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Best Beginner Triathlon Bikes

by Taren Gesell

Blog ▸ Best Beginner Triathlon Bikes

Taren Gesell

"Triathlon Taren" Gesell is founder of MōTTIV and one of the world's top experts on helping adults become endurance athletes later in life. Best known for his YouTube channel and podcast Taren is the author of the Triathlon Foundations series of books and has been published featured in endurance publications around the world.

There are tons of great beginner triathlon bikes out there. With only minor differences between the most popular brand names, I suggest you focus on three specific factors before you purchase:

  • the used bike market;
  • the groupset which is basically the mechanics of the bike; and 
  • the brand. 

I’ll elaborate on each for you so that when you go to purchase your first triathlon bike you know you’re getting a good deal. In this article you’ll learn:

  • Which beginner triathlon bike you should get;
  • What you should look out for; and
  • How to get the best bang for your triathlon buck.

3 Main Things to Consider When Buying Your First Tri Bike

As you get into triathlon, maybe you show up at the local sprint triathlon on your neighbors commuter bike or your sister’s beach cruiser. There’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever! Though, you may be looking around at the wildly expensive super-bikes with push-of-a-button shifting and carbon wheels thinking that’s what you need to be successful in the sport. Simply put, that’s not true.

You can be super speedy on an entry-level triathlon bike. In fact, I would even say that there are nearly a dozen other things for triathlon specifically that you should buy before even considering a beginner triathlon bike.

I outline my list of triathlon must-haves in my Triathlon Bike Foundations book. 

Once you’re committed to the sport, then I believe you should invest in a beginner triathlon bike. Here are the three things I suggest you consider.

Consider Used Tri Bikes

When you’re ready to purchase your first beginner triathlon bike, and by beginner I mean anything less than $4,000, consider something that is used. Bikes are like cars, they depreciate very quickly.

Finding a used tri bike in this beginner price point is fairly easy as it’s probably the most active market for bike resales. A lot of triathletes get a triathlon bike very early on in their time in the sport, then they don’t continue on and they end up selling their bike. So you’re going to be able to find a lot of triathlon bikes in this beginner price point.

Buying used at the entry level price point also means that someone else is paying the depreciation on the bike and you’re not.  This is huge for the beginner tri bike price point because entry level triathlon bikes, when purchased new, depreciate a lot..

Invest in a Good Groupset

The next thing to consider is the triathlon bike’s groupset. This is the crank arm, the shifters, the cassette, the brakes, the front and rear derailleurs. Here are the groupsets you’ll want to consider:

  • Shimano Ultegra
  • Shimano Dura-Ace
  • Sram Force
  • Sram Red

If you end up buying the entry-level groupsets (Shimano 105 for example) there will be a large number of other bikes on the market with the exact same groupset, and they’re cheap, so if you go to resell the bike no one will want to buy it.

Competition when reselling the bike will be fierce. If you have a groupset that’s a step above Shimano 105, for example, like the ones listed above you’ll have an advantage when it comes to resale and the bike will actually be cheaper in the long run.

The higher quality groupsets will stand up better to normal wear and tear, it’ll be smoother when shifting and more enjoyable to ride when you’re on it, and it’ll set your bike apart from other competitors in the resale market. 

The better groupsets will hold their value a bit better than the entry-level ones.

Start Off With a Common Bike

It’s not uncommon for beginner triathletes to lack bike mechanic skills. The last thing you want to have happen is something go wrong with your bike as you approach the race or even worse, just hours before you’re set to toe the start line.

This is why I strongly recommend your first bike for triathlon be a name brand most everyone is familiar with. Based on the bike count at the Ironman World Championships in Kona over the last few years, these are the top 10 most common bikes:

  • Cervelo
  • Trek
  • Specialized
  • Felt
  • Canyon
  • Argon18
  • Scott
  • BMC
  • Quintana Roo
  • Giant

If something goes wrong with one of these bikes, and you have a Shimano groupset, you’re going to have a spot at most races with all the components and parts you’d need in case of a mechanical emergency. 

If you’re able to choose between several of these bike brands and aren’t sure what to pick, I recommend calling your local bike shops and asking what brands they like to work on. 

Tip: bike shops say every bike is hard to work on, but if you press them for an answer they’ll tell you which brands they find the easiest to work on. This means you’ll have an easier time working on the bike yourself, and your bike shop will be able to fix things easier.

Which Beginner Triathlon Bike to Buy

So, which beginner triathlon bike should you buy? It doesn’t really matter. You want to enjoy riding it, so at the end of the day buy whichever bike you think looks best. 

If you follow the three principles above, you can’t go wrong with your first triathlon bike purchase. You’re going to have a bike that is fast, easy to work on, easy to repair with readily available parts, and a bike that is easily resold when you do want to upgrade to a high-end triathlon bike.

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Taren Gesell

"Triathlon Taren" Gesell is founder of MōTTIV and one of the world's top experts on helping adults become endurance athletes later in life. Best known for his YouTube channel and podcast Taren is the author of the Triathlon Foundations series of books and has been published featured in endurance publications around the world.