The Most Versatile Bike Set-up for Triathletes: Part 2 – Road Bikes and Tri Bikes

road bikeBased on the history lesson about road bikes and tri bikes from Part I of this article posted on Aug 18th, we understand the basic differences between a tri bike and a road bike. So let’s get back to the main topic of these blog articles – the most versatile bike set up for most age group triathletes. If you can only own one bike, without a doubt, the road bike is the way to go. Its geometry allows for the rider to be comfortable on any type of terrain in training or racing and in all conditions. Once a person has a good road position, then adding aero bars to achieve an adequate aero position is the next thing to do.

By adding short clip-on bars and using a fair amount of saddle-to-bar drop, a rider can achieve a very good aero position, especially if they learn to ride with forward pelvic tilt and drift towards the front half of their saddle. The short clip-on bars keep your elbows under your shoulders so that the skeleton can support the weight of the torso. These clip-on bars not only need to be short, but they need to have low stack height since a road bike is already a bit taller in the head tube than a tri bike. You want the aero bar pads to rest at the same height of the bar they are clamped to.

Moving to the front part of the saddle when riding in the aero bars helps keep the hip angle open. The big advantage of learning to ride on different parts of the saddle is that you do not lose versatility. When you get out of the aero bars, you can slide rearward to the normal part of the saddle and be right back in your standard road position. You can slide even further back for big climbs.

Having your shifters integrated in the brakes, as you would in a road bike, is great for shifting while climbing, as opposed to reaching out to bar end shifters on a tri bike. One of the keys to climbing well is to shift often, so having your shifters close at hand is a bonus.

If you are on a course where you will only be in the aero position for a short amount of time (IM France) or if you know that you prefer to ride out of the aero bars for half or more of any race (50% of all age group athletes at most Half-IM and IM events), the road bike with short clip-ons should definitely be considered as you will be riding in a reasonable aero position when in the aero bars, but will still be in a comfortable and powerful position when you are out of the bars – best of both worlds.

You also have a bike that you can train with on any terrain (mountainous, hilly, flat, group rides, etc.). If you add in a set of high end, shallow, low-inertia aluminum-rimmed clincher wheels, you end up with one machine suitable for training and racing in all conditions and all terrains. Remember, we are talking about versatility in this blog. We are looking for one setup that will do well in any situation, not the setup that is perfect for a very specific situation. Most age group athletes do not own several bikes and several wheel sets for every conceivable training or race environment.

Let’s take a look at one possible example of a versatile do-anything bike. The bike below is built around Cannondale’s CAAD 9 frameset. The CAAD series from Cannondale offers the best aluminum bikes that have ever been made. These frames have won stages and/or overall titles of the Giro d’italia, Vuelta a Espana, and Tour de France within the past ten years. Great bang for the buck.

cannondale bike

The components are tried and true Shimano Dura Ace mechanical. The bottoms bracket has been upgraded to a ceramic BB. The bars stems and seat post are top of the line offerings from Ritchey and the saddle duties are performed well by the 30cm Fizik Arione which offers the 30cm length to accommodate different riding positions.cannondale bike front view

Two of the key components that add to this bike’s versatility are the aero bars and wheels. The aero bars are the HED Flip-lite bars with scalloped arm rests that flip up so that you do not lose the ability to ride on the tops of the bars while climbing. The carbon extensions are custom cut to measure so that you can get your elbows right under your shoulders.

The Mavic Ksyrium SL wheel set may be one of the most versatile wheel sets ever made. They are not very aero in a wind tunnel, but they offer a low spoke count, are stiff, carry very light, low-inertia rims, and are built with durable hubs. All of these attributes make the wheels fast despite wind tunnel limitations. Look at any ITU pro or cycling team that is on a budget and you will see the Ksyrium SL as the go-to wheel set for racing at the highest levels. They use clincher tires which most age group athletes are more comfortable with (as opposed to glue-on tubular tires) and they offer a reliable aluminum braking surface. ksyrium wheelThere is no pulsing, no worry about excessive heat buildup during braking and they brake well in the rain. Carbon wheel sets have yet to beat aluminum surfaces as far as braking performances go, especially in wet conditions and the jury is still out about carbon’s use in the clincher design due to heat buildup issues under heavy braking. Michelin Pro 3 tires and some 70 gram butyl inner tubes are mounted to the rims adding only 270 grams of weight to an already light rim.

A road bike can be ridden anywhere and do well with the right motor pushing it. Going for a ride in the Alps over the summer? Check. Riding a local triathlon with 18 corners per lap and need to accelerate out of the corners well? Check. Riding Kona, Alcatraz, and Wildflower in the same year? Check. Cruising to the local park with your kids?  Check. As the French would say “Toute Condition, Tout Terrain” – all conditions, all terrain. This is your bike.