Tested: Four Time-Trial Bikes

If your goal is to set a new triathlon personal best, consider purchasing a time-trial bike. These midrange models mix value and performance, and are all but guaranteed to improve your bike split.
 
They offer aerodynamic carbon-fibre frames, reliable components and durable wheels that will stand up to high-mileage training, although you may want to upgrade to lighter wheels for race day.

Once you've chosen your speedy steed, you need to fine-tune its setup to work with your body so you can  achieve the most aerodynamic position possible. Ask your bike shop for advice or consider a professional bike-fit outfit such as Cyclefit or Retül.

Cervelo P3 

£2,199.99 frame/fork/aero seatpost/headset

A regular top performer at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, the P3 has been ridden to acclaim by the world's best. In the UK, you buy the frameset and deck it out it to suit your needs and budget with an approved dealer.

We rode a Shimano Ultegra-equipped model with Profile Design Altair 50mm carbon wheels. This bike is exceptionally stiff and light owing to the frameset, which is helped in planning by a computational fluid dynamics package to design the optimum layup of carbon fibre in manufacture. Every tube seems to have a bespoke aerofoil shape that will cheat wind.

We found removing the rear wheel a little tricky because of the reverse horizontal dropouts, but the benefit is the rear wheel can be adjusted as close to the cutout as possible to enhance aerodynamics. The rigidity in this frame does come at a price and riding this performance piece of kit takes some getting used to.

Fortunately we were able to keep the supremely well-balanced P3 under control on rough roads. We were impressed by the smoothness of gear shifting - the cabling is internally routed using straight lines from shifter to derailleurs, to reduce friction and keep the lines clean. All seemed to work well.

The generous cockpit is geared towards serious racers who like to get comfortable in the tuck position and stay there all day. Triathletes buying their first tri bike may find the Cervélo P3 uncomfortable, but bear with it because it's worth the investment and commitment. The wide range of sizes means this bike can suit just about anybody.

Sizes: 48cm (650c wheel), 51cm, 54cm, 56, 58cm, 61cm
Colour: White
Info: madison.co.uk

Orbea Ordu SLT 

£2,999.99

Orbea was set up in the Basque region of Spain in 1847, but only began to specialise in bike manufacturing in 1930. It focuses on high-end machines, supplying bikes to, among others, the Euskaltel Euskadi Pro Cycling Team, which rides the futuristic-looking Ordu in time trials.

It's a striking-looking bike, perhaps too much so for some. The company believes that tube profiles such as those featured in the Orbea Ordu are vital in the pursuit of maximum frame stiffness and the best aerodynamics.

Moving on from the looks, the quick-handling Ordu will serve you well whether you're blazing through a time trial or cranking out the bike leg of a triathlon. The frame feels fast and efficient, but still cushions you from bumps - one tester reported she easily kept the bike under control while crossing railway tracks on the aero extensions.

We especially liked the stiffness and design of the Profile Design Prosvet base bar, and the bike offers a wide range of fit options through two seatpost positions. One lets you choose a seat angle of 74 or 76 degrees; the other offers 78 or 80 degrees - more appropriate for churning out those high-wattage time-trial efforts.
 
The bike comes with a faultless Shimano Ultegra drivetrain and Mavic Cosmic deep-section semi-carbon wheels, which add to the aero package. We struggled a little with the reverse dropouts, but these are necessary with the close-fitting wheel-cutout feature.

Overall, despite the Ordu's 'Marmite' factor, we were impressed with the quality of the ride and the value of the package.

Sizes: 48cm/51cm/54cm/ 57cm
Colour: carbon/silver/white
Info: orbea.com/gb-en

Trek Speed Concept 7.5 

£2,999.99

Professional triathletes such as Julie Dibens have ridden the Trek Speed Concept to great success over the past two seasons in longer distance events, so we were keen to see what all the fuss is about.

The 7.5 certainly has a plush road feel, seeming to float above rough surfaces rather than roll across them, but for this category of bike it accelerated quickly and climbed well. It has the widest bottom bracket on test - 90mm - which delivers a good feeling of stiffness in the bottom half of the frame. Aero features include fully internalised cabling, which is very neat.

In fact, Trek claims this bike is the slipperiest in its class, with only the 9 series beating it. An integrated rear brake, which runs under the seatstays is protected from the wind, but was fiddly to adjust and tended to collect road grime. The action was a little spongy so it's worth checking the setup before use.

With the relatively shallow home-brand Bontrager wheels, this bike was very stable in crosswinds and this will help instil confidence in less experienced riders. Trek has employed cutting-edge frame aerodynamics borrowed from the automotive industry - the Kammtail Virtual Foil tube design certainly does the job. The clip-on storage boxes - for fuelling and spares - make it even more aero.

The 7-series Speed Concepts share many of the features of the 9 series; with that in mind, the 7.5 is very good value for money.

Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL
Colour: Carrera Blue/White
Info: trekbikes.com

Boardman AiR/TT 9.2 

£2,699.99

Boardman bikes was started in 2005 by Olympian Chris Boardman. If anyone knows about designing and building bikes that go fast, it's this man. From his days of riding competitively, he has brought knowledge and developed new concepts to produce the Air/TT range of triathlon/TT bikes alongside a successful range of road bikes. Boardman sponsors, among others, both Brownlee brothers.

The first thing that strikes us about the Air/TT 9.2's full-carbon monocoque frameset is the bulbous fork and tapered headtube.

At 1.25 inches, the lower headset race is destined to give a very stiff front end and the bike tracks noticeably well in the corners. The UCI- legal fork houses a TRP mini V brake, which is the start of the aero story on this bike - it's clear that the air will be smoothed directly over the flowing frame shapes.

We notice the flat faces on the inside of the seatstays and fork, which are designed to work in conjunction with the wheels and lead to greatly reduced wind disturbance in real-life riding, not just the wind tunnel.

The brake is easy to adjust and feels powerful on the end of the alloy SRAM lever. The bike certainly doesn't feel restricted as we put it through its paces, and while cornering on the race-ready Vittoria Corsa tyres, we're smiling at the balanced handling.

Like the Orbea, the 9.2 has a reversible seatpost, offering angles up to 80 degrees, which means a maximum pro-level position can be achieved with ease. Taking note of the componentry on this bike, the SRAM Force carbon chainset and specific 54T chainring are welcome upgrades and underline the purpose of this bike. The Fizik saddle and fully adjustable Vision handlebar setup are good choices.

Overall, this is a budget-priced racer that's ready to go out of the box.

Sizes: XS, SM, MD, LG
Colour: Silver
Info: boardmanbikes.com