Today’s question is about a mountain biker switching to road racing, wondering if he should start out with a regular road bike or with a full-blown time trial (TT) bike…

Coach Levi, I am an internationally-ranked sailor in the 470 class (high performance Olympic dinghy) and I have been a dedicated MTB cyclist all my life (16 years haha). I am very interested in beginning a time-trial cycling campaign. Is it wise to start off my road career with a full-blown time trial bike if that’s what I plan to compete in? I am looking at the felt B16 as a starter bike. Is all this a good idea?

Thanks so much for your time, I love reading all the helpful tips on your website!
Shone the Sailor

Hi Shone,

This is a very good question! Being a mountain bike racer myself, I considered getting a dedicated TT bike as my only road bike since I planned to do time trials if I did any road racing.

But you know what? I was only able to find one real TT race in my state, and the majority of popular races I wanted to do were actually hill climb time trials. And since those typically require a lightweight road bike as opposed to an aerodynamic-but-heavy TT bike, I decided I had very little use for a dedicated TT bike.

But there are more pros and cons we can look at…

felt b16

If you get a full blown TT bike:

You’ll have a great racing bike. If you’re heart set on TTs and are positive you won’t be interesting in long road races, criteriums, or riding in a peloton, go ahead and get the TT bike.

It will also be fine for solo training rides out on the open road.

Unfortunately, when you specialize like this, you lose versatility. A TT bike will not be a good option for group rides or road races. The aero position is relatively unstable and is frowned upon in group rides, as well as illegal in regular road races. (The races are dangerous enough with everyone on easy-to-control bikes.)

Plus, it is not so great for hilly areas, since the bike is heavy and has fewer hand positions suited for climbing. Descending will be tough, especially if there are any sharp turns.

And if you have a lot of city riding, starts and stops, pedestrians to dodge, etc., the unstable aero position is going to be aggravating.

cervelo s1

If you get a road bike:

If you get a standard road bike instead, you’re going to gain a lot of versatility but give up a little bit in aerodynamics.

For most people, I would recommend a regular road bike because it’s more versatile. You can compete in a wider variety of races, be comfortable riding in varied situations, and join in group rides.

When you need to race a TT, use some aerobars and an aero helmet and you’ll still do well. It’s only when you’re capable of holding speeds well over 20-25mph for an entire race against other high-caliber racers that the shaped tubing and super low position of the TT bike will help.

Being an internationally ranked sailor, I’m betting you know the value of hard work and dedication to your training that is necessary to achieve great results. And to really excel in the top ranks, eventually you would need a dedicated TT bike anyway. So for you, a Felt B16 might be the right choice.

But an aerodynamic road bike like the Cervelo S1 (formerly known as the Cervelo Soloist) could be a good compromise. It’s a very aerodynamic road bike and starts around $2200, just like the Felt B16. You’d need to purchase aero bars separately, and you’d give up aerobar shifting capabilities, but you’d gain a ton of versatility.

The Final Decision

As always, the choice is yours, but I urge you to consider all the options, put together a preliminary racing schedule, and test ride the bike before making a final decision.

Final tip: If you do get the TT bike, be sure to get it at a very good shop that offers bike fits from a qualified professional. Bike fit is always important, but even more so in a TT position. Since you’re hunched over and don’t really change position while riding, you must have a perfect fit!

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1 Comment
  1. thanks Coach Levi! very helpful and informative! i really appreciate it. and i had no idea Cervelo made such a reasonably-priced racing bike. but, since i do plan on riding solo and only time trials, im leaning toward the full TT bike. again good info! helped my decision a lot.
    keep up the good work!

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