Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tri Talk Tuesday - The Bike: What Do I Really Need?


Happy Tri Talk Tuesday all! Today I'm linking up once again with Courtney @ The TriGirl Chronicles, Cynthia @ You Signed Up For What?! and Miranda @ The Cupcake Triathlete to discuss this week's topic: The Bike.


Earlier this month I posted a pretty in depth article on my experience during a recent bike fit using the 'Retul" technology. If you're interested in finding out more about this process click here. Otherwise, let's get to one of the biggest questions I am asked from new folks curious about triathlon and one that I myself struggled with when starting out in the sport; Do I really need to buy a new bike?. In my humble opinion the easiest answer to that question is, it depends. #1. How long of a distance are you looking to participate in #2. What are your reasons for racing in the first place? (fun, competition, just to say you did one) and #3. What is your budget?

Let's first look at some of the basic differences in most of the bike options out there:


  •  Beach Cruiser (single speed) - This is your fun bike! Your, let's-go-cruising-around-the-neighborhood-or-along-the-waterfront-enjoying-the-sun-and-fun bike. Everything about it's design, from the wide handlebars to the large padded seat, is made for comfort. Going fast is usually not the desire. 
         Cost:  Cheap! Usual range is from $200 - $500.

Beach cruiser: Grew up riding these in SoCal - FUN!


  • Road - this kind of bike is designed specifically for the road. It has skinny tires and it's frame geometry is designed for road riding. The handle bars bend in that funny mountain goat horn shape which allows you to grab the bottom of the bars bringing your body closer to your bike frame causing less wind resistance. The seat tube angle (angle that the tube supporting your saddle makes in relation to the ground) ranges anywhere between 73 to 75 degrees. Everything about a road bike is designed for speed while on the bike. 
        Cost: Ranges anywhere between $1k (new entry level) all the way up to >$10k for more
        serious road racers.    
Road Bike: Cannondale CAAD9 - my baby, Ben!

  • Mountain Bike/Hybrid - these bikes usually have tires that are wider and have more of a tread pattern than those found on road bikes. The handle bars shoot off to the side with gripping action allowing you better handling for the uneven road conditions they are meant to be ridden on. The tube angels vary to just over 71 all the way up to 75 degrees. These frames are designed for off-roading rides, allowing you to go over rocks and other obstacles, definitely not for speed on the asphalt. 
         Cost: Generally range between $300 (entry level) - about $5k.
    Mountain Bike: Made for tough business!

  • Triathlon or TT (Time Trail) - these are the kind of bikes that you see all the professional triathletes using as well as those who have been in the sport for a few years and are ready to start moving up in distance. The tires are skinny like a road bike and are made for road use. The most visible difference are the aerobars instead of handle bars and specifically shaped frame tubing and race wheels (that go whoosh-whoosh-whoosh when flying by). These features are designed to minimize drag, increase speed as well angling your body as such to allow your legs a better chance on that run you have to complete immediately afterwards. 
         Cost:  About $1,200 (entry level) up to $15k (no joke)

Triathlon Bike: Now only if this came in pink....


The most common bikes found in a typical race transition include mountain/hybrid, road and triathlon. As the race distances become longer and more competitive, you will no longer see mountain/hybrids and very few road bikes - mostly all triathlon beasts.

So what does one truly NEED when racing in triathlon? Do you have to go out and drop a huge chunk of money on a triathlon bike? The answer is NO - absolutely not. Are you new to the sport and just trying out triathlon? Are you looking to only race in Sprint distances and focus more on the having fun part vs. the competition? Then by all means use whatever the heck you already have! The bike portion of a sprint distance race is usually about 12 miles. Would I suggest doing 12 miles on a beach cruiser? Not so much. But that mountain or road bike you already have collecting dust in your garage will do the job just fine. Besides, showing up to your local sprint race on a ten thousand dollar, decked out tri bike complete with fancy race wheels is kind of lame. If you can afford a bike that expensive and are willing to shell out that kind of cash, chances are you've been doing this for awhile and are not in the business of intimidating others (specifically beginners) or trying to impress with your fancy gear. There's almost an unspoken rule that you just don't do that.

What about distance? Are you a current triathlete looking to move up to Olympic/ Half Ironman(HIM) distances and would like to focus on improving speed? A road bike is still fine in these situations (I've done an Oly and will be doing my first HIM on my road bike) as there is always the option of adding clip-on aerobars to help get you into a more aerodynamic position. That being said, as you plan on doing multiple HIMs and even get the cray-cray notion of moving up to a full IM (AZ 2015!), looking into purchasing a triathlon bike becomes more of a need. As tri frames are specifically designed to put you in a more forward position where not only are you more aerodynamic on the bike, but you are also putting less emphasis on your quadriceps, thus helping to save more of your legs for the run portion of the race. And that, my friends, is imperative when you still have a full 26.2 miles of marathon to run.


Last but not least is budget. First over all is determining what your budget is prior to shopping. Prices in road/tri bikes tend to increase the more specialized the frame design, weight of the material being used, wheels and fancy, technical advances. Do you really need all those bells and whistles though? Be honest with yourself. The last thing you want to do is run out and spend $5k on a bike that just sits in your garage after doing 1 or 2 triathlons - all that hard earned money could have been better spent on an awesome family vacation!

And last but never least, get your butt into a good local bike shop. Find one that seems to be the most customer oriented so you are never pressured into buying something that you don't need. And yes, it can be intimidating at first but we've all been there. Heck, I still get shy when I visit my tri shop. These guys and gals are there to help figure out what is best suited for your needs though so don't get upset if they ever talk you down from the multi-thousand dollar ledge. And the most important piece of all? Get fitted! The most expensive bike is useless if it doesn't fit you properly. 

Hope I've been able to give those new to the sport a little food for thought when it comes to choosing a bike to ride in your fav new sport of triathlon. There is so much more available out there on the interwebs. Just take your time and do some research before jumping in. You won't regret it!


What do you ride? Road vs Tri?
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