With all the conflicting information available it is likely that in the past you have either purchased the wrong bike or spent over your budget. Now you regret your new purchase or at least know someone who has had this experience.
Having been in the cycling industry for over 20 years, firstly as an elite athlete and now working in the wholesale and retail sections of the industry, I have seen and heard all kinds of horror stories from women and men buying their first bike or upgrading to the next best thing.
We are living in an age where access to information is almost infinite, which can be a great help but can also be a hindrance. How do you sort through it all and find what’s best for you? Your riding buddies might know a lot about cycling but they are not necessarily experts and will not always know what’s best for you. Most of the time the staff at your local bicycle shop will be in a better position to determine what best suits your needs, although this is not always the case. Apologies to my fellow bicycle salespeople, but there are shops out there that are just trying to sell you a bike – it doesn’t matter if it’s the right bike for you, they just want to sell it and get you out the door.
Something as simple as purchasing your first bike can turn out to be a difficult experience, so here are a few things to remember as you search for your perfect ride.
Find A Reputable Bike Shop
A good place to start is to find a store that is familiar with triathlon, or at least has a staff member who knows what it involves. Not everyone understands the process of riding 180km and then having to get off and run a marathon! Having someone who understands this will mean you receive better information and suggestions specific to your needs. There are triathlon specific or “triathlon friendly” stores in every state that can help with your purchase.
As a sales assistant I have a few standard questions I ask anyone who comes in to purchase a bike:
1. What sort of riding are you going to be doing?
2. How often are you planning on riding each week?
3. What is the maximum amount you are willing to spend?
The answers to these questions give me a place to start. I can then show cyclists bikes that are specific to their needs, the amount of time they’ll be spending in the saddle, and the big one – how much it costs.
Choosing a frame
The most important part of buying a bike is making sure it is the right size for you. Most bicycle shops have at least one capable staff member who can properly fit you to your bike. There are also many different bike fit systems available on the market that will help you get a scientific or measured fit to your bike. This can be expensive, but the money you save on getting the correct fit could save you minutes off your overall bike time and make it easier to run off the bike, especially in longer distance events.
Carbon or Alloy?
There are benefits to both options. Carbon fibre is lightweight, strong and extremely nice to ride, but it can be expensive. A major benefit to the carbon frame is its absorption factor. Carbon fibre is like having suspension on your bike! The vibration that comes up through the bike when you are out riding can leave your body tired and sore after a long ride, especially on bad roads, but the great thing about carbon fibre is it absorbs these vibrations so less actually make it through to your body which means that your body will be less fatigued at the end of a long day out on the road and you will have had a much more comfortable ride.
Alloy is also light, strong and nice to ride. Most aluminium frames will come with a Carbon Fibre Fork which helps lower the overall weight but also gives the bike that absorption effect – you will certainly feel the difference in your upper body at the end of a long ride. Aluminium frames are great for first bikes and can allow you to get into the sport without costing you an arm and a leg.
You should look for the best component kit that your budget allows. High level components will offer you better value for money than buying an expensive carbon frame with lower level components on it. Higher level components feel nice to ride, are generally lighter in weight and tend to last longer. This level of bike will also more than likely have a better quality wheelset, which is one of the most important parts of your bike. A higher quality wheelset has better bearings which will make the wheel roll easier, which means a little less effort on your part. To make a bike faster we upgrade the wheels first, so try to get the best wheels your budget can afford.
Time Trial Bikes
Finally, when should you buy a Time Trial (TT) specific bike? The answer may be never. TT bikes may be aerodynamically faster for some people, but not for everyone. TT bikes are generally much lower in the front of the bike, meaning you need to be more flexible to be comfortable in the aero position. A traditional road bike set up in an aero position that is comfortable and has been fitted specifically for you will be much faster on race day than a TT bike that is uncomfortable and doesn’t suit you. This takes us back to the importance of bike fit mentioned earlier in this article – your bike specialist will be able to tell you if you’re suited to a specific TT frame or not.
Here are some terms you may come across:
Drive Train – Refers to your gears (chain, cassette and cranks)
Components – The mechanical parts of the bike, i.e. brakes, gears, etc. The main component brands are Shimano, Campagnolo and Sram
Aero Bars – Handlebar extensions for achieving a more comfortable and aerodynamic position
Bar End Shifters – Shift levers located at the end of your aero bars, these allow you to change gears in the aero position
Tri Shoes – Triathlon specific shoes for quicker transitions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the staff at your local bike shop. This is something we girls excel at – we want to know how and why, not just be told what. Happy Shopping!