Bike technology has advanced greatly over the last 20 years,
and so have the prices. A bike that was cutting edge in
1988 would now be considered an antique. But if it was
ridden to championships back in the 80's, is it not at least a decent bike for tri's
today? If you want to beat the more expensive bikes to the
finish line you will likely need one yourself. If your
race is purely with yourself, on the other hand, then a safe and
comfortable bike is the place to start. Below we have
attempted to clear up some of the mystique surrounding bikes,
specifically the features that come into play when the price
starts to go up. The question you'll have to answer is
whether you need the features or will even derive any benefit
out of them. There are some bike salespeople out there
that will do a
great job convincing you that you need this or that
feature and that you will be wasting your money with anything
less. Buyer beware!
What type of bike?
Summary: This is a suitable bike for a short
triathlon and a participant whose goal is simply to finish the
Advantages: Often low cost. Multipurpose: ride it
to the coffee shop and lock it up outside, or use it in a short
tri. A more natural, upright riding position.
Disadvantages: Upright position results in poor
aerodynamics. Flat handle bar limits hand positions which
can lead to stiffness in the upper body. Wide tires create
more rolling resistance. Heavier than road and tri bikes which
can make hills considerably more challenging.
comfort is number one, the more upright the rider's
position, like with a flat handlebar, the more air they're
pushing. This means a great deal of additional energy
being burnt since a high proportion of our effort on a bike goes
to simply slicing through the air. An upright position may
sound comfortable, but it will result in you spending more
energy and being on the course, and in on your saddle, for longer
than you might be if you were in a slightly more aerodynamic position.
If you can, find
an inexpensive road bike with drop handle bars and you'll
definitely be more comfortable overall.
Tips: If you are going to ride
a bike with a flat handlebar in a triathlon or in training, invest in some handle bar ends.
These are small bars that screw into the end of a flat handlebar
and point forward, giving the rider an additional hand position
which can help the upper body to stay more relaxed.
Secondly, ensuring your tires are smooth or 'slick' will make
for a faster and smoother ride on the roads.
Summary: This is the best choice for most recreational
triathletes in our opinion. Improved aerodynamics and
general performance compared to a mountain bike while providing
a more comfortable and versatile ride than a tri bike.
Road vs Mountain:
A road bike allows for much improved aerodynamics, less rolling
resistance due to narrower tires, lighter weight (easier on
hills), and typically a stiffer frame that makes the bike more
responsive. The disadvantages are that a road bike is not
designed for off-road riding and the more aerodynamic position
takes a little getting used to.
Summary: While a road frame typically has a
seat tube angle of 71-73 degrees, a tri bike is usually between
74-79. The steeper angled seat tube of a tri bike
acts to rotate the rider's hips forward, allowing the shoulders
lower into an aerodynamic position without sacrificing much
Tri vs Road: The more aero position is a huge benefit
when riding in a time trial format race (ie you vs the clock).
This is a thoroughbred though, so don't expect to be able to go
for a ride with your buddy and his mountain bike. A tri bike is
built for speed and does not feel all that comfortable going at a
leisurely pace, making is the least versatile choice. The
steeper seat tube also typically shortens the wheel base of a
tri bike, bringing the rear wheel closer to the saddle.
This means the frame absorbs less of the bumps, making for a
rougher ride. A road bike is more comfortable, versatile and
handles more easily than a tri bike and that is why we recommend
it to most recreational athletes. On the other hand, if
you have the money and can find the right fit, nothing will give
you a faster ride than a tri bike, so go for it!
New vs Used
You have a choice: learn all you can and then go looking for a
deal on a used bike or rely on the expertise at a bike shop to
find you the appropriate new model. Either way, do your
homework and make sure any bike you buy fits you
well. Here is an excellent guide to
fitting a bike written by an
expert in the field. Read it before you go shopping!
tubes, chain stays, seat stays, forks)
Materials (listed from most basic to advanced): steel, chro-moly
(a steel alloy), aluminum, carbon, titanium
Comments: The more advanced (and expensive) materials generally
give you a lighter and more responsive frame.
Manufacturers will often combine materials on a bike.
For example, it is common to have an aluminum frame with
brakes, derailleurs, cassette, hubs, bottom bracket
including chain rings, chain
Product Lines: The majority of road and tri
bikes have either Shimano or Campagnolo groups.
Here are the most common sets in the respective product lines in order from
least to most expensive:
- Shimano: Sora, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra, Dura Ace
- Campagnolo: Xenon, Mirage, Veloce, Centaur, Chorus,
Comments: The principle difference as the price
goes up is that the weight of the group sets comes down.
The quality of engineering is said to also increase.
The big question is whether a recreational rider will
ever notice a practical difference between them.
Be careful not to be oversold. For example, having
the shifters incorporated in the brakes was a
development principally aimed at those that ride in
tight groups so they could shift quickly. If you
don't ride in groups a lot then will you derive
sufficient benefit to justify the big jump in cost?
Will you be better of with shifters on the down tube?
The average rider can stick with the wheels their bike
comes with. More serious athletes will invest in
racing wheels that provide such upgrades as: increased
durability, smoother ride,
increased responsiveness, better hubs.
Get a durable tire to minimize the chance of flats.
Other features available include tires with better
traction/handling, less rolling resistance and lighter
weight. A tire that uses a separate tube is called
a clincher and is by far the most common choice of the
recreational athlete. A more common option at the
advanced level is tubular tires, a once piece time that
includes tire and tube.
Basic drop handle bars (classic 10-speed style) are all
you really need. Once you've got a few tri's under
your belt though, we recommend considering aero-bars as
they help you to stay in a more aerodynamic position
and, once you're accustomed to them, make for a less
tiring ride for the arms and shoulders. The fit is
the key element here; make sure they allow you to be in
correct position on the bike. There are many
different designs and materials but here again strength
and light weight are key selling features.
You'll probably be fine with the saddle that comes on
your bike. If you're looking to upgrade, after
comfort, the key features include weight, aerodynamics
Again, the one that comes with you bike will likely be
fine providing it is long enough to ensure proper fit.
More serious triathletes may upgrade to a seat post that
might be made of a lighter/stronger material and feature
a more aerodynamic design.
We highly recommend having at least baskets on your
pedals which will help to ensure your foot doesn't slip
off the pedal. Clipless pedals, which fasten the
bottom of your cycling shoe to the top of the pedal are
considerably more efficient and, once you are practiced
at unclipping them, safer than baskets. There are
numerous brands but the two most common systems are SPD
by Shimano and the Look system. Variables to
platform size, ease of
use, float (pedal may allow a little lateral movement
instead of holding firm), leverage, stability/rigidity, weight,
durability (bearings), and tension adjustment