Tri or Road Bike?
It’s an age old question but I hope this will clarify a few things and be help in your decision making.
It depends on many factors so here are few to consider.
Busy roads of a stop / start nature aren’t ideal for Tri (or TT) bikes but much more conducive to road bikes due to the positioning of the gears, brakes and body position.
TT bikes come into their own for that ‘point and shoot’ style riding with minimal switchbacks by virtue of the tucked up wind defying position you’ll be in. Cornering isn’t anywhere as easily done on a TT bike as it is on a road bike. A road bike offers an ideal position to hug and lean into the corner by holding the drop bars.
Flat or mildly rolling courses have ‘TT Bike’ written all over it! But ride a few hills and you’ll see that drop bar road bikes have more than a little edge because of their greater range of gears, gear ratios position of bars/STI’s to aim climbing.
As you’ll know, neither genre of bike comes cheaply. Because of this, a comparison can’t directly be drawn.
However, if there was budget for one or the other, it would surely be wise to be of road bike persuasion due to their versatility. Remember it’s easier to near replicate the positioning of a TT bike (by adding aero wheels and tri bars to a road bike) than the other way round.
Type of racing
TT bikes are best used for ‘point and shoot’ style racing where time is of the essence. Time Trials are a great example of where
They also come in to their own for longer distances where some serious time saving is to be had. An additional bonus for longer racing is that they tend to come with an integrated drinks system.
Your flexibility / condition of spine
Because of the ‘head down, bum up’ position a Tri bike will put you in, a good level of hamstring and back flexibility is extremely important.
Sitting upright will alleviate such tension but that’s not the idea of buying a TT bike!
Back extensions to strengthen lower back, yoga for suppleness and core strength and hamstring and glute stretching are all good ways to stay in that aero position for longer.
What's the differences between a Tri/TT bike and a Road bike.
Within Triathlon, we tend to use Tri and TT as meaning the same thing but while all TT bikes are acceptable for use in Triathlon not all Tri bikes are legal for UCI Time Trial Events. So if you are intending to take part in the latter you should take more advice. The differences are subtle and we may get around to explaining them in a future article.
A TT bike has a steeper seat tube angle which results in placing more of the riders’ body weight over the front wheel. Tri bars are added to compensate for this and keeps the rider low thus minimising torso wind resistance.
Frame and forks
Designed to produce minimal drag whilst maintaining strength and are put through extensive testing. Designs such as bladed forks, integrated seat post, a ‘cut away’ seat tube to hug the leading edge of the rear wheel and tucked away brake callipers to name a few. The tubing cross section is often described as ‘teardrop’.
TT bikes tend to have wider but shorter (in length) saddles to allow comfort whilst being sat in an aggressive forward position.
Many TT bikes are sold as a frame set only. But those sold as a complete bike come with wheels to reflect what the bike is designed for. Ie more aerodynamic wheels designed to cut through the air with efficiency. This is reflected by the ‘section’ (depth) of the wheel.
They are flat and aerodynamic in design and often sold as one complete unit to include tri bars. The brakes are secured at the ends of the bars.
The gearing. Standard gearing tends to place more emphasis on higher gears. Eg a larger front chainring (52 or 53) and more emphasis on lower gears on the cassette (10, 11, 12 sprockets). This is a generalisation synonymous to TT bikes.
The gear change will be mounted at the ends of the Tri bars.
Unlike its TT bike cousin, the road bike has a much more ‘relaxed’ geometry. Ie the seat tube is more angled back. This allows for a more comfortable position conducive for longer rides and hill climbs.
Frame and forks
Modern day forks are generally much narrower than those on TT bikes but still ‘teardrop’ in cross section. There are many frame designs but the tubing is also often more narrow and cylindrical.
Generally slightly longer in length and more narrow at the front as they are designed for the rider would sit slightly further back.
As standard, road bikes are sold with narrow rim depth to allow for versatility in ride style and weight saving. They can be sold with conventional round spokes or on the more performance orientated road bikes, bladed spokes.
Great for comfort, cornering and climbing, making them much more universal than the bars on a TT bike. The brake and gear unit is called an ‘STD’. This gets bolted onto the leading edge of the bend on the bars.
Road bikes tend to have a lot more gear options than a TT bike because they are designed for a wider range of ride styles. They come with either a double or treble chainset and 10 or 11 gears on the cassette (of different ratios).
Which is Faster?
Is a Tri bike faster than a road bike? Sometimes
Is a road bike faster than a Tri bike? Sometimes!
Tri Bike (top) v Road Bike (below)
The tri bike is designed to put you in a very aero-dynamic position and one that alows you leg muscles to deliver power more effectively.
But you will have less control over the bike. It also demands greater flexibility if you are not to have an uncomfortable ride.
The road bike is not as fast in terms of straight line speed but cornering and breaking are easier. It also puts you in a more comfortable position and imposes less strain on the muscles you will need for running.
You can also modify it by adding aero-bars (which can be taken on ad off) and changing the wheels.