Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Triathlon on a Road Bike?


On a recent trip to Arizona, I spent four days riding the new Cervelo S5 road bike (Thank you to Tribe Multisport in Scottsdale, AZ, and Cervelo for the loaner). This may be the most straight-forward, kick-ass road bike on the market. If Cervelo's numbers are right, it's as aero as many of the TT and triathlon bikes out there. Which got me thinking during the Ironman Arizona (IMAZ) race, where I spent a lot of time out on the bike course, watching triathletes ride. I noticed a micro trend: Triathletes doing the bike leg on a road bike, set up as a road bike, with no aero bars.

The other thing I saw was something that I have been seeing for a while now: Many triathletes riding state-of-the-art fully aero triathlon specific bikes, but riding a lot of the bike leg sitting up-right, hands on the base bar.

If you put the two groups together - road bike riders, and up-right tri-bike riders, it might have been a quarter of the race field at IMAZ. Maybe more!

This got me thinking - for these folks, why not just race the Ironman on a road bike? For sure there are people in Ironman races these days, who are looking for every advantage, wanting to go faster and faster, going for a top place in their Age-Group, and possibly qualifying for Ironman Hawaii. But there is also a large cohort of people these days doing Ironman races who have no thoughts, plans or goals along those lines. They just want to finish. This is a lofty and admirable goal in it's own right. However, with all due respect, these hard working and dedicated triathletes have more in common with Sportif category cyclists - not really racing, but not touring either.

Would these triathletes not be better off on a well fit, aero road bike such as the Cervelo S5? Surely they would be more comfortable and the bike would be much better handling than many of the set-ups I saw out on the IMAZ course. Many seem to ride these tri bikes in what appears to be very uncomfortable, unbalanced and precarious positions. If they can't maintain that classic aero position for more than half of the race or more, what's the point?

Sure, if we are to believe the numbers, athletes who choose to ride a road bike, as a road bike, will be giving up a few minutes of time on the bike leg due to the less aero body position on a road bike - but again, with all due respect, what's 5 - 10 minutes in a 12 - 17 hour day?

I know that many will think me crazy for having these thoughts or putting this forward, but from what I saw at IMAZ, I am just putting 2 and 2 together here and throwing in a bit of common sense.

What do you think - would it make more sense for some folks to just do triathlons on a well fit (aero) road bike?

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25 comments:

Luke Ehgoetz said...

Interesting. It certainly would be more affordable to just have one bike for training/racing. A lot of people do have both. I think the appropriate bike for an IM would have to be on a case by case basis. I know I am WAY faster on my tri bike and very comfortable at the same time. This might not be the same case for the next guy. To each their own I'd say!

Steve Fleck said...

Luke,

Agreed. YOU are comfortable and well set-up in sounds, but clearly from what I saw at IMAZ, there is a sizable number who are not. So I am just suggesting a common sense solution. If time is not the absolute goal, and finishing is, then just ride well fit road bike!

it's all about pace said...

interesting...

and ya know if I didn't already have a tri bike and a road bike... clip-ons on a solid road bike would be my choice.

Heath Dotson said...

I think you are correct in this suggestion for a lot of the "competitors". For many Ironman is a bucket list item. Most of these people do not have the time to adapt to a tri position and most have a difficult enough time in the road position. For many of these people a well set up road bike with fast wheels and MAYBE clip ons will be a better, faster and more comfortable ride.

Riding in the base bars of a tri bike creates undo fatigue and a better position may just be the difference between 17:00 and 17:00:01.

Matt said...

funny thing is when watching IMAZ online, I noticed that too, seemed like a majority of the athletes I saw were not in aero but lots had the best of it all...for some its not about whats functional or fast..its a look. I think it makes sense for those athletes to race on a road bike, myself I like being in aero and race that way.
at IMC I rode back a forth with a guy for 30 miles on a 10+ grand bike who was NEVER in aero, thankful that headwind picked up and never saw him again..

Matt said...

on Lukes comment, to have one bike for racing and trainig, if your racing tris, 75% or more of your riding should be on a tri bike...for many that could be the start of the problem

Ultragrrl said...

I was never able to get comfortable on a tri bike I was looking at and always felt more comfortable on a road bike when shopping. I also recognized that being super aero wasn't going to make the difference between a KQ for me and missing it. I think people need to use common sense and ride what they are most comfortable for them and stop reading all the hype around $10k tri bikes that everyone recommends.

tireguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BlueChance said...

Steve,

Couple things here. I think you have made some astute observations. However, the main thing you are noticing, though maybe you didn't realize it, is not a bike problem so to speak. Rather it is a fit problem.

There are several reasons why people have bikes that don't fit and thus can't ride in the aero position and I think two of the main culprits are this.

One, a lot of people doing IMs are the Sportif/bucket list folks you and others mentioned. They are doing just enough to get through the experience with a minimum of expertise. Therefore, they are very likely not going to shell out $150-300 for a proper fitting. They buy their bike at a shop which does fitting based on height and inseam, rather than a quality tri shop like Nytro, TriSports, All3sports...

Second, as Matt mentioned, a lot of people in the IM/Tri game are choosing their tri bike based on the "gotta have it because it is the cool thing to have" rationale. Thus you have people with crazy long legs and short torsos buying long and low bikes i.e Cervelo P3/P4, Felt DA, Specialize Shiv...they just dont fit and you cant make them fit without destroying the handling and compromising. (i am not saying these are bad bikes, just that they are not for everyone)

Truth is most of the aero road bikes out there today are faster than TT/Tri bikes from 5 years ago. Including the AC series bikes we offer as well as the Felt AR series and Cervelo S3/S5 (S5 is a crazy fast bike, those boys did a nice job on that). However, they are not nearly as fast as the new top end tri bikes like the Shiv/Plasma/DA/P4/Triad.

Additionally, in a 6 hour IM ride being in the aerobars verses not being in the aerobars is WAY more than 5-10 minutes. In our free wind tunnel offer we have seen average AGers save as much as 45 MINUTES in an IM where they average 20mph just buy moving their elbows in 1 cm and lowering their bar by 1cm. Nothing radical, or nearly as radical as going from drop bar to aerobar, but HUGE gains. (of course every person will have a different experience)

Bottom line is this. Get a bike that fits, even if it isnt the brand you had your heart set on. If you can only have one bike and you are doing triathlon, get an aero road bike THAT FITS and put some clip on bars on that bad boy.

elise said...

Hi, Steve! I'm with BlueChance on this one: with a tri bike, fit should be #1. If you can't hold an aero position because of poor fit, the aero advantages are lost. But the other issue is the ability to run well off the bike: a properly fitted tri bike should enhance or at least better preserve your ability to run off the bike. So, the time savings from a properly fitted tri bike can be further enhanced by better run splits. Sadly, a stomach bug hit me 12 hours before the gun went off at Ironman Arizona and I wasn't able to figure out it it was going to hold true for me this year.

Thanks for your always keen observations. It's great to see so many people interested in the discussion.

Kathy said...

this is very timely for me. I just finished IMCOZ and while I regularly hit 6 to 6.5 hours for 180km rides over here (19km west of Cozumel) I had a 7hour ride at IM Coz. I ride a normal Trek roadbike from the 1990s. I passed a number of folks in aero as I was on the hoods but want to drop time next year. So I'm thinking about a tri bike. I'm thinking I have the legs for a 6hour 180km ride and that's where I'd like to be next year - can it be just the bike that does it? I dunno.

BlueChance said...

Kathy,

it wont be just the bike fit, but a proper fitting TT bike with aero bars will make a BIG difference. The order of things you need to focus on, AFTER fitness,as it relates to going faster on the bike are as follows;
1. Proper fit for an aero position
2. Aero helmet (bigger saving made here than from anything other than body position)
3. Front wheel
4. Rear wheel
5. Lastly, and this pains me to say it as i work for a bike company, bike frame.

Steve Fleck said...

Lot's of comments. Great to see. Thanks everyone for reading. Good to see both sides of the issue. Chance makes some good points. There is no right or wrong here - people can and should make their own choice based on their particular situation/goals/needs.

beansie said...

A road bike in triathlon is very possible and a reality for a lot of people. I'd come from the argument of what matters most is that you actually train on the bike, that seems to make a pretty big impact on your overall bike time. Road bikers take heart, I was 5th at IMC on a road bike. I may go faster on a tri-bike, but I got pretty far on a road bike. Just my thoughts :)

Trevor Wurtele said...

This pertains to fit/comfort as well. Chance, remember watching some athletes at the top of that big decent at 70.3 worlds? Many of them were already riding the brakes, totaly out of the aero position and braking on a long straight downhill. Like you all are saying, if they had a good fit and were more comfortable on their bike (any bike) they'd be less hesitant when the speeds get higher...not even looking at potential improvement of power and aerodynamics here. Just feeling solid on the bike and letting it go when the roads tip downhill.

Cheers,
Trevor

phill173 said...

I think situation is the key: - as a lot of people say, a huge majority of people (myself included), enter Ironman as a bucket list endeavour, and for me, I think the cheapest option that would be most comfortable and gets me round the course is the most prudent. However, as soon as you start to think about times and imrpoving the 1 percenters, you have to look at things such as equipment to help you out. There is a real rich well of information on the internet, so armed with a bit of education and common sense, I am sure the serious athlete will be able to make a selection that fits them best. For every person who loves the feel of a tri bike, I bet there are people who prefer the comfort of a road bike. The leg also has to be put into context of the whole event. TRhere is no point in shaving 45 minutes off your bike leg only to cripple your back and lose it anyway on the run! I am sure that people who are serious enough to invest in a tri bike would not be so reckless as to get a poor fitting one, so this prrobably doesnt apply to a lot of people, but for those who are more interested in the show, I think a more conservative approach may be the key. It is certainly the way I am going!

ironmiketri said...

A lot of good points here.
I'm by no means an expert in the area of fitting, but can speak from personal IM experience to several of the points.
As Chance says, get the bike that fits YOU. Don't try to make your "dream" bike fit you if it just wasn't meant to be based on your body type.
If that perfect fit is a road bike, so be it. Being able to RUN off the bike is a huge factor to consider, more so than having the "cool" bike everybody else has.
I was properly fit at Blue on a Triad SL and was able to negative split my IMFL run with relative ease. My legs felt fresh from the moment I started the run until the end when I was running my fastest miles of the day.
I suspect that if I did the bike leg on a properly fit road bike, my run result likely would have been the same. However, my bike time likely would have been slower simply due to the aero advantage I was giving up on a roadie.
Also... I have to wonder how much the geometry of a road bike would have caused me to use a different muscle group on the bike leg and what impact that might have had on the run.
In the interest of full disclosure, I train with BlueChance and the best advice he gave me was "put in the work/time on the bike". You have to do the work in order to see the best results. But if you don't have a proper fit, the "work" is harder to do and the results will show it.

Ironwill said...

Thanks for that Steve. Your post was one of the deciding factors for me to buy a S5 Ultegra last week.

TriTy said...

This is a great discussion. I also am mulling over the idea of purchasing of a TRI specific bike to replace my road bike for race day. I fit the "IM Bucket List" type category. I do a few triathlons a year, and i'm aiming to get into longer distances. Competitive against myself only.

For those who are pro road bike users on long distance triathlons, do you have your road bike setup in an aero-style? With aerobars and different seating arrangements etc? Or are you using your road bike as it was fit for everyday use?

My main concern with not buying a tri-specfic bike isn't so much the time difference on my bike split, but more that i will miss out on the savings that are had in running muscle fatigue, due to the positioning of the tri-bike. Can anyone attest to this from personal experience? The full-length marathon is my main obstacle.

Thanks Everyone!

Carlos Vilchez said...

I knew I was going to "grow" into triathlons so a TT bike (Cervelo P2) was the choice... I figured it would hurt getting used to a TT or a Road bike since I hadn't biked in years to the choice was easy for me...

I'm super comfy on my P2 now... in fact, I figit less on a 2h ride than on the couch watching a movie!!

My point is... if you're new to triathlons and see yourself progressing in the sport, a TT bike is a good investment

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Thank you for your kind words.

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Thanks for reading.

SF

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Steve Fleck said...

Sabina Moon - Thanks for the kind words. Glad you liked it. This post continues to have influence . . 2 years later!