We pitted four of the most advanced triathlon bikes in head-to-head competition on the road and in the wind tunnel to find the fastest, most aerodynamic machine on the market.
This article was originally published in the March/April 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.
There are only two ways that one triathlon bike is faster than another: It either has impeccable mechanical function and predictable handling while fitting perfectly to help the rider perform better, or the machine itself can go faster in a straight line. And when it comes to tri bikes, aerodynamic resistance more than any other factor determines straightaway speed. We took four cutting-edge bikes ranging from totally integrated to nearly stock to compare their performance across all categories. And to find the aerodynamic champion, we tested them head-to-head in the wind tunnel at Faster in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Cervélo P5 Three
$6,000 (with Vision Team wheels), Cervelo.com
Verdict: Total package—great ride, realistic fit, mechanically simple and an aerodynamic standout
The Canadian company did an about-face regarding the geometry used on its top-flight aero bike. Formerly dedicated to the needs of Pro Tour cycling teams, Cervélo tuned the P5’s geometry for positions achievable by cyclists who hold desk jobs. The frame is formed for realistic Ironman fits, and the 3T Aduro aerobar extends the fit range from conservative to aggressive. Horizontal reach distance to the elbow pads is the P5’s only fit limitation. The pads cannot be choked far back toward the cyclist.
Clean integration is the brilliance of the P5. Built with a standard aerobar attachment and externally mounted brakes, the P5 has more mechanical similarities to a road bike than the most integrated contender in this review, the Trek Speed Concept. Magura’s RT 8TT hydraulic rim brakes require a different set of mechanical skills than cable brakes, but require service less frequently. Replacing cables takes a fair amount of patience, but the P5’s aerobar system makes airline travel with the bike extremely simple.
The P5 remains poised under intense cornering and during high-speed descents. Its predecessors had a tendency to flex a bit when cornering heavily—especially with the aerobars propped by a tall stack of steerer tube spacers—but the P5 is rock-solid, inspiring faster and more aggressive lines through tight bends. The bike snaps up to speed instantly without the dreaded “wet noodle” feeling that used to plague some aero bikes.
Fancy but not flashy, the Shimano Dura-Ace 7900 mechanical drivetrain is crisp, light and durable—it just lacks the wow-factor boasted by the other three. A new flagship mechanical group will be slowly replacing this component kit throughout the year. Magura’s hydraulic RT 8TT rim brakes feel slightly stronger than mechanical brakes. Their performance didn’t deteriorate during a three-month test of this bike.
This bike outperforms the others in high rider speed, low wind speed conditions, generating substantially less drag than the nearest competitor at zero and five degrees of yaw. At wider yaw angles, it performs very similarly to the Specialized Shiv, while losing ground to the Trek. This drag profile is best suited to faster riders because high average speeds also translate to shallower yaw angles.