBook is now available to buy as an eBook on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes

It is also available as a paperback at Wheelworx.

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