Monday, May 30, 2011

Multisport on a Shoestring: Your (T)rusty Steed

Okay.  So, last time I took you though getting set up for the swim.  As far as disciplines go, it's one of the easiest and least expensive to gear up for.  Suit? Check.  Goggles? Check.  Cap? Check.  Easy enough.  Now however, we come to the big money item: the bike.  Bikes are sexy.  They're elegant works of art that can be used to crush dreams and destroy the competition.  They're also rather intimidating.  There are so many different styles and brands, it's easy to get lost.
Let's get one thing out of the way first.  If you're new to multisport racing and aren't sure if you'll continue racing after your first event, you do not, I repeat, DO NOT need to drop $3000 on a carbon fiber rig.  Case in point: Cory Foulk

Cory's finished an Ironman on this $15 ride. 
 All right.  Let's get started.  This first part is for the person that has a bike, but doesn't know if it's "Tri Worthy".

If you're brand-spanking new to the sport, you probably still have some kind of bike stuffed in the back of your garage and are saying to yourself, "Self - I don't want to buy a new bike, maybe I can ride THIS...".  Well, before you decide, consider the following questions:

1.  Does it work? - Take your bike out, and ride it for a while, shifting through all of the gears.  If it doesn't shift smoothly, or sounds like a rusty barn door when you turn the pedals, then it probably could use a tune-up.  If you have the know-how, you can clean and tune it yourself, have a friend do it, or bring your ride into a local bike shop.  I'd recommend the local bike shop.  In addition to doing a nice, professional job, they'll also be able to tell you if there's more going on that you can't see.  The last thing you want is to have something break during your race.

2.  Does it Fit? - Opting to use your husband's old road bike is a great idea, especially if he's kept it clean and functional.  But, if he's 6'3 and you're 5'4, you're going to have problems.  Without getting too technical about fit, you'll want to be able to adjust the seat height so that you still have a slight bend in your knee when the pedal is at it's lowest.  Too much knee bend can cause pain in the knees, and legs that are too extended can cause hip pain.  Local shops will be happy to advise you on fit, especially if you already brought in your bike for a tune-up.

3.  Is it Fun to Ride? - This is often overlooked.  Sure, just about any bike will be able to finish the cycling portion of a race.  The issue is the training.  If you actually enjoy riding your bike, you're more likely to put in the training miles needed to finish your race.  If not, then it'll sit in the garage until race day, and you won't be as prepared as you could be.  Some folks can have fun riding almost anything. That's cool.  Others need to feel like the fastest kid on the block every time they ride.  That's cool too.

Now, if you don't own a bike, or the one you have doesn't meet your needs, then you'll probably be thinking about buying new.  Great!  There are all sorts of fun rides to check out.  Again, what I have to say here is for the BRAND NEW athlete.  If you've already been around the block a few times in multisport and are looking for advice on a sleek, sexy, superbike, then you won't find what you need here.  However, if you're looking for something dependable that you can ride more than just for racing, then you're in luck.

As always, there are two big questions to ask yourself before shopping for a bike:

1.  What kind of riding will I do? - If you just want to ride around the lake trails on the weekends, that's cool.  But you may benefit from a different kind of bike from someone who say, wants to ride the county roads for 10-20 hours per week. 

2.  What's your budget? - Yeah.  This is a sticky one.  If you're crapping cash, then that's great (I'll go grab a bucket) but not everybody can affort the top of the line.  The good news is that there are plenty of other options out there for the rest of us.

Okay.  So you've decided that you want a new bike.  You know how you'll want to use it and about how much you have to spend.  Do yourself a favor and check out a loca bike shop.  They'll be more than willing to let you test ride anything that strikes your fancy.  It should go without saying, but do not buy a bike from Sears, Wal-Mart or Target.  Sure, I use these guys for stocking up on toothpaste and Underoos, but if I'm going to spend my hard-earned cash on a ride, I'm going to buy it from an expert.

Let's take a look at the 4 main styles of bikes to consider.

Mountain Bikes

Prices Starting At: $300
Who they're for: With thick, knobby tires, solid frames and up to 30 gears, these bikes are designed for trail and off-road riding.  The rougher the terrain, the more that these excel.  Many have front suspension - shock absorbers built into the fork.  Others have dual suspension so both the front and back wheels will flex to soften the ride.  Get one if you want to try Xterra or any off-road races.

Who they're not for: They're tough, but they're also heavy.  Plus those knobby tires create a lot of rolling resistance.  Compared to other types of bikes, it takes a lot more work to get these up to speed.  Avoid these if you want to go fast on the road. 

What you pay for: Spending more money will get you nicer components (shifters, deraileurs, brakes, etc), disc brakes, as well as front or full suspension.  Components have come a long way.  The mid-level components today can out perform the top of the line from just a few years ago.  Some folks will get upity about getting the most impressive component spec, but don't let them convince you that it's needed.

If you really want to go crazy, you can get a carbon fiber frame that's lighter and stiffer so that you can chew up the course and rocket up those mountains.


Prices starting at: $250
Who they're for:  These are some of the most common bikes out there.  If you're finding a ride in the back of your garage, it's most likely a hybrid.  Why?  Well, they mix the upright seating of a mountain bike with the gearing of a road bike and wheels that are half-way inbetween.  This is designed to keep the rider comfortable, but also allows them to go quite a bit faster than the mountain rigs, at least on paved roads and trails. 
If you're new to the sport and aren't sure if you'll keep with it after your first race, this is a good place to start.  At least if you decide that multisport isn't your thing, you'll still have a nice bike you can take around the lakes from time to time. 

Who they're not for: Speed demons.  Compared to road bikes, hybrids are still pretty heavy.  The tires aren't quite as thick as mountain bikes, but they're still plenty beefy.  If you really wanna go fast, keep scrolling down.

What you pay for: Again, nicer components cost more money.  They're more durable and will operate more cleanly.  Do you absolutely need to spend a lot of cash?  No. Of course not.  But, it's there if you want it.  Some hybrids have front suspension forks too.

Road Bikes
Prices Starting At: $550
Who they're for: All right.  Now we're cooking with gas.  Everyone knows what road bikes look like.  They're what all those fast dudes in the Tour de France ride around on.  The riding position is much more aggressive, meaning that your hands are lower than your butt, so that you're more aerodynamic.  You have larger gears than on a hybrid, which gives you a higher top speed.  The tires are nice and narrow - usually around 23mm, so you can get up to speed and stay there. You've even got hood-mounted shifters that will change gears with just a flick from your index finger.

Also, there are some flat-bar road bikes out there as well.  If comfort is an issue and your back just can't handle leaning that far forward for so long, consider one of these as an alternative.

If you're going to spend time riding on the road, get yourself on one of these.  As fugly as my bike is, it's still just a modified Trek roadie, and it did the Ironman just fine.  I've got over 10000 miles on mine, and will probably put on 10000 more. 

Who they're not for: If you're new to cycling, $500 could be a lot to spend for what is considered a budget ride.  If you're strapped for cash and can't justify the cost, you may want to hold off for now.  Also, they're also not designed to be ridden on the trails.  With those narrow little wheels, you won't have nearly as much controll on even limestone trails compared to a hybrid or mountain bike.

What you pay for:  Carbon fiber costs more. Carbon is lighter than aluminum or steel, so you don't have to work as hard to move it. It can be molded into any shape, so frames can be more aerodynamic.  It's also said to yield a softer, less tooth-rattling ride.  Some less expensive bikes will give you carbon forks or seat posts.  Spend $2000 or more on a bike and the whole frame will be carbon.  Is it cool?  Heck yeah.  Do you NEED it?  Heck no.  Some of the fastest rides out there are are aluminum, and trusty old steel still has a nice soft ride.   
Oh, and the same rules apply for components on road bikes - they more you spend, the nicer they'll be.  Are they better?  Yes.  Are they required?  Ehhh...not so much.

Tri/Time Trial Bikes
Prices Starting At: $1000
Who they're for:  Me!  No, really.  I want one.  Bad.  These suckers are designed to go fast.  The frame geometry is much more aggressive and the aerobars get the rider nice and low.  The frame tubing is shaped like a wing so that it cuts through the wind.  Some have a rear wheel cutout that makes the back half of the bike even more slick.  These are for the serious triathlete and time trialist.

Who they're not for:  There's a saying: "Tri bikes are built for races, road bikes are built for life".  Meaning, a road bike is much more versatile than one of these beasts.  For example, since it's bad form to ride in the aerobars on a group ride, I'd be riding uncomfortably up on my base bar during all the Twin Cities Spoke rides.  They can also be a pain in the butt to maintain.  Kind of like sports cars, the more you spend, the more you find yourself tinkering with it.

What you pay for:  The same holds true for carbon fiber on tri bikes.  You'll see it used create more exotic shapes.  It can be softter vertically to absorb more road bumps, but stiffer from side to side so that all of your pedaling effort is transferred into the pedals rather than the flexing of the frame.  But hey, if you've got pockets deep enough for a carbon fiber tri bike, you probably knew that already.

Buying Used
There are plenty of deals to be had on Craigslist and eBay.  I know that the Twin Cities area has a fairly robust cycling presence on Craigslist.  If you really want a road bike, but still want to be able to afford gas and groceries, definitely give this a look.  I know it goes without saying, try to test ride the bike and confirm that everything is clean and in good working order before handing over your cash.  If something smells fishy, walk away.

My Ride
So, what do I ride?  Well, Rusty is a 2007 Trek 1500.  I got him on sale in preparation for RAGBRAI back in 2008.  Since then, I've added aerobars, flipped the stem to get lower in front, and rotated the seat tube 180 degrees to get more forward in the rear.  It's as close to a real tri position that I can get to for now.  The water bottle bolts rusted out, so I keep my fluids strapped between my aerobars and duct-taped the hole that was left when one of the bolts was 'extracted'. 
Even if I do finally save up enough dough for a dedicated tri bike, I'll still keep Rusty around for group rides, commuting, or nice rides around the lake.

My buddy.

1 comment:

  1. I like this series you have going. We all need ways to tighten our budget a bit. (Helps to convince "The Wife" that our hobby is still worth keeping around too) I just finished a post that's been in the works for awhile but on hold while I finished spring semester and final exams. I call it "poor man's recovery." You're welcome to borrow from it or guest post it if you like.