Are you new to triathlon and need a bike? Are you looking to upgrade your bike? Are you wondering what you need?
This guide will help you purchase your first bike and give you ideas of how you can upgrade later.
Let's give you the conclusion first. You can read as much detail as you'd like. :)
For your first bike we recommend a road bike (aluminum) with a Shimano 105 groupset. This will cost between $1000 - 2000 brand new, will be relatively light, ride great, and last you many years.
For your second bike or an upgrade of your current bike you can move to a tri bike, or move to a Shimano Ultegra groupset, or better wheels, or a carbon frame, or electronic shifting.
The 3 Most Important Tips
No matter which bike you will select, you must do 3 things. First, determine which size bike you need. Frames will come in different sizes - either S, M, L, XL or something with numbers e.g. 51cm, 53cm, 55cm, etc. Most decent bike shops will first determine which size you need.
Second, test ride different bikes from different manufacturers. All models are designed slightly differently and ride differently. So, test ride, test ride, test ride.
Finally, once you purchase your bike, you will then need to get a proper bike fit. Ask other cyclists in your area where is the best place to get a fit. The fit fits the bike to you and your flexibility and comfort levels. Maybe the handlebars should be 1cm higher. Maybe the saddle should be 5mm lower. Maybe you have really tight hip flexors and need to adjust the seat height and distance from the handlebars. No matter your situation, getting the bike fit to you is absolutely critical! If you aren't comfortable riding your bike, you won't ride it.
What style bike do I need?
There are 3 different options when looking at the type of bike to purchase.
The first is your regular road bike. This is what everyone is familiar with and is most versatile. It's great for riding hills, the flats, down hill, and technical routes with many corners. It can also be used when riding with other cyclists in close proximity (1-5 ft.).
Triathlon (Tri) Bike
The second type of bike is a dedicated tri bike. This is designed to be ridden on flat roads with slight climbs/descents and very few corners. It is not safe to use when riding in close proximity (1-5 ft.) to other cyclists. The geometry of this bike allows the rider to avoid the wind and thus go faster using the same effort.
Road Bike with Triathlon Aerobar Extensions
The third is your regular road bike with aerobar extensions. This is a nice compromise between the other 2 types. It allows the rider to ride all types of roads, ride in close proximity to other cyclists, and stay out of the wind when riding alone. Of course, their's a downside... When riding down in the aerobars, the rider might be uncomfortable after a period of time. This is due to the geometry and the way your body is interacting with the saddle and the aerobars.
We recommend going with a road bike for your first bike.
What material frame do I need?
All 3 types of bikes come in 2 material types - aluminum and carbon fiber. They actually come in other materials, but the overwhelming majority of serious cyclists don't use them.
Aluminum is a strong and forgiving material. It can be quite light. If you crash and put some dings in the frame, you can still ride the bike. But please, get it checked by a qualified bike mechanic to make sure the dings won't ruin the structural integrity. In general, less expensive bikes come in aluminum.
Carbon Fiber is a strong material that is extremely light. However, if you ding the material, it will probably crack instead of creating a dent. If you have any cracks you won't be able to use the frame anymore. Most expensive bikes use carbon as much as possible.
We recommend going with an aluminum frame for your first bike.
What components do I need?
You might be asking what are the components? We are talking about the brakes, the gear shifters, the derailleurs that actually shift the gears and other small components.
There are 3 major brands that sell bike components. They are Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo with Shimano being the most popular. Each manufacturer comes with many different lines. Each line will get lighter and work more smoothly with each price increase. Here's the manufacturer breakdown.
Actually, there are usually cheaper lines of components. These are lower quality and should be avoided if you want a nice entry level set of components.
We recommend going with the Shimano 105 or SRAM Rival for your first bike.
What type of wheels do I need?
As with everything else, wheels come in different types and different price levels. Wheels usually come in 2 types - aluminum and carbon fiber. Some wheels come with both materials. Aluminum is more rugged but weighs more. Carbon is lighter but costs more.
Once you determine which material you want for your wheel, you will then need to consider which material you want for the braking surface. Aluminum is much better for stopping quickly. You can hold the brakes tight. But, the carbon surface doesn't stop as quickly. If you continually hold the brakes tight, while stopping from a fast speed, you might warp the carbon surface as it heats up.
The final thing to consider is how deep of a rim you want. The deeper the rim the more aerodynamic (i.e. faster) it is when going against or with a direct wind. A crosswind might make it more difficult to control.
You can see the difference between braking surfaces and rim thickness in the picture below.
We recommend the standard wheel that comes with your bike for your first bike.
What brand manufacturer is best? Which bike should I buy?
There are several (10+) manufacturers. 95% of them or more are just great. If you look at the 20+ professional teams that ride in the Tour de France, you will see each one uses a different manufacturer. The manufacturer doesn't matter, so don't worry about it. Go to at least 2 different bike shops near you to try out different models.
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