Starting Triathlon - Bike Choice

Congratulations on committing to your first triathlon! Of the three disciplines (swim, bike, and run), the bike has the potential to deliver the biggest time gains, but also cost you the most money. It’s a fact that high quality road bikes are expensive, and you may be wondering whether you have to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds to take part in your first event. Don’t worry because in this article we take a practical look at how you complete the bike leg of your first event without breaking the bank.

Use Your Existing Bike

If you already have a bike, there’s a good chance that you can use it to train and complete your first event. Realistically, you need a bike that has gears and normal sized wheels (i.e. not tiny wheels or penny farthing wheels!). A mountain bike, a flat-bar hybrid, or a road bike (racing bike) will all do the job. On the other hand, a BMX, a folding shopping bike, or a traditionally styled bike with a basket on the front will make completing an event close to impossible. Although your current bike may not be the fastest in the world, you don’t have to worry. This is your first event, so however long it takes you to complete, it will still be a personal record (PB in the triathlon world).

If you do use your existing bike, make sure that it is road worthy with correctly operating brakes and gears. Ideally you should book your bike in for a service at a local bike shop, where they will ensure that everything is in good operational order, so that your bike is safer and faster to ride. If you do have your bike serviced, always do so well in advance of your event to ensure that you don’t suffer from accidental mechanical problems on your big day.

Borrow a Bike

If you don’t have a suitable bike, maybe you could borrow one from a friend or relative. Again, any of the following are suitable: a mountain bike, hybrid, or road bike.  There are really only two things to consider:

  1. Check the size. Bikes come in different sizes to fit different sized riders. If a bike is too big or small for you, it will be inefficient, slow, and can quite easily lead to injury. Roughly speaking the saddle is the correct height if your leg has a slight bend in it when your foot is on the pedal and the pedal is positioned at the bottom of the pedal stroke. If you can’t achieve this position, the bike is the wrong size. Also, you must ensure that you can comfortably reach all of the controls (brakes and gear levers) and that you don’t feel cramped or stretched out. Later this month we’ll explore the basics of achieving a good position on the bike, or if you can’t wait, you can order Simply Road Cycling today.

  2. Check that the bike is road worthy. There’s a good chance that if someone lends you a bike, it is because they do not ride it very often. Check that the tyres are pumped up and show no signs of damage, and that the brakes and gears work. Ideally, you should take the bike to a local bike shop for a service so that you know everything works properly.

Buy Second-hand

Buying a used bike can be great way to grab a bargain, but it can also be a way of wasting your money on an unsuitable or worn out bike. If you plan on competing in more than one triathlon, you’ll want a road bike. On the other hand, if you only plan on one event, or want to do an event to find out whether you like it, a flat bar hybrid may be a better choice because you are more likely to use it in the future.

Often a used bike will have worn parts, and these may need replacing. It’s worth keeping this in mind and setting aside £50-100 for repairs and a service. If at all possible, ask the seller whether they will allow you to take the bike to a local bike shop for an assessment of its condition. Most independent bike shops will do this for free or a nominal charge.

In common with any other bike, it’s important that it is the correct size for you. Check saddle height and reach and don’t be tempted to buy the wrong size bike just because it’s a bargain.

Buy New

It’s always nice to have something new, and a new bike is especially nice. Just like a used bike, you need to decide whether this triathlon is a one-off or something that you plan to pursue. If you only plan on completing one triathlon, opt for a hybrid. It will be more versatile in the future, and they are cheaper than road bikes. If you do choose a road bike, a price range for a first bike is £500 - £1000 (£300- £600 for a hybrid). Road bikes that are less than £500 tend to be heavy with a lot of compromises in terms of equipment – you’re likely to regret your purchase. We’d recommend buying from a local bike shop where they will be able to help you choose an appropriate bike and most importantly one that is the correct size for you.

What Next?

Over the coming weeks we’ll continue to explore topics that are important to first-time triathletes. Until then, enjoy your training and remember that in our book Simply Road Cycling we provide masses of advice and guidance on choosing a new bike, making sure that you get a good fit, and selecting the right clothing and equipment to enjoy cycling. The book also gives you plenty of advice and techniques on climbing, descending, and the basics of training. You can download a sample chapter on Amazon (free on Kindle Unlimited or 99 pence to buy), and you can order your copy of the book on Amazon and other online retailers.

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The Starting Triathlon Series

Credit: Header Photo by Coen van den Broek on Unsplash