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Mid-priced tri rides tested head-to-head.
Triathlon is full of choices. Are you going to focus more on the bike or the run? Will you spend your cross-training time in a yoga class or lifting weights (or sitting on the couch)? Deciding how to spend your budget is another one of those choices. Certain gear can legitimately make you a little faster, but with so many elements of the sport competing for your spend, dumping your savings into an electronic-shifting, integrated dream machine may not be the best use of your resources. To help you find the best bike for your needs, we rounded up testers of differing ages and experience levels to put seven mid-priced tri bikes to the test. The engineers behind these machines in the $2,500 to $3,500 price range aimed to strike the ideal balance between speed, function and savings—this is how they performed.
Our bike testers enjoyed full SAG support and route guidance from Jeff Bean of BikeCrave, who took the group on roads that even the longtime locals had never ridden before. If you’re looking to experience San Diego riding at its finest, Jeff’s your guy. Bikecrave.com
View behind-the-scenes footage of rider testing at Triathlete.com/tribiketest2014.
Cervélo P2 105
The draw: The perfect machine to chase a new PR
For athletes chasing a new personal best, this frame can compete with just about anything you’ll find on the road. Most of Cervélo’s best drag-saving features are packed into the P2—its frame is identical to the upmarket P3. It lacks a sleek integrated nose cone, but its straightforward design means you won’t need an engineering degree to make adjustments. With this exception, every other bit of the frame is as refined as you’ll find on a bike three times the cost. Speed-focused triathletes will also like the P2’s nimble handling. “Controlling it from the aerobars requires a little more concentration than with some other bikes, but it carves through tight corners,” said the tester. After developing a solid feel for the bike, you’ll be able to descend confidently without leaving the aerobars. Packing this much aero R&D into a mid-price bike comes with one big compromise: the components. Both front and rear shifts are a bit loose.
>>Tester Profile: Male 25–29 age group. 11-year triathlete. Once consumed over 3,800 calories on a long ride.
Blue Triad SP
The draw: Control and comfort
Control and predictability are the hallmarks of the Blue Triad. From the first ride, the tester melded with the bike. “I was comfortable from the get-go and had a ton of confidence in the overall handling,” she said. “It’s just an easy bike to adapt to.” From the aerobars, this bike tracks a straight line without issue. It seems to hold a course on its own. And if you’re struggling to find a bike matching a position geared to long-course, the Triad’s conservative geometry can solve many fit problems. Its Profile Design aerobar is of the older generation and lacks the vertical adjustability of newer versions. SRAM’s affordable Apex components are mixed with a bargain-bin crank and chain, but shifting quality exceeded the tester’s expectations, and she described gear changes as “very smooth and really consistent.”
>>Tester profile: Female 30-34 age group. World traveler. Bulldog mom.
BH Aerolight RC 105
The draw: Sex appeal
Stand in the transition area of any triathlon in the country and you’re likely to see many of the bikes in this review, except the BH Aerolight RC. Swooping lines and bold shaping distinguish this machine, and it looks even better with a pair of race wheels. This Spanish import stands out among an increasingly homogenous collection of tri bikes, and it has the high-performance chops to earn its place as a trusted race bike. “I was shocked with the stiffness of this bike,” said a tester. “Some other tri bikes at this price can sway a bit when really sprinting or cornering hard, but the BH feels as rock-solid as a top-notch road bike.” Responsive stiffness is coupled with forgiving, steady handling from the aerobars. It isn’t twitchy in the slightest. The parts (not pictured*) can’t live up to the performance of this incredible frame, however. The Vision aerobars lack the adjustability to significantly change the bike’s fit profile.
>>Tester profile: Male 35–39 age group. Favorite race is any with a disproportionately long ride. Quality of beer in the post-race beer garden is another top concern when choosing a race.
*Due to logistical issues, two people combined to test this bike, and the reviewed RC 105 build kit is not pictured.
Fuji Norcom Straight 2.5
The draw: Adjustability, upgrade potential
This entry-level option in the Norcom Straight line of tri bikes delivers an all-around solid ride quality. The bike received high marks for comfort both in and out of the aero position, thanks in part to the high degree of front-end adjustability and ergonomics, and the bike’s ability to absorb road noise. While the tester didn’t experience any issues with the components, the stock Shimano derailleurs (Tiagra in the front, 105 in the rear) are not the most reliable options for riders looking to get everyday use out of their tri bike. Braking was powerful and precise, and the bike felt rigid and responsive beneath the rider around sweeping turns and through snappy accelerations. “This bike handles well, and there is no front-end looseness when you stand and sprint,” he said.
>>Tester profile: Male 35–39 age group. Former bike fitter and shop mechanic for five years. Volkswagen Vanagon junkie.
Trek Speed Concept 7.0
The draw: Wind-cheating machine
The frame geometry remains the same in the newest iteration of this popular tri bike, but Trek engineers have found a way to make it even lighter and more aerodynamic (even the quick-release skewer is designed to reduce drag). Tuck into aero, and you’ll feel like a rocket on this sleek carbon ride. While the bike shines when ridden low and tucked, other bikes in this roundup accelerated faster. “A bit more effort than usual was needed in order to accelerate, and I had to get out of the saddle and start stamping on the pedals to sprint,” said the tester. Shimano 105 shift quality was flawless: “You can dump five gears under a constant load,” he reported. The gorgeously integrated brakes blend into the bike; however, the tester said the braking quality bordered on mushy.
>>Tester profile: Male 35–39 age group. Won his last road race on a suicide solo breakaway 25 miles from the finish. Tunes lasers that are delivered to Nobel Prize-winning researchers for a living.
BMC TM02 Timemachine 105
The draw: Sustainable comfort meets aero performance
Industry-leading aero research was used to craft the shape of this frame, and it boasts an enhanced ride quality separating the TM02 from other fast bikes. “The bike was exceptionally nimble, and I felt an efficient energy transfer to the road, especially in hurried accelerations, and the steering was responsive, even when stretched out over the Profile T2 bars,” said the tester. Shifting was reported to be “fluid and reliable,” courtesy of a stepped-up Shimano groupset, and brakes provided a solid stopping power that emboldened on sweeping descents. Another major attraction of this bike is its varied front-end adjustability. BMC’s top-notch TM01 has an integrated system, but this bike opts for a simplified version using a traditional stem. Accustomed to a noseless saddle, our tester found it a preferred choice over the stock Fizik Ardea for comfortably maintaining a more aggressive position on the TM02.
>>Tester profile: Female 35–39 age group. 15-year triathlete and mom of two. Forever seeking to satisfy her wanderlust, preferably while on a bike.
The draw: TT speed with road-bike handling
For athletes shifting to their first triathlon-specific frame, the Felt DA4 will make the transition more seamless with its comfortable and approachable ride feel. For seasoned athletes who resist switching from their road to tri bike until the season officially begins, the DA4 has many similar characteristics to a road bike so you don’t have to miss out on the fun of soaring down descents or enjoying a smooth sensation over bumpy roads. “The easy handling and stable feel allowed me to get more aggressive on punchier climbs and technical descents than I’m used to on a tri bike,” the tester said. Because the DA4 comes from the same family and mold as Felt’s higher-end DA2, it benefits from some of the same aero-focused attributes such as an integrated front-end stem system and hidden rear brake. The downsides were minor—braking feel was on the loose side, and the tester said she would opt for a different saddle based on some discomfort after long rides.
>>Tester profile: Female 30–34 age group. Five-time Ironman. Cookie connoisseur.