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.
Ready to learn more about triathlon? Check out our complete beginner’s guide.
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; 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, 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, 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.
A2 Bikes Speed Phreak
$1,900, Shimano 105 11-speed mix, rim brake, a2bikes.com
Where the Talon X above is one of the more comfy bikes on this list—in both carbon layup and frame geometry—the Speed Phreak can be set up as one of the most aggressive. This means that if you want to go super low on this budget tri bike, you can. The front end features a kind-of integrated stem/frame junction that gives a clean line from the front through the top tube and out the back. Though it can be a slightly harsher ride, if you know you want to go fast and maybe you’re racing shorter races, the Speed Phreak is a great option.
Specialized Shiv Sport
$2,200, Shimano Tiagra 10-speed mix, rim brake, specialized.com
Though the Shiv Sport might have lower-end 10-speed Shimano Tiagra components at this price (compared to many other bikes on this list with 11-speed Shimano 105), Specialized chooses to put more value into the aerodynamics of their frame, rather than the components that they hang on it. (And of course you can get 11-speed 105 on the Shiv Elite that runs $3,000). The Shiv is also probably one of the most aerodynamic bikes on the cheaper, sub $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.
BMC Timemachine Two
$2,500, Full Shimano 105 11-speed, rim brake, bmc-switzerland.com
Even though the Swiss brand isn’t as well known in the U.S., BMC certainly has a heart for tri. Not only does this unique frame design have a deep top tube/downtube front junction for aerodynamics, but it also boasts great tri features like a dual-position seatpost and storage behind the saddle at a cheap price. We really like that—unlike most other budget tri models under $3k on this list—BMC uses a straight 11-speed Shimano 105 build without any off-brand components to cut corners, so you know you’ll be getting smooth and consistent shifting and braking for a long time out of this beginner triathlon bike.
Argon 18 E-117 Tri
$2,650, SRAM Force 11-speed mix, rim brake, argon18.com
If you’re looking for an alternative design when it comes to a tri frame, Argon 18’s E117 not only has SRAM Force—a component mix that’s certainly more rare in the transition area these days—but it also uses a unique frame that can be set up for more aggressive positions and provides much more aggressive handling. Where you might find deeper tubes on the cheaper Specialized Shiv Sport, you won’t find aero details like a solid Rotor chainring on the crankset, a behind-the-fork brake system, or a rear brake setup integrated neatly into the frame itself (though the Shiv does a bottom-bracket-located rear brake). Add some deeper race wheels when you have the budget, and this setup will ride scalpel-like through any and all tri distances.
$2,700, Full Shimano 105 11-speed, rim brake, ventumracing.com
Obviously the Z stands out in this list for it’s non-double-diamond design, but fear not. For those who are unfamiliar with this unconventional setup, it’s essentially a no-holds-barred take on frame aerodynamics that is not UCI legal (though very few triathletes will ever compete in a UCI time trial, and the design is legal for all non-draft USAT events). Aerodynamics aside, the design provides an exceptionally smooth ride and accommodates a fantastic built-in 1.4L water bottle on the top tube, an amazing feat on a “cheap” tri bike. While acceleration slightly suffers with this design, for anyone looking to go super fast in a straight line on a budget tri bike—even at iron-distance—the Z is an excellent choice.
$3,200, 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.”
$3,500, Full Shimano 105 11-speed (note: no front derailleur), rim brake, dimondbikes.com
Much like the non-double-diamond design of the Ventum Z above, the Carbonado is aero at all costs. Using a slightly different beam bike design as opposed to Ventum’s missing downtube setup, 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 to either 20 or 22.
Canyon Speedmax CF 7 Disc
$3,800, Full Shimano 105 11-speed, hydraulic disc brake, canyon.com
Even though the Speedmax CF 7 Disc is a slight step up in price from the beginner triathlon bikes above, it’s a budget race-ready tri bike with a killer set of Reynolds AR58 DB wheels, hydraulic disc brakes, and the trickle-down aerodynamics of Canyon’s previous high-end bikes (that earned multiple Ironman world championships). Not only is the spec great for a cheaply priced tri bike, but the Speedmax also boasts tri-specific details like built-in top tube storage with an included integrated toolkit. While many bikes under $5k will require a few upgrades here and there to make them faster, the Speedmax CF 7 is pretty much there.