Choosing the right bike for youMar 31, 2022
Full confession: I’m no expert with bike mechanics
This is why on the upcoming Mojo Tri Training Camps I will be bringing in an expert bike mechanic to help us out with all those questions you wish you could ask but never have!
However there is one area of bike ownership that I can help with, and that is choosing the right bike for triathlon. I have had the experience of starting out as a complete beginner, a total non cyclist. At 30 years old, my last recollection of riding a bike was Bluebell, when I was 6.
When I started in triathlon I couldn't have told you the name of any part of a bike, what a road bike was, and how to buy one.
Fast forward a few years and I still hear the same questions being asked that were keeping me awake at night too. So I wanted to offer some advice to those of you who aren't sure about which bike to choose for triathlon.
My motto: Keep it simple. Firstly ask yourself:
- What do I want this bike for? (ie sprint tri, Ironman, time trials, cruising with friends, commuting, doing my first ever tri)
- How much money do I have to spend on it? (include some cash to keep it serviced regularly)
Don't deviate from these answers. In fact write them down so you can't deviate!
This blog is to help you decide what bike is best for you, because I still hear questions such as:
- Is buying second hand a good idea?
- Triathlon bike v’s road bike?
- Can I use my old bike that’s in the shed?
I have broken these questions down below to help you, from the perspective of someone who really had no money, or any clue on how to get started with their first bike for triathlon!
First things first
I always say, if in any doubt about bikes, go and make friends with your local bike shop. They are full of knowledge and often very friendly (if they arent, simply head to another one). There should be no question too silly for them, and you should come away armed with good information. So make this your first stop on your bike mission.
New Bike v’s Second Hand
If you are totally new to tri, or cycling in general, you may have 100 questions about the ‘right’ bike. Don’t be fooled into thinking there is a right bike, or that most triathletes decide to race a tri and the ‘right’ bike falls out of the sky and into their garage.
There is no right bike for doing triathlon, just what is right for you, at this moment in time. But to help you there are some points to consider below:
(£ Finances are often the main factor when deciding on a bike. So I have listed suggestions in order of how much you may have to spend right now)
£ Borrow from a friend
If you are tight for money, borrowing a bike is perfectly ok and many have done that. Just make sure the frame is the right size or you may get some knee/upper back discomfort. Also, make sure you have practiced on it so you are happy with how it works.
££ Upgrade your old steed
If you have a bike already, just check the rules for the triathlon you are doing, make sure it's ok. Some triathlons won't let you use a mountain bike for example.
I would suggest getting your bike serviced, maybe some new tyres to give it a boost. But essentially for your first tri you are just hoping to learn, and cross the finish line I would imagine. So maybe see if you like the sport enough, then you can think about an upgrade to better wheels, or another bike, if you you feel you need it.
£££ Second Hand Bikes
You have got to the stage you would like to buy a bike, but not sure if you have lots of money to spend. Why not consider second hand?
I was in the sport for 8 years before I actually bought my first NEW bike, all the others were second hand. So it's possible to do this, and if you make good choices, they can be an amazing way to get much more for your money.
Firstly, make sure you get the right size. You can have a bike fit later on to tweak it, but the frame needs to be the right size to start with.
Most entry level bikes have aluminium frames. If you buy second hand you may be able to buy a carbon frame, much lighter and faster and you can save your legs for the run.
I hear a lot of people saying “I'll buy aluminium this year and get a carbon one next year”. If you can afford it right now, skip the middle bit, just go straight to carbon, because you will be wasting time by having an ‘interim’ bike.
If you are a relative beginner to triathlon, and you have a choice between two bikes, one is cheaper than the other, consider the cheaper one if you can only see the difference being the frame and the make of the bike. Frames aren't hugely important for performance until you reach a high level, which you will of course! But for now frames are not so high on the list.
If you chose the cheaper bike, you can then spend the extra money on either better tyres, or upgrade the wheels. This will make more of a difference to your overall speed right now.
££££ A new shiny bike
If you would like a new bike, then great! Nothing more exciting than bike shopping 😉
Check out your local bike shop first. They can offer you advice, even get you a discount perhaps, and also add or take away components before you buy so it's set up perfectly for you.
Plus most of them offer a free bike fit too, which you really must make the most of.
Most bike shops only stock a couple of brands so have a look around if you aren't keen initially on the brands your local shop stock. But also be aware that buying a bike from your local bike shop often cements a long lasting friendship with them so this can really benefit you in the future. AND you will find it more convenient to pop the bike back into your local shop for servicing.
Lastly, pick a bike you like. No one you LOVE. Many ladies have asked me in the past if they are being silly choosing a bike that is their favourite colour, or looks great to them. I always say that as long as the fit is right, it suits your budget (and that you have prioritised the best wheels you can afford!), then you go for it.
A new bike needs to be something you love to look at and to ride, something that you are proud of and makes you smile. You wouldn’t buy a piece of art that you don’t like the look of would you?!
Triathlon/TT bike V’s road bike
Triathlon or Time Trial bikes (TT) bikes are great! I say that because if you find the right one, learn how to ride it well, you will have so much fun and success on it.
But there can be a few downsides.
TT bikes are tricky to get fitted to you, due to balancing the aerodynamics with the comfort. Especially if you are trying to ride it for long races (70.3 and Ironman). They are also stiff (hence why mine is called “The Bone Shaker”!) and they take a long time to get used to before you can really unleash the benefit of having one. (But that is also the same for a road bike to be honest)
They aren't particularly expensive as a bike, of course like anything you can get the top notch pricey ones, but in general there are lots at mid range prices and second hand too so have a good look around.
What makes them have the label of being expensive if often because it's ANOTHER bike on top of your road bike (& maybe your mountain bike, gravel bike, pub bike…..!) That means the expense of buying another bike, alongside all the maintenance and bike fit costs associated with it.
TT bikes are a luxury in that they are used for a small number of races; triathlons and TT’s, and that’s it. Whereas a road bike can be used for pretty much everything on a road.
One last thing about a TT bike: If you want one, DO NOT let imposter syndrome get in the way. By that I mean don’t let all the doubts of whether you are good enough, fast enough, will people think you are too serious, will people judge your results, etc etc. Just STOP! If you want one, you get one. It’s the only way to get better, and it's so much fun practicing!
I often say it's like wearing a fancy hat to a party. If you wear it with confidence, feel fabulous, and don’t care what others think, you will pull it off beautifully.
I hope this helps give you some guidance on bike choices for triathlon. If you have any other questions why not pop into the Mojo Facebook Community as there are lots of ladies with bike buying experience.
As always, feel free to comment on this blog, or email me to ask any questions, I love to hear from you. And if I don't know the answer, I'll find someone who does 🤗
Next week: we will look at 'Triathlon on a budget'.
Have a great day, train safe