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What Is The Difference In Speed Between A Tri Bike And A Road Bike?

A tri bike and a road bike seem to look the same at first sight. However, there are still some differences in their designs that make them distinct to each other and affect their speed performance.

Read on to know how does a triathlon bike differ from a regular bike and which one to choose for your competition or leisure rides.

Frame geometry Of Road Bike And Tri Bike

The main difference between the two bikes is the frame geometry. The very first thing you want to understand about a triathlon bike is that it is made for competition purpose.

Hence, the most important feature manufacturers pay attention to and seek to implement in the bike is neither comfort nor beautiful design, but rather aerodynamics.

Guided by this primary objective, they modify the angle of the seat tube so that it is steeper than in a road bike and forces the rider body to lean extra inches for achieving better aerodynamics.

Aero Elements On Tri Bike Vs Road Bike

Getting everything aero in a tri bike is extremely important as the main goal of the triathlete is to show a better time by developing a higher speed on the track. The more aero the rider body goes, the less resistance it meets from the oncoming airflow.

This is why, it’s not only the seat angle that is modified for better aerodynamics, but also other measures are put in place to speed up the air circulation against the triathlete body and bike.

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They include an aero helmet that has an elongated sharp design aimed to cover the gap created between the rider’s head and back in the neck area. The helmet turn the body into a flat surface where air is sliding like a knife through butter, meeting no obstacles that would increase its resistance.

The Importance Of Clip-On Aero Bars On The Tri Bike Handle Bar

Another feature that is hardly found in a road bike is clip-on aero bars installed on the handlebar and acting as armrests for the rider.

By leaning on the armrests, the athlete reduces even more the air resistance, being granted the opportunity to pick up an ultra high speed.

The aero bars have also a second purpose. Since triathlon races occur on a long distance, the athlete’s arms may start to hurt if constantly held in strained position.

By placing the arms on the rests while riding downhill, the rider helps the arms to get rid of extreme tension and to recover.

Moreover, by leaning over the handlebar, the athlete pushes his body weight to the ground, forcing a better contact with and improving wheel friction with the track surface, which ultimately leads to a higher speed.

How much does Aero Equipment Impact Your Cycling Speed?

Considering that road bikes don’t always ride downhill and aren’t so focused on speed and record times, they are deprived of aero equipment.

You can use a road bike both for a leisure ride in the park or for a mountain trip where aerodynamics are not important at all. With that said, you are expected to see a less steep seat tube angle where the riders position their body to their liking and comfort and don’t have to lean in pain to create the favorable angle for air circulation.

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Of course, it reduces the max speed the regular bicycle can reach, but it doesn’t matter at all. 

Clip-on bars are also not needed. For one, because road bikes aren’t supposed to travel huge distances so the rider’s arms are less likely to get tired.

Secondly, since regular bikes are mostly used in the city, the rider may need to be in better control of the handlebar, considering the intense traffic, multiple turns and sudden obstacles that may appear on the way.

You need to be in special control of the bike when riding on a rough terrain or when climbing a hill. The bumbs, grooves and stones can compromise the bicycle’s balance once ended up under the wheel. You have to keep your arms always strained and ready to undertake fast maneuvers.   

Which Bike To Choose For Triathlon Practice? 

If you are a newbie triathlete, we recommend you to start with a road bike. It may come as a surprise, but you need to perform a smooth transition from a regular bike you are comfortable with to a tri bike that makes you take the needed position in pain.

Moreover, you don’t have to break speed records in the first days of making yourself familiar with the basics of this sport. Only when you are fully introduced to triathlon and have some practice in improving breathing and stretching, you can switch to a tri bike. 

By the way, did you know that you can modify a road bike into a triathlon one? In fact it is possible and it isn’t that difficult to do, yet you will not be able to modify it fully. You just have to enlarge the seat angle for increased aerodynamics which is easily done manually.

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Then add a pair clip-on bars on the handlebar, and your bike is ready to take over triathlon tracks, not before equipping yourself with an aero helmet to minimize air resistance and reach a mind-blowing speed. 

Truth be said, though, this trick will work only for triathlon training, as for official competitions you need specially sized and specially configurated tri bikes. Road bikes are still heavier than tri bicycles.

It is because they have fatter wheels which are meant to take over not only the smooth and paved city streets, but also the rough terrain, where the bike needs rugged tires with wide contact with the ground to improve the friction and move uphill without devilish efforts required from the rider. 

The frame may also feature a heavier construction consisting of heavier metals, which comes in contradiction with the aero requirements where the bike has to be as light as possible to be compatible with triathlon events. 

Bottom Line

Triathlon bicycle has better speed performance than a road bike, due to a steeper seat angle, lighter design, and armrests riders lean on to improve aerodynamics and push their body weight to the ground enhancing wheel friction.

Luckily for those who are on a tight budget, a road bicycle can be partially modified to a tri bike, by making the seat tube angle steeper. You will not get a professional tri bike, but at least increased speed is ensured.  

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