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I want to ride a bike, what now?

By on May 15, 2014

I remember when I first decided that I was going to take on Ironman. I was so excited and I could not wait to get out there and train like the pro’s, except for one problem, I didn’t have a bike. So what’s a new cyclist to do? I started googl’ing, craigslist’ing, sifting through ebay, and walking into my local bike shops. My mind was quickly blown away with the tremendous amount of options, brands, styles, accessories, gear, clothing, and of course EVERYONE was telling me what I should or should not get. I was overwhelmed.

I was on a budget, I was new to cycling, and I had no prior knowledge whatsoever. I ended up getting the bike that was the most budget friendly and it also came with an old helmet. I brought it home and started riding it and thought it was pretty fast. I went on a group ride and I was quickly told that my bike was not “setup” properly, did not fit me, I did not have clip on shoes, I needed new tires, my chain was too old, my brakes were not working right, and that if I was going to make it through Ironman then I was going to need aerobars.

I went to my local bike shop and invested my money into the accessories that would help get me through ironman the most, because I had a VERY limited budget. I purchased clip on shoes, pedals, and aero bars, and along with this purchase they also adjusted the seat and bars. I went back out to that group ride the next week and I could not wait to show off my new gear. I could tell that everything was much different with the clip on shoes, the aerobars, and I felt like the seat adjustment and bar adjustment helped.

I felt as if my cycling needs would be over now since I had everything, right? Well, wrong… Over the next year I learned more and more about how bikes work, the different types of bikes (road bikes, triathlon bikes, cycle cross bikes, etc), different gearing setups for different terrain (mountains vs. flats), how tires and wheelsets can help, the difference between carbon, aluminium, steel, how there is an aero position vs. regular cycling position, and so much more. I was listening to guys talk about “saving grams”, power to weight ratio, frame stiffness, and getting more and more confused about what’s really the most important things for a guy like me, you know, an average joe.

So with this in mind I wanted to give you my five tips, my opinion, on what to focus on when getting your first bike.

1.) Get the right size even if you have to wait for it, even if you have to pass up that great deal. 

Look, I know it’s tough to pass up a good deal. You see that “perfect” bike with the exact color you want and it just looks really fast, except it doesn’t quite fit right, no big deal right? Wrong! After doing 3 full ironmans on the wrong size bike, not fitted, not made for long course triathlon, I have learned the hard way that you need the right fit, you cannot “figure it out” or “make it work”.

Well, you can, but you will suffer for it, a lot!! LOL. I know I did many times. You can’t get a proper bike fit if you did not buy the correct frame size from the beginning. Something will always be out of whack. Make sure you get the right size the first time that way you can get a proper fitting, achieve that equilibrium of comfort + performance, and be able to run after you do all of that hard work on the bike.

2.) Never, Ever, Ever skip the fitting.

When you purchase your bike there is one thing I would never skip, the fitting. The fitting will be what makes or breaks your performance and comfort level. If you are riding shorter races like sprint, olympic, or even 70.3 you can get away with a bad fit, you won’t ride as fast or even run as fast after you get off of the bike, but you can push through it because of the shorter bike courses.

(Getting my Body Geometry Fit at my local Specialized Dealer, thanks Steve)

But when it comes to the Ironman distance bike course you really can’t fake it anymore. Around mile 80 you are going to see what I mean. If you got a proper fit and made the right adjustments during your training then you will increase your performance by a ton and have that extra little something to keep pushing through, maybe hold off those cramps, and also maximize your run performance. Each athlete is different and your fit will be just for you. The days of dropping everything to the floor and getting as aero as possible 24/7 (just like the pro’s) are changing. Just look at Ironman pro and 4X Wild Flower Champion Jesse Thomas. He has broken the traditional “drop as low as you can” aero position for more comfort, which to him, equals more power and therefore more speed. (Photo via Jay Prasuhn/Lava Magazine)

Jay Prasuhn/Lava Magazine

3.) If you can get a Tri bike vs. a road bike then DEFINITELY get a tri bike. 

If you are doing Ironman races at the 70.3 or 140.6 distances then the difference between a road bike and a tri bike is completely insane.  For a couple of years everyone would tell me there wasn’t a crazy big difference but once I made the switch it was night and day. I remember the first time I did a time trial with my Tri bike. When I got off the bike I said to my friends, “You guys have been cheating this whole time because it’s not even the same at all.”

Tri bikes, when fitted properly, will increase speed, power, comfort, and when you get off the bike and start running you’ll really see what all of the fuss is about. The tri bike saves your legs so that you can really run. In the beginning I invested in clip on aero bars for my road bike but knowing what I know now I would save my money and just get a tri bike instead.

4.) the seat. THE seat.. the SEAT… THE SEAT!!!

If you are looking for the single most important item to give you comfort, increase performance, and allow you to log more miles in the saddle then I suggest getting the right seat for your butt. I never took a second look at my saddle. I just kept riding on it for years because I just thought I needed to tough it out, wait until I got used to it, or until I got a new bike that would come with one.

Truth be told, knowing what I know now, I would have switched out my saddle a long time ago. If you are having trouble with comfort, things falling asleep, saddle sores getting a little too frequent, the chamois cream is just not doing the trick, then you probably just need a completely new saddle to solve all of the above.

(The seat in this photo, which I use, is the Specialized Sitero)

5.) Shoes, they matter big time. 

The first pair of shoes I got were the cheapest I could find and I rode my bike in them for a full year before I got another pair. I went from the cheapest pair of shoes to the best shoes on the market, The Specialized Trivents, and the difference was insane. I had to wear socks with my old shoes and sockless riding was not even an option. Now with typical cycling this might not mean much but in triathlon the difference between sock riding and sockless riding can be 5 minutes in transition. Typically I can get out of T1 in a sprint or Olympic triathlon within 45 seconds and when your competition takes 4-6 minutes to do the same you have really made ground on them. Having proper shoes that are built for the very sport you are competing in makes all the difference in the world. I never knew shoes could be so important in saving time in a race, but they do.