It’s no secret . . . triathlons are not the cheapest hobby in the world. It can cost thousands of dollars to start running tris. The most costly expense by far that any newbie triathlete will face is the cost of the triathlon bike. Finding a cheap triathlon bike can be incredibly difficult to do. This chart below highlights our picks for the top 12 triathlon bikes that won’t break the bank (okay we did include an $8,000 bike for fun just because they are so cool to look at).
What to Look For in a Good Triathlon Bike
Okay so what really drives up the cost of different bikes are several aspects rather than just one thing these include:
- Derailleurs (what actually shifts the gear)
- Frame (steal, aluminium, carbon)
- Handle bars
Of course there is much more that goes into the overall cost of a triathlon bike, but those are the main driving factors in bike price.
What the %&$** is a Derailleur Anyway?
With the derailleur being one of the single most important factors that makes a triathlon bike either cheap or expensive it is important that you understand what one is and what makes one more expensive than another.
Wikipedia defines a derailleur as follows:
Derailleur gears are a variable-ratio transmission system commonly used on bicycles, consisting of a chain, multiple sprockets of different sizes, and a mechanism to move the chain from one sprocket to another.
In plain English that just means that the derailleur is the mechanism that moves the chain up and down from gear to gear.
When you hear someone talk about “COMPONENTS” they are generally referring to the derailleurs, brakes and shifters.
What Makes One Derailleur More Expensive Than Another?
Okay now that we know what exactly a derailleur is, what makes one more expensive than another? In order to get a cheap triathlon bike you have to balance component quality with budget and try to find the best bike with the best components for the lowest cost possible.
Better derailleurs will generally:
- Use less steal and thus weigh less
- Have better construction to last longer
- With better construction they will shift gears more smoothly
In the chart above you will see that all bikes have Shimano components. I have attempted to list the type of component being used. The “Low End” or “2300” component will be heavier and not last quit as long as the 105, Ultegra, or Dura Ace.
You will quickly see that the cheaper bikes have the Low End components. If you buy a cheap tri bike you can always hang on to the bike and decide to upgrade the components at a later date as finances allow. This is a trick that many bikers use to slowly create the perfect bike. One year upgrade the wheels, the next the front derailleur and so on until you have the bike of your dreams.
Hierarchy of Shimano Derailleurs – Comparison Chart
The chart below was not created by me but was borrowed from ChooseMyBicycle.com, you can view the original chart HERE.
This chart details the differences between each of the different Shimano components from lowest cost to most expensive. If you are wondering what the difference is between a Shimano 105 and Dura Ace than this chart will help you to know which is the best and what the differences are. This also works are a great comparison chart of all of the Shimano rear derailleurs.
I currently have a Javelin Triathlon bike with Shimano 105 and really have no complaints.
Basic Road Bicycle component
||Shimano ClarisEvolved version of the 2400 groupset
Reliable Gear and Braking system
Hollow Crank arms
Improved pivots and springs
Equal shifting through range
Perfect accuracy while shifting
Do I Need a Triathlon Bike or a Road Bike?
More than anything a triathlon is about conserving energy. You learn to swim in a way that saves your energy for the bike, you learn to eat while biking to have enough energy to run, and you learn to run in a relaxed manner so that you can finish the race.
In road biking you are looking for power and energy conservation is not as much of an issue.
It is this key difference that triathlon bike builders have integrated into the design of tri bikes. The more of these innovations you have built into your tri bike the more expensive your bike is going to be.
So when it comes down to it . . . it is not NECESSARY to go out and purchase a new tri bike with all of the latest gadgets and gizmos if you are just starting out. Instead buy a cheaper road bike and purchase desired ad ons.
A road bike will work perfectly for an entry level tri bike and it is much cheaper as most tri bike companies try to put all the latest technology on their bikes to have the coolest and best looking bikes out there and it can be hard to get an entry level tri bike for under $1200 minimum.
When I was a Boy Scout I did the Cycling Merit Badge and we had to do 4-25 mile bike rides and 1-50 mile bike ride. I completed all of these rides on an old Huffy Mountain Bike from Wal-Mart.
Don’t get me wrong. The more expensive bikes will make riding a bit easier but you can easily complete you training rides, sprint tris, and even short course triathlons on a simple mountain bike. If you begin to do longer rides than a nice cheap triathlon bike might be a good investment. If later on down the road you start needing to worry about shaving a few minutes off your time than upgrading to a more expensive and decked out bike might be something you can save for.
When I say cheap I mean about $300-$700, this will get you a great bike that will last for years if well maintained. If you feel that you MUST have an entry level tri bike plan on spending at least $1200.
So What Is the Difference Between a Road Bike and a Tri Bike?
- Seat Angle – Tri bikes have a much steeper seat angle that places the rider closer to the handle bars creating a more aerodynamic position. This also puts less stress on your quads thereby saving energy for the run.
- Smaller Wheels – Triathlon bikes have 650c wheels vs 700c wheels of the road bike. This creates less friction with the road and allows for greater acceleration.
- Aero Bars – Tri bikes come equipped with aero bars that allow the rider to lay forward in a more aerodynamic position.
These are the main differences between a road bike and a triathlon bike. The fact of the matter is that these three things can all be changed at a later date for a nominal cost. You can purchase a new seat post, new handle bars, and a new wheel set all for much cheaper than buying a top of the line triathlon bike.
You’re Ready to Buy Now What?
So the first thing you need to know before going out and spending money on a new bike is the actual size bike that you should buy. To do this you I recommend going to a local bike shop and having the clerks fit you on a couple bikes. Act like you are SUPER interested in buying one of their bikes and get the number. Alternatively you can use an online bike size calculator like this one here.
>>ONLINE ROAD BIKE SIZE CALCULATOR<<
This number tells you the size frame that you should buy. There is room for adjustment once you purchase the bike but this number will give you a starting point.
Now, take this number and head over to Amazon or Craigslist to actually purchase your bike. I recommend Amazon.com for a new bike or Craigslist for a nice used bike.
If you do decide to use Amazon and use one of the links above we do earn a commission and we GREATLY appreciate it! (Thanks : ).
For Craigslist I would suggest SEARCH TEMPEST. What Search Tempest does is allow for you to search the entire USA for what you are looking for . . . a feature missing from Craigslist.
Either of these two methods will work great for finding a nice cheap triathlon bike that meets your needs. Sandi and I actually used Craigslist to find a new Tri bike at half price as it was a closeout. After negotiations we were able to get two new tri bikes for $1200 including shipping . . . a great deal!
Bike Is Here . . . Now What?
No that the bike is in your home and you are done ohhing and awing over the shiny new toy you need to put it together and head over to a bike shop to get it fit. Fitting the bike will insure that the geometry is all right and that the positioning is right to not put pressure in the wrong areas (remember its all about energy conservation).
You can attempt to fit the bike on your own using this amazing website HERE (TRI BIKE FIT). Warning:: Doing this on your own will not ruin your bike but you may be left working MUCH harder on your rides than necessary.
The Bottom Line
There are cheap triathlon bikes out there and it is possible to race and train without going broke. In the end I think the bottom line is that you don’t want to spend thousands of $$ on a bike that will only save you 5 minutes.
You want to find a bike that is reliable, comfortable, and fits within your budget.
Please realize that while the super expensive bikes look awesome they are NOT required to start running triathlons. If you already have a mountain bike in the garage grab a pump dust off the cob webs and hit the road.
If you really need a good bike set up a budget (a couple hundred bucks will do the trick) and head out and get the bike that meets your needs. Remember if REQUIRED you can make updates later on down the road.
Now use our list and pick out your bike (if you do click on one of the bike links and make a purchase we do earn a commission and GREATLY appreciate it) Thanks!
See you on the road!
Image Credits: C. Corleis