Although riding the best triathlon bike alone won't help you win the Ironman Championship in Kona, a good tri bike can give you a competitive edge by being more aero than a standard road bike. The tri bikes on this list go above and beyond to provide the best aerodynamic advantage in the lightest possible package possible. Aerobars are strictly optional!
Picking the most suitable triathlon or time trial bike for you can be more daunting than buying the best road bike. 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.
As well as a TT bike, you might want to consider getting an appropriate fitness wearable 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.
Best triathlon bikes to buy right now
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Canyon is famous for providing excellent quality bikes for a very reasonable price, which is true for the Speedmax CF 8.0. The full carbon construction is as light as a feather, with the medium-sized frame weighing only 8.6 kilos. The setup comes complete with a Shimano Ultegra groupset and Mavic Carbon wheels.
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 so you can ride comfortably for longer. Relatively speaking, of course.
Read our full Canyon Speedmax CF 8.0 review.
Ribble has perfected the full carbon Ultra frameset to provide the least aerodynamic friction possible. This feature will be useful when riding the 56-mile cycling part of the Ironman 70.3 in a headwind. You don't need anything to hold you back more than necessary.
The Ultra Tri groupset consists mainly of Shimano 105 R7000 pieces, apart from the brakes, which are a TRP T860 alloy set. The cockpit is Ribble's own, with 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 (external link), and the P-series is one of its more affordable tt bike ranges. 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 need a tri bike to use once a year.
The Cervelo P series is 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 has increased stiffness at the bottom bracket and overall torsional stiffness compared to its predecessor. Said stiffness will enable you to transform energy to forward momentum easier: less power wasted on vibration.
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 and an all-carbon aero frame. For the 2020 year, Felt introduced 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 is impressive considering all the tech involved here. All the better, Felt also included a BTS storage pack, so you can also store your wheel-fixing accessories or food/drinks in an aerodynamic compartment.
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 compliment the groupset beautifully and make shifting gears in the 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 calliper-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 not only 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 for you
Assuming you won't want to break the bank when investing in a new triathlon bike, there will be some compromises you will have to make when picking a tt bike.
Most bike descriptions highlight 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 a light but rigid frame composition. Every gram matters in time trial races, and as technology advanced and production costs dropped, aero frames made their way from track courses into the world of triathlon, too, becoming 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.
Are triathlon bikes 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.