Buyers Guide: Review the Best Time Trial & Ironman Triathlon Bikes in 2016
June 7th, 2016
June 7th, 2016
Anna is a jack-of-all-bikes, and has been riding and racing in a myriad of genres for over seven years; from World Cup level cross-country, to grass roots coaching kids on the road.
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If you've ever entered a Time Trial, it was probably a local affair on a straight bit of road where riders ranged from young whippets in skin suits and aero helmets to super-vet oldies on steel vintage bikes (who were probably still quicker than you). The first time I went along it was gail force winds and side rain in the face, but I'm pretty sure it would still have been just as painful without all that. If after all that pain on day one you're mad enough to want to do it again, and you're thinking of getting a bike specific for it, the following list of bikes have been specifically designed to help you get the best time possible, be that a lonely TT or an Ironman Triathlon.
What is a Time Trial Bike?
Well, in short, it's a bike designed to go as fast as possible in a straight line. This means an aerodynamic design to the whole bike for minimal drag, particularly from the front profile, and usually a pair or time trial-specific handlebars (or "tri-bars") designed to put your body in an aerodynamic position too. Different courses may warrant slightly different bikes or accessories, so bare in mind what you're going to be doing on your new slippery stead. If you're mainly doing 10 mile time trials on straight, flat courses that typically take less than 30 minutes, you're likely to only need one water bottle (if at all) and weight won't matter too much. If you're doing long triathlons, Ironman races or even 100 mile time trials, you're likely to need more than one bottle holder, maybe even two in the frame and one under the seat. Some bikes have integrated water systems inside the frame with straws to drink from. For long, sporting courses (that means hilly!) then you may even want to consider a normal aero road bike or triathlon bike instead, or at least something a little more relaxed so that you last the distance and handle things like large hill climbs or mountain descents.
Time Trial vs Triathlon Bikes
Time Trial bikes tend to be out-and-out speed machines; aerodynamic form that pull you into an aerodynamic position and minimise drag from the front on. Time Trial bikes look like the supercars of the bike world and are very angular with aggressive geometry and typically a wheel pushed as far under the saddle as it will go. If you are racing UCI races, then you will need to be mindful of what is UCI road legal. Strangely, UCI time trial bikes can't actually be too aero; there's a limit on how deep the tubing can be, nose cones are not allowed, weight and length limits apply, and then position of the saddle will be scrutinised. Triathlon bikes look more like normal road bikes, but with "tri-bars". The geometry tends to favour shorter top tubes and steeper seat angles, which will put you in a more aerodynamic position, but it will be one that you can hold for longer periods of time. They are also likely to need to be able to tackle real world courses with hills and corners, and Ironman courses may even be set in the mountains, so a pure Time Trial bike, might not be your friend there. Triathlon specific bike geometry is said to be more forgiving on the muscles that will be needed to run the final leg of a triathlon, however, many pros will use the fastest bike they can get hold of rather than the most comfortable, and seeing as they don't have to comply by UCI regulations, they can race on bikes that are arguably far faster and more aero than anyone doing a time trial in the Tour, for example. Whatever your motives are, here is a list of the world's fastest bikes on the market, some being TT specific and some being triathlon specific, but all good for going really really fast:
Pinarello - Il Bolide
From the Greek word for "missile", the Pinarello Bolide is designed to go fast. From their "crono" range, Pinarello offer this as their fastest bike in a straight line, and it 825 Gold it looks the business, but boy does it come at a price. Designed with aerospace carbon, Pinarello's unique Torayca 65HM1K, it is said to reduce overall weight with unequalled structural characteristics compared to the conventional fibers. Pinarello also boast that they use airflow analysis to check the aerodynamics of the entire bike, including components, and from every single angle, not just the front. It seems to do Bradley Wiggins alright. Expect to pay over £9,000 for just the frame, forks, septets and handlebars.
Boardman - The ATT and The TTE
Onto something a little more affordable for most, the Boardman ATT or the TTE. The ATT is more of an aerodynamic road and triathlon bike, and proved it's place in the sport with the first of its kind winning the World Ironman Championship and a World Time Trial title. The ATT is a carbon frame that has been subjected to wind tunnel testing and benefits from integrated brakes inside the carbon fork, and it ranges from £999 to £3,599. If speed is more important to you than comfort over distance, then the TTE is designed for marginal gains. With specific "Aerodynamic Surface Treatment over the ATT, the TTE is said to be 5% faster. At 25 mph this equates to 3 minutes for a 25 mile time trial or a massive 13 minutes over an Ironman distance. The TTE is a step up in price too, ranging from £3,499 to £8,999.
Wilier - Triestina Blade and Twin Blade
Wilier say that it is no longer acceptable to simply reduce the front surface area of a machine, so they strive to understand how the wind moves across every inch of their bikes. They offer the Blade and the Twin Blade; both using the same frame mold, but the TwinBlade uses a higher grade carbon and benefits from the front brake integrating itself more aerodynamically inside the fork, as well as higher spec options. The Blade is great value from €2,549 and the TwinBlade from €4,949 and are available from specialist bike shops in the UK.
Canyon - Speedmax
Canyon have the Aeroad if you want something fast but more road bike-like, but for out and out speed, it has to be the Speedmax. Specifically designed with triathlon in mind, it's designed for long distance speed that's more forgiving on muscles later needed for running. The Speedmax also benefits from clever additions, including an aerodynamic energy storage box with water bladder and straw, an additional seat post bottle mount, fork rake adjustment to change the bike's steering for different courses, and a 'gear box', which is a whole in the frame to store tools and picture repairs. Starting from £4,399 this bike is for serious distance makers and has Ironman gold medals to prove it.
Scott - Plasma
The Plasma seems to be one of few fast bikes that haven't opted for the brakes to be integrated into the fork, however, splash out on a Premium or Team edition, and you'll be treated to an integrated food and water storage system that aerodynamically fits over the handlebars and extends to the front head tube and over the brakes, which looks to be slightly more aero than without. For the budget conscious, you can still purchase this energy unit separately for lower end models. With the wheel tucked almost dead under the seat, and the seat tube being practically vertical, the Plasma definitely makes a statement about it's intent for speed, backed up by Sebastian Kienle winning the IM European Championships and World Championships in the bike's first year. This fully adjustable and adaptable ride starts from £2,499 and over £5,000 for the Team and Premium models.
Cervelo - P Series (P1, P2 & P3)
Considering Cervelo have been the bike behind a number of Hour Record wins, it's safe to say they know a thing or two about fast bikes. The P Series aims at both Time Trial and Triathlon and Cervelo insist that they are the the most popular and imitated bicycles at Ironman and time-trial events for athletes of all level, and are no stranger to pro race podiums. I must admit, it is the brand I see when I think of an aerodynamic bike, be that road or track.Proven fastest in the wind tunnel and on the Ironman circuit, the P5 showcases Cervélo’s industry-leading aerodynamic engineering with integrated fork brakes, and comes with slightly more aero components and features than the P3 and P2, retailing at a reasonable £7,699. They all come with the ability to add nutrition packs securely to the top tube and extra water bottles, and the range starts from £2,399.
Felt - Aero Series
Felt may not be huge in other cycling scenes, but they are pretty huge in the Time Trial and Triathlon scene. Spotted between the legs of some serious pros, as well as sweeping up a huge portion of the amateur racing scene, it's no wonder they're such a big player when you realise they actually have five different time trial bikes to choose from. The AR Series offers good spec carbon aero road bikes that are tested in wind tunnels for competition roadies and speed freaks. The B Series is UCI Time Trial legal, but looks to be aimed more at triathletes and long-distance riders, while the S Series offers lower specs and affordability for beginners and budget triathletes. For serious Time Trial riders theres the DA Series and the IA Series, consecutively winning Olympic Gold medals and three Ironman World Championship medals. Although the winning bike, the Felt IA FRD LTD can be purchased for just shy of £13k, the range starts from around £10k less.
Cannondale - Slice
Starting from £1,999 the Slice is probably the most affordable bike here at full retail value, and the lowest spec 105 model still shares the same design DNA as it's premium Di2 models. Cannondale say that the Slice is for serious triathletes who want "the most comfortable bike on the planet". We'll have to take their word for that, but it does look like an aero road bike with trip-bars. No integrated front brakes or flat, oversized frame shapes here. The Hi-Mod Black Inc does look good, and seems to be a bargain at £6,499 for their highest grade carbon bike and deep section carbon wheels, but it's unlikely to set records on the Time Trial circuit.
Colnago - K-Zero
Aimed at both Time Trial and Triathlon, the K-Zero is Colnago's speed machine, paying specific attention to minimising drag and to transferring power the to rear wheel, but without being so dramatic that it sacrifices the feel of a regular Colnago bike. Featuring integrated brakes and a one-piece handlebar and stem set-up, the Colnago built-up bikes don't come cheap, mainly because they are only available with the best of the best groupsets and components. Think carbon Campagnolo Super Record and matching Bora Ultra wheels. The frames alone is around £3,699 and even older frames go for similar money as a Colnago is for life, it's not a fashion statement.
Focus - Izalco Chrono Max
Felt have achieved a Time Trial / Triathlon bike in the Izalco Chrono Max with all the usual markings of a high-end aero bike; wind tunnel testing, integrated brakes and tri-bars, and they have tested their bikes out on the pro scene too. Though not a massive brand in the UK, Felt are huge elsewhere, especially in the States, so they are not to be ruled out if you can get hold of one.
Look - 796 Monoblade
You don't have to dig very far into cycling history to find a Look bike, and they're still helping athletes pick up gold medals everywhere in the velodrome. Their usual Mondrian-esque primary colour paint jobs are pretty unmistakeable too, although I am partial to the one in the black and white "OO" paint job used by Bretagne - Séché Environment in the Tour (pictured) not so long ago. Look have been sculpting areo frames for decades, and were at the forefront of flat drop tubing before carbon was mainstrain, welding thin sheets of titanium to create beautify metal sculptures that were faster than a hot knife through butter. These days are no different, although the price tags do keep the amateurs and beginners at bay. If you've got the cash to splash, I doubt you'll be disappointed with a Look L96 at £6,499 for just the frame and forks, but it does come with its own in-house chains which is said to be perfectly compatible with the frame to offer legendary stiffness and speed. The Look 796 Monoblade shares the same DNA, but is aimed at tarmac-loving time trial and triathletes.
Storck - Aero 2
From sunny Britain is Storck. Not exactly a synonymous with time trial, but is loved by the few who ride them. They certainly ooze quality and don't play on the fact that they are niche. The Aero 2 IS Time Trial bike has been created to be as fast handling as it is in a straight line and has be claimed for it's confidence at speed. The Aero Basic saves a few pounds in your pocket and shares the same frame design as the Aero 2 IS, but it does not come with integrated brakes or in-line stem.
Fondriest - TFV 1.6
Crafted in Italy, the TFV 1.6 sounds more like a new sports car than a TT bike. Nevertheless, Fondriest are kept close to the hearts that know the brand and are favoured by riders who want a custom feel to building their perfect bike. Responsible for creating the 18k gold Sarto for a show, and then finding a number of buyers for said £22k+ bike, Fondriest are no stranger to creating literal dream bikes, but their standard specs are more than affordable. £3,000 for a full Ultegra TT bike is by no means extortionate. If you don't want to show up to an event with the same stead as everyone else, these guys need to be on your list.
Bianchi - Aquila CV
From a lesser known Italian brand, to an Italian brand that is world renowned, and also the oldest bicycle makers on the planet; Bianchi. With their own signature shade of blue, admirably name 'Celeste', which is Italian for 'sky blue' and is said to be the colour of the sky in Italy, you'd be nuts not to at least consider the Aquila CV. What's different about Bianchi is in the 'CV'; Bianchi's patented Countervail technology that wipes out trail and tarmac buzz without compromising stiffness and speed. It's what you will find in the rear stays of their popular Infinito CV, and throughout the entire frame of the highly held Specialissma super bike. For the budget conscious, there's the Pico Alu, sharing all the heritage and speed in an aluminium frame. And for the hero, the Aquila CV is available with Ultegra for around £5,000 or Dura Ace Di2 for around £8,800, and that's it. Both only have a hint of Celeste mind, but it comes out looking like a stealth Italian sports car, and I'm sure it shifts all the same.
Giant - Trinity Advanced Pro
Unveiling two new versions of the Trinity in late 2015, Giant say they tested the final version of the Trinity Advanced Pro was tested alongside the Cervélo P5, Scott Plasma 5, Trek Speed Concept and Specialized Shiv, all outfitted with hydration and storage systems, and the Trinity proved to be the most aerodynamic as a complete race-ready unit. They are also one of few, if not the only company, to offer a women's specific Time Trial bike under their sister name brand Liv. These bike are clearly designed with speed in mind, but with a bias for long distances where nutrition is just as key as speed. Though saying that, it did help Tom Dumoulin's time trial stage win at the 2015 Vuelta a España.
Merida - Warp TT
Supporting pro tour teams, it was inevitable that Merida would need a Time Trial bike in their range, and the website would lead you to believe that the Warp TT Team-E that the pros ride is the only bike in the range, but actually, there are Warp bikes starting from around £2,000 if you look hard enough. The Team E is Available at £6,999 in Dura Ace Di2 and rolling on Fulcrum Red Wind XLR 80 rims, though the brakes don't seem to be very hidden and there's no spin about wind tunnels on their website, though it doesn't seem to be hindering Lampre-Merida too much. What's interesting about the bike is Merida’s very own “Modular Head” system, which enables the increase of the effective head-tube length via special inserts up 60mm. With an adjustable stem and variable armrests the “Modular Cockpit”, plus a “Flip Flop” saddle head to change the seating angles, there's real scope for individual person and course adaptability.
Orbea - Ordu
Robe are not massive in the UK, but I can't pass through any kind of bike race in Europe, on or off road, without seeing an Orbea, particularly Spain as the brand originates in the Basque regions, deep in the Pyrenees between Spain and France. Supporting pro teams and being behind a number of tour wins and world records means that their pegged lies on the road. They're no stranger to Triathlons either, but just in case 180km time trials aren’t your thing and you only run when you’re being chased, the Ordu was shaped to comply with UCI regulations so that road racers can exploit the performance of Ordu as well. The Ordu M30 starts from a very affordable £1,749, and the boundaries reach up to £6,799 for the picture M10 i-LTD.