Although riding the best triathlon bike won't make your next Ironman effortless, but at least it might make the cycling part a little more tolerable than if you tried to use your Dutch bike. The tri bikes on this list go above and beyond to provide you with the best aerodynamic advantage you can have in the lightest possible package possible.
Buying a triathlon or time trial bike can be more daunting than buying the best road bike, for example. If you haven't got a lot of experience in bike technology, it's easy to get lost in the details and get super confused by the different groupsets, chainsets and wheelsets. We will try to make this all clearer for you.
Triathlons come in many shapes and sizes, and if you are at the beginning of your triathlon journey, you might want to consider signing up for a triathlon sportive instead of a race. A sportive is a non-competitive version of triathlon, so instead of worrying about having been disqualified for going slower than the cut-off time, you can concentrate on the experience and enjoy the ride (literally).
As well as a tt bike, you might want to consider getting an appropriate fitness wearable too to track your next race, and we have loads of those on our best triathlon watch guide. They are similar to the best running watches but geared towards multidisciplinary athletes such as triathletes.
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The best triathlon bikes, in order of preference
Canyon is famous for providing great quality bikes for a very reasonable price, and this is true to the Speedmax CF 8.0 as well.
The full carbon construction is as light as a feather, the medium-sized frame weighing only 8.6 kilos. The setup comes complete with a Shimano Ultegra groupset and Mavic Carbon wheels.
Canyon is so confident that you'll like the bike that they offer a 6-year guarantee on it. Also, Canyons own Bike Guard Box gets the bike to you in a conditions that it's almost ready to ride, straight out of the box.
Every detail has been taken into account, including the type of saddle used for the Speedmax CF 8.0, to maximise comfort as well as performance. The Fizik Mistica is a triathlon-optimised saddle with a shorter and wider nose and non-slip material on the top, you so you can ride in comfort for longer. Relatively speaking, of course.
Using the same frame as the Ribble Ultra TT, a bike raced by pro-Ribble riders, the Ribble Ultra Tri is engineered to be fast. Really fast.
The full carbon Ultra frameset has been perfected by Ribble to provide the least amount of aerodynamic friction possible. This feature will come handy when riding the 56-mile cycling part of the Ironman 70.3 in headwind. You don't need anything to hold you back more than absolutely necessary.
The groupset on the Ultra Tri consists of mainly Shimano 105 R7000 pieces, apart from the brakes, it being TRP T860 alloy set. The cockpit is Ribble's own with both bars and the stem designed for the Ribble Ultra Tri. The wheelset consists of Mavic Aksium Clincher wheels and Continental Ultra Sport 2 tyres, with an extra deep profile.
Given the thick profile and all the additional storage units on the frame, the Ribble Ultra Tri is slightly susceptible to side wind, but since the bike is very light, it won't affect your riding experience all that much, especially in aggressive riding positions.
Cervelo is the most popular bike brand among Ironman Kona competitors and the P-series is one of its more affordable tt bike range. That said, even the cheapest Cervelo P bike, the 105 Disc, will set you back over $3,000, so it's definitely not for people who just need a tri bike to use once a year.
The Cervelo P series is a designed from the ground up to cater for the needs of all long distance triathletes: the bike is race ready pretty much straight out of the box, equipped with a bento box, downtube bottle and a rear seat hydration mount so you can keep your cycling water bottles on you without compromising on the aero properties of your setup.
Get ready for a bumpy ride as the P series increased stiffness at the bottom bracket and overall torsional stiffness too, compared to its predecessor. Said stiffness will enable you to transform energy to forward momentum easier: less power wasted on vibration.
The P-Series is also more aero than even the P3 was. According to Cervelo, the P-Series was 26g faster than the P3 when tested in a wind tunnel. Pretty impressive.
The Felt IA Series won the Ironman World Championship five times out of the last six years, which says a lot about the performance of this series. The IA | Advanced, Rim Brake is your entry to this very prestigious family.
The Felt IA | Advanced, Rim Brake | 105 | 2020 uses a Shimano 105 R7000 groupset, coupled with an all-carbon aero frame. For the 2020 year, Felt introduced the the lighter and stronger Textreme frameset to the entry level model of the series, to everyone's delight.
The bike is slightly heavier than the Canyon and Boardman entries on this list, but still comes under 10kg, which, considering all the tech that's involved here, is amazing.
All the better, Felt also included A BTS storage pack too, so you can store your wheel fixing accessories or food/drinks in an aerodynamic compartment as well.
The BMC Timemachine 02 Two is a very competent tri bike. The always reliable Shimano 105 groupset does the work just fine when it comes to commandeering the derailleur in between the 22 available speed options. Better still, the Shimano Dura Ace Barend shifters complement the groupset beautifully and makes shifting gears in aero position way easier.
The Timemachine 02 frame is hyper-aero and slices through the air: everything is fat and flat to reduce drag on the road. The dual-mount seatpost is a nice touch and lets riders customize their riding position in a variety of ways.
Feel free to go fast on the BMC Timemachine 02 Two: the hidden brake booster tech "increases the brake-lever-pull to caliper-free-stroke ratio", as BMC puts it. The same system allows for the complete disconnection of the cockpit (when paired with electronic shifting options) for travel purposes too.
I wouldn't put the BMC Timemachine 02 Two in the beginner tri bike category as it is not only it has a rigid carbon setup and therefore provides a firmer ride, but it also mostly caters for more experienced tri riders with barend shifters and stuff like the highly customisable seat post.
How to choose the best triathlon bike
Assuming you won't want to break the bank when investing in a new triathlon bike, there will some compromises you will have to make when picking a tt bike.
One of the main thing you will notice bike description mention is the type of groupset they use. A groupset is all the parts on the bike that make it move and stop, so all the equipment that transforms the kinetic energy generated by your legs and body to forward momentum (plus the brakes). This includes the crankset, the bracket, brakes, shifters and derailleurs, but even the chain and rear cassette too.
Groupsets you will see most often on time trial bikes are the Shimano 105, the Shimano Ultegra and the Shimano Dura-Ace. Of the three, the 105 is the most 'basic' set and the Dura-Ace is the most advanced. The 'basic' is in brackets because the 105 is by no means a cheap set and as with all technology, advancements from higher end models cascade down to later year entry-level models, meaning a new Shimano 105 is probably more advanced than a Shimano Ultegra from a few years ago.
Another key factor to take into account is the frame. Many triathlon bikes have aero frames, where 'aero' stands for aerodynamic. This frame-type comes from the world of time trials, where they came up with the light but rigid frame composition. In time trial, every gram matters, and as technology advanced and production costs dropped, areo frames made their way from track courses into the world of triathlon, too, becoming a an everyday sight as opposed to being a toy of the top 1% of triathletes.
The wheelset is also crucial when deciding on a setup. These are made out of many different materials, but you would like something light, like carbon, to make the bike even lighter altogether.
Is a triathlon bike worth it?
We would argue that a dedicated triathlon bike is mainly worth it for people who take triathlon racing seriously. That said, for longer races, riding on a well-calibrated tt bike can mean the difference and enable you to ride in relative comfort, not to mention other features found only on triathlon bikes such as compartments for food/gels/drinks etc.