Bike 101

The bike is probably the most confusing investment a triathlete with a non cycling background can make. What kind of bike bike? Road bike or a tri bike? Carbon or Aluminium ? Why is that one more expensive that this one even though they look the same? What size fits me? Unfortunately I went through all that and spent months researching the bike and the components related to a bike , so I’ve decided to break it down which can hopefully help someone reading this make a decision and in general educate themselves about the anatomy of a bike

Road Bike vs Tri Bike

If you are just getting into triathlons, a lot of people suggest getting a road bike first and then seeing how you like the sport . If you enjoy it then go for a tri bike and they argue that handling a road bike is easier etc. In my opinion if you know you are going to complete a triathlon especially the longer distance ones ( 70.3 and 140.6), I would say just buy a tri bike even though it might be slightly expensive, rather than worrying about selling your road bike and then buying a tri bike. Also, if you are training for longer distances you are probably gonna be training most of the time indoors on a trainer ( more on that later).

Cost

At the end of the day, the difference between an entry level bike and a top end bike is the quality of components used. Yes, having carbon fibre components are light and expensive as fuck. For example carbon fibre wheels might cost you around $1600 per wheel.  Chances are that if you have a $1500 dollar bike and someone else has a $4000 dollar bike, the difference is primarily in lighter weight and better quality components and you two might have the exact same carbon frame. Items such as carbon cranks cost over $500. You can upgrade you bike slow and steady and find good deals on each individual components of the bike.  So if you are on a budget try and get an entry level carbon fibre bike ( below 2000) and then upgrade it slow and steady. Also if you get a 2-3 year old model, that’s fine, chances are the bike just had a new paint job and a newer components , and has the exact same frame.

Aero bars

if you for whatever reason decide to buy a road bike or own a road bike already and have now decided to get into triathlons, getting clip on aero bar is the best way to get aero  on your bike and shave of those precious seconds . If you have an entry level tri bike and are looking to upgrade your aero bars, it should be one of the last components you upgrade coz good aero bars start around 300 bucks and you can have better time savings by investing a lower amount in an aero helmet. Another place you could use that money is in a power meter, a power meter is THE training tool and helps you pace your self in longer races. An expensive bike or an entry level bike with a power meter, pick the one with the power meter!

Crankset

You can break down the crankset into 2 components :

1- The crank arm ( This is what the pedal is attached to )

2- Chain rings ( This is what the crank arm is attached to via a spider)

The crank-sets come in various sizes

53/39 ( standard)

52/38 ( standard)

52/36 ( Semi Compact)

50/34 ( Compact)

What the fuck are these numbers?

The first number (53,52,50) refers to the big chain ring in front. Its the number of teeth on the outer/big ring.

The second number ( 39,38,36) refers to the small chain ring on the inside.Its the number of the teeth on the inner/smaller ring.

Uh ok, so what do these numbers mean?

Well too put in bluntly, the bigger the ring the faster you can go.

So I should get a 53/39 instead of a 50/34 ? Why bother with a smaller crank?

True, but it also requires more effort 😀

So which one should I pick?

If you are on a budget, I would suggest going for a compact. If you had more money to spare I would buy a 52/36 and a 50/34. With the 52/36 you get the top speed of a standard crankset , and you have a smaller small chain ring in case you need it . I would not even worry about the 53/39 unless you are the HULK 🙂

Cog

These are the circular things at the back of your bike on which the chain runs. They are usually a 10spd or an 11 spd. And usually not all rear wheels are compatible with an 11 speed. Talk to your bike mechanic or look up details before purchasing an 11 speed cog as an upgrade to ensure your rear wheels is compatible

Cogs are denoted with a hyphen in between two numbers.

12-25 ( smallest cog/ring at the back has 12 teeth and the largest cog/ring at the back has 25 teeth ). But you must have noticed you have various cogs/rings in between. Those cogs/rings are in between the range of 12 and 25(13,14,15 etc) in this case.

Note : Over here the smaller cog/chain allows you to go faster, and the big cog/chain allows you to go up the hills and is a granny/easier gear.

Which one should I use ?

If you intend to ride or race in the flats a 12/25 is good with a 52/36 crank set.

If you intend to ride or race in this hills, a 11-28 or a 12-27 with a 52/36 or a 50/34 is a good choice. If you had to make a choice and spend money on only 1 cog and 1 crankset, I would suggest go with a 50/36 and a 11-28 at the back. If you are unfortunate to have a standard crank set up on your bike with a 12-25 cog and you are planning on racing IM wisconsin or something similar, you are SCREWED because of the hills. You will probably end up walking those hills and your legs are gonna be jelly by the time you are ready for the run. So never show up under geared on your bike, you WILL regret it. So in that situation I highly recommend “investing”  in a new crankset and/or new cog which allows you to get into relatively easier gears than if you were riding a standard crank(52/36 or a 53/39).

10 spd cog vs 11 speed cog ?

Its the number of cogs available to you ? 10 simply means 10 cogs, 11 means 11 cogs. The 11 cog means you have more cogs to chose from to fine tune your ride. But you need to keep in mind, not all wheels are 11 spd compatible.

Tires

The accepted nomenclature for tires is CC*mm ( 700 * 23CC, 700 * 25CC). Ypur road/tri bike is probably riding one of these, just check the tyre and you should see the size on it.

Which one should I pick? Latest research has shown that 25CC tires are faster for the same pressure compared to 23CC’s. So if you thought thinner was faster, you are wrong. It has to do with rolling resistance, go look up rolling resistance if you are really interested in knowing why.

So what are clinchers, tubular, tubeless?

               Clinchers – Is what most bikes come with. If you get a flat you remove the tire, then fix/replace the tube and put                   the tire back on.

               Tubular – This is when the tire is somehow sewn to the tube and then glued to your bikes wheel. Tubulars are                    more expensive, slightly faster and if you get a flat, it takes time to fix them since you have to glue a new tubular                   back again.

               Tubeless – This is interesting. You glue your tire to the rim and then fill the tire with a sealant. All minute tears                       and punctures are sealed immediately.  But if you were to somehow rip this  tire in a race ( very                                           unlikely) , its a big headache to put one back.

What would I recommend?

You probably got clinchers with your bike, its best to stick to them. If you do have spare cash,try going for a better quality clincher.

Front Derailleur 

This is the metal thing which help you change the gears on the front between the big chain ring and the small chain ring. There are plenty of options to chose from and then again the question is , is it worth the money? Should you invest in another part instead of this? Well, this is one of those things which will not really make you or your bike go faster , it only helps in better quality shifting and might be made of a better alloy so might be a few grams lighter, thats about where its benefits end. So unless you are really annoyed with the way your current gear shifting is upfront, its not worth spending money here unless you just have money with you and have no idea what to do with it.

Rear Derailleur 

Well, if there is a front for the big and small chain rings, there has to be something  in the back for the cogs. So the rear derailleur helps in shifting of the gear in the back (i.e. go up or down in the cog). Upgrading this component again does not really have any benefits in terms of direct speed. A better component might just provide better shifting and might be a few grams lighter.  But if you did have spare cash for whatever reason, and you had to pick between upgrading either the front or the rear derailleur , go for the front instead.

Tubes

Tubes are what go into your tires, its a similar concept to a car tube. You can get spare tubes for under 7-8 bucks. Tubes also have a size range. So if you googled bike tubes you would see them in a range of 22-28 CC, which means they are compatible with tires upto 28CC

Shcrader vs Presta

These are the valves which allow you to pump air in your tube.

Does it matter which one you have ? No, as long as you have a device which can inflate them in a race. I recommend a buying a Co2 infiltrator and a pump which is compatible with both the valves.

Trainers vs Rollers

The trainers allow you to mount your bike and then ride your bike without really moving. In trainers as well you have a wind, magnetic and a fluid trainer. The wind trainer makes a lot of noise, the flui trainer is expensive. The magnetic trainer is a good middle ground. I recommend looking up a deal and buying one online.

The rollers require you to balance yourself on rollers.

If you are gonna be training indoors , just get yourself the trainer. You can do crazy hard intervals on it and focus on speed and one leg drills rather than worrying about balance. If you know how to balance a bike, you know how to balance it. The rollers wont make a difference.

Miscellaneous :

These are items you will need but you can do without them for the time being if you don’t have a race sometime soon and plan to train indoors:

1-  Co2 Inflators – When you get a flat during a race, what do you do? You use a Co2 cartridge which attaches to an inflator which you then use to fill air. Generally for triathlons people carry 2-3 16gms co2 cartidges.

2- Allen Key/Tire level – Get an Allen key set to screw water bottle cages or other things to your bike. The tire level helps you get the clincher tire of the rim when you have a flat tube.

3-  Seat Caddy – During a race you need to carry your repair kit ( Co2 inflator, spare tubes, tire levers ). All these fit into a seat caddy or if need be you can stuff all this into an empty water bottle and mount it on the water bottle cage.

4 – Pump – If you are going to be riding outdoors on indoors, tires lose pressure pretty fast. Just buy the cheapest one you can find on ebay/amazon which has a scale on it . That way you are consistent every time and you know what you are putting in and don’t burst the tire.

5 – Power Meter – This is an expensive investment. I would recommend this only after you’ve done a few shorter races and have decided to compete longer distances and wanna train seriously. The power meter will be covered in a separate post .

6- Coach – This is similar to a power meter, a coach can’t help you unless you have a power meter. But i have a heart rate monitor, uh well it isn’t accurate and the most effective way to train. If you are gonna be hiring a coach, you are probably serious , if you are serious you need a power meter.

7- Helmet – If you have a triathlon signed up, wearing a helmet is mandatory, also if you plan to ride outdoors you should wear one for your own safety. But I would recommend not buying it from your bike store and see if you can find a deal online. Also, if you are training indoors and your race is a few months away , you can space out your investments. You can try and look up deals on aero helmets ( alien ones) online and look for deals, you should get one under 300. if you are not willing to spend that much, get a road helmet, they usually run from 50-150 bucks.

8 – Saddle – You sit on this a lot, if you think you could be more comfortable on a better saddle, go to a bike shop to try and sit on a few and see what fits you best.

9- Degreaser/oil – Its only a matter of time before  which you need to clean your bike. If you been riding outdoors you might have to buy it sooner, if you been riding indoors primarily, you could wait a few months before shelling out a few bucks on this. You need a degreaser and oil.  Watch this video by GCN on how to clean your bike.

10 – Water bottle/cage – you will need a water bottle cage for races, I recommend buying a cheap one from amazon. There is a lot of hype on carbon fiber and weight. To put it simply its not worth the money. If you are training indoors you can space this investment out and just keep a bottle next to you.

11 – Speed/Cadence sensor – This isn’t the best investment when it comes to training or pacing, but if you are on a budget and do not want to invest in a power meter, you can get a speed/cadence sensor. It’s a start and you can use the speed/cadence sensor to try and stay in the 80-90 RPM range . Its suggested that the higher cadence saves your legs for the run , so rather than pounding a big gear at 60 RPM, try going in an easier gear at 90 RPM. j]Just a note, speed isn’t the most accurate way to gauge your effort, a tail wind and a downhill , you could be touching over 40 miles per hour, on a hill you could be at 10 mph, The speed varies a lot depending on terrain and wind, hence the power meter is the way to go if you really wanna train seriously since the power you generate does not change based on the terrain and wind.

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#aerobars, #cogs, #cranksets