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One of the first big considerations you’ll have to make as a new triathlete is what bike you should ride. Any bike is better than no bike, so if you have an old eight-speed, or if a friend can loan a test ride, great! If you are in the market for a new bike, however, use these guidelines to find the right rig and avoid making a very expensive mistake. Then, enjoy our picks for the best beginner triathlon bikes of 2022.
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Get a Fit Before You Buy a Beginner Triathlon Bike
The biggest faux pas many new triathletes make is shopping for a new bike without getting properly fit. An uncomfortable bike limits performance and enjoyment of the sport (at the very least), and worse, may lead to injury. The best bike fitters use a dynamic fit bike to get the right geometry from scratch, but even a fitter who works with different models and sizes is better than nothing at all. Online fit calculators and formulas are far from perfect and can easily lead you in the wrong direction. Check the fitter database on ibfi-certification.com, or ask around for a recommendation of some fitters in your area.
Best Beginner Triathlon Bikes: Road or Tri?
Many new triathletes are best served with road bikes rather than triathlon bikes. Road bikes are versatile and well suited for just about anything. Triathlon bikes can be tricky to handle to new riders; they are made for going fast in a straight line and are not ideal for group riding or easy endurance rides. Every triathlete should own a road bike, but not every triathlete should own a tri bike.
Best Beginner Triathlon Bikes: Aluminum or Carbon?
Bike frame material makes a difference in the way a bike feels. Aluminum rigs can be just as light as carbon, but aluminum tends to ride harsher. Your budget will likely dictate whether your starter bike will be carbon. Even if you can’t afford a carbon frame, you can dramatically improve ride quality on any bike by outfitting it with high-quality tires and keeping them inflated to the appropriate pressure.
Beginner Triathlon Bike Must-Have: Adjustable Fit
Your bike-fit needs will likely change as you progress in the sport. All bikes allow you to adjust fit parameters, but some rigs can be limiting or really challenging to adjust. Before you buy, ask your bike shop pro how hard it will be to move the position of the handlebar or aerobars. Some bikes are very easy to adjust, but others require a mechanic to make even small tweaks.
Most companies offer bikes at various price points with different component packages. When considering which bike is the best value for your dollar, look closely at the rig’s components. Some manufacturers mix and match some parts, and what they may be offering as Shimano Ultegra or SRAM Force groupset may not be 100 percent as advertised. Groupsets work best with 100 percent native parts, so look closely to understand exactly what you are getting.
Disc brakes are all the rage these days, and rightfully so. They give riders better control in all conditions and are far less troublesome than rim brakes. Disc brakes make swapping between wheelsets slightly easier as well, so if you are going to be purchasing a set of race wheels in the future, disc brakes will simplify your life. Generally, disc brakes cost about the same as rim brakes, and disc-brake wheels are becoming cheaper and cheaper so there’s no reason not to go disc.
Do Not Test Ride
This may seem counter-intuitive, but test rides can be incredibly misleading. There are many factors that influence the way a bike feels in a test ride (poor fit, uncomfortable saddle, etc.). Unless a shop is willing to adjust a few bikes exactly to your fit specs and then plop on a saddle of your comfort choice, the test ride will likely be a waste of time.
The Best Beginner Triathlon Bikes
Kestrel Talon X
$1,700, Shimano 105 11-speed mix, rim brake, kestrelbicycles.com
This budget tri bike wins big points for the intangible: ride quality. While it might not have the deepest aero tubes in the game or disc brakes, Kestrel was actually one of the first bike brands to embrace carbon fiber frames, and it shows. This is a well-balanced bike when it comes to smoothing out bumps, providing ample acceleration, and overall comfort. Even though this is the cheapest bike on our list, the frame is a great place to start building around.
BMC Timemachine One
$2,800, Full Shimano 105 11-speed, rim brake, bmc-switzerland.com
The good news about this sub$3k offering from BMC is that the Swiss brand hasn’t cut any corners—from the crankset to the cassette, this bike is offered with a full 105 groupset, a rare find nowadays. The attention to detail extends to the Profile Design cockpit (again, hard to find on something under $3,000), the aero shape, and the rear storage container behind the seat. Even the saddle is a Fizik Mistica rather than a generic or house brand.
A2 Bikes SP 1.1
$2,800, Shimano 105 11-speed mix, mechanical disc brake, a2bikes.com
A2 Bikes was one of the original pioneers when it came to direct-to-consumer bike sales. With the introduction of its excellent budget-priced carbon bike, the Speed Phreak, A2 became synonymous with cutting out the middleman to get a really great bike for less. In the years since, A2 brought on a former head Cervelo engineer to design their all-disc SP line, and though you can’t find an A2 bike for under $2,000 anymore, the new SP 1.1 is still a killer mechanical disc setup for under $3k with better fit options and aerodynamics than the original
Specialized Shiv Elite
$3,000, Shimano 105 11-speed mix, rim brake, specialized.com
In terms of high-end features on a beginner- to -mid-level priced bike, the Shiv brings a lot of trickle-down tech along with an 11-speed Shimano 105 mix groupset. Yes, it still has rim brakes (but most do at this price), but that’s a fair swap for deep carbon sections and superbike background. The Shiv is also probably one of the most aerodynamic bikes on the cheaper, $~3k list, and one of the few with an integrated hydration bladder—either 16oz. or 20oz., depending on size—built into the deep carbon frame. The slippery carbon budget tri frame may come with a slight weight penalty, but it’s also a very exciting design.
Quintana Roo PRfour Disc
$3,250, Shimano 105 11-speed mix, mechanical disc brake, quintanaroo.com
Using the same unique frame shape as the far pricier PRsix Disc—an asymmetrical seat stay, minimal fork, and a beefy aero downtube—the PRFour is a great value for mechanical disc brakes under $3,500. Quintana Roo is another good example, alongside brands like Canyon, of a company that targets triathletes specifically, and as such the PRfour Disc has tri-specific details like a rear seat tube storage system (with a nifty built-in light for visibility), a built-in bento box on the top tube for nutrition, and the ability to fit a wide range of positions via a very novel seatpost head.
$3,400, Shimano 105 11-speed mix, cable disc brake, cervelo.com
While it doesn’t have the wild non-double-diamond design of the PX-Series or the high-end carbon construction of Cervelo’s new P5, the cheaper P-Series benefits from the latter’s trickle-down technology in a big way. Using many of the same frame shapes that make the P5 so fast, the P-Series is an incredible value in the tradition of Cervelo’s P2 line (RIP). With clean lines provided by few cables and a disc-only setup (cable pull at this budget tri pricepoint, however), the P-Series feels as good as it looks with a balanced, smooth, and stable ride—thanks to an increase in lateral stiffness, according to Cervelo’s engineers. While the wheels and some components may call for an upgrade years later down the line, the P-Series has all of the bones of a great “forever bike.”
Argon 18 E-117 Tri Disc
$3,500, SRAM Force 11-speed mix, hydraulic disc brakes, argon18.com
Argon finally left behind rim-brake options in 2022 and now offer their entry-level tri bike, the E-117 Tri as a disc-only model. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the SRAM Force 11-speed/hydraulic brake setup is a far cry from entry level. For under $4,000, triathletes can get their hands on a tri-specific frameset that’s know for being very nimble and flexible when it comes to fit (remember what we said far above?). Though the version pictured here is the $5,900 Force eTap AXS version, the frameset is the same on both the $3.5k mechanical shifting setup and the electronic one.
$3,500, Full Shimano 105 11-speed (note: no front derailleur), rim brake, dimondbikes.com
The Carbonado is aero at all costs—and it’s also the only non-double-diamond complete bike available for under $4,000 in 2022. Using a slightly different beam bike design as opposed to Ventum’s missing downtube setup on the pricier One, the Carbonado eats up bumps and provides a smoother ride in the rear than almost all bikes in this price range. While the front end is unsurprisingly rougher than the Z, the Carbonado handles better—though it also lacks the built-in hydration of its NDD competitor. Also: Be aware that at this budget price/build, the Carbonado has no front derailleur and only shifts 11 speeds, compared to every other tri bike in this list that shifts either 20 or 22.
Canyon Speedmax CF 7 Disc
$3,800, Full Shimano 105 11-speed, hydraulic disc brake, 4iiii Precision power meter, canyon.com
Canyon’s low-end model is a favorite for a few reasons—trickle-down aerodynamics from Canyon’s previous high-end bikes (that earned multiple Ironman world championships), a great hydraulic brake build with complete 11-speed 105, and tri details like a built-in bento box on the top tube for nutrition storage. Interestingly enough in 2022 Canyon swapped out the race-ready Reynolds AR58DB wheels from the 2021 model for a shallower set of DT Swiss 1800 training wheels, but (and this is a big “but”) they added a 4iiii Precision power meter to the 105 crankset. This makes the Speedmax CF 7 Disc by far the least expensive complete bike to come with built-in power—a trend we hopefully see more of in the future.