It has often been said that it is not the bike, it is the engine. One of the best cyclists I know rides a 1984 steel frame road bike. On some level everyone knows it is not really the bike, it is the skill of the rider. However the knowledge of this does not stop most of from wanting to get a “good” bike, or that is to say a bike that suits us the best. This article should help you to answer the question, “Should I get a Road Bike or a Tri Bike?”The following categories are among the most important things to consider before purchasing the bike of your dreams:
Proper Bike Fit: This is one of the most important parts of a bike purchase to consider before even starting the search for a bike that will fulfill your needs. Many first time bike buyers have no idea what size bike they need. Don’t make the mistake of purchasing a bike that is either too large or too small for your body height. Height alone is not the sole determinant of the proper frame size that you may need.
Local Bike Store: Although many deals can be found online, through Craigslist, a friend of a friend, local triathlon clubs, etc. The best starting point is at a Local Bike Store. The reason for this is that the majority of bike stores employ athletes, and cyclists that know a great deal about the sport. If you are willing to ask the questions more than likely they will have an honest answer for you. Unlike many sales situations, I have found these people to be easy going and exceptionally helpful. The purpose of this visit is to gather information not to buy a bike today. Keep this in mind as you peruse. At the Local Bike Store do the following:
- Find a road bike that you like, (don’t be afraid to pick something a little outside your price range) ask if this bike would be something that would fit you well, take this bike out for a test ride.
- Find a Tri Bike that you like, (don’t be afraid to pick something a little outside you price range) again make sure this bike would be a pretty good fit for your body type, take this bike out for a test ride as well.
You should note that a road bike is a little easier to ride for many reasons:
- The brake and the gears can all be manipulated from one comfortable position
- The road bike is a little more comfortable because of the differences in geometry
- It is easier to ride in larger groups on a road bike because of the ease of use.
- It is easier to ride in tight winding courses with lots of hills because of the ease of use.
- If you have strong fitness goals, and want to cycle for the social aspect this is most likely the right choice for you.
- Road bikes CAN be outfitted with aero bars and will work reasonably well as an entry level Tri Bike.
You should note that a Tri Bike is built for speed for many reasons:
- The gear shifters are out at the end of the aero bars, and are meant to be used while moving along at top speed.
- The Tri Bike has a more aggressive geometry and the body posture is meant to encounter less wind resistance than on a road bike.
- The bike is a bit harder to ride in traffic because of the need to jump from the gear shifters to the brakes at a moment’s notice.
- The bike is built for racing; if you are looking to purchase a bike because you want to do triathlons then this is most likely the bike you will want to go with.
Reason for purchasing bike:
– Fitness purposes not interested in racing – Road Bike
– Bike racing only – Road Bike
– Fitness mostly with an occasional Triathlon (don’t care about times) – Road Bike with some clip on Aero Bars
– Fitness but want to do well in my Triathlons – Tri Bike
– Serious Triathlete – You already have a Tri Bike
Budget: This can range from $100.00 – $14,000.00 + I will list what you can expect to find for some different price ranges. At this point you already know what size bike will fit you from your trip to the Local Bike Store, you also know if you are looking for a Road Bike or a Tri Bike, now the trick is to find something in your budget.
The following is a list of some of the more reputable bike manufacturers out on the market:
Cervelo, Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, Bianchi, Kestrel, Scott, Felt, Orbea, Argon 18, Quintanna Roo, Fuji, and others. Just because I did not list a bike here does not mean it is a bad bike, it just means it is not one of the most popular brands out there for a competition style bicycle.
Bikes Priced Below $500.00
$100.00 – $499.99 – Your best bet will be Craigslist here. Instantly eliminate a bike if it will not fit you based on the size. If you find a smoking deal on a bike that is too small for you, DON’T buy it anyway. The same is true for a bike that is too big for you. Only think about a bike if it the right size for you. If it meets this criteria and is in your price range, do some research on that particular bike model. Look for reviews. Call and ask about the components but for this price don’t expect too much.
What to expect here: Unless you get lucky and find a smoking deal on Craigslist from someone that knows nothing about bikes and basically gives something away, don’t expect much. These bikes will be aluminum or steel, basic wheels, low end components, nothing fancy here.
Bikes priced between $500.00 & $1,000.00
$500.00 – $999.99 – In this price range some entry level Road bikes can be bought new from a Local Bike Store, online, and of course on Craigslist. Some used bikes of a slightly higher quality level may be in this range if you find the right seller on Craigslist.
What to expect here: At this level we should start seeing some entry level components, possibly some shimano components, it is unlikely to see carbon at this price point.
Bikes Priced between $1,000.00 & $1,500.00
$1,000.00 – $1,499.99 – If purchased new some Road bikes will start to have a little better components, you should start to see some carbon fiber forks, and other components in this range. Used it is possible to get some pretty decent Tri Bikes at this price level. Keep looking on Craigslist, don’t be scared to travel three hours to a larger Metro area for a good used bike if you find one in your size.
What to expect here: Should start to see some carbon forks at least here, may find some shimano 105 components (entry level race components) OR may start to see some full carbon frames. The sacrifice on the full carbon bikes here will either be on components, wheelsets, brakes, seat or seatpost, something has to be sacrificed to allow for the carbon at this price point.
Two Kestrel Bikes priced between $1500.00 & $2,000.00
$1,500.00 – $ 1,999.99 – For a new bike in this range you can expect to start seeing full carbon frames, upgraded components, some entry level race wheels, carbon cranks, seatposts, aero bars, and better tires. In my opinion this is where you get the most bang for your buck.
What to expect here: Should start to see almost all carbon here, if careful a bike can come with wheelsets, carbon cranks, carbon frame and fork, carbon aero, upgraded components, a very competitive price point to get in on and still get a great bike.
Bikes priced between $2,000.00 and $14,000.00+
$2,000.00 – $14,000.00 – Go on with your bad self. If you have the money and this is what you want to spend it on just make sure you buy something that will make you smile every time you look at it. You can always upgrade the bike you have with rims, tires, cranks, aero bars etc. But make no mistake, it is not the bike, it’s the engine.
What to expect: For this kind of money you can get a really good bike and go broke doing it.
From above this range it really is going to start being a game of diminishing return for the money you spend.
Example: This is taken from an ad in the July 2012 Triathlete Magazine. The Ad is for some Magura RT8-TT brakes. They are the first and only hydraulic TT brake on the market. “Lightest Brake on the Market, 495 grams, The Aero advantage saves 8 seconds in 40K and 36 seconds in an Ironman” Price $750.00
– Do you really want to pay $750.00 for some brakes just to gain 36 seconds over 112 miles? Above this price point this is what you get, paying thousands of extra dollars to gain a precious few seconds. Unless you missed winning Kona by less than a minute, save your money and train harder. Once again it is not the bike, it is the engine.