Remember being a kid and your parents would take you into a candy store and say you could pick out one thing, or spend $5.00? Your eyes got huge. Mouth started to drool. Heart started to pound out of control. Ya you do! Well that's how I feel right now as I search for a new bike! I currently ride a 2013 FELT Z5. Make no mistake, I absolutely love this bike. It was my second road bike ever and the bike I rode in my first triathlon, the IRONMAN 70.3 in Victoria. Buuuuuttttttttt…….as any bike lover will know, you’re always looking for that next bike. This is exactly where I find myself.
This isn’t a post on whether you need a triathlon-specific bike or the pros and cons of a road bike vs a triathlon bike. Nope. Those exist elsewhere. It is about my decision process to purchase a new bike to help me meet my specific training and event goals. For me the decision has been made. I will keep my FELT Z5 for rides that are more hilly or curvy. Grand Fondo’s, Charity rides, etc.
My next bike is going to triathlon specific, and this is why:
- Frame Geometry: the frame geometry on a tri bike is designed to maximize rider energy. While the ride is the longest event by distance, it is still only one of three events. The frame geometry helps conserve those legs for you know, that long-ass run that is coming up. How does it do this? One significant way is with a steeper seat tube angle (meaning the seat tube is closer to vertical than a road bike). This puts you in a more forward position, with open hips over the crankset, creating a different distribution of work to muscle groups (more hamstring & glute, less quad) and setting you up better to transition to the run.
- Fingertip Shifting: I’m comfortable in aero. I actually prefer riding long distances in this position. Being able to shift in the aero position with shifters at the end of the aerobars allows you to stay in the aero position longer, meaning less movement and increased aerodynamics over longer periods.
- Aero Maximization: I like to go fast! Triathlon specific bikes are designed to maximizing aerodynamics and go fast (see above)! Enough said. Or so I hope!! There is a litany of research out there, but it is safe to say, in most cases an aero triathlon specific bike is going to get the rider in comfortable and aerodynamic position, increasing efficiency, aerodynamic benefits and speed. Especially compared to my current bike.
- They Look Sexy as %$&#!
With what I’m trying to accomplish, I’ll see benefits of switching to any triathlon bike. That might not be the case for everyone. Given your goals - maybe a tri it triathlon, or your first IRONMAN 70.3 - a road bike with some clip on aerobars might be the best bang for your buck. Take a minute and assess your goals, then find a bike to best help you achieve them. It is an important decision, don’t take it lightly.
That was the easy part. There is so much to consider when purchasing a bike - brand, fit, gear set, wheels, shoes, helmet, saddle, the litany of accessories hydration, storage, power meters. The list goes on and on. Below are my take on a few of the bike and bike considerations I’m thinking about when making my new purchase (this list is not exhaustive, just a few of the more important elements):
Fit, Fit, Fit
It goes without saying that bike fit is my number one criteria. If the bike doesn’t fit you, all the benefits and expensive components aren’t really going to matter. It sounds funny, but in much the way some brands of “straight cut” jeans get hung up on my calves and some don’t; not all bikes will provide the comfortable fit you're looking for. Feel is important. Take the time to find the bike that "feels" right for you.
It goes without saying that any bike you buy should include a professional bike fit. Some places will measure you before you buy your bike and match brands to you based on a number of factors some will do it after the fact. MAKE SURE YOU DO THIS. The extra money, if you have to spend it, is worth it and your body will love you for it.
Mechanical vs. Electronic Shifting
So much has been written about mechanical vs. electronic shifting. I see the benefits of electronic shifting for sure. Number one being the ability to have shifters on your drop bars - a definite advantage for climbing or coming out of corners. There are arguments to be made for shifting efficiency and quality, reliability and upgradability all being better with electronic shifting. For me, I’m sticking with mechanical for three main reasons:
- Maintenance: from everything I’ve read, mechanical problems are easier to diagnose and fix. No need for a trained technician or bike shop to troubleshoot electronic issues. Less likely to have issues finding parts and the like. Plus, I like getting my hands dirty and learning about my bike. Be one with your bike.
- Cost: While costs have come down substantially, a $1000-$1500 price difference is not inconsequential. I’m going to take that money and invest in a good set of wheels. I think my benefits will be far greater.
- Battery: One less thing to remember to charge. Enough said. I realize this is more in my head and quantitatively not supported, but I am who I am.
Groupsets (Crankset, Cassette, Shift Levers, Chain and Brake Calipers)
Groupsets also come in many shapes and sizes. I currently ride Shimano 105 on my FELT. Good groupset, but i’m definitely looking to upgrade. For me personally, I’m a Shimano fan. They’ve been around a long time and make good products that have served me well in the past. While there are other good group sets out there - SRAM, Campagnolo - I'll be sticking to Shimano.
The decision for me comes down to Ultegra or Dura-Ace. I’m going to keep it short here: the winner is Ultegra. The performance difference between the two seems to be fairly negligible (I'm sure there are dissenters out there). I’ve rode bikes with both sets and honestly I couldn’t tell the difference. Where you will see the difference is in price $$$ and weight. And the less than one lbs weight savings is not worth the extra $$$ to upgrade to Dura-Ace, in my humble opinion.
Travel: The Downside of Integration
The move in super bikes has been to complete integration. While this makes the bikes look super sexy and improves aerodynamics, it can make travelling a headache and/or lead to more $$$ out of your pocket investing in very specific travel bags. Why? The majority of travel bags require you to deconstruct your handlebar assembly. Looking at bikes like the FELT IA, this isn’t very easy and can be time consuming. The easy solution is to purchase a travel bag that doesn’t require to be disassembled. They exist. But there expensive. I don’t own a travel bag. Renting one that doesn’t require the bike to be disassembled is not an option and I’d prefer to invest the money elsewhere in my ride at this time. It’s a personal choice. Not a deal breaker per se, but not insignificant either.
Wheels will undoubtedly save you some seconds. What they won’t do is save you $$$$$$. I will definitely be looking at including a set of wheels in my bike purchase. But I think that deserves a separate post. The issue is wheel sets are not cheap. So many decisions. So many options. So few dollars .......
In terms of aerodynamic gains, a good helmet is pound for pound the best investment you can make. Those “beautiful” tear drop helmets you see the pros wear significantly improve aerodynamics and cut drag. Road helmets are built for cooling (and protection obviously). I plan on embracing the silliness of the aero helmet and shed a few seconds here and there. As an example, this little test found a savings of 3:52 when riding in the lower position with an aero helmet over a road helmet over the course of an Ironman Leg. Start adding up those minutes and it makes a difference.
This year was my introduction to training using power-based training. It has changed my life completely. I will be looking at equipping my bike with some sort of power meter. Given the movement in this segment of the bike industry, it will likely deserve a dedicated post. But rest assured, it is an upcoming purchase.
So, after months and months of reading and research, you’ve got a very quick summary as to my thought process for my new bike.
Here is the fun part: I’ve recently bought a new bike!!!!!!! Given that I have to wait a few more days until I get it, I’m also going to make you wait a few more days before I do a reveal post.
Check back soon!