Despite assurances by myself to the contrary back when I signed up for the
Florida Ironman, I bought myself a triathlon-specific bike a few weeks ago.
It is a Felt S32 with Shimano Dura Ace/105 and Felt TTR4 wheels.
For those of you who have no idea what that means, it’s an entry-level tri
bike. It’s pretty much the least expensive category of triathlon specific
bicycle out there. Most manufacturers have something similar. It’s also
white on red, so it matches my road bike, a Trek 1500T. No, color was not a
criterion for purchase.
Why did I spend the money on this bicycle? I had originally intended to put
aerobars on my Trek and ride that in the Ironman, figuring that I already
had a perfectly good race bike. This is still true, in that I now have
two perfectly good bikes, however I felt unsafe biking around town
with the Trek and a set of aerobars. The aerobars get in the way of the
grips at the top of the handlebars, making the bike less maneuverable in a
busy downtown traffic-filled setting. As I’m going to be putting in plenty
of time in the saddle in situations where quick reactions might be called
for, I decided that it was worth it to have two bikes, rather than
continuously mounting and de-mounting the aerobars on one.1
I’ve had the Felt out a few times so far and it feels a lot different than
the Trek. Honestly, the Trek feels better, but then its components are step
up from the Felt. The Felt is only a race-bike though, so as long as it
goes fast and straight, that’s good enough for me. Plus as time goes by
(not this year) I’ll upgrade things in a piecemeal way.
Some people ask what the point is to a triathlon specific bicycle when a
road bike seems to do all the same things. This is an excellent question
with an easy answer: A tri bike is designed and constructed around the
aerobars. The intention is for the rider to spend the majority of time in
the aero position, reclined forward on her forearms in a fashion that
reduces aerodynamic drag. This puts you farther forward on the frame than is
normal on road bikes, and most road bikes can’t really manage a “proper”
aero position for triathlon due to their frame design. Of course the
“proper” position is something that a lot of age-groupers can’t do anyway
because it requires training and muscle acclimatization (I’m not there yet).
Anecdotally, I’ve heard that if you don’t spend 80% or more of your race
time in the aero position, than there’s really no aerodynamic benefit in
making the upgrade to a tri bike.2 As I plan to spend that
amount of time or more during the Ironman (~6 hours on the bike!) this was
another good reason to get a tri-specific bicycle.
My Trek saw probably its last triathlon (ridden by me) at the Callaway
Sprint a few weeks ago. The Felt will see its first race this weekend at
the Chattanooga Riverfront Triathlon, an Olympic distance race. I’m sure it
will do well.
1: Anybody want to buy a very lightly used set of Profile Design
2: I would pedantically dispute this claim given that
any time spent in an aerodynamically improved position will
decrease your total bike time, but there is a cost-ineffectiveness argument
if you’re deciding whether or not to purchase a bike on this basis. If
you’re not going to use the aerobars, spend the money on a good road bike.