You’ve been racing triathlon for a little while and decided it’s time to get a new bike but you don’t want to spend your life savings on one. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last several years. I recommend you also look at how you will be using the bike. Will you only be using it for sprint races up to Olympic distance with no intention of ever considering an Ironman distance race (70.3 and 140.6) if so a road bike may actually be better for you. If your looking to hunker down for 4-7 hour periods of time to cover a long distance such as 90+ miles while riding alone (not in a pace line) than a Triathlon (TT) bike would be a good fit.
A triathlon bike can range from $1,000 for a very basic lightweight bike to $10,000 or more. There are two things you need to realize up front. Triathlon bikes are not made to be the lightest bike available they are made for the aerodynamics. Don’t take that the wrong way. The two bikes pictured up tome are approximately the same weight +- a little bit. The red bike (one the transition rack) is mostly an aluminum composite with carbon forks and seat post. The bike on the right is all carbon with the exception of the head unit (handle bars) and other items such as gears, spokes etc…
The components you use can significantly change the amount your spending on a new bike. This translates to mean a $4,000 bike and a $10,000 bike may be the same frame (the big bit) with different components (The small bits – shifters, wheels etc…)
The traditional way of shopping for a bike is to visit your local bike shop and see what they have to offer. I recommend taking them for a test ride so that you can see how they feel and really get up close and personal with the bike to make sure you’ll be happy with it. Many bike shops only sell certain brands and I recommend trying several brands out. Never buy on the first visit a lot like car shopping. Look at things like the components. If you’re completely new to biking than a Shimano 105 set wont mean much to you compared to a Shimano Ultegra. The later is more money and of a better quality but if you take care of your new bike the 105 shifter set should last for years.
For the money your planning to spend the shop should put the bike on a trainer and go through adjusting it to fit you and it should feel comfortable to be on. You will be spending a lot of time on the bike so comfort is just as important as all the other features. Many bikes will come with the seat but you may find that you need to change this for comfort. Most bikes do not come with peddles so be prepared to spend a little extra on this as well and possibly bottle cages for the frame mounts. I’m not going to go into all the other accessories you could get. I’ll work on listing some of my favorites on a dedicated gear page on the blog.
If you do find yourself changing components such as the seat make sure the shop is crediting you for the one that came with it or giving it to you when you leave so that you can sell it online. I’ve heard stories where the shop just kept the old (new) components and charged for the replacement. Not cool.
The more non-traditional way of shopping for a tri bike is by visiting a shop that can do a custom fit on a special fit bike. They should provide you with all the measurements for the perfect bike. Call and ask before making an appointment. They will also give you a list of what they carry that fits you and push for you to buy one of those.
You can also find independent bike fit specialists often by recommendations from other riders who will do the same without having an affiliation to a specific shop and brands they carry. We have a few of these in the Houston area. This typically costs around $300 depending on the shop or specialist. It also doesn’t always involve the fancy bike fit station either. Everyone is a little different.
Once you have that list you will know the bike brands and frame sizes that fit you or can be adjusted to fit you. Now you’re able to get online for some modern-day shopping. If you use Craigslist.org or any number of Facebook triathlon and bike sales groups you should be able to get a very good deal on a used tri bike. In some cases nearly new at half the price.
Take a look after major events such as IRONMAN Texas. There are a surprising number of racers who are doing “one and done.” After their big race they are listing their bikes for sale. Some of which are top of the line with great components and electronic shifting ($$$) for what you would find a middle of the field bike at a shop.
This last method takes more searching and time but can really pay off in the end product.
I used a small local shop who sold the brand that I really had a liking for and did a special order for the correct frame size and then a bike fit when it arrived. I’ve been very happy with my bike.
Let us know how you shopped for your first tri bike in the comments section.