Home > Bike Gear

Ironman races in Canada: Road or tri bike?

One of the most common questions for a newbie triathlete is “do I need a road bike or tri bike?”

The major difference between a triathlon bike and road bike is the geometry of the frame — more specifically, the seat tube angle. A triathlon bike has a much larger seat tube angle (76 to 78 degrees) than that of a road bike (72 degrees for a typical road bike). The steeper angle of the tri bike can create a much more “aero” position.

Ironman 70.3 Muskoka. Photo: Finisherpix

Related: Road bike or tri bike?

So, which is best for you? Well, the answer may lie in the type of race you’re doing and its terrain. Triathlon bikes were designed to put you into a forward position when you’re tucked down into your aerobars. This bodes well for flat terrain, where road bikes are typically better for steep climbing since aerodynamics don’t play as big of a role. Most people also tend to find road bikes more comfortable over longer distances.

If you choose a road bike, and you want to use it for a triathlon, you can easily modify the setup by adding clip-on aero bars

Canada will host seven Ironman-branded races in 2019, and each race presents its own challenges. Here are a few points to consider when selecting your ride:

Ironman 70.3 and Ironman Mont-TremblantMont-Tremblant, Quebec

With 900m of elevation gain, a road bike is a decent selection. However, when it comes to choosing the right bike for your race, it is important to consider the road surface and conditions. Despite featuring a mix of punchy and long climbs, the roads around Mont-Tremblant are generally smooth – allowing you to carry your speed from one hill to the other. In this case, you may feel comfortable using a tri bike with lighter wheels. The Ironman course does two laps of the 70.3 loop.

Related: What I learned in my first 70.3

Ironman 70.3 MuskokaHuntsville, Ontario

In 2018, Ironman 70.3 Muskoka was forced to change the bike course from a loop around the Lake of Bays to an out and back course to Dorset. All indications on the Ironman website suggest that it’ll be the same course as 2018. As expected, Muskoka has a lot of climbing. With no particularly long climbs, the 70.3 bike course features a lot of punchy hills. This makes it extremely difficult to settle into a rhythm. Due to the characteristics of the course, a road bike with clip-on aerobars is a reliable option. Your road bike will save you weight, while a tri bike may be too aggressive.

Ironman 70.3 CalgaryCalgary, Alberta

The bike course in Calgary may be the flattest Ironman course in Canada. Taking place in the foothills of the Rockies, the race does not take on any aggressive climbs, so you’re best to go aero for this one. Another option to consider when it comes to your equipment is your wheels. If you are on a road bike, consider using an aero wheelset. This will help keep your momentum going on the flats.

Ironman 70.3 CanadaWhistler, British Columbia

For 2019, Ironman Canada has changed their bike course – moving from a three-loop course to a two-loop course (see below). However, the 70.3 race appears to have the same course as last year. Regardless, the bike will feature a lot of climbing – mainly up Callaghan Valley Road. The road conditions though are pristine. For this race, you may save weight using a road bike, but a tri bike will be helpful when riding Highway 99. Pick the bike that best suits your riding style and comfort level.

Ironman CanadaWhistler, British Columbia

As mentioned above, Ironman Canada has changed their bike course – moving from a three-loop course to a two-loop course. In 2019 athletes will ride from Alta Lake, all the way up Callaghan Valley (last year went up 1/4th) and then go to Daisy Lake, before returning to Whistler. For an Ironman, and this course imparticular, balancing comfort with aerodynamics is essential. This course will likely take five to nine hours to complete, so make sure you’re comfortable with your bike choice. The roads are smooth and built for smooth transportation. With most of the ride taking place on Highway 99 you can expect smooth roads. Even with the climb up Callaghan, the hills on this course are smooth.

Ironman 70.3 VictoriaVictoria, British Columbia

Comparable to Ironman 70.3 Muskoka, the half-Ironman in Victoria features a punchy bike course with a good amount of climbing. To save weight, a road bike is a good option. If however, you’ve settled on a tri bike, consider experimenting with your wheel selection. A deep aero wheelset does look cool, but it adds unnecessary weight for this type of course. Outfitting your bike with a lighter wheel set up may be beneficial.