If you’re a multisport athlete, you probably have a bunch of “stuff” that you don’t need, and even more “stuff” you forgot you had that can really help you. The bike is where you spend the most time in a triathlon and is usually the piece of equipment people know least about. Sure, you can do research and ask questions, but do you really know how to confirm or deny what they’re saying or what you’re reading is true? Too often people buy the wrong equipment based on the “I only want to buy it once” principle. So, they do some research, get the most expensive thing they can afford, and later find out they either didn’t need it, or it really doesn’t help in a race setting. As the title suggests, you’ll see all manner of bike setups at triathlons. Long or short, hilly or flat, hot or cold. The only thing that matters is what works for you, however, I highly suggest a simple path to buying your bikes for triathlon. (Yes, you will have more than one. Don’t try and argue.)
Step 1 – First, but not last, bike for you. Go inexpensive and reputable. Why? Mostly b/c you need a bike that can kinda do everything, take a beating, and be easy to sell later. Plus, if you wind up hating cycling, it’s not that big of a loss.
Step 2 – Get a fit. With the money you saved on a bike, you can now get it dialed in. As you grow as a cyclist and get better, your fit will need to be adjusted.
Step 3 – Aerobars and shoes. These two things will make a huge difference in training and racing. Again, get refit and write down what your dimensions are for a “Tri Fit” and “Road Fit”. They will be different. Don’t skimp on the shoes. Just like the bars and pedals, you take these with you to another bike.
Step 4 – Upgrade. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT upgrade parts on your first bike. You’re just throwing money away. Sell that bike and put the money towards a new bike. It’s not worth the trouble unless your a seasoned mechanic, and even then you know it’s more cost effective to buy a whole new bike. I would suggest a really good race road bike or aero road bike. Don’t go straight to a tri bike or else you’re going to have to learn how to bike handle all over again.
Step 5 – Get fit, again. Move over your aerobars, shoes, and pedals. Here is where you may want to think about getting triathlon specific cycling shoes for race day and maybe an aero road helmet like the Giro Air Attack. Keep notes on your position. Maybe a “tri specific” saddle will be useful.
Step 6 – Get a coach. The right bike fit and coach will always help you out more than a super expensive Tri/TT bike.
Step 7 – Your Tri Bike. Before you buy, try to figure out if you really need one. Indicators are usually your run is still suffering no matter how much run training you have, you can’t go any faster and your only being passed by good people on tri bikes, you’re only 4-5 places away form a podium spot, you see yourself doing this for many more years competitively, and the races you enjoy aren’t super technical.
Step 8 – Keep, sell, or upgrade the road bike? That sometimes comes down to finances, but if you can afford it, keep the road bike. It’ll make training and year round riding that much more enjoyable. It’ll also keep you from fiddling around with your fit on either bike. It might also be beneficial to race sometimes on your road bike. Think hilly/technical courses, bad weather, or having to travel with it.
Step 9 – Upgrades. Keep it simple stupid. Unless you’re truly good or just like to geek out on bike tech, there’s no need for that carbon stem cap or spacer. Save your money for another bike later on, or a better race.
Ride on everybody!
(PS – There’s quite a difference between a Tri bike and a TT bike. It has to do with UCI rules and regulations for road races and really none for triathlons. Make sure your bike shop is getting you the right bike for either or. Too many time people spend oodles of money on an “illegal” frame. Oops!)