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Convert your Road Bike for Triathlon

Get race-ready

You're keen to dip a toe in the water and try your first triathlon, but it can feel like a daunting commitment to add a specific triathlon bike to your quiver. Fortunately, with a few clever changes and additions, you can easily convert your familiar road bike, make it race-ready and still lay down a fast triathlon bike split.

Road bike to tri bike Specialized Shiv side view

The differences between road and triathlon bikes

There are generally a few key differences between a road bike and one that’s designed for racing triathlon. Firstly, on a triathlon bike, the geometry tends to look and feel more aggressive, with steeper seat tube and head tube angles to promote an aerodynamically efficient position when pedalling, and your weight will be more to the front of the bike.

Triathlon-specific bikes favour aero handlebars instead of the traditional drop-bar road bike setup. They are super-stiff and offer a second hand position when out of an aero tuck for driving out of corners or sitting up on longer climbs. The gear shifters are mounted on the end of the bar extensions and the brake levers are on the end of the base bar.

Specialized S-Works Shiv

The top end triathlon bikes may also include integrated storage components, be that bento boxes on the top tube, innovative water storage, or compartments for stowing spares and emergency tools. This level of integration enhances the aerodynamic profile of the bike and is wind-tunnel tested to ensure that changes to the flow of air are beneficial. It does though also mean that the bike can be harder to control in side winds, and you should be confident with handling a bike when down on the tri bars.

Although this can give rise to some funky, futuristic and striking looking bikes, it’s worth remembering that it takes time to feel comfortable and confident on a triathlon build and as a newcomer to the sport, it can be better to adapt to those feelings and positions on a bike you’re already familiar with.

So, with that in mind, let's see what simple changes could be made to your road bike so that it is ready for a triathlon.

Setting up Aerobars

The aim of aerobars is to reduce the frontal area of your body that makes up most of the air resistance and drag. The more upright you are, the more drag you create and the harder you have to work, so by using aerobars you can get lower on the bike making your body a smaller target for the wind. However, if you are not used to riding in an aero position then the required flexibility can actually put additional strain and discomfort through your body, leading to a loss of efficiency and a slower bike split. The knock-on, of course, is that a poor bike leg will likely be detrimental to your run performance as well.

 

When deciding on your setup, it's important to note that carbon handlebars are not generally designed to have aerobars fitted and few will be suitable, so you should check with the manufacturer beforehand. 

The advantage of adding clip-on tri bars to your road bike is that you still maintain three positions for your hands - drops, hoods and tri-bars - which is useful for staying comfortable and getting used to the feeling of being tucked into an aero position. You will be able to quickly return to a familiar and stable position at any time.

Road bike to Triathlon Bike - fitting aerobars

Setting up your clip-on aerobars will take time and you shouldn’t be put off by bars that offer a great deal of adjustability since these will enable you to best fine-tune the position to suit your physique and needs. Few, if any, of us have perfectly symmetrical bodies so it’s likely that the right and left arm will require slightly different positions, and even if that comes down to just a few millimetres then it may greatly impact your comfort by the time you reach T2 to start the run. You will need to consider the reach, the hand position, the angle of the armrests and the width of your arms, all of which can be dialled in with Profile Design aero bars. Furthermore, by leaning more onto your elbows and shifting your body weight forward, it might also require a saddle and/or stem adjustment so that you're not too stretched out and your power output remains strong.

Hydration

With the adrenaline flowing it’s easy to get in the zone when racing and neglect your drinking and nutrition plan, but thanks to cunning hydration systems from the likes of Profile Design, your favourite energy drink or water will always be on the tip of your tongue. The HC Aero Drink System attaches between your aerobars so your means of hydrating will never be out of sight, or out of mind. The carefully considered design won’t hinder airflow or increase drag thanks to the NACA airfoil shape with Kamm tail and it includes an integrated computer mount so that all of your live ride stats are still available. A straw on the top means you can take regular sips without having to leave an aero tucked position and the wide aperture cap makes refilling quick and easy.

Bento Box

No, we don’t mean noodles, stir fry and take-away Japanese cuisine (and we certainly don’t recommend using chopsticks whilst riding - far too messy), in triathlon terms a Bento Box refers to top-tube mounted storage that makes your race snacks and other essentials easy to grab when required. Much like staying hydrated, it’s easy to go for long periods without eating properly only to lack energy later in the race, when you really need it.

Think about the end of the bike leg as preparation for starting the run. The Profile Design Aero E-Pack mounts just behind your stem on the top tube, so it’s neatly tucked out of the wind, and is a simple way to keep your snacks close at hand.

Bike Fit

If you are choosing to convert your road bike then we suggest getting a bike fit to ensure that the changes are both efficient and avoid injury. Being in an aero tucked position will change the angle of your hips, the bend of your lower back and the strain on your neck. Furthermore, being bent over could have an impact on how easy it is for you to digest food, so it’s very important to do some thorough testing before you embark on your first race. 

One final bit of advice? Stretch and maybe practice a bit of yoga. Being more flexible will not only make it easier to spend time in an aero position but will benefit your swimming and running as well.

For more information about getting your bike position right check out our Professional Bike Fitting Service.

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About the Author

  • About Ross: Bikepacking journeys, Ironman, solo 24-hour mountain bike events, epic stage races, Everesting or long days with plenty of Alpine cols; if it involves adventures on two wheels then Ross will have a go. He can usually be found riding remote lanes on Dartmoor, whatever the weather.
  • Article Published On: 11 June 2019

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