As soon as you travel over 15kph (roughly 10 mph) the biggest force you have to overcome as a cyclist is drag and the faster you go, the greater the drag.
Time Trial bikes and Triathlon bikes are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible, in a bid to minimise drag and make you as fast as possible.
Often referred to as the race of truth, time trials are considered by many to be purist form of bike racing. Being an event where rider and machine alone are pitted against the clock, cyclists have always looked to maximise aerodynamics in order to go as fast as possible.
In this race, the bike can make a big difference – and the more wind cheating it can be, the better. Here is our guide to time trial and triathlon bikes in which we will explain what to look for and the main differences between different models.
What is time trial bike?
Time trial bikes are specifically designed for the demands of riding against the clock, usually on flatter terrain where the difference between winning and loosing can often be mere seconds.
Maximising aerodynamic efficiency is the number one priority for a time trial bike, with comfort and weight becoming secondary.
Time trial bikes are also popular with triathletes competing in non drafting triathlons and Ironman events.
You don’t need a time trial bike to take part in a time trial or triathlon, but if you want to maximise your performance and go as quick as possible, you should look to use one.
This is because they have different geometry to normal road bike which enables the rider to adopt a much more aerodynamic position.
Forward facing tri-bars enable you to get your arms and body narrow, a shorter head tube helps achieve a lower more aggressive position, while the seat tube angle will be steeper, positioning the rider over the bottom bracket and further forward on the bike.
What’s the difference between a road bike and a time trial bike?
Time trial bikes are usually less comfortable, considerably heavier (usually 1-2kg), with deeper tube sections that make the frame more aerodynamic. The cockpit will feature a flat base bar and some tribars with gear shifters on the extensions, which is much more aero than a drop handle bar.
The main difference is geometry. You can stick a pair of clip on tribars onto a road bike (and this is a great starting point for beginners) but you will struggle to get the right position because normal road bikes try to position your bum behind the bottom bracket.
TT bikes have steeper seat tubes that allow the rider to rotate the pelvis and sit over or in front of the bottom bracket. The steeper seat tube allows the rider to open up the hip angle, which helps distribute the load to different muscle groups in the legs.
What’s the difference between a time trial bike and triathlon bike?
In the UK time trialling is a popular sport, however in the rest of the world it is much more niche. Consequently, the market for Triathlon bikes is much larger than that for TT specific bikes.
TT bikes are primarily designed for use by professional riders competing in WorldTour bike races such as the Tour de France. Races such as the Tour fall under the jurisdiction of the UCI and have to convene to the rules of that governing body.
The UCI rules and regulations dictate tube shapes, frame design and geometry. UCI legal bikes have to conform to the classic bike frame design of two triangles and the other rules stipulate that the saddle must be positioned at least 5cm behind the bottom bracket.
The rules and regulations for triathlon bikes are much more relaxed than that laid out by the UCI and the result is that riders can adopt more aggressive positions and bike design can be more radical. A great example is the Cervelo P5X.
However, most Time Trials in the UK, including open events fall under the remit of the CTT governing body and not British Cycling. For CTT events it is fine to use a Non UCI legal bike such as the Cervelo P5X or water bottle fairings like those that can be added to the Canyon Aeroad. A notable exception to this would be the National Time Trial championships.
Watch Video – How much speed can you buy? (featuring the canyon speedmax tt bike)
What ever your motivation or intended use, here is a list of triathlon and time trial bikes that you may want to consider. I have arranged the list in price order starting with entry level machines and finishing with the top spec professional level super bikes.
Entry Level Time Trial Bikes
Entry level time trial bikes will usually come with a good quality aluminium frame and mid tier groupset such as Shimano 105. Wheels are likely to be non aero, although some brands will supply entry level deep sections.
They will feature less integration than the much more expensive top end models and this results in the frame being slightly less aerodynamic. However, this is usually less than you would think, often in the region of just six watts.
The reason for this is that the biggest obstacle to the wind will always be YOU, the rider.
Entry level time trial bikes are equal to top spec machines in their ability to allow the rider to adopt an aero position, with the rider typically accounting for 90% of the total drag at 48kph.
One of the best examples of this is the story of Richard Bussell, who won the National 10 mile time trial championship on bike refuted to cost just £1000. Although the bike was made up of used parts, it demonstrates that the difference between top end frame sets and entry level is aerodynamically small.
The Fuji Norcom entry level model comes specced with a Shimano 105 groupset, with an RRP just under £2,000. Fuji Norcom time trial and triathlon models go up to the Shimano Ultegra Di2 version, and they all share the same frame.
The frame was developed in the wind tunnel, and was designed to be the most adjustable time trial bike on the market – meaning it’s easier to find the rider’s most aerodynamic position. Fuji also wanted to make the bike easier to set up – improving the brake cable routing for ease of adjustment.
Mid Price Time Trial Bikes
Frames at this price point are likely to be carbon and you will likely start to see some integration. Integration involves specially shaped parts and components that help streamline the package. Groupsets are likely to mid level, such as Shimano Ultegra mechnanical and Di2.
A great example is the Canyon Speedmax CF. Prices kick off at £2,200, and unlike the more expensive Canyon Speedmax CF SLX, the cockpit features less integration, but a greater amount of adjustability.
This is common at the mid and entry level price point, where normal, less integrated stems are used. It does make the bike a bit less aero, but these models can be much easier to travel with and pack into bike boxes. This is worth factoring in if you are going to be travelling to warmer climes for training or racing.
Top end Time Trial Bikes
These are frames used by professional athletes and serious amateurs. Expect to see lots of exotic looking tube shapes, all fashioned in a bid to cheat the wind. Top end bikes are slightly more aerodynamic than mid price machines, but taking just the frameset into consideration this is only likely to be handful of watts.
To a competitive rider, where every watt counts this can be significant though. Top spec groupsets, such as SRAM eTap and Shimano Dura Ace help reduce weight, giving top end machines a slight weight advantage over mid price bikes. Electronic groupsets are often found on top end models. Great examples of top spec time trial and triathlon bikes are the Canyon Speedmax CF SLX and Cervélo P5.
Another option is the BMC Timemachine. This model family is available in two key versions: Timemachine TM01 or Timemachine TM02. The former features a ‘v cockpit’ which lifts the stack height and is more suited to triathletes. The TM01 also has a hinged fork, to allow for easy brake pad swapping when alternating between aluminium training wheels and carbon race wheels. With the additional v cockpit and fairings, such as the storage box, the Timemachine is not UCI legal, which is worth bearing in mind.
Features and what to look for
Wheels on a Time Trial Bike
Generally speaking, the deeper the wheel the faster it will be, with a rear disc being the preferred option for top time trialists. Time trial bikes are not often sold with disc, or optimum race wheels. If buying a complete bike we would suggest a bike with some decent wheels that can become your training hoops. You can invest further down the line in some faster wheels. It is worth budgeting for fast wheels as many experts suggest they offer more of an aerodynamic advantage than the frame. Regarding which wheel type is fastest (tubulars, clinchers and tubeless), we have a video you can watch here.
Groupset on a Time Trial Bike
The national 10 has been won on Shimano 105 components. If most of your racing is likely to be flat, then the slight weight saving of a premium groupset is not going to be hugely significant. If you are looking to save money without a loss in performance then I suggest dropping down a groupset tier. Electronic groupsets are useful because they are easier to set up and maintain – something advantageous on very aero frames, with complicated cable routing. Electronic groupsets also allow you to position additional shifters on the base bar as well as the tribars, which is useful.
Frame on a Time Trial Bike
The main thing to make sure of is the size, as this will determine if you can get into an aero position. Time trial bikes size differently to road bikes (often size smaller), so it is worth asking an expert, having a tt bike fit, or sitting on a few in a shop. Again, the consensus among experts is that wheels make more difference than the frame. That said if you are looking to save cash, but not loose too many watts, it is better to spend more money on the wheels and potentially go a little lower on frame spec. For example, a Canyon Speedmax CF with a Zipp 808 front and Disc rear wheel, would be faster than a Canyon Speedmax CF SLX with Zipp 404s front and rear.
Saddle on a Time Trial Bike
Do not be too concerned with the saddle your TT bike comes with. Most people will swap out the saddle in a bid to try and find something that suits them. If you want more info on saddles, there is a video here.
UCI Legal Time Trial Bikes
If you are going to be competing in UCI events, then make sure the frame is on the UCI approved frames list and is legal. Team Dimension Data race on the Cervelo P5, but in order to make it UCI legal the team has to swap the fork for the shallower Cervelo P3 one.
Other bikes such as the Canyon Speedmax and Scott Plasma have non UCI legal fairings and nose cones, that can be removed to make the bike legal, should the need arise.