Feb 16, 2012 3:36 PM
One of the most common area for questions in regards to triathlon is bikes. Newbies want to know what they should get, and people with a few races under their belt want to know what to upgrade to. This is written with a key idea in mind: Ride hard; speed on the bike has more to do with the cyclist than it does with the bike. Lance Armstrong would smoke you even if you were on a $10,000 aero bike and he was on a steel frame made in the 80s.
If you’ve never done a triathlon before, just get a bike for your first race. Any bike will do, borrow one if you can because you need to figure out how much you like this sport before you sink any more money into it.
So after your first race, one of three things will happen (1) You hate it, (2) You had a little fun, (3) You LOVED it. Here’s what you do for each one.
If (1) you hated it, don’t buy a bike (Glad you have me around for advice eh?)
If (2) you had a little fun and you are thinking about maybe doing another one, great! Now you’ll benefit from having your own bike to train on. If you’re still just a part time enthusiast, maybe one or two races per year, any old road bike within your budget is probably the way to go. See if you can find that 80s steel frame that Lance smoked you with, it’ll probably cost no more than $50-$100 if you play your cards right.
If (3) you LOVED it, and you’re ready to make a commitment to the sport, at least consider a race bike. These will start to get costly, if money is a problem, you might be best served stepping back to (2) until you can afford what I’m about to suggest. Buy an aluminum frame bike with a Shimano 105 drive-terrain or equivalent. This bike may cost around $2,000 but it’ll last your whole life if you maintain it well. It’s light (enough) and fast (enough); it won’t hold you back. If you train hard enough, you’ll hold your own with the top dogs, even if they have that aero bike you’re so tempted to buy. Trust me, hard work will trump that aero frame any day (unless of course they’re working harder than you, but you won’t let that happen, will you). Plus, in the long run, a road frame is just more practical than an aero set up. Going on group rides, or centuries will be much more comfortable on a road bike than aero.
Now what, you’ve got your bike, and you’re working hard, and you’ve got some money lying around so you’d like to buy some additional gear. It goes without saying that you’ve already got a helmet. If you don’t have one, get off the road until you do. Here’s some other things to spend your money on:
1) Water bottle & cage - kind of a no brainer, but the bike probably won’t come with one.
2) Flat kit & saddle bag - we want to keep you riding as much as possible
3) Pump - this is just so you’re not the annoying friend constantly stopping by just for air.
4) Pedals & shoes - you’re loosing a ton of power without clipless
This is where it starts to get debatable. If you truly value strength over speed, you’ll go with the computers then the areo stuff. If you’re greedy for time, it’ll probably be the other way around.
5) Power tap/ bike computer/ heart rate monitor - if you can’t get the first, get one of the cheaper two, either way, these will help you to know how hard/fast you’re going
6) Aero bars - gotta make that turd drag as little as possible
7) Aero helmet - ditto on #6
It gets hazy here again. What should you upgrade, wheels or frame? They’re both really expensive at this point, and the gains on each are debatable. Just for the sake of price, lets say:
8) Wheels - maybe a tri spoke & disk, maybe aero wheels like Zipps, that’s up to you
9) Aero bike - if you’re at this point, and you have the cash, go for it.
One thing I clearly left out is components. Aside from the bomb proof 105s, upgrading will give you a slightly lighter bike, with slightly better parts. Personally, I’d hold off on the Sram RED or Shimano Dura Ace until I’m buying that perfect race bike. I’d want to be 100% committed to a lifetime of the sport before I shell out the cash for those sorts of minimal gains.
Feel free to disagree or offer criticism, all thoughts are welcome!
ISU Triathlon Club