by Carrie Barrett, USAT Certified Coach - Photo by Russ Lowthian, HaveFunBiking.com
The sport of triathlon intrigued me from the get-go. I said "yes" to my first race without hesitation, suffering only from registration remorse when I realized that I had to go buy a real bike. And learn how to ride it.
On my first trip to the bike shop, like most beginners, I had no idea what I was looking for—so I brought a triathlete buddy along to help navigate the waters and ask the right questions. Still, I bought the road bike that looked the prettiest and fit within my post-college budget. Then I proceeded to trick it out tri-style with clip-on bars, a bento box and plenty of other accessories that turned my slick aluminum ride into a 30-pound tank.
It's been many years since then and now I devote a lot of my time to helping beginners go through the same process that I refer to as the “Four C’s” of buying a bike.
Comfort is "king"
When you walk into the bike shop, have a professional take your measurements and test your flexibility. Talk with them about the type of riding you plan to do and ask plenty of questions. A good shop will recommend bikes suited to your frame and interests. Instead of buying the bike that looks the best, buy the bike that fits you. Most shops will let you test bikes out on the road, so take advantage.
The next question is whether to get a road bike or a triathlon specific (TT) bike. If you want to do charity rides, longer group rides and recreational cycling along with some triathlons, a road bike is the way to go. They are built for comfort since you sit more upright and farther back on the saddle. Road bikes are also versatile: you can add clip-on aerobars and have some adjustments made to make your bike more aero.
Triathlon bikes, with steeper angles and aerodynamic positioning, are built for speed and cutting through wind. You are more forward on the saddle, which can be tough to get used to for new riders. It’s also more difficult to maneuver in group rides since the brakes and gear shifters are located out on the aerobars. They are also much less versatile than road bikes. Either way, have a bike fit done by a professional at your bike shop to ensure you are in the right position.
[Tip: You can be fast and powerful regardless of what bike you choose. It boils down to comfort and the type of riding you plan to pursue.]
I recommend that beginners purchase the highest-quality bike they can afford. Yes, that sometimes means the more expensive bike, but it will save money on future upgrades. A higher quality bike means better feel, lighter weight, and higher performance. Aluminum and steel frames (approximately $500-$1,000 for entry level) are durable, sturdy and less expensive than carbon frames. They are a great option for the budget-conscious beginner cyclist. Carbon fiber components and frames are lighter and tend to absorb more road vibration, making for a smoother ride. Another economic option is to look at bikes with a combination of aluminum and carbon materials.
[Tip: Buy a bike within your budget that feels good and fits you well. Remember, you'll have to add accessories like a helmet, pedals, tubes, shoes and apparel to your bottom line.]
How much you should spend and what type of bike you should buy will be influenced by whether you’re a weekend warrior or plan to be a competitive IRONMAN athlete set on bagging faster times. Assess your level of commitment to cycling and what you want from the sport. Like most, I knew I wanted to complete sprint triathlons and some weekend recreational riding, but I didn't have grand visions of riding the Tour de France. I wasn't concerned about speed as much as I was about having fun and being safe. That first aluminum road bike served me well for triathlons, multi-day and charity rides. After several years, I knew I was hooked and ready to upgrade to a full carbon tri bike. My sprint triathlons grew into IRONMANs and I began to train, not just ride.
At this point, I had learned a lot through racing and training. I asked questions. I test rode different brands. I sought out bikes that suited my petite frame. I stared at the myriad selection of bikes in transition on race day. It wasn't until I knew I was fully committed that I sought out top-of-the line materials and components.
[Tip: Before you spend thousands of dollars on the fanciest bike, be sure you are committed to riding.]
Buying a new bike is exciting, but brings with it a new set of equipment and rules that can be overwhelming as a beginner.
Your knowledge and experience will also determine the type of bike you purchase.
Does the idea of riding in a pack frighten you? Have you practiced clipping in and out of your pedals? Are you comfortable in aero bars? Do you know how to change a flat? Can you maneuver gears for climbing and descending? These are some of the factors to consider when deciding on a bike. Competence builds confidence. It's true that you may never forget how to ride a bike, but you do lose confidence if you haven't done it in a long time. Buy the bike that makes you feel safe. If the idea of riding in aerobars scares you, don't start with a tri bike. If you're nervous about hill climbs, look at bikes that provide more gearing.
[Tip: Buy the bike that will make you the most confident rider you can be. A well-fit bike will eliminate other distractions and allow you to hit the road and enjoy the ride.]
Carrie Barrett is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach and freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. This article was originally from: http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/news/articles/06/how-to-buy-a-bike.aspx#ixzz2e4hkudg2