Inside Triathlon tested five of the most high-end, technologically advanced tri bikes on the market to help you find the one for you.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine. Subscribe to Inside Triathlon here.
A swell of bikes specifically designed for triathletes has finally arrived, but not all bike makers or riders agree on the ingredients that make a great tri bike. Fit adjustability, component integration and functionality have risen to the top of nearly every priority list, but not everyone ranks them in the same order. Whether you value streamlined integration, functionality or some combination of the two, there is a bike that meets your desires. We reviewed five bikes, all at the apex of technology, designed for different preferences and riding styles to help you find your perfect match. And if you’re looking for a lower-priced alternative with the same core characteristics, we highlight some options, as well.
Blue Triad SL
By Aaron Hersh
Geometry truly designed for triathletes is the hallmark of Blue’s bikes. The small Atlanta-based company doesn’t sponsor a major international road cycling team so it has the luxury of designing its bikes exclusively for the needs of triathletes—the people who actually buy these machines. A near-universal reality of the transition area is that the $9,800 bikes are almost never set up for professional time-trial positions. Other companies are starting to understand the positioning requirements of many triathletes, and their tri bike geometry is drifting toward Blue’s scheme. Blue took advantage of its station as an early adopter of this tri bike geometry trend when creating the Triad SL. The frame’s stack value—the frame’s height—is taller than average and its reach—the horizontal distance from rider to the head tube—is shorter than average. Instead of requiring a tall stack of spacers or wild extension off the bike to match less aggressive fits, the frame itself rises to meet the rider, which preserves the bike’s intended ride qualities and aerodynamic performance. Staying true to its core philosophy, Blue created its integration system to maximize fit flexibility without compromising stiffness.
Instead of creating a totally unique system, Blue preserved the basic structure—a stem on top of spacers over a fork—road bikes have used for years. Rather than scrapping the stem and steerer tube, Blue’s product development director Chris Pic, a former professional cyclist, adapted this refined system for aerodynamic performance. Round spacers were replaced with teardrop spacers that blend the hinged fork extension in front of the frame with the rest of the bike. These spacers can be moved and swapped just like standard round spacers. The aerobar is the difference between Blue’s integrated system and a traditional stem and spacer setup. Instead of accommodating any bar, only Blue’s Aerus bar works with the Triad SL. Thankfully, the bar is versatile but it does have one substantial limitation. The pads can be moved fore, aft and up, the extensions can be swapped for any standard-width bar and the base bar grip is comfortable. It simultaneously allows for a wide range of adjustment and fine tweaks to nail your fit. The integrated stem, however, limits the fit range slightly. Common stems elevate the aerobars between 2 and 6cm higher than the Triad SL’s zero-rise version. This counteracts some of the frame’s conservative geometry and limits the Triad SL from morphing to match some upright triathlon positions.
Every section of the Triad SL is airfoil-shaped, which influences ride quality in addition to aerodynamic performance. The bike transmits subtle road vibration through the bars to the rider more than average. The ultra-stiff chassis has benefits as well. The bike is perfectly comfortable leaning deep into a corner at high speeds. It inspires the confidence to test the tires’ limits because the frame doesn’t sway or twist, a chronic problem of bikes with aerobars stacked high above the frame. Riding the Triad SL is exhilarating. Although the Triad is purely a triathlon bike, you won’t find storage built into the bike or outrageously deep tubes like the ones on some other true triathlon bikes.
The frameset, including aerobars, goes for $4,000. Your local bike shop can help you build the bike well below the $9,800 figure for Blue’s house build with Reynolds Eighty One wheels and SRAM Red components.