Monday, January 16, 2012

Buying Your First Road or Triathlon Bike- Part I

Its no secret in my social circles that I'm a bit of a bike geek.  Right now I own and actively use no less than four bikes.  In ascending order of how much I value them they are;

  • a 1980-something beater Apollo Road bike 
  • A bombproof crit-ready Cervelo S1 with Ultegra components
  • A Cervelo P2C Triathlon/TT Bike with SRAM Force components
  • And the newest addition a Cervelo S5 SRAM Rival compoenents

So when it comes to bike shopping usually I'm the person people ask to tag along. A win-win situation since it allows me to spend vicariously through my friends, and in return they get a piece of my expansive knowledge of bikes, some of which I'm about to share with you.

In the first of three blog posts regarding bike buying, I'll talk about important considerations when buying your first bike.
The Cervelo P2C remains the standard for entry level tri bikes
  • Budget- You definitely don't have to blow the bank to get a good entry level bike.  You should decide early on a range of how much you'd like to spend.  Typically, even with used bikes you're not going to get a whole lot for under about $500 so that should be your starting point.  If you're looking for a new bike, you can raise that minimum spend to about $1000.  You should think about your budget carefully but don't be afraid to spend a little more than you planned if there's a bike out there that gets you excited about riding.  At the end of the day, if you purchase a bike that you're excited about, you'll ride it more and I really think you're health and fitness are more important than the extra $200 you'll shell out if it means you get to feel like Lance Armstrong.
  • Fit with your bike and fit with your dealer-  Nothing is more important when it comes to bikes than fit.  A bike that is too small will not allow you to ride efficiently or comfortably, while a bike that is too big will leave you stretched out with little control over the bike to the point where it can actually be dangerous.  I strongly recommend you go to your local bike shop ("LBS") and have the staff size you up so you can get an idea of how big a bike you should be riding.  Its really important that you have a good relationship with your LBS and this will also give you an opportunity to visit a shop or two and see who you like.  If the staff is intimidating or don't give you the time of day simply because you aren't ready to buy just yet, go on to the next shop.
  • Accessories- Figure this in to your budget early on. Recognize that beyond the bike there are a few things you'll need to purchase.  You should be able to pick up some pedals, shoes, gloves, shorts, water bottles and cage, and a helmet all for under about $250 if you're frugal.  Note that mountain bike pedal/shoe systems are not generally cross compatible with road pedal/shoe systems.  Also note that the biggest practical difference between helmets sold at any reputable bike shop is weight, ventilation, and coolness-- safety wise they'll all protect you as well as the next one so less expensive doesn't mean it won't protect your noggin.  Gloves are a must, if you don't believe me, if when you crash you'll know why.  Bike shorts are also a must, spend half an hour on a road saddle sans proper shorts and something won't feel right... something really important down there.
  • Road bike?- If you plan to do lots of riding in groups or want to get into the road riding scene as well as race triathlon, I strongly recommend you get a road bike.  With group rides typically only road bikes are allowed to participate unless you're training with a specific triathlon training group.  This isn't because of some elitist roadie rule, its because road bikes handle better, allow you a more upright position to see what's going on and interact with others, and are generally far more responsive than their triathlon cousins. Also, since there is greater supply, you'll usually find road bikes are a bit cheaper than even used triathlon bikes.  For anything short of  Ironman distance triathlons, if this is to be your only bike, I'd recommend a roadie.  Plus, you can always slap some clip on aero bars to a road bike to get you 90% of the benefits of a tri bike.
  • Triathlon bike?- If you already have a road bike, or a hybrid, maybe you'll want to consider a dedicated triathlon/time trial bike.  They allow you a more aggressive aerodynamic position, and if set up properly they can even be fairly comfortable for the long haul.  The geometry of a triathlon bike is also designed to "save" the muscles you use for the run, so you get off the bike feeling a bit fresher when your foot finally hits the pavement.  This comes at a small price though as handling isn't quite as good, and if you aren't flexible enough to be in that aero position for long you'll lose some of those aerodynamic benefits by having to sit up frequently.  Additionally typically the aero benefit of a triathlon bike doesn't come into effect until about 30km/hr so until you have some more time in the saddle you may not be taking full advantage of the utility of a tri bike.  That being said, if you're only interested in triathlon, or have the budget for more than one bike over the long run, go for a triathlon rig.
In the next post I'll talk about some more specifics about different bike frames materials, components, and costs.  In the meantime some good places to look for used bikes include;


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