Tri vs. Road Bike Riding

I’m out this weekend for my sister’s bachelorette party (fun, but I hope I can keep up with them!).  So I’ll leave you with my initial thoughts on road versus tri bikes.  Keep in mind this is only from my limited month on the tri bike and only one long ride on it.  Have a great weekend~

After my first long ride on open roads with my tri bike I’m super psyched – this baby is fast!!  The aero advantage is better than I imagined.  David and I rode 60 miles last Saturday; I took my tri bike and he took his road bike with aero bars.  Normally we ride about the same pace, but that day he had a difficult time pacing with me as I had 1-2 mph on him.  He could tell it was aerodynamics because he could keep up when the wind was at our backs, but into the wind he was struggling and I was still taking it easy.  I hardly got my heart rate up the entire time.

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I wasn’t so sure I’d like the tri bike, because during the first 10 miles, I kept thinking how uncomfortable it was compared to a road bike, and how I felt so much “freer” in my road bike.  But the Felt proved me wrong; once she got cruising we were flying and I just wanted to go faster and faster!  Here are the main differences I found using my tri bike compared to my road bike:

1.  The ramp up is slow, but once it gets going it flies – this is part of the aero advantage I mentioned.  The bike takes a little while to get going, but once it gets up to speed, it’s unstoppable.  This is an effect of the aero wheels and frame.  The bike fitter I worked with said “you’re gonna have to ride this bike hard to feel good” and it’s true.  You have to get up to a fairly good speed to feel good on it.  Hills are another story – hills are HARD on a tri bike, probably since there’s so much weight on the front end.  The thing feels so dang heavy and standing is kind of weird.

2.  Use of different leg muscles – I could really feel the difference in leg muscles used on the tri bike.  With the road, I use a lot of quads and they usually feel sore the day after, but with the tri bike I was mainly using my hamstrings and butt.  No wonder triathletes can get off and run so easily.  In addition, though generally I’m a small-ring rider, the big ring felt better on this bike, maybe because I could fully utilize my bigger leg muscles with bigger gears.

3.  Bike handling is more sensitive – I consider myself a fairly sound road cyclist that has decent bike handling skills, but the tri bike is going to take a little work to get steady on.  Any little bump or change in wind takes you out of a straight line, and given your shoulders and core are steering the bike, the balance takes some getting used to.  I did fairly well for the first long ride, but need more practice to be completely steady.  Plus, anywhere you turn your head, your bike wants to go.  You almost feel like you have blinders on.  And, the bike is not as nimble or quick to respond as my road bike is.  I can dodge things with a quick flinch on my road bike but require more time on my tri bike.

4.  Drinking is more difficult – With your arms occupied in the aero bars, drinking doesn’t come as naturally.  I found I didn’t hydrate nearly well enough and am considering some type of handlebar hydration system with a straw.

5.  Neck/shoulder strain – I definitely felt some neck/shoulder strain following the ride from looking forward in the aero position for so long!!  My shoulders were burning some of the ride.  I did not, however, have any lower back pain and minimal leg soreness. 

Am I happy I got a tri bike?  Heck yes!  I’m pretty excited to take this out again and do some bricks and races with it.  I loved its performance in the windy conditions and how my legs felt afterwards.  I might still need some additional tweaks in fit and hydration, but overall I’m really happy with it.  Would my road bike still work for tris?  Yes; I’ve used it in both Olympic and Half distances and could have continued using it.  In fact, for hilly, technical courses, a road bike isn’t all that bad. 

What are your thoughts on tri versus road?  I’m a roadie at heart, but the tri bike is slowly winning me over.

7 thoughts on “Tri vs. Road Bike Riding

  1. anything that puts you lower to the ground will give you an aerodynamic advantage. it’s the same reason recumbents are faster than diamond frames (and the real reason triathlons don’t allow them).

    I dislike tri/TT bikes. Sure, I can (and have) pump out a 25 mile ride in under an hour, but the compact geometry, low rake and high trail make it a bear to handle. And a ride I wouldn’t enjoy often enough to justify the cost of a tri bike at this point in my life. Plus, many roadies will banish you from the group if they sense you are thinking about getting into the aerobars (the position the bike is designed you be in).

    looks like a beautiful bike though, and I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

    1. Yes, tri bikes aren’t for everyone and I agree I won’t be taking it on road rides with my road cyclist friends (I dislike when tri bikes join pacelines very much myself). The handling is taking some getting used to with my shoulders and core needing to be engaged all the time, but I kind of love it!!

  2. This is a great post and I’m really considering a tri bike later this year. I first got a Felt Z100 and love the Felt brand but I think I’ve reached the limits on how aero I can make it (installed aero bars, aero bottle/hydration, forward facing seat post, aero saddle, etc….). Even with all these tweaks its still just a road bike and not as aerodynamic as a tri/TT bike is.

    1. Thanks – yes, I feel that body positioning and use of different leg muscles do a lot more than any aero gear they sell you. My handle bars are 4″ lower than my saddle so you can imagine how much smaller my profile gets.

  3. I can’t get over how pretty your Tri bike looks, so sleek! That’s a good comparison between the two, the more I read, the Tri bike really is designed perfectly for, well Tri’s.

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