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What Is a Triathlon Bike?

the three stages of a triathlon, run, bike and swim

If you struggle to tell the difference between a Time trial bike and a triathlon bike, keep reading. 

In this short guide, I’ll cover some of the most common triathlon bike questions, including “what is a triathlon bike”, “triathlon vs tt bike”, and much more. 

If you’ve got the questions, I’ve got the answers. So let’s get to it!

Table of Contents
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    What is a Triathlon Bike?

    Triathlon bikes (often referred to as Tri-Bikes) are similar in appearance and function to road bikes and TT bikes. However, there are a few key differences that make them identifiable.

    Triathlon bikes are bicycles designed for riding in the competitive discipline of triathlon races. Their number one priority is to provide the best speed and aerodynamics possible for their riders.

    Unlike TT bikes, which focus solely on speed, triathlon bikes also position their riders in a more comfortable position, placing their hips further forwards and allowing riders to save their hamstrings for the running stage.

    What is a Triathlon Bike Used For?

    Triathlon bikes are used to accomplish fast rides on flat roads as opposed to bumpy trails and terrain. This is because the primary usage of triathlon bikes is in the competitive discipline of triathlons.

    Triathlon is a sport that’s made up of three stages; running, cycling, and swimming. 

    Triathlon bike stage mens elite

    During the cycling portion of triathlons, understandably, triathlon bikes are the main bicycles used. However, some amateur triathletes choose to use road bikes due to the hefty price tag that accompanies many modern Triathlon bikes. 

    Many triathletes also train on their tri-bikes outside of triathlon events, allowing them to master and adjust to the bike’s ergonomics.

    History of Triathlon Bikes

    The history and origins of triathlon bikes only came into fruition after the conception of triathlons. However, you can trace the roots of triathlon bikes back to France in the 1920s. 

    The original triathlon events were named “Les Trois Sports” (the three sports) and consisted of a run, a bike and a canoe stage. By 1920 the events had adjusted to include a run, a bike ride and a swim. 

    Triathletes used road bikes to begin with, and it wasn’t until much later that triathlon races inspired and motivated manufacturers to craft the perfect vehicle for the occasion.

    Des trois sports the history of triathlon
    Des trois sports was the original triathlon event which included canoeing instead of swimming!

    Although triathlon races (as we know them today) began in 1974[1], it wasn’t until a decade or so later that triathlon bikes made their mark in the biking world. 

    Perhaps the first man responsible for the first triathlon bike was Richard Bryne in the 1980s, who created a bike with a steep seat tube angle for the first time.

    He created it in the hopes of making a more aerodynamic model. Though Richard Byrne might be pegged as the first to have the idea, the man who played the biggest role in making a triathlon bike design widespread was Dan Empfield in 1989[2].

    Empfield’s version of a triathlon bike was slightly less steep than Brynes, and he was able to sell the bicycle model to Quintana Roo (a popular bicycle manufacturer).

    How Have Triathlon Bikes Progressed Over the Years?

    From their creation in the 1980s until today, triathlon bikes have been steadily rising in popularity throughout the triathlon community.

    Today, almost every professional triathlon rider uses a triathlon-specific bike for their aerodynamic advantages over road bikes. Over the years, tri-bikes have become lighter and now use increasingly sophisticated components.

    Although since their creation, tri-bikes overall riding position and frame geometry has remained similar to old triathlon bikes.

    Who Should Use Triathlon Bikes? 

    The best candidates for triathlon bikes are athletes that want to benefit from increased speed and better aerodynamics during triathlons.

    Since the entire design of the bike is created with speed in mind, they are specifically perfect for more competitive and athletic riders as opposed to the everyday rider.

    Due to the specialized nature of triathlon bikes, they are best suited for more advanced riders who already have some experience on the typical road bike. 

    man racing in triathlon event on a triathlon bike

    Less experienced riders may struggle with the riding position tri-bikes offer and would probably be better off with a standard road bike. 

    I’d be hesitant to recommend commuting on a tri-bike. They’re not designed for causal cycling and the ridding position could become uncomfortable if you’re carrying a backpack or other heavy cargo. 

    What Competitions/Events are Triathlon Bikes Used In?

    As highlighted earlier, triathlon bikes come into their own when utilized in the cycling portion of the three-part triathlon race.

    At the Olympic level, tri-bikes have been used in triathlons ever since the 2000 summer Olympics in Sydney[3], with faster, higher-tech models being used every four years. 

    Triathlon races have a variety of lengths and levels of intensity depending on your goals within triathlon racing. Perhaps the most well-known and gruelling triathlon race is the Ironman.

    In Ironman triathlons, athletes swim 2.4 miles, cycle on a triathlon bike for 112 miles, and finish the race with a 26.2-mile run. That being said there are several Ironman events with other distances. 

    Below is a list of some of the most gruelling and intense triathlon races in the world.

    Competition/Event Swim Distance Cycle Distance Run Distance
    IRONMAN 70.3 HAWAII 1.9km (1.18mi) 90km (55.92mi) 21.2km (13.17mi)
    Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon 2.4km (1.49mi) 29km (18.01mi) 12.9km (8.01mi)
    Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon 3km (1.86mi) 183.5km (114.02mi) 44.25km (27.49mi)
    Datev Challenge Roth 3.8km (2.36mi) 180km (111.84mi) 42.2km (26.2mi)

    Benefits of Triathlon Bikes (Pros & Cons)



    Risks Associated with Triathlon Bikes

    Triathlon bikes are built to travel at high speed, their aerodynamic design and rider positioning means you’ll be travelling much faster than on your average road bike. 

    Travelling at high speed, increases the risk of serious injury in the event of a crash. Later in the article, I’ll cover some of the essential safety equipment triathletes use to protect themselves. 

    Another risk to consider, whilst riding deep section or disc wheels, take caution when it’s windy. Disc wheels can be caught in gusty winds like a kite and cause crashes. 

    Additionally, when riding in wet weather you might decide to use tires with increased tread. Using super slick road tires in poor conditions can easily cause crashes and injury. 

    Environmental Impact of Using a Triathlon Bikew

    Riding a bicycle is becoming increasingly popular for those with a go-green mindset. Whilst you wouldn’t normally use a triathlon bike outside of competitive events, doing so will help reduce reliance on fossil fuels as well as reducing air pollution.

    As previously stated, however, tri-bikes aren’t very comfortable for commuting and you may be better off using a road bike if commuting to work encompasses the majority of your time on two wheels. 

    Does the Bike Require Anything to Keep Functioning?

    In order for a triathlon bike to function well, your best bet is to stick to paved trails and roads that are clean and don’t have loose, bumpy surfaces. 

    Riding dirty or dusty roads will only increase the amount of maintenance required when returning from your ride. 

    You should perform regular maintenance on your bike, including cleaning, lubricating your chain, and checking your tires and brakes for functionality and problems. 

    Different triathlon bikes have varying components and some will demand more technical maintenance. If you aren’t confident doing this yourself, your local bike shop will be able to assist. 

    What to Wear When Riding a Triathlon Bike

    The best candidates for triathlon bikes are athletes that want to benefit from increased speed and better aerodynamics during triathlons.

    Since the entire design of the bike is created with speed in mind, they are specifically perfect for more competitive and athletic riders as opposed to the everyday rider.

    Due to the specialized nature of triathlon bikes, they are best suited for more advanced riders who already have some experience on the typical road bike. 

    row of triathlon bikes being used in a competition
    Whilst triathletes are swimming their bikes wait for them with their helmets, cycling shoes and any other clothing they need whilst cycling

    Nonetheless, some of the most popular clothing pieces for the cycling portion include triathlon shorts with material that dries quickly, clipless cycling shoes, and of course a helmet.

    Though expensive, a beneficial clothing piece that can withstand the elements of all three triathlon portions nicely is a triathlon suit. 

    Many pro triathletes opt for a tri-suit as they can fit easily under your wetsuit or be used in place of a wetsuit, reducing the time spent when transitioning from swim to cycle. 

    Tri suits dry quickly, which will prevent chafing when riding which is essential as repetitive chafing will lead skin to become raw and incredibly uncomfortable. 

    Sunglasses and suncream can also be extremely beneficial on hotter days. Sunglasses will allow you to remain focused on the upcoming road, whilst protecting from sunburn is an essential step in combatting heatstroke. 

    What Accessories are Recommended When Using a Triathlon Bike?

    Many triathletes use speedometers to help pace themselves during racing and training. This will help to prevent burnout and keep you on track for victory. 

    Other accessory recommendations that you might use with triathlon bikes are aero water bottles to stay hydrated without sacrificing any speed, as well as an aero saddlebag for storing lightweight essentials like tire repair materials and energy gels.

    Conclusion - What Is a Triathlon Bike?

    In case you missed it, a triathlon bike is an aerodynamically optimised bicycle used during the cycling stage in the competitive sport of triathlon.

    Whilst Tri-bikes are similar to TT bikes and some road bikes, you should now understand the differences between these models. 

    If you can’t decide between a TT bike and a tri-bike this TT bike information will be helpful in making your mind up. 

    Otherwise, make sure you’re using a good quality lock to secure your bike. You can read about the best cheap bike locks here or if you want top of the range security, my review of the best bike locks on the market will point you in the right direction!

    As always, lock it or lose it!

    Ciao for now. 






    Author of This Post:
    Picture of James Grear (Lead Editor)
    James Grear (Lead Editor)

    Understanding how devastating it is to have a bike stolen, I've researched & immersed myself in the world of bicycle security since 2013.

    I then built BikeLockWiki in 2019 to share everything I'd learned with the worldwide cycling community so that cyclists can improve their bike security skills and make informed decisions when purchasing new products and services.

    Learn More about Me & BikeLockWiki here.

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    4 Responses

    1. hello James, your blog is awesome.

      what would you recommend for a beginner triathlete, a tri bike, or a road bike?

      1. Hi Harshdeep,

        I’d recommend beginners to the sport of triathlon to start with a road bike. Once they’re ready to get serious with their training and want to enter competitions a tri bike may be a worthy upgrade.


    2. Hi,
      I read the whole post but it is still unclear how a triathlon bikes differ from TT bikes. The description saying these are designed for speed and aerodynamics, applies to also TT and Road bikes. Its unfeasible to think that TT bikes and Road bikes would completely abandon the concept of either aerodynamics and speed.p, that would not make sense at all. To what degree do they focus on each would be much more relevant and distinguishing feature rather tha saying a very generic phrase as above.

      1. Hi David,

        Thanks for your feedback. In this article, I provide more detail don’t the differences between a TT and Tri-bikes. Let me know if you still have any questions once you’ve read through and I’ll get back to you right away.

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