A time trial bike will be significantly faster than a road bike. If you want to get faster times in a time trial, then a time trial bike becomes essential.
The best time trial bike to buy depends on your budget. But, bear in mind, an entry level £700 time trial bike will still be much faster than a £6,000 road bike. To go faster you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune.
Generally with bikes – as you pay more, you get better performance, but the gains become increasingly small. The difference between a £500 bike a £1,000 bike is quite noticeable. But, the difference between £4,000 and £6,000 (to say get Dura Ace Di2 vs Ultegra Di2) is very small.
General principles on buying time trial bike
- A bike only accounts for 10% of the surface area which hits the wind. 90% is you. Getting a better position will offer bigger gains than getting a more expensive frame / groupset.
- Always remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune to go faster.
- Weight is important in time trials, but in flat time trials, aerodynamics counts for much more. You don’t have to get super-lightweight to go fast. If you do mainly flat time trials, weight isn’t so significant. You will notice time trial bikes tend to be heavier than road bikes. This is because often the frame is thicker and wider. A bigger surface area can give aero benefits, though the cost is extra weight. I guess one day they will make TT bike which meets UCI limit of 6.8kg, but you’re doing quite well if you get a TT bike below 8.0 kg.
- If you’re buying a time trial bike, don’t blow all your budget on the bike, you can get bigger returns from buying accessories, such as: skinsuit, helmet, overshoes, aero bottle. See: Ways to improve aerodynamics for time trials.
- When I bought a Project One time trial bike, I chose cheap clincher wheels to use as training wheels. I later upgraded and bought a disc wheel and deep section front wheel. Don’t worry too much about the wheels, if there’s a chance you’ll want to upgrade later.
- Do you need to upgrade to Di2 (electronic)? Unsurprisingly I find the time trial community equally split. The consensus seems to be it gives some advantage, but it’s fairly minimal. It’s only on hilly and technical courses that electronic shifting becomes more beneficial. I’ve been riding mechanical for years and I don’t feel it’s been a handicap. However, I dug deep and ordered it with the new bike.
- Position and comfort are important. One of the most difficult things I found when buying a TT bike was trying to find out whether tribars could be lifted upwards in ‘praying mantis’ position. This is non-UCI legal, but for me was faster in wind-tunnel. Some bikes have limited adjust ability in tribars. It means if you do want to adjust you will have to buy separate tribar unit later, which is a bit of a pain.
- It is really quite hard to decipher all the rival claims of manufacturers. They all say that their bikes have been in a wind tunnel and it’s the most aero, e.t.c. To be honest, I don’t feel there is a big difference between the bikes, if there is a difference it is quite hard working out what it is. It’s not like if you buy a certain brand you are going to be noticeably faster. There’s something to be said for going to good shop that you like, and see what they have, what fits, and what meets the criteria you need.
- A lot of my advice is – be wary of spending extra money for little performance gain. But, I’m the worst offender and spent silly money on a new TT bike. But, I do get close to National championship medals and I know I’m going to use it a lot. So that’s how I try justify it to myself.
- UCI legal or non UCI legal? UCI rules are quite strict about what they allow (e.g 3:1 aspect ratio). It keeps the bike looking more like a traditional bike and less exotic. A big pain for domestic time triallist is do you get a UCI legal bike for possibly riding one race a year – the UCI British Time trial championship? I missed out this year because my bike was non-UCI legal. In my new bike I’ve gone for a compromise in choosing a UCI legal frame and illegal forks. If I do ride BTTC next year, I’ll still have find some legal forks. For most people doing triathlons / domestic TT, you don’t have to worry about UCI rules. Then you can choose non-UCI versions of Cervelo P5, Specialized Shiv.
- Names of bikes can be a real pain and somewhat confusing. For example the Specialized S-Works Shiv frameset is completely different to Specialized S-Works Shiv Triathlon version.
Time of the year to buy
It’s tempting to buy straight away, but autumn can be the best time to buy a bike. You might get last year’s model at big discount or you can get the latest model. Mid summer is peak buying time, but if you can wait a few months, you can save money. But, if you do wait, hoping to pick up something you may have less choice and not get the size you need.
I bought my current Trek frameset in September 2009 – It only cost £1,000 – reduced from £1,500. For saving £500, I was happy to ride orange! It was the 2009 model and has lasted well. It feels a good bike to ride. Comfortable and fast. The next generation of bikes have hidden breaks and minor aero tweaks. But, the carbon frameset offers the combination of stiffness, strength and relative lightweight.
My first time trial bike was a custom steel frame, built by Steve Goff. Using lightweight Columbus tubing, it was fast. Though steel time trial bikes are not so common these days, being replaced by the all prevalent carbon fibre.
Trek Speed Concept Project One
I mention Trek Project One first because I have bought two bikes through it – one road bike, one time trial bike. I like the fact you can customise the bike quite a lot. e.g. choosing cheap wheels, ultegra groupset / 105 to keep costs low – but get a very good frame. If your fussy about the colour of your bike, you also get to choose it. I’ll review the Trek Speed Concept in more detail when it finally arrives.
- For example, the Trek Speed Concept 9 with mechanical Ultegra and basic wheels, comes in at £4,700.
- If you choose Trek Speed Concept 9 with Dura Ace Di2 and better wheels (Aerolus 5), it comes to £9,000
The Speed Concept 9 is a very good frame. I like the draft box which is said to be aero neutral and useful for carrying spares. There is a degree of flexibility in the tribars.
A cheaper option is the Speed Concept 7. With ultegra and basic wheels (Race TLR) it comes in at a more manageable £3,750
It’s fun to play around with the options and see how different components make a difference to the price. Trek Project One
One thing to bear in mind, is that if you order Trek Project One it can take several months to arrive. I ordered in early May, it won’t arrive to mid August. This is really annoying because, by then, the time trial season is over for me. I should have waited to order in Autumn and get the latest model.
Entry level time trial bikes
Quintana Roo Kilo
A relatively unknown brand in time trial circles, Quintana Roo is more popular in triathlons. It will appeal to triathletes on a budget because you can get a carbon frame, fork and seat post for a bike not costing much more than £1,0000. Other features include internal cable routing. SRAM rival groupset. The Shimano R 500 wheels help keep cost down, but will make a good training set, if you later upgrade wheels. There aren’t too many time trial bikes available for less than £1,000. But, don’t necessarily look down on aluminium and steel.
BMC Timemachine TM02 Ultegra
BMC obviously sponsor the BMC Procycling team. This is a mid range bike costing £2,430. Ultegra mechanical helps keep cost low. It comes with same top end frame P2p x SubA full as the top end BMC timetrial bike. Only the fork is different in the TM02 option.
- P2pxSubA full carbon construction – Frameset weight: 2435 g including frame, fork, headset, seatpost, brakes and stem
- Wheelset: Shimano WH-RS11
- Tyres:Continental Ultra Sport 2, 700 × 25C, Folding
- Saddle: Fizik Ardea Tri manganese
- Seatpost: Aero post, carbon, with p2p and subA
- The Given weight of the Timemachine DM02 ultegra is 8.88 Kg.
- By comparison, if you spend an extra £2,000 to get the Timemachine DM01 Ultegra Di2, the weight is 8.80 Kg. Basically, the extra £2,000 gives you electronic ultegra and an integrated fork. It’s a lot for a little and that’s a recurring themes of spending more money on bikes!
Top end Time Trial bikes
When I was in the market for buying a new TT bike, I spent a lot of time researching different options for a top end time trial bike.
The big three were the Trek Speed Concept 9, Cervelo P5, and Specialised Shiv TT
The Cervelo P5 looks impressive and it looks fast. It makes loud claims to be by far the fastest time trial bike on the market. Cervélo claim the P5 is 6-11 watts quicker than the other so-called superbikes, saving roughly 24-44 seconds over 40km
One version is specifically designed with the triathlon market in mind. Though it comes in both UCI and non-UCI legal versions. Cervelo said they redesigned the P5 to take into account real life wind directions likely to be experienced in Hawaii Ironman. I was put off the P5 because a few riders I spoke to said, it was harder to get adjustments to fit the rider and it was harder work in hilly technical courses. If you do flat drag strips and fit the frame well, it could be great. But, because I’m an awkward shape – long and tall and prefer hilly, technical courses, I got put off by this feedback.
Specialized Shiv Pro S Works M2 2014 Triathlon Bike
The Shiv is the Triathlon model which ignores UCI rules and has a fatter frame to gain aero benefits.
The UCI version (Specialized S-Works) below is more elegant and is the one used by Tony Martin has ridden to multiple world championship titles and stage victories.
The Specialized – S Works
Specialized Shiv Pro S Works M2 2014 Triathlon Bike
For £5,000 you can get the top range frameset, with mechanical Shimano Ultegra.
- Frame: Specialized Shiv Pro 10r carbon, FACT IS construction, crosswind-optimised airfoils, 1-1/8″ lower bearing, OSBB, Control Tower Fit System, Fuelselage Integrated Hydration System
- Wheelset: Roval Rapide CL 60
- Saddle: Body Geometry Sitero Expert
The S-Works UCI TT version seems to come as only a frameset.
Another thing I looked at quite closely was the Boardman range of TT bike. If only because I like the straight lines of the bike. Boardman is a bit of an expert in marginal gains, and there is the usual claims of wind tunnel optimised with Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) – which sounds suitably impressive.
After all that, it’s still only a brief introduction to the different options available for time trial bikes. Other things worth considering include Ribble time trial bike, Planet X, Giant and several others.
My own experience of searching for a time trial bike was that it was really hard work, especially with so many permeations and choices of UCI / non UCI – adjustable tirbars, non adjustable e.t.c.
In the end I chose Trek Project One because it will get delivered to my local bike shop (Beeline Oxford) and I got to choose the colour of the frame!