Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A novice’s guide to buying a new bike

When I was announced as part of Team Rev3 2012, I knew there would be bike sponsors.  I wasn’t sure if it would be in my budget to get a new bike this year.  Heck, I wasn’t even sure I wanted a new bike.  Riding in aero looks scary. 

As the year went on, I continued to train and race on my Spartacus, aka my Specialized Allez non-carbon road bike.  I love him, he is great.  I even got him tuned up with a new cassette, cables, brakes and back tire.  I learned how to clean him (read this post by Chloe for the full tutorial).  However, as the year progressed and the more I talked to my teammates about bikes the more I thought I might be ready for an upgrade.  Little did I know that buying a tri bike was going to be a totally different experience than when I bought my road bike—many more steps involved.  So, here I am ready to give you the play-by-play on my experience of buying a new bike.  As you know from my previous post, I ended up with a sweet new ride!

Step 1: Research!  (What kind of bike do you want?  What do different manufacturers offer? What is the difference between Ultegra and DuraAce components? Am I eligible for a discount?)  Bikes are an investment.  I will be the first to tell you they are and that I spent several months debating whether it was worth it for me to get a new bike versus trying out clip on aero bars versus neither option and just sticking with Spartacus as he is.  Plenty of people are successful with clip-on’s and I know at least one person (Jen) who did a full ironman distance race with a regular road bike, no aero bars and did just fine! (DC Rainmaker has a good post about clip-on’s if you arethinking of going that route.)

As part of Team Rev3, we were offered discounts from our bike sponsor--Quintana Roo.  This was a key factor in my ability to afford a new bike.  However, check with your local bike shop for discounts.  Also, if you’re a member of a local tri club, some shops will offer discounts to tri club members.  Do your research on bikes and know your budget before going to a store.  Bike shops want to sell you a bike and will be respectful of your budget, just be honest and do some research ahead of time.

Step 2: Get Fitted. Find a local bike shop/tri shop to get fitted for frame, stack and reach size.  If you already own a tri bike you probably already know these measurements.  For those of us who are upgrading from a road bike to a tri bike or going straight from no bike to tri bike, get a fit. (Getting a fit is also recommended if you’re going to get clip-on aero bars for your road bike.  For clip-on’s your fit will be on your own bike versus what I will describe below.)  Most shops will have what’s commonly called an “EXIT” fit.  It’s basically just a frame with a seat, crank and handle bars.  This is where your fitter will take your measurements which will help narrow down your options.  Ask questions during the fit process.  Don’t be afraid to say something doesn’t feel right.  Play with your pedal cadence.  Remember when you’re racing you’re not out for a stroll, be sure to simulate race-effort.

Step 3: Weighing your options. Based on your fit results, you will probably be offered a few different suggestions for bikes.  Here is where your initial research will come in handy.  Different manufacturers use different components. Google is your friend so are the forums on many of the tri/cycling websites.  If you have a question about X bike, it’s likely someone else had the same question at some point. Don’t feel like you need to rush this decision.  Whoever you’re working with on making this purchase should let you think about your decision for a few days.  Sometimes, supply is limited, so if you’re set on a particular bike, you should ask whether there are multiple bikes in stock.

Step 4: Making your selection.  Once you have made your selection, ask to take it for a test ride.  They should set up the bike with your measurements and hook you up on a trainer for a little bit and then send you out on the road for a mini ride.  If all feels right, then you should have a decision.

A couple things to remember:

1.  The price of the bike is likely not to include pedals, bottle cages, aero bottles, seat bag for tools/tube.
2.  Ask about re-fittings.  Most professional fits should come with a tweak or two as you settle in with your sweet new ride.  The shop I went through for my fit, guarantees fit for a year.
3. If you’re going from one style of bike to another it may take some getting used to.  For me, the tri bike feels wobbly and I don’t feel as stable, however, I remember having the same feeling when I went from a mountain bike to a road bike.  Time in the saddle, time in the saddle.

Good Luck and Happy Shopping!