6 Factors I used to Select my Triathlon Bike

I am new to triathlon and getting into the sport past 50 has been interesting.  I started out this year in the sport with the road bike I used back in the ‘90’s a Miyata 914.  A sold bike with Shimano Ultegra 600.  I did my first two sprint distance races with the normal setup and then added Redshift aerobars for the last sprint race.  

I am really enjoyed triathlon so I set out to upgrade my bike. I noticed that this time of year (July) bikes started to go on sale.  I suspect the dealers are moving out inventory so that new models can come in.  Looks like middle to late summer (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) is the time to buy a new bike. 

Here is how I went from my Miyata 914 to a new Cervelo P2.

Set a budget and Timing

New bikes can quickly get up into the $5,000+ range.  I set my budget at $3,000.  I felt $3,000 would get me a bike I wouldn’t outgrow or outperform. I don’t make my living at triathlon, other than a few tee shirts I’ll earn $0 dollars off my racing.  However, at 53 I wanted this to be close to the last bike I needed.  I wanted to spend enough that I wouldn’t “run out of bike”. 

I am a firm believer in “the cheap man pays twice”.  If you try and go too cheap you end up having to buy again quickly and if you saved a little more money and combined that with what you spent on the cheap bike you would have a great bike and would probably have spent much less in the end.

Decision - $3,000 budget.

Road Bike vs. Triathlon Bike

I have a road bike that works and I can use on group rides and poor weather training. Essentially I already have a functioning road bike. I do not plan on doing any road racing so I have no need to upgrade my road bike at this time. Training on the old heavier road bike would help with my strength and endurance.

The big difference between a road and triathlon / Time trial bike is the frame geometry.  What does that mean?  With a triathlon bike you are positioned more forward over the bottom bracket than on a road bike.  This allows you to get in the aero position more comfortably.  A triathlon bike is designed to be ridden in the aero position while a road bike is designed to be ridden in various positions. 

My focus is on triathlons and I wanted the right tool for the right job. 

Decision - dedicated triathlon bike.

Frame vs. Components

As you would expect, as you move up within a Company’s component line the price of the bike goes up.  You typically can get the same frame built out with different component groups. A bike with Shimano 105 is less expensive than Ultegra…than Dura Ace.

When I purchased my road bike from International Bike Shop in Bellbrook Ohio, in 1990 (it is still a thriving store) I’ll never forget the advice the owner gave me. He said you should always buy the best frame you can afford because you can upgrade the components later. I upgraded the group set, the wheels, handlebars, pedals, basically everything on the Miyata. 

On my new bike I wanted something with Shimano components.  I didn’t need Dura Ace right off the bat, but wanted Shimano.  Also within the Shimano line essentially everything is compatible outside of the electronic shifting, so you can upgrade individual components through their line from 105 – Ultegra – Dura Ace.

What you get when you go up within a company’s component line is reduced weight and some improved quality.  I can lose pounds off the “engine” for free or loose ounces off the bike for $’s.  I’m on the free weight reduction plan right now.

From a frame perspective I wanted carbon fiber.  I believe all the major triathlon bikes are carbon these days.  The combination of being light and strong is key.

Decision – Buy the best quality frame I could afford with Shimano 105 components.

Research

First thing I did was see what bikes friends I trained with were using.  I found this extremely valuable as you generally get insight into their thought process for a typical age-grouper.  Just keep in mind to have a bit of skepticism as people will not want to admit they made a bad decision. This was extremely helpful. 

Then I did the typical searches:

  • Best triathlon / time trial bikes under $3,000, best triathlon frames, reviews each major brand.  Typically, I saw the Cervelo brand on the lists.
  • I looked at consumer rankings for brands.  I typically saw Cervelo towards the top. 
  • I also searched for what brands had the most complaints or issues.  Although I wanted to be careful with this as typically people are more apt to complain when they aren’t happy vs. Posting when they are happy.
  • I didn’t care too much about what the pros were riding.  They have sponsors I don’t. Which means they get free bikes I don’t.

At this point the typical names you recognize came to top of the list; Felt, Cervelo, Diamondback, Quintana Roo.

With those manufacturers I don’t think you can get a bad bike. The quality, workmanship and service behind these bikes is there. 

Local Dealers

You can buy a bike on-line.  However, I want a local dealer that knows the bike, has a relationship with the brand and can service and answer questions for me.  After talking with my training friends, researching on-line for quality and customer views / reviews I then researched what brands were available locally.   In the Middle Ohio that included Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus. 

This helped narrow down my selection a bit.  Cervelo was a brand well represented in the region.

One thing I also did was search my company’s discount website to see if there were any bike discounts.  This is something to not overlook as companies are always trying to find ways to improve their employees’ health (read- reduce health care costs) and cycling sure does that.  My company actually offered a Diamondback discount through an on-line portal.

Fit and Feel

The most important aspect for me was fit and feel.  I knew any current triathlon bike I got on was going to feel so much better than my twenty-six-year-old road bike.

Proper fit is critical on a triathlon bike.  On a road bike you have a variety of contact points with the bike; you can ride in the drops, on the brake hoods, on the upper bars.  All these positions change how you are positioned on the bike and affect how the bike is fitted to you.

On a triathlon bike you essentially have 2 contact points with the bike.  In the horns and in the aerobar position.  This makes fit critical as you need to be comfortable in the aerobar position.  This allows you to dial in fit as you know what position you will be riding in. 

With locally supported bikes identified, and the dealers I went into the shop for a test ride and to discuss the individual brands.  For me that was a trip up to Logik on their anniversary sale weekend.

I discussed the various bikes they carried including Felt, Cervelo.  I rode the Cervelo and Felt.  I really felt great on the Cervelo. 

In discussing the Cervelo with the guys there I understood that the P2 and P3 were the same frame.  The P3 has an upgraded fork and cockpit.  The rest was identical.  This came at a $1,000 price difference.

I discussed sizing and fit with the guys and settled on the 56 cm bike. 

Conclusion

I decided on a budget, did my research both in person and on-line and finally rode the bikes that fit my budget.  Key – Don’t ride a $5,000 bike when you have a $3,000 budget!!!

In the end I am happy with my black and white Cervelo P2 with Shimano 105 group on it.