In the words of Coach Todd Codish
When it comes to using a bike for a triathlon, there is not that much of a real mandate. Now, there are reasons that you should consider NOT buying a Wal-Mart bike or a Toys”R”Us bike, but it doesn’t mean you can’t use them. It is important that the components – shifters, brakes, bearings, all the functional working parts – have integrity and work well. The more inexpensive components are more likely NOT going to shift properly or the brakes may rub, etc. They are also heavier and made with less technological advancements than the better components.
So, now that we understand components, let’s talk about the frame. The frame is the part of the bike that we sit on. It consists of different tubes that make up the frame, called the top tube, seat tube, down tube and the chain stays and seat stays.
Frames are made of different materials such as steel, aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber, and are all different in price and characteristics. The original material was steel, but the most common these days is probably aluminum. Carbon fiber and titanium are the most expensive.
Let’s go over the differences.
Steel: Great value, good to great ride (or feel on the road). Also, very hard to find with the price of aluminum. There are different grades of steel tubing, so the cost can get up there.
Aluminum: This is the lightest, affordable material. Thin walls on the tubing make this light and inexpensive. BUT, the caveat is that the large diameter of the tubing makes this bike very stiff and the ride sometimes rough. You will feel what the road has to give. Another note though, stiff is good for being fast! It’s just not always as comfortable.
Titanium: The ‘other’ metal. It is expensive and stiff, but it has better quality of ride than plain steel or aluminum. It’s tough and light.
Carbon Fiber: This is a man-made material originally used for the aircraft industry. A blend of carbon, graphite, Kevlar and ceramic. Very light with a very forgiving ride, but expensive. The tubes are more often shaped (not round).
Now let’s talk about ROAD, MOUNTAIN and TRIATHLON bikes. Which do you want/need?
A mountain bike is typically heavier and has a position that is undesirable for the best aerodynamics (handlebars that are straight requiring you to sit upright in a less than optimal position). The tires of a mountain bike are usually always knobby for traction and can offer too much resistance for trying to go fast on concrete of smooth surfaces. However, you can change out the tires and use a slick tire for the triathlon.
Road bike. A lot of the best triathletes in the world have been training on road bikes and racing on triathlon bikes the last few years. My thoughts are that the one that is the most comfortable is the one to use for training and the fastest one you race. The position on a triathlon bike is the best aerodynamic position you can have, as you, the rider, are the biggest aerodynamic deficit on a bike.
Triathlon bike. Tri bikes are the optimal position for riding. The best, aerodynamically. Aerobars are typically the biggest difference, but the geometry of the frame is different as well. Shifters and brake levers are positioned for ease of use on a triathlon bike. Again, I would go with which one is the most comfortable, fits your budget and is suitable for your triathlon or riding goals.
Other ways that you may configure a bike is to use clip-on aerobars on a road bike or mountain bike. A lot of folks start out that way to get used to or even to see if they want to use the aerobar set up. Aerobars allow you to lean down on your forearms to ride, reducing the height of your body into the wind and thus the amount of air that the body catches while riding.
A quick word about components. The make and model of components vary. Just like Chevy makes all types of cars and vehicles, they are not all the same, some better, some lesser (as we talked about earlier). Shimano, the most popular brand on the majority of U.S. bikes, makes a number of models or types of Shimano components – Durace, Ultegra, 101, Tiagra, Sora and so on. The only other companies that makes any worthwhile components is SRAM and Campagnolo. Campy, as it is often referred as, is an old favorite of a lot of cyclists. Used a lot more in Europe these days than in the U.S., it is a high quality company producing good parts. Campy also offer lesser models or types.
The amount of money you spend should depend on a few things: your budget, your goals and what you intend on using your bike for.
Most people do not KNOW that they want to do IRONMAN in two years or that they will love the sport and continue before they ever buy a bike. Used bikes makes it harder to get the correct bike, if you do not know your size and possible stem/seat post changes you may have to make for that size of bike. Buying online is not a bad thing, but you can get the wool pulled over your eyes (or cheated) or fitted with a bike that is not configured properly for you. Make sure that you know the size of bike you are looking for and remember that bicycle manufacturers measure their bikes differently, so one size can vary (albeit rather minor) from one bike company to another.
Having said that, the basic road bike set up will run from $500-700 for a brand new bike. That will of course, vary from store to store and time of year. Road bikes can run $4,000 to $10,000! So there are quite a few ranges you can buy. A beginner triathlon bike can run from $1,200 to $3,000. Of course you can go $9,000 there easily. Mountain bikes are less, but also get expensive. Again, if you only want to have a bike for the race and then race mountain bikes, that would be a perfect situation to buy a mountain bike. They range from $400 and up.
Additional items that you may want to purchase include a helmet, bike shoes (do not have to have, but you should highly consider it) glasses, gloves and a cycling computer (called a cyclometer).
Inspect Your Bike
Make sure that you inspect your bike prior to riding. A wreck on a bike can kill you (and cause some serious damage to your bike!). Check at least these things before you ride:
- Tires. Make sure that your tires are properly inflated! A high-pressure tire can lose as much as 7-8 lbs of air overnight! The proper tire pressure can be found on the sidewall of your tire. Also check for excessive wear on the tread.
- Wheels. Make certain that your wheels are true or do not have wobble to them. Hold your bike so that you can spin the wheel freely and as it rotates, make certain it does not wobble from side to side excessively.
- Brakes. Very important! Simply pull on each of your brake levers to make sure the pads are in contact with the braking surface of the wheel. Also check that the brakes do not rub against the wheel to impede normal operation.
- Quick release skewers, bars, stem. Check to make sure there is no movement in any of these areas. Be sure not to strip out or over tighten bolts. Over tightening can strip the threads of a fastener and render it useless.
- Lube. Is your chain lubed up? How about cables and pedals? Not having your chain lubricated is one of the biggest factors in slowing you down!
One must-have is the FLAT KIT. This is a small bag that hangs off of the seat (saddle) rails and contains the equipment to change a flat tire including an extra tube, patch or tubular tire (one which has no tube, but is a one piece tire and tube glued onto the rim, called ‘sew ups’ or tubulars). The flat kit also contains either a small hand pump or the more popular C02 cartridges with adapter to fill the tires, tire levers to help remove and replace the tire. Buy this stuff at the time you take delivery of your bike, do not ride without one! Please note, if you are flying to an event you are NOT allowed to pack C02 cartridges on the airplane.
Lastly, a couple of definitions that will help you learn how to shift your gears.
Cadence– Cadence represents the number of revolutions, or RPMs that you turn your pedals at. You should try to keep higher RPMs while cycling on the flats. (‘spinning’ refers to high cadence usually)
Chain ring– Chain rings are the front ‘cogs’ of your bicycle. These are shifted with the LEFT shifter on the handlebars.
Gears– The gears are the rear ‘cogs’ of your bicycle. These are shifted with the RIGHT shifter on the handlebars.