Friday, January 18, 2013

Triathlon Biking : To Roadie or to TT

Late last week, I posted something on swimming after realising that I keep getting questions about which strokes to use in the water. I noted that it is more important to keep moving. No doubt looking good is important, but no one will hardly see who you are, or how nice your new tri-suit are as you will be in the water. Then, the next burning questions among the newbies - Should I get a road bike or a triathlon bike?
"TT" and "Triathlon bike" term is used interchangeably in this blog entry. Some may argue they are similar, but not the same. Traditionally, a Triathlon bike has a 650C tires while a TT maintain a 700c tires. However, the popularity of the 650C were supersede with most Triathlon/TT bike becoming the same.
Before I make it more confusing, lets group TT and Triathlon bike to be the "same".
Differences Between The Two Horses
I will not delve into the material that are used to make the bikes and lets just assume that both the type of bicycle are made from the same material. Lets just assume both are carbons (since we are all carbon-envy folks anyway). So, apart from sharing the similar attributes like two-wheels (that is why it is not called a tricycle), a seat, a handlebar, a set of gears you can shift through, what separate the two bikes?
Road bike - typically with a curved handlebar
The biggest difference between the two bikes is the frame geometry. The Triathlon bike moves the rider closer to the front while the roadbike sits you nearer to the back wheel. A Triathlon bike has a shorter top tube, which allow/compensate for the crouching aero position that the bike are built for.
Traditionally, the seat tube of a Triathlon bike is at 78 degree while a Road bike sits at 73 degree.
Crouching (slow) Dragon
I say "traditionally" as some Triathlon bike has a steep seat tube up to 80degree. So, essentially, the Triathlon bike moves you not only more to the front, but also on top of the bottom bracket. 
Triathlon bike has shorter wheelbase. Meaning, the distance between the centre of one wheel to the other is shorter - giving the characteristic handling that many first timer would summarise as "twitchy". This is because every small movement is amplified due to the shorter distance. However, one would very quickly adjust and get used to this characteristic. A shorter wheel base too, allow for faster sprinting. Exactly what the bike was built for - speed. Road bike, on the other hand, is more forgiving as it allow for a more neutral handling. By the way, the "skinny" tires, they are nothing to be afraid of and it doesn't effect your balance on the bike as much as it will with you cycling drunk.
On the road bike, the traditional "racing handlebar" is a norm. The curved bar that allow for multiple hand placements and body positioning is superior compared to the two-position allowed on the triathlon bike handlebar. On the Triathlon bike, it is either your hands are on the aerobar (and gear shifters) or your hand is on the handlebar where the brakes are in a more upright position. And if you are going to ride the Triathlon bike in an almost upright position, it defeats the whole purpose of having the bike as you will not be in an aero-position.
Almost upright position when holding the brake extension on the Triathlon bike
Is That All The Differences?
The short answer is Yes. But the longer answer goes beyond just the frame geometry, Wheelbase and the handlebar. Because of the differences stated above, the Triathlon bike will have a few other characteristic that will not be noticed by a novice. For example, a shorter top tube and a lower head tube - both to accommodate the crouching aero position that would not be able to be achieved when riding a Road bike (yes, even with a clip-on aerobar installed on the curved bar of the Road bike). This is because rider who install the clip on aerobar will usually end up with too much distance between the saddle and the aerobar, stretching them in an uncomfortable and unsustainable aero position. Then, the higher head tube and the attached aerobar will add height and the rider will not be in the optimal position to reap benefit from the bike setup.
Noticed the more "behind" seating, more "upright position" and "higher"crouch on the Road bike fitted with clip-on aerobar?
And in any race, a comfortable and efficient position is very important. Unless you have trained sufficiently on the Triathlon bike and stay in the aero-position at least 90% of the whole training/race, you will not reap the maximum benefit of even having a Road bike fitted with aerobar. Yes, I have friends and some of you might beg to differ on my opinion here, but a Road bike fitted with a shorter stem, lowered (to minimal) headset and even with a "reversed seat post", will not be able to perform like a triathlon-specific bike. And yes, this is "rider" dependent too. 
The Triathlon Bike Advantage
It is a known fact that a triathlon specific bike will provide advantage on the Bike-Run transition. The seating and bio-mechanical position of the triathlon bike provides an advantage to the triathlon bike riders. Ian Garside and Dominic Duran, via their June 2000 study "Effect of Bicycle Frame Ergonomics on Triathlon 10km Running Performance" had test subjects performed a 40 kilometer time trial on a Road bike in a stationary trainer followed immediately by a 10 kilometer run on a treadmill. Later the same test subjects repeated the test protocol but used a Triathlon bike on the stationary trainer then transitioned immediately to the treadmill for the 10 kilometer run. Time savings for athletes running off the triathlon bike averaged a full 5 minutes time savings on the 10 kilometer run when they transitioned off a triathlon bike as opposed to transitioning off a road bike. Simply put, you could potentially run faster and more comfortably off a triathlon bike than a road bike. 
Road bike, Triathlon bike, Road bike, Triathlon bike, Road bike, Triathlon bike. Choices aplenty and it really depends on the type of riding you will mostly do. Triathlon bikes are best ridden on relatively flat and rolling hills route while Road bike would be much preferred for rides/races that has climbs. Road bike allow for high speed cornering and the "twitchy" handling of the Triathlon bike might not allow a confident cornering. 
It would be wiser to ride a Road bike if you often ride in groups as it will be safer to do so in a peloton. Having the aerobar sticking out and in a peloton could be potentially hazardous as crashes involving Triathlon bikes could results in serious injuries or death as the aerobars hit the cyclist in front. Same reason why triathlon races are mostly non-drafting. However, there is no real restriction during training or group ride should the aerobar be used except that we are fully aware of the implication of riding one fitted with such bars. Realistically, the ability to ride in a group using Triathlon bike (with note to the aerobar hazard) depends on the rider themselves rather than the bike. If you have the money to spare, perhaps getting one of each might just solve your problems. Just make sure you get a good bicycle shop and an experienced person to "fit you to the bike", else, all money spent would be wasted (on a badly fitted bike).
Good luck!
ps- i would like to apologise for not publishing any entry yesterday. Due to some unforseen circumstances, this post was delayed to today.


  1. well i don't know.. it is a very nice place but yet.. kinda strange too.

  2. The best way to pick all type of bike and bicycle..

  3. The best method to select all type of bicycle and bike online bike store..