Top 3 bike selection steps for triathletes

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Having the right bike for you and having it dialed in can make a lot of difference.  It will make the ride performance better all around.  It can also help prevent injuries associated with cycling and cycling position.  This excellent excerpt from Triathlon Workout Planner by John Mora reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics.

 

Selecting a bike

“If you’ve only recently been bitten by the triathlon
bug, the very first, most obvious symptom is an inexplicable need to
visit the nearest bicycle shop. Once you’re there, your symptoms might
progress toward writing out a check for a thousand bucks, or worse,
taking out the plastic. Hold on there. You might not need to shell out
four figures at this point.

If you currently own a bicycle and just want to finish
your first triathlon, you might be able to get by with what you have
until you’re sure you’ll be a lifelong multisport maniac. It’s not
uncommon for beginners to use a beat-up old road bike or a fat-tire
mountain bike for their first event, and there’s nothing wrong with
that. However, if you don’t have a bicycle (or can’t borrow one), then
you have no alternative but to look into buying a triathlon bicycle.
Also, if you’ve done a few triathlons and are looking for some advice
on making your first serious multisport bicycle purchase, the following
sections provide some guidance for you.

Tri-Bikes, Step by Step

Making your entry into the complicated world of cycling
equipment can be expensive and intimidating. Somewhere among the fancy
designs, shiny components, and black rubber is what you need. Without
some basic knowledge, a good understanding of your current needs, and a
clear vision of what lurks on your triathlon horizon, there’s a strong
chance that you’ll purchase the wrong bicycle.

Fear not. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making that
first big multisport purchase, with advice from triathlon bicycle
dealers, manufacturers, and coaches. Add to that some tales of woe from
professionals who can tell you (through their experience) what not to do when you’re making that big purchase, and you have no reason to panic.

Step 1: Set a Budget

Walking into a bicycle shop with no plan can mean
walking away with no money. Although most bike dealers will not
deliberately take advantage of an eager first-time buyer, by setting a
budget you are taking the first step toward controlling a situation
that might seem uncontrollable.

A cautionary word about overemphasizing equipment is
warranted. “Your best bet is buying a reasonably priced, entry-level
bike with a clip-on aero bar,” says cycling coach Bob Langan. “It all
comes to this: It’s not the seconds equipment will save you; it’s the
minutes a good aerodynamic position and proper training will.”

How much will you spend on your first triathlon bike?
Generally speaking, prices for entry-level racing bikes range from $900
to $1,400. Of course, the sky’s the limit on how much you can spend (if your bank account can handle it), but spending more than $1,400 is risky for two reasons:

1. You might not know what you need.

2. You might think you know what you need, but you might be wrong.

Does that mean you should go the other way and get the
cheapest two-wheeler you see on the dealer floor? No. Although the
frugal side of you might want to buy the cheapest Wal-Mart special you
can find, you’ll likely find it to be less than what you need. Better
to buy the most bike you can afford and be able to train and race with
comfortably, than have to start all over a few months down the road.

Step 2: Don’t Forget Accessories

One common mistake is excluding accessories from the
budget. Earmark $300 to $500 for accessories, more if you intend to
purchase optional equipment such as an aerodynamic disk, tri-spoke, or
deep-rim wheel. Some of the more basic bicycle accessories include the
following:

  • Frame pump
  • Patch kit
  • Spare tubes
  • Helmet
  • Clothing (shorts, jerseys, jacket)
  • Gloves
  • Cycling shoes (optional)
  • Clipless pedals (optional)
  • Aerobars (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Computer (optional)
  • Sunglasses (optional)

As you can imagine, your $900 bicycle purchase can run
well into four figures with the addition of these or other accessories.
Is all this stuff really necessary? Most of it is. You can’t race
without a helmet, and you need the additional comfort and safety that
cycling shorts, jerseys, gloves, and the other necessities afford you.

If you intend to transport your bicycle in your car, a
roof-mounted bicycle rack can run you well over $500. A less expensive
alternative is a trunk-mounted rack. Still cheaper is taking the wheels
off your bike and throwing it in the back seat or trunk.

In recent years, many bicycle manufacturers have included
clipless pedals, contraptions that attach your shoes to the bike for an
efficient, more comfortable pedal stroke, as basic equipment on
entry-level road bike models. This addition will save you close to $150
that you might have earmarked for this accessory. (If the bicycle
you’re interested in doesn’t include clipless pedals, it’s time to
start negotiating with your dealer.) Though many people fear being
attached to a bicycle with clipless pedals, you can get out of the
pedals at any time simply by extending your heel outward.

Cycling shoes are designed for use with clipless pedals.
Cycling shoes are stiff and transfer energy more directly to the
bicycle than do rubber pedals or toe straps. Cycling shoes vary widely
in price, from $100 on the low end to more than $200.

Aerobars help you slice through the wind. Better
aerodynamics with aerobars increases your speed and helps you save
energy for the run. As you train for longer distances, this accessory
will definitely fall out of the “optional” category and into the
“mandatory” list.

Speed Demon Fact

If you recall, Greg Lemond’s historic victory in the
1989 Tour de France came as a direct result of the performance
advantage of his triathlon aerobars. Wind tunnel testing has shown an
estimated average time savings of five minutes during an
Olympic-distance bike leg (40K) when a cyclist maintains an aerodynamic
position on aerobars. Other studies have shown that cyclists in a
proper aerodynamic position are more relaxed and experience decreased
heart rates.

Step 3: Understand the Choices and Know What You Need

Purchase a good racing bicycle that is versatile and
durable. Buying an entry-level racing bike that is upgradable can save
you time and money in the long term. For example, pioneering duathlete
Ken Souza’s first duathlon bicycle was a Nishiki International he
bought in 1982 for a scant $175. Though the bicycle served its initial
purpose, it was a touring model (a bicycle designed primarily for
casual riding) that Souza quickly outgrew. Yet the pioneering athlete
who put duathlons on the map continued to pour money into a pocket full
of holes. “It was ironic. I was spending all this money trying to
upgrade, trying to save a few dollars by not buying a racing bike. I
could have bought a real racing bike sooner if I hadn’t tried so hard
to upgrade a bike that wasn’t worth it.” So Souza’s experience makes an
important distinction—find a good upgradeable bicycle, but just be sure
it’s something that’s worth upgrading over a reasonable period of time,
You may very well outgrow an entry-level bicycle, but try and find
something that will last you for as long as possible.

Souza’s solution to his novice woes was one that you
might want to consider if the opportunity arises: “I bought a used
racing bike—a Vitus carbon fiber—from ex-pro Mark Montgomery. I think
that’s one of the smartest things a beginner can do. You’ll get
top-of-the-line gear, you can get a great deal, and it’s usually not
beat up.”