Triathlon Bike vs Road Bike: Understanding the Differences

Triathlon bikes are squirrelly aerodynamic beasts. They are great for speed, but frame geometry, riding down on aero bars and weight distribution (especially with bento boxes and bar-mounted hydration systems) can make tri bikes especially difficult to handle as compared to road bikes

A road bike typically has thinner tubing, drop handlebars, and more relaxed geometry than other types of bikes. A tri bike is different from a regular bicycle because it has thick and aerodynamic tubing, long aero bars, and aggressive geometry.

But what does that mean?

Road bikes and triathlon bikes aren’t the same, but why? In the following text, we have tried to explain the differences between road and tri bikes and explain how to choose a tri bike if you decide that it is the right type of bike for you.

Tri-bike frames are designed for speed and stability on the road, with thicker tubing to provide a more aerodynamic ride. Road bike frames are made with thinner tubing to save weight and add versatility, while tri bike frames are designed for speed and stability on the road, with thicker tubing to provide a more aerodynamic ride. A bike’s performance in corners can be affected by extreme aerodynamic tubing. For this reason, most road bikes feature tubing that is simultaneously aerodynamic, lightweight, and nimble.

Typical road bike

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Typical Tri Bike

How Jeff Symonds cranked it out to finish Ironman Kona after his bike fell apart - Vancouver Is Awesome

The Purpose of Triathlon Bikes and Road Bikes

Triathlon bike courses are typically flat and straight. You should never be descending a mountain on a tri bike. You will sometimes find bike courses with hills or technical turns, but they should never be so difficult that you can’t complete them without descending a mountain. Triathlon bikes are designed for speed and efficiency on straightaways. This means that they are very aerodynamic and stable, even though they are not as light as some road bikes.

Road bikes are designed for racing on all types of roads, from city streets to mountainous terrain. While road bikes are typically meant to go fast in a straight line, they are also designed to be quick through corners. You can race a road bike on mountain descents or in town sign sprints. Road bikes tend to be lighter than other types of bikes, making them a good choice for hilly courses and mountain climbs. Triathlon bikes are designed to go fast and in a straight line, while road bikes are more versatile and can be used for a variety of activities.

Physical Differences in Triathlon Bikes and Road Bikes 

Triathlon bikes are meant to be ridden in a position where the rider is leaning forward, and their weight is distributed evenly between the handlebars and the saddle. Road bikes are designed for all-around road riding. Let’s compare tri-bike frames with road bike frames.

Triathlon Bike Frame

Triathlon bikes have a seat tube angle that is much steeper than other bikes.

CUBE AERIUM C:68 High - Carbon Triathlon Frame Set - 2022 -  carbon/polarsilver

A triathlon bike frame is usually heavier and more aerodynamic than a road bike. The frame of the bike will be made from thick tubing that is aerodynamically shaped to make the bike super-fast in a straight line. The aero gains from the tubing typically outweigh the weight penalty of having a slightly heavier frame for most triathlon bike courses since they are relatively flat.

Road Bike Frame

16,400+ Road Bike Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock |  Cycling, Mountain bike, Road cycling

Road bikes have a shallower seat tube angle compared to triathlon bikes.

Road bike frames are typically designed to be strong all-rounders, which makes them good for cornering, mountains, and sprints.

Aero Bars and Handlebars

BBB Cycling Aero Bars Aluminium Two-Piece Tri Bars Black 22.2-31.8mm Bike  Handlebar AeroLight BHB-58 : Sports & Outdoors

A bike with aero bars always sticks out in front of the frame. The aerodynamic bars can be positioned in different ways to optimize the airflow around the bike and rider. They will always be attached to the front of your triathlon bike’s frame.

Aero bars help you to remain in a streamlined position which cuts back on wind resistance and makes you faster for the same amount of energy. Make your bike more aerodynamic to reduce the amount of drag and go faster.

The aero position can be very uncomfortable, especially for those who are new to it. You will keep your upper body tight and your arms in the aero bars. It is advisable, to begin with, a road bike and add clip-on bars before investing in a tri bike.

Road bikes have handlebars that are curved and have three main hand positions: tops, drops, and hoods.

Handlebar Stock Photos, Royalty Free Handlebar Images | Depositphotos

The most aggressive hand position for road cycling is achieved by holding the handlebars as far down and as close to the stem as possible. For sprinting, racing, and aggressive cornering, you can place your hands on the bottom curve of the handlebars.

The position of your hands on the handlebars while riding is important. The most common position for road cycling is the hood’s position. To ride effectively, you should wrap your hands around the top of the curve of the handlebars, right around the brake levers. Riding on the hoods of a bike is a position that is in between being aggressive and being upright. We recommend keeping your hands on the hoods while riding on most roads, especially when riding with a group, as it gives you easy access to the brake levers.


Triathlon bikes have rims that are much thicker than average. A deep-sectioned wheel is usually filled in from the edge of the rim to the wheel’s hub.

Free / Cheap Cycling Speed Opportunities for Long Course Triathletes |  Endurance NationDolan TR1 TT/Triathlon Disc Carbon Bike - Shimano Ultegra R8170 Di2


Most competitive athletes will use a rear disc wheel on a bike course that is relatively flat and not too windy. Disc wheels can be blown around in high winds, but they are significantly faster than other types of wheels in calm weather.

Disc wheels work by smoothing the passage of side wind. Less wind turbulence means less drag and faster times. The weight of a disc wheel is not as important as the aerodynamic aid. Even on the hilliest of time trial courses, you will go quicker on a solid disc wheel

Disc Wheels & Wheel Covers

While road bikes typically have carbon wheels for racing, they usually have aluminium wheels for training. Road cyclists will often use wheels with less depth for hilly races or lightweight wheels for mountainous races. Although these wheels are not as aerodynamic as deep-sectioned wheels, they are significantly lighter.


Triathlon bikes are designed to be used on a variety of terrains, so they usually have a narrower gear range than road bikes. There is no need to have “granny gear” on a tri bike on most courses because there are few hills.

In contrast, road bikes have a much wider range of gears, making them more versatile for different types of riding conditions.


If you have a pair of wheels with disc brakes, you’re set, you can use it for triathlons or road biking. Disc brakes are more expensive and require more upkeep than rim brakes, but they are also more effective. However, disc brakes are more powerful than rim brakes. Disc brakes also perform better in all weather conditions.

There is no difference in aerodynamics between disc brakes and rim brakes. You would be faster on disc brakes than on rim brakes because you can brake better and corner faster.

Beginner Road Biking Position

Road bikes are also safer than triathlon bikes, road bikes are much more upright. The handlebars on these bikes are wider than average, and there are many different grip positions to choose from on the top, bottom, and sides of the bars.

Adding Clip-in Aero Bars to Your Road Bike

When you’re feeling confident to train in aero positions, you can purchase clip-on aero bars to attach to the top of your road bike handlebars. Aero bars that you can clip onto your road bike handlebars will let you train in the aero position while also being more comfortable and stable than using only the road bike handlebars.

Why You Should Start With a Road Bike

A road bike is better for beginners than a tri bike because it is more versatile and can be used for different types of riding, and are more versatile and better for long rides than triathlon bikes. They have a more comfortable riding position and can be fitted with wider tires, which makes them ideal for riding on different types of terrain. In addition to being easier to ride, they are also less expensive, it’s especially important to find the right size for you.

Tri Bike or Road Bike?

A tri bike gets the rider into a more aerodynamic position and the power goes more directly to the stroke when the leg is fully extended.

The most common question from new triathletes is if they should buy a triathlon bike or a road bike. The kind of riding you want to do will affect what kind of bike you need.

If you only do triathlons every once in a while, but there are paved trails near you, you may want to consider getting a road bike.

If you plan on competing in a triathlon each summer, or training for a Half or an Ironman, then it’s a good idea to invest in a triathlon bike. The biggest difference you’ll notice between a tri bike and a regular bike is the power boost you’ll get cycling hard down a straightaway. The power you feel when your cranks turn can be very exciting.

It’s better to invest in one good bike than two mediocre ones. It is beneficial to have one bike that you feel comfortable with and gradually upgrade the components on it over time. Doing this will make you a better cyclist, and save you loads of money.

We love putting our bikes on an indoor trainer in the winter so we can get used to the bike we will be racing on. If you ride the same bike all year long, you’ll get to know it really well and it will become very responsive to your riding. Although it’s ideal to have both a tri bike and a road bike, we understand that it may not be possible for everyone because of the cost.

What to Look for in a Triathlon Bike

Here are a few tips for finding the right triathlon bike for you, regardless of your budget: – make sure the bike fits you well – Choose a bike that is comfortable for you to ride – Consider what type of riding you will be doing most often Triathlon bikes vary in shape, size, and price. What are a few things entry-level workers can do to get the most value for their money?


One of the most important things that a good bike advisor will tell you is to get the right fit for your bike. This is important because it will ensure that you enjoy your bike. The cycling shoe you choose should be comfortable, but also allows you to generate the most power possible when pedalling. A bike that is too large for you will not ride as well as one that is sized correctly. Different brands have different angles and build, so a 56cm bike in one brand is not the same as a 56cm bike in another brand.

The bottom line: Do not compromise on fit.

How to Size a Bike (with Pictures) - wikiHow

To size a bike, you’ll need to take your inside leg measurements. Stand with your feet 6 inches apart (15cm), then measure from the inside of your foot up to your crotch, where your leg meets your waist. If you are sizing a mountain bike, measure in inches, then multiply your inside leg measurement by .67 and subtract 4 inches (10cm)


The price of a triathlon bike is largely determined by the frame materials. It is not a simple task to determine which bike is the best option, it largely depends on what kind of riding you plan to do.

Carbon fibre is more expensive than aluminium, which is more expensive than steel. While steel bikes are not as prevalent as they used to be, they are still an option for triathlon training. The lightest and typically best-performing road bike frames are made of carbon. This bike is responsive on hills and during acceleration, making it a great choice for anyone looking for a solid bike. The disadvantages are that it can be easily damaged, and the damage is not always visible, which can create safety issues.

Aluminium is by no means going away. Why do people like aluminium? If a manufacturer makes a bike with an aluminium frame, it means that they can put better components on it while staying within their target MSRP.

Titanium is also a popular frame material, but it is usually more expensive than entry-level options. As you look at entry-level tri bikes, you will probably find that most of them have aluminium frames, with a few parts made of carbon fibre.


Components can be easily upgraded when needed or when the budget allows. The seat on a bike, or saddle, can be changed to fit the rider’s preference, no matter what frame they have.

Don’t worry about things like pedals right now. You can always buy them later and make sure you get the cycling shoe–a pedal system that you prefer, regardless of the bike. According to most cycling junkies, you should spend your money on the moving components of your bike. This includes anything that spins. Your money should go into the wheels, cranks, chainrings, etc.

The gearing is an important component to pay attention to. The number of teeth on your front chainrings and your rear cassette will have a major impact on your bike’s performance. There is no right answer, it is a personal preference. You will probably need different gears if you normally ride fast on long flats versus if you live in a hilly or mountainous region.


Whether or not it is important depends on if you are buying a new or used bike. Certain things should never happen to a bike frame, the most important being frame issues. Only purchase items that have a straight, uncorroded, and uncracked frame. After that, make sure that the components are working properly, such as the brakes, shifters, rims, and cables.

Things to check:
  • Frame for cracks (rust or scuffs are usually surface deep and only affect aesthetic)
  • Tyres are pumped.
  • Chain and cassette aren’t rusted or stretched (these won’t cost much to replace if they are)
  • Brakes work and the pads aren’t worn down.
  • Shifting and gearing are effective.


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