Condensed Answer: A time trial (TT) bike’s geometry and components make it dangerous and inefficient when used as a regular road bike.
For that reason, TT bikes are banned in road races. If you want to compete in road events, it will be necessary to get a dedicated road bike.
TT bikes are not suitable for commuting either.
The Downsides of Using a Time Trial Bike As a Road Bike
The main riding position of a time trial bike requires the rider to put their elbows on the so-called aero bars a.k.a. tri-bars.
This stance is incredibly aerodynamic but sacrifices control. The grip is narrow and the rider is balancing with the elbows on the pad. Consequently, it’s difficult to make small technical adjustments when steering. This is one of the reasons why time trial bikes are considered dangerous when riding in a group.
Aero bars are essentially metal or carbon horns sticking out of the bike. During a crash, they may stab another rider. The outcome could be lethal.
To avoid accidents, aero bars are banned in road competitions.
- No Access to The Brakes
In the aero position, the rider is holding the aero bars. Aero bars give access to the bar-end shifters but the brake levers are positioned lower on the handlebars.
To brake, the rider has to move their arms away from the aero bars. The result is a slow reaction that may lead to a collision when riding in traffic or a group.
Conversely, standard drop bars allow the rider to access both the brakes and the shifters when riding in the hoods.
- Lower Responsiveness
TT bikes have a longer wheelbase (distance between the wheels) and chainstays for extra stability.
However, those characteristics hurt the bike’s responsiveness and capability to make sharp turns. This is another quality that makes TT bikes less suitable for technical riding.
- Uncomfortable For Long Rides
TT bikes are designed for speed at the expense of comfort and come with a massive saddle to handlebars drop making the back of the rider horizontal to the ground.
This position is difficult to maintain for long periods of time and by people who lack the necessary flexibility.
Another source of discomfort and joint stress is the limited number of hand positions. There are essentially two main hand placements – on the aero bars and on the brakes. Both are aggressive in their own way. The aero bars stretch the rider whereas the handlebars require the rider to drop even lower. Thus, there isn’t a real resting stance.
Meanwhile, road bikes offer a more upright riding position and a greater number of hand placements making it easier to cover incredibly long distances without experiencing unbearable joint fatigue.
- Forget About Commuting
Commuting on a TT bike is similar to riding an F1 car to work. The machine is fast but the experience won’t be satisfactory.
A TT bike is a poor commuter for the following reasons:
Low visibility. TT bikes put the rider in a low position making it hard to see and be seen. Road bikes do the same but to a smaller degree.
Poor reaction time. The subpar responsiveness of TT bikes results in noticeable lag. This is a big deal because riding in traffic often necessitates quick reactions. If a car door opens suddenly, getting away from it on a TT bike without losing balance is more difficult.
Poor bump absorption. TT bikes are designed for smooth roads. Riding one on a surface full of bumps (e.g., a cobbled street) will be uncomfortable and very stressful on the joints. And since irregularities can be seen even on the streets of First World cities, it’s wiser to choose another bike model for commuting.
Limited tire clearance. TT bikes cannot be used with wider tires due to the lack of clearance. Thus, the rider is stuck with firm, thin tires transmitting every bump.
Lack of accessories. TT bikes do not have eyelets for accessories such as fenders and racks. The same applies to road bikes but not nearly to the same degree. (Some road models permit the installation of fenders and racks.)
Thief Magnet. A TT bike locked in front of a store would be a funny sight. The bike is too expensive and futuristic looking to lock it anywhere other than in your garage.
- Climbing is Less Enjoyable
A TT bike can be used for climbing, but it’s not optimal for that task due to the limited hand positions and the angles from which the rider is forced to operate.
For that reason, you won’t encounter a legit TT bike on a hill-climbing competition. You may see a machine that has TT elements (e.g., bullhorns), but the overall geometry, weight and set-up of a TT bike are just not conducive to competitive climbing.
- Excessive Weight Shift To The Front
TT bikes put more of the rider’s weight on the front tire via a shorter reach and a steeper seat tube angle. This geometry makes it easier to assume the main riding position. However, it has a major downside – a rider who doesn’t have enough experience on TT bikes will feel like they’re are about to go over the handlebars at any moment.
FAQ: Can I put a set of drop bars on a TT bike and make it a road machine?
Technically, it’s possible, but the result will be satisfactory only when the TT bike in question has a non-aggressive geometry close to that of a road bike. If that’s not the case, the outcome will be a hybrid bike that underperforms in both disciplines. You can read more about this topic here.
A TT bike is an ineffective substitute for a road bike for the following reasons:
- Reduced maneuverability
- Lower visibility
- More stress on the joints
- Slower access to the brakes
- Uncomfortable climbing
- Inability to install commuting accessories
- Too expensive to lock outside
- Dangerous in a race
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