If you’ve moved from running into triathlon, there’s a lot of new equipment to buy and stuff to get used to. Some of it is easy, cheap stuff, but then there are the bigger expenses, like a bicycle.
Chances are, many of us have a bike lying around at home already. But can you use a hybrid or a mountain bike for a triathlon?
The good news is that you can. There’s no need to shell out for a brand new triathlon bike unless you specifically want to.
For these bikes to perform at their best, we recommend some changes. Read on to find out how to tweak your hybrid or mountain bike to be the most suitable for triathlons.
What are the Differences Between Bikes?
Although the mechanics of all bikes are the same, not all bike types perform equally in certain conditions. Here’s a quick rundown of the different bike types.
Hybrid bikes are generally on the heavier side, have thicker wheels, and have a less effective power transfer. They’re made to be appropriate for commuting, light and casual off-road riding, and leisurely rides, not typically for competition.
Despite being a bit clunky compared to other bikes, if you’re used to riding a hybrid bike and feel that you can reach your goal pace on one, then it could be a good choice for you in a triathlon.
Mountain bikes are specifically designed to be used off-road. They don’t necessarily perform well on roads. Typically, they’re also a bike heavier due to their sturdy construction and off-road design.
These kinds of bikes also have a built-in suspension system to make the ride easier over bumps and rocks. Their tires feature aggressive tread to keep you stable on rough ground and loose terrain.
Road bikes are thinner and lighter than mountain bikes or hybrids. If you stand them next to each other, you should be able to spot the road bike easily. Because of this design, they’re more aerodynamic and speedier.
That being said, their thin, smooth tires won’t do well off-road. But as long as your triathlon takes place on the road and not on rougher terrain, this should be the best option for triathletes who have experience cycling on the road.
Triathlon bikes are specifically designed for the highest efficiency in races where drafting is not allowed.
They’re made to be aero, keeping you as low as possible on the handlebar to gain speed. Most have built-in aero bars.
What Bike Should You Use for Your First Triathlon?
If you’ve been doing triathlons for a while and you love them, then you can consider investing in a proper triathlon bike.
But if you’re new to them or aren’t quite sure if they’ll become a serious part of your life, then your current mountain bike or hybrid would work really well.
As long as you put in the training and you’re reaching your goals on your bike, there’s no reason you can’t be super successful with a mountain bike or a hybrid.
If you’re using one of these bikes, there are a couple of tricks to make your bike more triathlon-friendly.
Upgrades to Improve a Hybrid or Mountain Bike for a Triathlon
If you want to perform at your best and have your bike working with you, here are a few modifications you should consider making to your hybrid or mountain bike.
1. Skinnier Wheels – Street Tires or “Slicks”
If you only make one change to your bike, it should be to switch out your wide, knobbly tires for smooth, slick ones.
Taller wheels tend to gain more speed. You can replace your entire wheelset if you wish, or just change your tires.
We recommend the Schwalbe One TLE tires if you’re planning on making this change. It’s a tubeless tire and highly durable thanks to MicroSkin and RaceGuard technology reinforcing the tire walls.
If you’ve never installed a tubeless tire before, it can be a little tricky. It’s a good idea to get a pro to fit them and show you how it’s done before you attempt it on your own.
You can learn about the difference between triathlon bike tires here! Make sure you’re getting the right ones for your bike wheel rims.
2. Clip-On Aero Bars
Aero bars are handlebar extensions that are designed to place the rider’s body in the aero position. They provide support for the wrists, forearms, and hands on long rides, while minimizing drag.
You can buy high-quality clip-on aero bars to add to your current bike. We highly recommend investing in a set, as they can significantly improve your time if used correctly.
Note that you should adjust your seat position too, to accommodate the low-down upper body position.
If you’re planning on buying a set, check out the Profile Designs T3+. They’re made of light but strong aluminum, feature multi-position drop bend extensions, and adjustable anatomically-designed armrests.
They’re easy to install and can make a lot of difference to your performance.
3. Clipless Pedals
Most hybrid and mountain bikes come with flat pedals. There’s nothing wrong with using these pedals, but switching to a set of clipless pedals can make a huge difference to your performance, your pedaling efficiency, and ultimately your end times.
Clipless pedals, contrary to how their name sounds, are pedals that you clip your shoes into. You’ll need a pair of compatible cleats with the corresponding clip to be able to use them.
Having your feet clipped to the pedals allows you to control each pedal stroke more specifically. You’ll also be able to put power into your upswing, instead of relying on momentum to bring the pedal back around.
If you’re interested in upping your performance and leveling up your triathlon game, we recommend buying the Shimano Dura Ace PD-R9100 clipless pedals.
Shimano is one of the biggest names in cycling equipment and tech. These pedals are ideal for those who are new to clipless pedals, as well as professionals.
The platform is wide and comfortable to use. It’s made of carbon-composite material, so it can withstand bumps, falls, and scrapes easily.
At just 8 ounces each, they won’t add any extra weight to your bike. They’re easy to adjust and come with compatible cleats.
Whether you’re riding long or short distances, you’ve got to be comfy down below. Apart from having the potential to ruin a race due to discomfort, your seat can also make a big difference to your aerodynamics and body position.
Most mountain bikes and hybrids come with cheap seats. If you’re going to be spending more time in the saddle, we highly recommend investing in a more comfortable, streamlined one.
Our top choice is the Pro Stealth Saddle. It’s specifically designed to keep your body in the aero position and keep you comfortable at the same time.
A carbon-reinforced base with stainless steel rails makes it extremely durable. Light EVA cushion pads and support your bones, and the snub-nosed, deep-recess design removes pressure off sensitive areas.
It’s available in two sizes, 5.6 inches and 6 inches.
5. Triathlon Hydration System
You can carry your water bottle on our bike like you normally would on a mountain bike or hybrid, but we highly recommend installing a triathlon hydration system.
This is a water container positioned between your aero bars, which is more streamlined, easy-to-fill, and convenient than one in a bike frame cage.
Our top choice is the Profile Designs FC System. It goes nicely between both narrow and wide-fitting aero bars, and has a low-profile, streamlined, airfoil shape.
You can carry 35 ounces of water in the BPA-free container, and it has a spill-proof refilling port. A handy storage pouch at the back allows you space for a few extra energy gels or nutrition bars.
The suspension on a mountain bike is geared towards rough, bumpy terrain. Triathlons are usually a lot less up-and-down, so tightening up the suspension on your bike could help you to perform better.
Tighten the springs as much as possible to prevent unnecessary movement that could slow you down and make you less efficient.
Hybrid and Mountain Bike Recommendations
If you don’t have a bike yet but you’d prefer to invest in a hybrid or a mountain bike, here are the ones we recommend.
1. Co-Op Cycles CTY 2.1 Bike
An aluminum frame and upright geometry make this bike sturdy and fairly streamlined. It has a weight limit of 300 pounds, so it’s a great choice for just about any rider.
It’s kitted out with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and a Shimano crankset, both excellent quality items.
24 gears offer a smooth and easy riding experience. It’s easy to make the recommended changes to this bike to make it more suitable for triathlons.
- 24 gears
- Shimano accessories
- Aluminum frame
- 300-pound weight limit
- Not all wheel fenders will fit as there’s a relatively small space between wheel and frame
2. Cannondale Quick 6
The Cannondale is a sleek-looking bike with 21 gears and a hard but lightweight aluminum frame.
Shimano parts add to the value of this bike. A 7-speed drivetrain, universal rack mounts, and StraightShot internal cable routing all make this an easy and convenient bike for use in a variety of situations, including triathlons.
It’s also easy to modify to make it even more triathlon-ready. The bike is available in small, medium, large, and extra-large sizes.
- 21 gears
- Tough aluminum construction
- 7-speed drivetrain
- Shimano parts
- No color variations
3. Co-Op Cycles DRT 1.0 Bike
- A 26-inch wheels
- Tektro hydraulic disc brakes
- 300-pound weight limit
- Shimano rear derailleur with 21 gears
- May not be suitable for taller riders