Triathlon Bikes & Equipment
 

Traditional Tri-bikes (as they're called) have extremely upright seat tubes, effectively shortening the top-tube length.  Appropriate rider positioning is accomplished by using handlebar and stem combinations that extend forward of that found on a conventional bike. This position is theoretically more aerodynamic than a standard bike (although modern aerodynamic equipment like aero wheels), but it also renders the bike less stable than a conventional road bike.  Another issue is less safety in traffic, since, when you're on the aero bars (where your shifters are typically located), you don't have access to your brakes.

Tri-specific bikes will also sometimes have 650c wheels instead of the more traditional 700c found on typical road bikes...the advantage being superior aerodynamics (but a marginal advantage, at best, when the 700c wheels are something like the new Rolf design), and the disadvantage, at least on the many bikes I've ridden, has been a more twitchy feel.  

In the past, it was also believed that this forward position gave a rider more power, but studies done for projects like the Gossamer Albatross (the human-powered plane used to cross the English Channel) have shown that it doesn't much matter if your tail end is in front of or behind the crank.  However, the more forward position uses your muscles similarly to when you're running, easing the transition from the cycling to running stage.

Given that the advantages to a traditional Tri-bike are at least debatable for general road use, and the reduced stability unquestionable, we recommend against a Tri-specific bike unless you're going to use it only for Triathlons and nothing else.  A true Tri-bike has very little suitability for general road work, whereas a conventional road bike can make a very suitable Tri-bike.

Be careful about the equipment you choose as well.  The majority of Tri-specific componentry we've seen has been of dramatically lesser quality than would be tolerated by the road-bike population at large.  It is frequently amazing how easily threaded surfaces on Tri bars strip out, for example, or how gimpy some of the behind-the-saddle bottle-cage mounts are.  For the most part, the equipment is based on a sound idea, but the designs aren't properly executed or simply look like they did about 90% of the work and decided it was good enough.  Some of the reason for this is that the market isn't large enough to interest larger companies with the resources needed to do things right, and some seems to simply be that the Tri-market is amazingly tolerant of marginally-functional equipment.

Our recommendations?

If you're going to be competing at a professional or extremely-serious level and have the financial resources, a full-blown Triathlon-specific bike (very steep seat tube, extreme forward rider positioning, perhaps 650c wheels) might make sense.  This bike would be used only for race or race-like conditions since its less-stable nature makes it relatively dangerous compared to a conventional road bike, especially in hilly or busy places.

But...you can get so close to the advantages of a dedicated Tri-bike with relatively minor modifications to a traditional road bike that, for most riders, the traditional road bike platform will make more sense.  A great many of the top Triathletes ride relatively conventional equipment to great placings!  Take a standard road bike, bolt on a pair of aero wheels, add some Profile or Syntace aero bars, change to a zero or negative-offset seatpost, and you have an instantly-competitive Tri-Bike!  For normal road use, simply ignore the aero bars (which are installed in addition to, not in place of, your normal bars), move your seat back to a more normal position, keep the super-duper wheels and you're set.

If we have an over-riding philosophy about selling bikes, it's probably this: We don't mind you spending a whole lot of money, but feel you should definitely get something for it.  We don't go for mythical advantages that cost a fortune and can't be explained, and this goes for Tri-bikes, conventional road bikes, mountain bikes & hybrids.

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