I've heard quite a bit about the advantages of a tri-bike over a road bike, and certainly have the bug. I think I am ready to make the jump from my low end craigslist clunker to the real thing. In talking to people and reading message boards, I have gathered that you can save a great deal of money and put together a great bike, by buying the frame separately, and then piecing the components together afterwards. Has anyone ever done this? I am definitely a newby (1 sprint, 1 olympic), with no bike or cycling experience outside of this season, so any advice or comments are certainly welcome. Also any other advice as far as getting or buying a bike would be appreciated.
Unless you got an absolutely screamin' deal on either a frame or component group I'd be surprised if you'd save enough to make the trouble worth it, assuming that you have the patience to wait for some kind of a sale on a complete bike. I had decided to get myself an AL tri bike, but then got a deal on a carbon bike with Ultegra parts for about the same price. Got an immediate 15% boost in speed, too, vs. my road bike.
It can work if you're patient and know how to do your own assembly and adjustment. Three years ago I bought a Felt S32 frame and fork, Dura Ace 7800 rear derailleur, Ultegra 6600 front derailleur, Ultegra 6500 brakes, and Ultegra 6600 crank and bottom bracket cups on Ebay over the course of about 3 months. I paid $300 for the frame and about $275 for the drivetrain parts. I bought an AluminX aerobar with Dura Ace 7800 shifters and Profile Design brake levers from a friend who was upgrading for another $75. I already had a seatpost and seat that I used to convert my road bike to tri configuration (I paid about $150 for both at a bike shop). Last, I found some Velomax Tempest II wheels for sale locally for $300. Adding it up, I ended up paying $1100 for an almost new (most of the components were less than a year old) tri bike with upper end components. While you might be able to find a new or almost new tri bike for that price, it's not likely to have the quality frame or components as the one I built.
The caveat, of course, is that you have to be patient. I bid on any number of components before I got the ones that ended up on my bike because I had a set target price and refused to exceed it when I was outbid. I was constantly amazed at the number of people who would bid up the price so far that they ended up paying as much or more for a used component as they could have paid for a new one. I also did all my assembly and adjustment, so I didn't have to pay shop charges. If you're willing to do that, I think it's worth assembling your own bike. The nice part is that you can build the bike the way you want it from the start, rather than buying a package set up and trading parts out later. You also learn how everything works, so you can make your own repairs and adjustments if you need to.
This is the perfect time of year to start looking. The race season is almost over and people will be selling frames and components in anticipation of upgrading. If you start researching now you can get a pretty good idea of what's available and how much you can expect to pay.
But don't forget to keep an eye out for that steal of a deal on Craigslist.