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Triathlon bikes are an interesting category, much different than say road or mountain. You can’t really ride gnarly singletrack on a road bike. But you can easily compete in a triathlon on a road bike or even a mountain bike with slick tires. Simply by adding aerobars to your road bike you can compete quite well actually. However, getting fit comfortably on a road bike with aerobars is a little more difficult than with a triathlon bike. The take away is this: if you want to try out triathlons or duathlons to see what the fuss is all about, use your road bike and put some aerobars on it. If you’re ready to up the ante and get a bit more serious, keep reading. The nice thing about used triathlon bikes is that triathletes are always upgrading to the “latest and greatest” equipment and they sell their three year old bike for less than half what they paid. Thus, you can get a great used triathlon at a steep discount.
Okay, so you’ve done a few tris and are hooked. The top guys and gals all had pretty cool looking machines and you want to be one of them? There are advantages of a triathlon bike over a converted road bike:
-more aerodyanmic (did you know over 70% of your energy goes to fighting wind resistance)
-easier to get into a better position in the aerobars (called aero position), which helps with #1
-steeper seat tube angle means you can run more easily after getting off the bike
What size should I get?
Sizing a triathlon bike is a lot like sizing a road bike. Therefore, a general rule is that if you ride a 56cm road bike you should be riding a 56cm triathlon bike. Generally, bike manufacturers change the dimensions of the tri bike (like the head tube height) so that the bike is better suited to put you in a faster and lower aero position. Some people opt to ride a size smaller triathlon bike so that they are even lower on the bike when in the aero position.
While triathlon bikes are generally more streamlined than road bikes (less cables showing, aero shaped tubing, etc.) the biggest effect of speed is rider position. Triathlon bikes allow you to get in a better triathlon position and thus you’re faster.
What frame material?
Most triathlon bike frames come in aluminum or carbon these days. Though steel and titanium tri bikes can be found, they are much less common.
So between aluminum and carbon which is the right type for you? Bikes bought used will not come with any type of warranty, so keep this in mind. Typically, carbon bikes experience a greater risk of cracking over time or due to a crash. Additionally, its more difficult to have a carbon frame repaired than an aluminum bike. Some will say that carbon bikes are much more comfortable than an aluminum frame, though after spending that much money on a bike, maybe its just in their heads? Bang for the buck, get an aluminum bike, it’ll last a long time.
What Brand to Buy?
Ever heard the phrase, “no one lost their job buying IBM?” the same holds true for Cervelo. One of the most recent bike makers, Cervelo has established a strong foothold in the cycling market and the backbone of their product line is their triathlon bikes. However, a number of other brands are also producing some great triathlon bikes such as Quintana Roo, Specialized, Kestrel and Felt. Hopefully, you have a bit more information about how to buy a used triathlon bike!