So, this is the most expensive discipline and people can get carried away. Please pay attention to what I have listed here. You’ll thank me.
What You Need:
Bike – Yup. Makes complete sense, but people always go about the process of getting one wrong. This will no doubt be the most expensive purchase you make when it comes to training and racing, so it’s important to get it right. It doesn’t matter if you need a road bike, commuter, mountain bike, or tri bike, DO NOT go to a Dick’s, Sport’s Authority, Kmart, or Walmart to buy a bike. Why? Mostly because the person working that department usually doesn’t have enough bike shop experience to really help you get into the right bike. As far as the bikes go, you can occasionally find a decent buy at one of these retailers, but again, it may be far from what you actually need. Go to a local bike shop and get fitted. In fact, go to a bunch of shops and just keep trying different brands and frames out until you find one that fits you, your needs, and your budget. Most shops carry bikes anywhere from $300 to $5,000. Here’s a word of advice if you’re just starting out and you really get into it, you’ll probably outgrow the first bike you buy within a year. That’s just another reason why you don’t need to spend $2,000 on your first bike. For those with a boatload of disposable income, don’t make the mistake of just buying the most expensive bike in the shop. It’ll usually be too light, too twitchy, too stiff, too fragile, and too hard a ride.
Helmet – Don’t be stupid and act tough by wearing a cycling cap. They are meant to be worn under helmets and NOT instead of them. Try to find a helmet that fits, is comfortable, and has good ventilation. The $50 helmet will work just as well as a $500 helmet. All helmets need to pass US safety regulations, so they all provide adequate protection. Wear this on every ride, even if it’s just down the block to the local store and back.
ID – Just like with running, have some form of ID on you. I have a Road ID bracelet, but you can use and ankle wrap, card in pocket, or many helmets have an area inside to list information. Just have something that can speak for you when you can’t speak for yourself.
Bright Colors/Reflectors/Lights – Doesn’t matter what time of day it is, just have something to make those around you aware of your presence. Unlike running, biking usually takes place on the road. I also keep a bell on my touring bike to ring at intersections just as another way to present myself to traffic.
Biking Shorts – Yes, spandex can sometimes be necessary. You can have bike shorts, padded underwear, bib shorts, knickers, tights, pants, or a combination of any and all depending on weather. Either way, these will help pad your butt and protect your valuable parts, as well as help you acclimate to the bike seat and position.
Anti-chafe – You’ll want some type of anti-friction lotion, ointment, cream, or spray to allow you to stay in that saddle longer and more comfortably. Depending on event needs, you may need something to be water proof, water based, etc. Try a bunch and figure out what works for you. These products have some of the best names.
Sunglasses – These will not only help with sunshine and glare, but also headlights, wind, and debris. You don’t need the darkest shades in the world, but preferably something light with good airflow. You’ll also want to try these on with your helmet to make sure of fit. I would suggest getting a pair with some type of polarization and impact resistant lenses.
Bike Fit – It’ll cost you around $75, but it’ll make all the difference in getting you in the right position to be the most productive. Sometimes the shop you buy the bike from will give you a free fitting at time of purchase.
Bike Pump – Get a floor pump to keep your tires at the right pressure.
What You Might Want
Pedals – A nice set of clip-in pedals can make all the difference in the world when it comes to producing the maximum amount of force to apply. There are many different types of pedals and it’s hard to say which is best. They all work a little differently when it comes to clipping in and out. They also utilize different types of cleats which may make walking about easier or harder. Some also need a lot more maintenance than others. Price is usually in line with materials and weight. You’ll see this happen a lot with bike parts. Again, ask your bike fitter or bike shop.
Shoes – These are the second half of the pedal puzzle. You’ll want to find a pair that is stiff, fits comfortably, and can take a beating. Depending on event, there are other factors to take into account. If you want to also use them for triathlons/duathlons, they must be easy to get on and off while clipped in, fit snugly enough without socks, and be comfortable with wet bare feet. Most people have a training pair and a racing pair of shoes.
Socks – Yes, this may seem silly, but cycling socks are different than regular socks. These are usually thinner and highly breathable. I would suggest having two or three pairs, and at least one wool pair for winter riding. They come in different lengths and sizes, so get the right one. They can also be a cheap way of adding flare to your kit.
Gloves – You will want a pair of gloves that do not impede your mobility, allow the hand to breathe, and provide padding for your palm. You can get full length, winter, aero, and even heated gloves as well. Gloves usually last a few seasons, but will eventually stretch out and get too dirty. Gloves can also save your hands in a fall and help you wipe a running nose in colder temps.
Jersey – After you get a bunch of rides in, you’ll know why a jersey can be helpful. They are highly breathable, form fitting, longer in the back and shorter in the front, have pockets in the back, and dry out quickly. There are sleeveless, tritops, long sleeve, short sleeve, and winter/thermal jerseys. Just like with bike shorts, try layering for different weather. Those tech tees you get at races are a great undergarment. Make sure the jersey allows you to breathe deeply, has deep back pockets, and fits snugly not to add any extra drag. Best to wear something that’s very bright and doesn’t have a specific bike brand written all over it. I know it sounds funny, but cycling clothing will usually outlast your bike.
Bike Computer – These can be wired, wireless, Ant+, bluetooth, do speed, cadence, altitude, power, heart rate, gps, and a whole slew of other metrics. You can even use your iPhone now with certain wireless sensors. Find something that fits your budget and is positioned somewhere that you can read it on the bike. If you use a trainer during the winter, it may be worth using a computer that attaches to the rear wheel and not the front. If you do go the iPhone route, there are a bunch of apps and websites you can use to track your progress and or compete against others.
Water Bottle Cage – They come in all shapes, colors, materials, etc. A carbon cage at $50 may not help you anymore than a $5 aluminum cage. As far as bottles go, be ready to throw some out after a while. There’s no need to go out and buy the high end ones. You can find water bottle holders that fit on the frame, on the handlebars, behind the seat, and even in a pack. Just remember to bring enough water for your trip.
Bike Bag – You’ll want something to carry extra tubes, bike levers, a mini tool, money, CO2, your phone, etc. If you’re a commuter, then a good back pack or saddle bag/pannier might be of use. Some people go to far with bags and carrying extra stuff they don’t need. You don’t need a bento bag stuffed to the gills with extra gels for a quick 30min ride. Also, DO NOT get one of those mini pumps for your road bike if you don’t go on really long trips. They cannot fill your tire up to the right pressure and you’ll be on the side of the road for far too long. Mountain biking is a different story. Just carry a couple CO2 canisters in your bag.
Bike Rack/Hanger – You need some way to hang your bike. Leaving a bike resting on its tires is a very quick way to ruin your tires/tubes.
What You Probably Don’t Need, But Might:
Race Bike – Most race bikes are built differently than training bikes. They’re usually very stiff, very light, and very fragile. You may also need a different fit based on sport.
Race Wheels – Just like a separate race bike, a spare set of race wheels can also allow you to swap those out with a training set, but again they are usually very stiff, light, and fragile which makes them not a good choice for training. Be careful though because race wheels can be extremely expensive with very little return in speed, aerodynamics, and power savings. Deep rimmed wheels and disc wheels can also be hard to control in windy conditions and not useful for every race.
Tires/Tubes – Training and racing tires can be very different. Training tires are usually built for miles in all conditions. Race tires are usually light weight with low rolling resistance and very little durability. Again, be careful because if it’s a rainy race day or the roads are horrible, you’ll want something that can hold up to the torture.
Saddle – There are saddles with different purposes, but usually it comes down to fit and not necessarily the seat. There are tri-specific seats that allow for greater freedom of fit and more nose padding for a more comfortable ride in the aero position.
Aerobars – You can easily turn a road bike into a triathlon capable bike by adding a pair of clip on aerobars. You’ll want to get fitted properly for these, so go back to your bike shop with your bike when you buy. Just make sure they’ll fit your bars. As for tri specific bikes, find a good set that allows some room for adjustment because different length races may have you use a different position.
Arm/Leg Warmers – These can help with turning a regular pair of shorts and jersey into something a little more protective for cool morning rides that you can strip off easily when it heats up later.
Bike Jacket/Vest – Vests tend to be more useful than jackets. These will help you in windy conditions, but make sure you get one that fits right and doesn’t turn your body into a sail. If there’s a chance of rain, get a packable rain jacket. If it’s extremely cold out, then an insulated jacket can be useful, but you don’t want something that’ll make you too hot that you can’t take off.
Shoe/Toe Covers – Just like arm warmers, these will keep your feet warmer and dryer for longer. Toe covers are good down to about 40F and then shoe covers for lower temps. Shoe covers are also good for wet weather riding. If you do time trials, you can find aero shoe covers.
Aero Helmet – It is said that the right aero helmet can save you more drag than aero wheels and tri-bikes combined. This will give you the most aero bang for your buck. Some have built in visors and might cover your ears, so it may limit your sight and or hearing. They can also be very hot, so find one that has good ventilation.
Carbon Fiber/Titanium – For you weight weenies, this may be tipping point, but carbon fiber doesn’t always make things better. Just ask anybody with a steel frame bike. Yes, you may save a few GRAMS of weight, but you’ll pay for it. Carbon fiber can make your ride more comfortable and lighter, but if it gets damaged it’s done. There are very few places that can repair a carbon frame or part.
Group Sets – This is a fancy way of saying the components. Shimano, Sram, Campagnolo and others have many different levels to their components. There can be a very noticeable difference in shifting/braking feel and reliability between some levels, but not others. Unless you’re piecing together a bike, just leave what’s on the bike you have and change it up once you buy a new frame or bike. Most sets only work within their brand, so be careful. The new thing that Shimano is pushing is their electric Di2 and Ultegra group sets. These are very expensive, but really awesome.
Cap/Headband – Great for cooler rides and keeping sweat out of your face.
Brake Pads – Most people don’t need to change these out until they’re worn out, but there are companies that make brakes for all year/condition training that do make a difference.
Maps – You can travel farther on a bike than on your feet, so you may find yourself lost every so often. Smartphones help out, but a map can be something useful for longer training rides. Make sure you review the course and ride it if you can before every race. Too many times the entire route isn’t labeled very clearly.
Group Rides – These can be great for longer base building or recovery rides, but every group has their own dynamic. They tend to not really like people with tri-bikes. Now, just ride with a bunch of groups to find one that you fit in with. Some groups may have breakouts, A/B/C level rides, no drops, etc. Learn the hand signals.
Music – Ok, the reason it’s in the probably not section here and was in the want section in running is because how dangerous this can be. Remember, unlike running, you’re probably always on a road with traffic and obstacles. I do ride with music, but at a low volume with only one ear in. NEVER listen to music while in a group.