With 2017 bikes hitting the floors of bike stores around the country, we've had a look through the latest triathlon bikes and come up with what we deem the best for AU$4,000 or thereabouts. Triathlon or Ironman bikes are all about aerodynamics and integration with many boasting impressive wind tunnel test numbers to backup their aerodynamic claims. The aim of a triathlon bike is to reduce the bike's drag, making it more effective against the wind and the clock. This is done by manipulating tube profiles, integrating storage, cables and brakes, and looking at the bike from a bigger picture, keeping the rider and functionality in mind at all times.
This is where traditional time trial (TT) bikes differ from triathlon bikes. Time trial bikes can be super aggressive as the distance covered is generally shorter than triathlon distances, there's no need to consider storage and riders don't need to concern themselves with running long distances off the bike. Triathlete's on the other hand, often spend long periods of time on the bike, feeding constantly and endeavouring to save as much energy as possible for the impending run. Consider this a short-list of the bikes we’d put our own money on (in no particular order).
What to expect
As triathlon bikes are not bound by UCI (the international cycling governing body) restrictions, frame designs push the limits of what is possible. Brands like Specialized and Felt feature profiles in excess of the 3:1 ratio with massive downtubes to improve aerodynamics, and in the case of Specialized, use the space as a means to integrate fluid for hydration. Other brands like Trek will mimic these elongated tube profiles by starting with elongated tubes and effectively 'cut' off the tube's tail to improve performance in a range of wind directions (yaw angles).
Integration and adjust-ability are two key elements of triathlon bikes and often are at odds with each other. The more integrated a system is, particularly a cockpit system, the harder it is to adjust. Most of the bikes within this price range feature standard steerer tube, stem and handlebar construction making it easier for riders to adjust their position and make frequent small changes.
A hallmark of a good triathlon bike is a good amount of storage for either food or integrated compartments for tools, tubes and tyres so that retrofitted pieces don't compromise aerodynamics. At this price look for bikes with some form of integrated storage and hydration systems, if not, ensure after market additions such as seat mount bottle holders and top tube storage are easily retro-fitted.
Geometry of triathlon bikes are different to standard road bikes with the seat tube angle being much steeper to allow riders to adopt a more aerodynamic position and drive more from their glutes and hamstrings, saving their quadriceps for the run. With this in mind, look for a bike with a steep seat tube angle but also with enough capacity to move the seat position and adjust the bar extensions so you can dial in your position.
Triathlon bikes are generally far heavier than their road brothers, focusing on maximizing aerodynamics over weight savings and having the added considerations for storage and hydration. It's common for top-tier triathlon bikes to weigh upwards of 8kg, with most of the bikes we've listed here being heavier again.
Shimano 11-speed 105 componentry should be expected as a minimum, and more than likely with a 'mid-compact' 52/36 crankset ratio as most triathlon courses are relatively flat and speeds are high. Wheelsets are a key point of consideration for a triathlon bike, with many of the bikes at this price point coming equipped with a more basic training wheelset. The general expectation is to buy a higher-end race wheelset to get the most out of the bike on race day.
If you are considering spending more and curious as to what you'll get, greater integration for hydration and storage is a feature of top-tier triathlon bikes, as is electronic shifting that enables you to shift from the bar extensions as well as the handlebars, and of course upgraded deep profile wheelsets that reduce drag and improve aerodynamics. These extras generally come at a significant cost and some brands will only offer one or two options in Australia and so your choices may be limited.
All the bikes listed below are great value options and provide everything you could want for short or long distance triathlons, and they'll save you some cash to either hire or purchase some race day wheels if you're chasing a winning time.
Giant Trinity Advanced Pro 2
The Trinty Advanced Pro 2 has all the hallmark features of a top quality triathlon bike; integrated storage and hydration, hidden brakes and aerodynamic tube profiles. The Advanced Pro 2 provides much of the same technology and features of the top Advanced Pro 0 and 1, without the upgraded groupset.
Giant have been able to offer a remarkable package by fitting this bike with a basic wheelset, keeping the overall cost low and allowing them to provide 11-speed Shimano Ultegra and almost equal levels of integration as the higher models. Giant's 'AeroVault' system, for hydration and storage, is immediately evident with one look at the front of the bike. The system was engineered with the frame to act as a complete unit and interestingly is said to improve aerodynamic performance compared to a standard set-up. The system carries 450ml of fluid for a small and 700ml of fluid for medium/large and in addition provides 290ml of top tube storage for food.
As good as the Trinity is, a potentially limiting aspect is that there are only three sizes; small, medium and large, which people at either end of the height spectrum may struggle to fit.
- RRP: AU$3,799
Cannondale Slice Carbon 105
The Slice stands out in this crowd with thinner tube profiles than all the other bikes on this list. This helps keep weight down and highlights Cannondale's focus on comfort as well as aerodynamics, pitching that the frame offers good levels of compliance which will enable you to comfortably maintain an aero position for longer periods of time.
The design is far removed from the Slice RS which featured an elongated down tube and unique seat tube design. Instead, the new-age Slice now features TAP (Truncated Aero Profile) tube shapes that aim to blend aerodynamics, stiffness and compliance. The lightweight, shallow profile Vision wheels are a nice addition, featuring aero spokes and a 30mm deep profile meaning they could act as both a training and race day wheelset.
Shimano 11-speed 105 again features with Cannondale's own cranks and FSA chainrings in a 'mid-compact' set-up. There are five sizes available ranging from 48cm - 60cm which should cover most on the height spectrum.
- RRP: AU$3,799
Cervelo P2 105
Cervelo is the King of Kona. You couldn't ask for a better endorsement for a triathlon bike than the bike count at the Ironman World Championships in Kona. In 2016, Cervelo won the Kona bike count for a record 12th consecutive year. Perhaps even more amazing, Cervelo's total count nearly matched that of the next three brands combined.
The Cervelo P2 shares the same frame and fork as the P3 and is exceptionally functional. The design is rider friendly with easily accessible front and rear brakes, one of the few triathlon bikes to have the rear brake above the seat stays and not underneath the bike. The front brake is also in a standard road bike position making mechanical adjustments easy, as well as swapping over brake pads if you happen to use a carbon wheelset for races. The seat stays are designed to improve air flow over the brake calipers without compromising functionality, the seat tube has a partial cut-out and the downtube is dropped slightly to improve aerodynamics and reduce drag.
The finishing of the bike is equal to that of other bikes on this list with an 11-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain and basic wheels, but it does stand above many others with a huge size range comprising of seven options from 45cm to 61cm.
- RRP: AU$4,000
Specialized Shiv Expert
Specialized is one of the few brands to separate it's time trial and triathlon bikes, creating the Shiv Expert specifically for triathlon with integrated storage and hydration systems. The triathlon version of the Specialized Shiv is distinctive by its massive downtube that houses the 'Fuelselage Integrated Hydration System', a bladder that slides into the downtube and carries 500ml of fluid, depending on frame size. Not only is it a neat storage solution, it's hidden from the wind, saving you watts at the same time.
The drivetrain is 11-speed Shimano Ultegra with the exception of a FSA SL-K light crankset in a 'mid-compact' ratio.
For Specialized fans wanting to know about other options, the downside is this is the only complete bike model available in Australia, with the S-Works Shiv frameset available separately. Opting for the S-Works frame provides an upgraded carbon lay-up, ceramic bottom bracket bearings, and additional storage between the downtube and seat tube as standard.
- RRP: AU$4,500
Focus Izalco Chrono Max 3.0
The Izalco Chrono Max 3.0 resembles a more traditional time trial specific bike with a rear wheel cut out, integrated front brake, dropped seat stays and a tidy front end. Many bikes on this list have exposed front brakes that aren't integrated to the frame, for ease of use and adjustment, Focus manages to both integrate the front brake and make it functional. The fork has a cut out which houses the front brake but it is still easily accessible not requiring the removal of any covering. The rear brake is hidden to further improve aerodynamics and the seat position has a high amount of adjustability making it easier to find the right position.
The drivetrain is again 11-speed Shimano 105 but with an unusual ratio in the form of a 52/38 crankset. The package is capped off with slightly deeper than standard profile Fulcrum wheels that could help avoid the need for an aftermarket upgrade. There are four sizes available which might limit people at either end of the height spectrum.
- RRP: AU$3,999
BMC Timemachine 02 105
BMC have created an all new dedicated triathlon bike following "four years of studying the needs of multi-sport athletes" that incorporates aerodynamic tube profiles, multiple storage options and easily adjustable cockpit set-up. The frame features BMC's 'SubA' aerodynamic tube profile design but the real winner is the additional integrated storage with a rear-mount equipment storage box that seamlessly integrates to the frame and mounts on the top tube for fuel boxes.
Shimano provides all the componentry for the Timemachine 02; 11-speed 105 Shimano is the drive train with a 'mid-compact' ratio, direct mount 105 brakes front and rear and a basic RS010 wheelset. The only potential drawback from this great package is the limited size range of only four options; small, medium-small, medium-large and a large.
- RRP: AUD$3,999
Trek Speed Concept 7.0
The Speed Concept was one of the first true triathlon specific bikes with integrated storage that actually improved aerodynamic efficiency. Trek have continued to develop the Speed Concept whilst maintaining excellent storage and the highest level of integration.
The KVF (Kammtail Virtual Foil) tube shapes are at the heart of Trek's aerodynamic design, starting with a 5:1 tube profile, Trek then 'cut' the tail off so that riders still get the benefit of the elongated tube profiles but they now perform better at different wind angles, effectively adapting to varying wind conditions. Cutting the tail off also reduces the amount of material required which drops weight and the teardrop shaped tubes also add stiffness to the frame.
The 7.0 version lacks the cockpit integration of the higher end model, which may also be seen as a positive as it makes front end adjustment and dialing in your position much easier. 11-speed Shimano 105 is again the drivetrain of choice, although interestingly a compact crankset (50/43T) comes as standard instead of the larger 'mid-compact' or 'traditional' cranksets which are more commonly seen on triathlon bikes.
- RRP: AU$3,899
Felt IA 16
Without doubt, Felt have pushed the boundaries of what's possible for a triathlon specific bike with the 'IA' series. The design features a massive downtube, seat tube and seat post that makes it distinctively a Felt. The seat stays have also been aggressively dropped which reduces the amount of surface area that touches the wind, reducing drag and improving overall aerodynamics. The Felt IA has been ridden to first place at the Ironman World Championships in Kona three years in a row which is the ultimate testing ground for triathlon bikes.
The IA '16' features much of the same technology of the top-tier options, mirroring the unique frame shape albeit without the front end integration which exposes the front brake. As we've mentioned previously, this could be seen as a positive in terms of functionality and ease of use by riders. The drivetrain is Shimano's 11-speed 105 with a traditional compact crankset of 50/34 paired with an 11-28 cassette that should provide plenty of range to conquer hillier courses.
There are five sizes available with good coverage at the smaller end of the frame size scale, that should be enough to cover most people aside from the extremely tall.
- RRP: AUD$3,949
Fuji Norcom Straight 2.3
It's difficult to describe how a triathlon bike should look but in our opinion, the Norcom Straight 2.3 has to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing bikes in this list with smooth lines that flow from front to back. The brakes and cables are unobtrusive, the brakes hidden behind the forks (at the front) and underneath the chain stays (at the rear), and the only cables in sight are seen only briefly at the front of the bike before entering the top tube. The frame moulds around the rear wheel that further adds to the stylish design.
The drivetrain is a mix of SRAM Rival 22 and Oval Concepts with a pretty standard 'mid-compact' 52/36 crankset and 11-26 cassette on the rear. Oval also provide the wheelset in the form of 527 aero alloy clinchers. There are five sizes available ranging from 49cm to 57cm.
- RRP: AUD$3,999