Tri bike vs Road bike for first Ironman

A lot of people breaking into Ironman, myself included, eventually come across this question. Should I use a Tri bike or Road bike for my first Ironman/Triathlon? We all know cycling, in general, can start costing money very quickly as you add in bike upgrades to make yourself more efficient.

So where is the cut-off between upgrading your road bike and just buying a tri bike, which already has all the bells and whistles?

Let’s take a quick look at the two, provide some personal experience, and see if you should be using your trusty road bike or jumping to a new triathlon bike!

Upgrading your road bike

So from my personal experience, diving into my first Ironman race, I have gone the route of upgrading my trusty road bike.

I came to this conclusion for a few reasons. First, I am comfortable riding my road bike already. There will not be an awkward transition of needing to learn to ride a new bike and do my first race at the same time. Secondly, I feel I can perform better on hill climbs on my road bike than I can with a tri bike. Knowing that the first 20 miles or so of my race is an uphill climb, leads me to be more confident on a road bike.

Changes to my road bike

That said I have made several modifications to improve my aerodynamics on my road bike. I have outfitted my road bike with a pair of aero bars. When I get to the downhill portion of my race I fully intend to spend that 20+ miles in a nice aero position. I have also added some SPD clipless pedals and shoes to improve my cadence and speed on the bike.

For my actual race as well I will be using a pair of aero wheels, to provide some additional edge during downhill to make up for any time lost in other aspects.

I have also made slight adjustments to my seat to bring it higher and more forward to allow for a more comfortable aero position centered over the pedals, this will also help save your legs for the run!

Why not use my triathlon bike?

While I do have a triathlon bike at my disposal, I am not comfortable with it on long rides as it is newer. Additionally, while I think triathlon bikes do excel at keeping your legs fresh, their handling is a bit touchy. And being that I have only had a mine for a few months it is just not something I have gained comfort on yet and my goal is to finish. Crashing my bike would be a huge setback in finishing the race.

Triathlon Bike vs Road Bike Conclusion

Both bikes are great options, especially if you already own both. My takeaway is, if you have a triathlon bike, and are comfortable riding it, then it should be your top pick for your Ironman or triathlon race. If you have a good six months to train on it and want to pick one up you will definitely notice the difference when you transition to the run.

If however you are more comfortable on your road bike or have to deal with a hilly course, I would use your road bike. There are tons of great upgrades, such as Aero Bars and Aero Wheels, which I discuss in depth. That will get you all the major performance upgrades of a tri bike, but you will still have access to the comfort of your road bike.

At the end of the day, if it is your first race, you should ride what is going to give you the most confidence to safely cross the finish line. If however you are a veteran and looking to break records I would definitely get a triathlon bike and get used to it! They are a necessity for shaving off-key seconds.

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