Converting A Road Bike To A Tri Bike. Should You Do It?
By Jesse Jarjour
Tri bikes are the best option for Triathlons but they are also expensive and specialized
If you’re a triathlete who wants to take your performance to the next level without making the large investment in a new Triathlon bike, you may be wondering how to tailor your road bike for triathlon. This can be a great way to optimize your bike for the specific demands of triathlon racing and gain a competitive edge. However, there are some important factors to consider when making this conversion, including the implications on bike fit.
How are Road and Triathlon Bikes Different
Adapting a road bike
Adding Aero Bars
Adjusting Saddle Position
Balancing Road and Triathlon Positions
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that a road bike and a triathlon bike are not the same thing. Road bikes are designed to be versatile and suitable for a wide range of terrains and riding conditions, including navigating tight corners and riding in a pack. Triathlon bikes, on the other hand, are designed specifically for the demands of triathlon racing, which typically take place on relatively flat and straight roads, and prohibits drafting and pack riding. As a result, triathlon bikes are typically more aerodynamic and designed to be ridden in an “aero” position, with features such as a more aggressive riding position, additional water bottle and storage capacity, and integrated aerobars.
By adapting your road bike to be more suited to triathlons you will get some of the benefits of a triathlon bike without having to make the investment in a second bike. Those benefits include: Better aerodynamics to reduce time and effort on your bike split, an additional hand/arm position for long days in the saddle, and different muscle recruitment which may help on your run. There are also a few downsides, these include: The added weight of aerobars, potential compromises to your traditional “road” position, and being shunned from group rides unless you remove your aero bars. Each rider will need to evaluate if these advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Assuming you are comfortable with the pros and cons of adapting a road bike for triathlons, these are the main changes you will make:
Change the saddle to better accommodate the aero position
Adjust the saddle position to recruit different muscles
These changes have a significant impact on the fit of the bike, and it’s important to consider how they will affect your body position and pedaling technique.
Adding aerobars will change your riding position from an upright position on the hoods to a more aggressive, aerodynamic position on the arm pads of the aerobars. Assuming the position on the aerobars is one that you can maintain, this will improve your aerodynamics and make you faster for the same amount of work. It’s important to remember that aerobars can also put more pressure on your neck and shoulders, and may require adjustments to the bike fit in order to maintain a comfortable and efficient riding position.
The change in torso angle that occurs when you go down into the aero position will also change how you interact with your saddle. It is very common for a saddle to be comfortable in a traditional road position but unbearable once you’ve rotated forward into an aero position. The solution to this is to switch to a saddle specifically designed for the aero position. These saddles typically have a wider front end that relieves pressure and increases support in this position.
In addition to changing the saddle type, it is also important to change the saddle position to better accommodate the overall aero position. More on that below.
Bike Fit Considerations
Purpose built triathlon bikes typically have a higher stack height and steeper seat tube angle as compared to road bikes. These differences are to allow the rider to have a better and more balanced aerodynamic position and engage different muscles to make running off the bike easier. Therefore when setting up a road bike for triathlon you’ll need to accommodate for the lower front end and slacker seat tube angle of the road bike to mimic a tri bike.
You can compensate to achieve a higher aerobar stack by raising the stem or adding spacers below the aerobars. Most clip-on aerobars don’t come with additional spacers to raise or adjust the aerobar height above the handlebar, however many brands do have additional spacers available for purchase. The amount you’ll need to raise the aerobars will be determined by your individual mobility, core strength, and how low the front end of your road bike is.
For the saddle, the key is to accommodate the rotation of the pelvis that will naturally occur from riding on the aerobars. This is typically achieved by having a purpose built saddle that relieves pressure on the perineal area, and a more forward offset seatpost that allows the rider to be more forward relative to the crank.
In order to optimize your position with the new touch points you’ll want to either get an in-person bike fit or use MyVeloFit to analyze your position and suggest improvements we even have a free fit-check that you can do here.
Jesse's cycling journey was destined to end in bike fitting after first being sold a bike that was two sizes too big. The resulting chronic discomfort and related injuries transformed into a passion for finding the right riding position. The improvement he experienced after his first professional bike fit inspired a career change from economics to bikes, fuelling a quest to help others unlock the joy of cycling.