Once you decide to make the leap into the world of triathlon, considering what bike to ride is an important (and possibly expensive) decision.
If you have any kind of bike already, you can certainly use that. At the small local races you will see everything from Huffys to the top end tri bikes, so whatever is in your garage already will work.
But if you do choose to buy a bike when you are just starting the sport, should you go with a tri bike or a road bike?
My recommendation is to buy a decent, but not overly expensive road bike and upgrade with the clip on aerobars and new seatpost.
Here is my reasoning:
1. Tri bikes can be used basically only for triathlons. They are a very specific tool and optimally designed to go fast without stopping frequently or having to navigate things like traffic, stoplights, potholes, or roadkill.
2. I have seen the most improvement in my riding after doing group rides that my local bike shop offers. Group rides and tri bikes are not a good combo for various safety reasons. So to take advantage of this great opportunity to really push yourself and learn to improve your bike skills, you'll want a road bike.
3. A road bike is also the right bike for non-competition events like century rides. Or make some minor modifications and do cyclocross. There is a lot of versatility, which can't be said for a tri bike.
Don't think that riding a road bike in a triathlon means that you are going to go slow. I've finished very well on my road + aerobar setup. On hilly courses, this would actually be an advantage.
I did add in the Profile Design Fast Forward seatpost to move my body position farther forward and I think that was a good choice. Just beware that this weight change will also impact the performance and handling of the bike, making it a bit more unstable at the front. But the more you ride, the less you'll notice.
Another very important point is bike fit. Whichever kind of bike you choose, get a bike fit from either your bike shop or an independent fitter. (There is a list on Slowtwitch with lots of references.) You will save yourself a lot of pain and agony by having a properly fit bike.
With two seasons of racing under my belt, I'm now looking to buy a tri bike before next season. I've test ridden several models, but I have a few more to check out before I make a decision. Perhaps I should re-read "The Paradox of Choice"...
Thanks for reading!