Do you need a tri bike?
And what's the difference anyway (other than the fact you are practically laying down)?
This is a great question and one we as triathletes always have to consider.
The simple answer is no, you don't need a tri bike! You can do a triathlon on any bike, even that banana seat bike from your great grandparent's house.
Now, as you look to improve your times in a triathlon, a tri bike can be a benefit.
First let's talk about drafting. While there are draft legal races, the majority of the time, we are participating in races where drafting isn't allowed.
Since no one will be pulling you along in their draft zone, you want to be as aerodynamic as possible.
Because you are "laying down" on a tri bike, it puts you in a position where your body isn't catching as much wind. The less wind you catch, the faster you'll go.
There's also a lot of talk in the triathlon world that a tri bike activates and uses muscles differently than a road bike, putting you in a better position to run after.
While this is true, the fact is you can blow yourself up on a tri bike and ruin your run just as easily as you can on a road bike. Don't kid yourself into thinking a tri bike is the magic fix to running better off the bike.
Now back to our original question... Should you buy a tri bike?
The best way to know is if you feel like you've squeezed every ounce of speed out of your road bike you can, or if you are ready to be a little more competitive (either with yourself or those you are racing).
One last bit about owning a tri bike... Drafting while riding a tri bike can be very dangerous because of the body position and brake location. When riding with others and drafting definitely stick with the road bike, for both your safety and the safety of those around you.