CHOOSING A TRIATHLON BIKE
Nadezhda Pavlova, Senior Editor
Nadezhda Pavlova, Senior Editor
There is a lot to think about in triathlon for beginners, three sports to master, the fitness levels needed to finish a race, the mental pressure and so on. However, equipment is also important, and while the right swimwear and running shoes are crucial, the biggest investment for most new to triathlon is the bike. With that in mind, knowing how to choose your triathlon bike can not only save you from an expensive mistake, but help make the triathlon more enjoyable in that first race.
TYPES OF BIKE
The first question that is faced when choosing a triathlon bike is the kind of bike to use. Walk into any cycle shop and there is a huge choice of road bikes at almost every budget, they are easy to find, and look almost the same as the dedicated triathlon bikes, so it is not surprising that beginners wonder if road bikes are a good choice.
However, while they often look quite similar, a road bike is subtly different from a triathlon/time trial bike in several ways. Those differences are crucial to your triathlon performance, but it is important to understand why.
A road bike has a shorter top tube and different frame angles, placing you in a more upright position on the bike while slightly compromising power delivery too, to achieve a more comfortable position for long distance riding. The triathlon/time trial bike forces the rider to stretch out further, lowering the body for a more streamlined position and maximizing the power extracted from the full leg extension during the pedaling motion.
Which type should you get? The answer here depends on what you want to do. If you plan on doing one or several triathlon races per year, then a triathlon bike makes sense. If you maybe want to train for a triathlon for beginners as a way to get fit, with no plans for more, then perhaps a road bike is the best option, as it is more suited to a regular fitness regime. The road bike will not get the maximum performance from your body in a triathlon race, but it will do the job when you need it to for sporadic race entries.
What you shouldn’t do is compromise. Splitting your budget to buy both types of bike usually ends up with two mediocre bikes. Get one good bike, whichever is most suitable, a good road bike will always perform better than a mediocre triathlon bike.
Assuming that you are aiming to compete in several triathlons in the future, the triathlon/time trial bike is the best option, but now what? With so many to choose from, you are no nearer to knowing how to choose your triathlon bike.
CHOOSING YOUR TRIATHLON BIKE
With a choice of materials, manufacturers, cost, size and shape, it can be daunting for triathlon beginners to know where to start. While your budget will be the biggest influence on the level of bike you end up with, the first thing to look for within your budget is the fit of the bike.
In general, you want a bike that feels comfortable, some bikes may put you in a more stretched position that improves aerodynamics and pedaling, but if it is too much of a stretch and feels uncomfortable, it can compromise your race overall, so always choose the one that feels right.
For the rest of the bike, there is so much choice, different frame materials from aluminum to carbon, choice of wheels, gear sets and so on. This is where knowing how to choose your triathlon bike matters, as it can save you a lot of money in the long run.
The key is to get the best frame you can afford with your initial bike purchase. An aluminum framed bike with the very best accessories can cost as much as a carbon framed bike with more modest wheelset, gears and so on. However, while it may be tempting to go for the bike with the latest and greatest components, the best buy would be the superior carbon framed option.
This is because you can replace everything on the bike over time, but the core frame will stay the same. Buying the best frame will give you a loner life for the purchase. You can add in new components when you feel necessary, while maintaining the advantages of that carbon frame throughout.
A word on saddles, a relatively cheap component, they are also one of the biggest contributors to comfort during triathlon for beginners. If the saddle fitted to your new bike feels uncomfortable, swap it. Its just a couple of bolts, and with a wide choice of male and female specific options easily available, there is no excuse for continuing on with a badly fitting saddle today.
There are two crucial things to think of when learning how to choose your triathlon bike, quality and fit. Find a bike that fits comfortably, and then get the best quality version of that frame you can afford. While it is nice to have the very best components attached to the frame, these can be changed over time, so always choose frame quality over componentry, for long lasting performance and enjoyment from your new triathlon bike.