Equipment Guide - Bikes
Bike technology has advanced greatly over the last 20 years, and so have the prices.  A bike that was cutting edge in 1988 would now be considered an antique.  But if it was ridden to championships back in the 80's, is it not at least a decent bike for tri's today?  If you want to beat the more expensive bikes to the finish line you will likely need one yourself.  If your race is purely with yourself, on the other hand, then a safe and comfortable bike is the place to start.  Below we have attempted to clear up some of the mystique surrounding bikes, specifically the features that come into play when the price starts to go up.  The question you'll have to answer is whether you need the features or will even derive any benefit out of them.  There are some bike salespeople out there that will do a great job convincing you that you need this or that feature and that you will be wasting your money with anything less.  Buyer beware!

What type of bike?
Mountain Bike/Hybrid
Summary: This is a suitable bike for a short triathlon and a participant whose goal is simply to finish the race.
Advantages: Often low cost.  Multipurpose: ride it to the coffee shop and lock it up outside, or use it in a short tri.  A more natural, upright riding position.
Disadvantages: Upright position results in poor aerodynamics.  Flat handle bar limits hand positions which can lead to stiffness in the upper body.  Wide tires create more rolling resistance. Heavier than road and tri bikes which can make hills considerably more challenging.
Comments: While comfort is number one, the more upright the rider's position, like with a flat handlebar, the more air they're pushing.  This means a great deal of additional energy being burnt since a high proportion of our effort on a bike goes to simply slicing through the air.  An upright position may sound comfortable, but it will result in you spending more energy and being on the course, and in on your saddle, for longer than you might be if you were in a slightly more aerodynamic position.  If you can, find an inexpensive road bike with drop handle bars and you'll definitely be more comfortable overall. 

Tips: If you are going to ride a bike with a flat handlebar in a triathlon or in training, invest in some handle bar ends.  These are small bars that screw into the end of a flat handlebar and point forward, giving the rider an additional hand position which can help the upper body to stay more relaxed.  Secondly, ensuring your tires are smooth or 'slick' will make for a faster and smoother ride on the roads.

Road Bike
Summary: This is the best choice for most recreational triathletes in our opinion.  Improved aerodynamics and general performance compared to a mountain bike while providing a more comfortable and versatile ride than a tri bike.
Road vs Mountain:
A road bike allows for much improved aerodynamics, less rolling resistance due to narrower tires, lighter weight (easier on hills), and typically a stiffer frame that makes the bike more responsive.  The disadvantages are that a road bike is not designed for off-road riding and the more aerodynamic position takes a little getting used to. 

Tri Bike
Summary:  While a road frame typically has a seat tube angle of 71-73 degrees, a tri bike is usually between 74-79.  The steeper angled seat tube of a tri bike acts to rotate the rider's hips forward, allowing the shoulders lower into an aerodynamic position without sacrificing much power.
Tri vs Road: The more aero position is a huge benefit when riding in a time trial format race (ie you vs the clock).  This is a thoroughbred though, so don't expect to be able to go for a ride with your buddy and his mountain bike.  A tri bike is built for speed and does not feel all that comfortable going at a leisurely pace, making is the least versatile choice.  The steeper seat tube also typically shortens the wheel base of a tri bike, bringing the rear wheel closer to the saddle.  This means the frame absorbs less of the bumps, making for a rougher ride. A road bike is more comfortable, versatile and handles more easily than a tri bike and that is why we recommend it to most recreational athletes.  On the other hand, if you have the money and can find the right fit, nothing will give you a faster ride than a tri bike, so go for it!

New vs Used

You have a choice: learn all you can and then go looking for a deal on a used bike or rely on the expertise at a bike shop to find you the appropriate new model.  Either way, do your homework and make sure any bike you buy fits you well.  Here is an excellent guide to fitting a bike written by an expert in the field.  Read it before you go shopping!


Tips on Buying a New Bike
Many recreational triathletes could ride an $800 bike and an $1800 bike and not derive any noticeable benefit from the more expensive set of wheels.  Never lose sight of your basic goals in doing triathlons be they to simply finish the race, or to win.  Below are some tips to remember when visiting a bike shop.
  • Make sure they ask you lots of questions about the type of riding you'll be doing.
  • Make clear your price range.
  • Have the salesman explain exactly why one bike is more expensive than another they might be showing you and how you will benefit from the additional features.
  • Make sure the salesman checks that the model of bike being recommended actually fits your body and that a good, basic bike fitting is included in the purchase price.

Bike Technology

Frames Includes: top/down/seat tubes, chain stays, seat stays, forks)
Materials (listed from most basic to advanced): steel, chro-moly (a steel alloy), aluminum, carbon, titanium
Comments: The more advanced (and expensive) materials generally give you a lighter and more responsive frame.  Manufacturers will often combine materials on a bike.  For example, it is common to have an aluminum frame with carbon forks.
Group Set Includes: brakes, derailleurs, cassette, hubs, bottom bracket including chain rings, chain
Product Lines:  The majority of road and tri bikes have either Shimano or Campagnolo groups.  Here are the most common sets in the respective product lines in order from least to most expensive:
- Shimano: Sora, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra, Dura Ace
- Campagnolo: Xenon, Mirage, Veloce, Centaur, Chorus, Record
Comments: The principle difference as the price goes up is that the weight of the group sets comes down.  The quality of engineering is said to also increase.  The big question is whether a recreational rider will ever notice a practical difference between them.  Be careful not to be oversold.  For example, having the shifters incorporated in the brakes was a development principally aimed at those that ride in tight groups so they could shift quickly.  If you don't ride in groups a lot then will you derive sufficient benefit to justify the big jump in cost?  Will you be better of with shifters on the down tube?
Wheels Comments: The average rider can stick with the wheels their bike comes with.  More serious athletes will invest in racing wheels that provide such upgrades as: increased aerodynamics, better durability, smoother ride, increased responsiveness, better hubs.
Tires Comments: Get a durable tire to minimize the chance of flats.  Other features available include tires with better traction/handling, less rolling resistance and lighter weight.  A tire that uses a separate tube is called a clincher and is by far the most common choice of the recreational athlete.  A more common option at the advanced level is tubular tires, a once piece time that includes tire and tube.
Handle Bars Comments: Basic drop handle bars (classic 10-speed style) are all you really need.  Once you've got a few tri's under your belt though, we recommend considering aero-bars as they help you to stay in a more aerodynamic position and, once you're accustomed to them, make for a less tiring ride for the arms and shoulders.  The fit is the key element here; make sure they allow you to be in correct position on the bike.  There are many different designs and materials but here again strength and light weight are key selling features.
Saddle Comments: You'll probably be fine with the saddle that comes on your bike.  If you're looking to upgrade, after comfort, the key features include weight, aerodynamics and adjustability.
Seat post Comments: Again, the one that comes with you bike will likely be fine providing it is long enough to ensure proper fit.  More serious triathletes may upgrade to a seat post that might be made of a lighter/stronger material and feature a more aerodynamic design.
Pedals Comments: We highly recommend having at least baskets on your pedals which will help to ensure your foot doesn't slip off the pedal.  Clipless pedals, which fasten the bottom of your cycling shoe to the top of the pedal are considerably more efficient and, once you are practiced at unclipping them, safer than baskets.  There are numerous brands but the two most common systems are SPD by Shimano and the Look system.  Variables to consider include
platform size, ease of use, float (pedal may allow a little lateral movement instead of holding firm), leverage, stability/rigidity, weight, durability (bearings), and tension adjustment