A champion triathlete’s tips for buying a bike
For the unseasoned cyclist, heading into a bike shop for the first time can be a little daunting. There are different brands, styles, colours, tyres and types. Once you’ve narrowed it down to the bike you need based on purpose, well, then there are still hundreds to choose from (eek!).
Luckily, champion triathlete Melissa Hauschildt broke it down for us to make our search a little easier. After winning two Ironman World Championships it’s safe to say that Hauschildt has spent a fair amount of time on a bike and certainly knows how to pick a good one. She gave us her advice on what to look for and how to make sure the bike we buy is the best for our needs.
1. What should we be looking for in our first road bike?
When looking for your first road bike I would suggest finding something that fits well and will make for a relatively comfortable ride. If you’re new to cycling you will have to get some advice from either a bike fitter or someone at the bike store to make sure the bike will fit you well. The last thing you want to do is spend a fortune on an awesome new bike, only to find it causes you neck pain after 10 mins of riding. This may discourage you from riding more in the future.
2. Are there different bikes more suited to beginners?
If you are a beginner cyclist, a less ‘aggressive’ set-up would be advisable when starting out on a road bike. It may be a good idea to start out with platform pedals or pedals with a toe strap to keep your foot in. When you become more comfortable on the bike in the future, you may want to invest in clip-in pedals with specific clip-in bike shoes called cleats. This keeps your feet locked into the pedal which helps you produce more power with each pedal stroke making you go faster.
3. We’re taking on our first triathlon but we don’t have a bike suited to off road tracks, do we need to look at getting a second bike?
If you’re taking on your first triathlon, I would stick with the bike you have been riding just to make sure you are comfortable and familiar with it for race day. If you really enjoy the triathlon and you want to do more of them in the future and maybe enter even longer triathlons, it may be a good idea to invest in a triathlon specific bike (a ‘time trial’ bike).
The intermediate step to buying a brand new bike would be to buy aero bars that simply clip onto the existing handle bars of your normal road bike. Like a ‘time trial’ bike this would allow you to rest your upper body on your elbows while riding, putting you in a more aerodynamic position. This will definitely put you in a faster riding position (more aggressive riding position) but it can be more uncomfortable position to maintain for a long period and will take practice to get used to it.
4. How much should we be looking to spend on our first bike?
How much you spend depends on how much you plan on riding the bike. For $1000 you can buy a brand new road bike that has everything you’ll need to ride socially with friends or cycling club and also allows you to compete in small triathlons if you wish. When you look at road bikes that cost can go up to around the $5000 mark. These bikes have components that are lighter and marginally smoother. This will make a difference if you are already competent on the bike and are quite competitive with those you ride with. When you move up to the high-end range of road bikes that cost can go up to the $10,000 mark, the slight benefits you get from the extra cost are only beneficial if you are racing consistently and the smallest 1% gains will make the difference to you winning or losing by a matter of seconds.
5. Are there different seats and tyres that we can get to make our bikes more suited to us?
The saddle you choose to use is very individual to each persons needs. Typically the bigger, more cushioned saddles will be more comfortable and will be more appropriate to a beginner cyclist. The less cushion usually means a lighter, thinner saddle that many pro-cyclists will use for racing but will be uncomfortable to most other people. If you are a smaller woman with smaller hips you might look into getting a saddle with a narrower nose. I would recommend test riding as many saddles as the bike shop will let you. This way you will have a better idea of what suits you best.
The tyres you use will depend on what you intend to use your bike for. A road bike will come with road tyres. These are the thinnest looking tyres you see on bikes. They offer the least amount of resistance and will be the quickest choice for riding with your club and for racing. If you are commuting to and from work with your bike, some people choose to put on hybrid tyres which are a half way option between road and mountain bike tyres. Compared to road tyres they will slow you down, but the upside is that they are more versatile if you plan to ride off the road, on gravel paths or across grass.
6. How long should we expect to have a bike before upgrading?
If you look after your bike well (cleaning all the moving parts, oiling the chain, and storing it out of the harsh elements) it should easily last you 5 years and beyond. If you ride it 50-100k every day of the week and race on it, you may only get a couple good years before you need to upgrade to a new one.
Feature image photography by Jared Hauschildt