pan y agua
Join Date: Aug 2005
Bikes: Wilier Zero 7; Merlin Extralight; Co-Motion Robusta; Schwinn Paramount; Motobecane Phantom Cross; Cervelo P2; Motebecane Ti Fly 29er; Calfee Dragonfly Tandem
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A tri bike compared to a comparably priced road bike will be less comfortable to ride, heavier, not climb as well, and handle skittishly. All of these things make the tri bike not the bike of choice for long rides, and group rides. The tri bike will go faster on flat terrain than the road bike, hence its use for triathlons.
Assuming you can only afford one bike, the answer may depend on how many triathlons you want to do, and how much riding other than tri's you want to do.
Even if your bike riding is only for triathlon training, you're liking to still want to go out and do some group rides, and you may want to do centuries, charity rides, and things like that. Also do you see yourself as ever trying a local bike race? All of these types of activities argue for the road bike.
A road bike with aero bars, and the seat pushed forward will make a serviceable bike for a tri. The time difference between a full on tri bike, and a road bike set up with aerobars will be very small.
I have a road bike, and a just got a full on tri bike. I've time trialed with a reasonable degree of success on my road bike with aero wheels and clip on bars.
Now I'm training for a tri on the tri bike. I can tell you that other than the couple of weeks before a triathlon or a TT, the tri bike is going to see very little use, because the road bike is just so much more pleasant to ride on a daily basis.
In summary, You'll have use for a good road bike for years, regardless what type of riding you do, and it will do ok for triathlon. The tri bike is special piece of equipment with one limited function. A nice thing to have in supplemnt to your road bike.