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Tri bikes are great for the performance-obsessed, but road bikes are simply more versatile and fun. Whether you’re thinking about adding a road bike to complement a dedicated tri bike, or plan to use one for every ride and race, a road bike is a valuable part of every triathlete’s gear collection. Here is how these bikes, spanning nearly every style, stack up for road cycling and as converted tri bikes with aerobars.
This article was originally published in the Sep./Oct. 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.
Parlee Z5 SLi
Forget techie frame details like aero shaping and flashy tube shapes—this frame is all about the classic elements of a road bike. Imagine a frame welded by a craftsman, but with the benefits of carbon. It rides beautifully and boasts the simplistic elegance that most modern bikes lack. The frame is stiff, smooth and beautiful. It carves steadily through corners and resolutely tracks a straight line. Shimano’s new Dura-Ace Di2 kit is spectacular, the best road component group we’ve tested, and the Enve SES 3.4 wheels are equally impressive. The Z5 SLi may not be as fast as the S5 or light as some others, but it’s a joy to ride and a perfect complement to an aero tri bike in any bike collection.
Round tubes don’t generally test well in the wind tunnel, and this frame is composed of nothing but. The geometry, however, works well with a pair of aerobars. Parlee offers this frame in two different fits—one with a taller stack height and another with a traditional road race-oriented fit. The reach length, however, doesn’t shorten. The steady handling characteristics of this road frame help translate to a neutral steering feel while controlling the bike from a set of aerobars.
Trek Madone 6.2
Not all Shimano Ultegra component groups are the same. The rear derailleur often gets the majority of the attention, but shifters, crankset and brakes each influence bike function more significantly than the derailleurs, and many bikes are made cheaper by down-spec’ing these key parts. The Madone 6.2 does not—every piece is top-notch. While stiffness isn’t this bike’s greatest attribute, smooth ride feel helps make up for it.
Like the Parlee, Trek offers this same frame in two different geometry schemes—one tuned for all-out race positions and another suited to less aggressive fits. The race-oriented version called H1 has a longer reach to the bars, meaning most riders will have to rely on an adjustable clip-on to get comfy in the aero position. The H2 frame, with its shorter horizontal reach distance and taller front end, is naturally suited to be converted to a tri position. And the rear-offset seat mast cap can be flipped frontward, positioning the saddle in a way that is closer to ideal for triathlon.
Instead of tailoring the fit of this bike for professional road racers, the Z Series is shaped for more comfortable positions. As a result, this bike is perfectly suited as a change of pace from spending hours tucked in the aero position. Its ride feel is consistent with the fit. The Z3 is stiff when punching up a climb, yet mutes road vibration better than most. Shimano Ultegra parts are interspersed with cheaper bits to keep the cost down. Rear shifting is tight and sharp, and a wide gear span keeps the crank spinning up most steep inclines.
A geometric hallmark of the more conservative fit schemes used on bikes such as the Z3 is a shorter reach distance from the saddle to the handlebar. Trimming this distance makes riding in the aerobars more attainable because this change to the shape of a frame helps scoot the aerobar elbow cups beneath the arms in a way that truly supports the upper body. As a result, shoulder strain goes way down.
The rule for making a tri bike fast applies to road bikes as well: Lowering aerodynamic drag is the best way to boost speed. The S5’s wind-cheating features outdo all but the very best tri bikes. Coupled with Enve’s SES 6.7 carbon clincher wheelset, this bike is sure to save energy during a breakaway from a group ride. And stiffness isn’t sacrificed for speed. This bike kicks hard over hills and for signpost sprints. Moderate vertical stiffness is the only tradeoff. The frame rides rougher than some, but the wide Enve rims broaden any tire and help dampen vibration. A lighter bike can certainly be had for this price, but maybe not a better one.
Wind drag isn’t a problem—this bike has performed exceptionally well against other aero road bikes. Frame geometry is also suited to triathlon fits, but the seat post creates an issue for some. Even the forward slot on the two-position post doesn’t situate the saddle far enough toward the bars for many riders, and the post’s unique shape means aftermarket seat posts that position the saddle forward aren’t compatible. A saddle such as the ISM Adamo, which can slide far forward, is a good antidote to this tri-fit quirk.
Specialized Amira Compact
The majority of this bike’s cost goes toward maximizing its most important pieces: the frame and wheels. Robust DT Swiss wheel components are designed to have a long lifespan, and the all-carbon frame is intended to ride smoothly yet maintain stiffness. The individual components are decidedly mid- to low-end, meaning a few of the small bits might need to be upgraded or swapped within a few years, but spending for a frame and wheels is the best way to maximize ride quality in an affordable bike.
Specialized’s definition of women’s-specific road geometry suits aero positions exceptionally well. Like the Felt Z Series frame, the Amira has a relatively short reach to the aerobars, an advantage when trying to support the upper body in the aero position. In addition to that benefit, the Amira has a steeper seat tube angle than most road bikes. Slap a forward-set seat post on this bike, and it becomes perfectly suited to a comfortable and fast aero position.
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