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Monday, April 16, 2012

Good Things Come in Big Packages (but is a triathlon bike right for me?)

My husband took my “subtle” hints of my “need” to have a bicycle on location at both homes in CT and Martha’s Vineyard for this year’s birthday present.  Once I started training for triathlons, my 15 year old Specialized Hybrid which I was keeping on the Vineyard just wasn’t cutting it anymore except for short runs to the beach or store.  So last summer I was constantly insisting we load my 5 year old Raleigh road bike onto the car for our weekend trips to our home away from home.  Both the Specialized and Raleigh were former birthday presents so given history and hints, I was pleasantly “surprised” with my gift.
My accountant husband did a lot of research and determined the best deal on the market was a Kestrel triathlon bike – you can find it online with high end components for about $1,800.  I was thrilled at the opportunity to not just get another bike to satisfy my “need” but also to upgrade for my future races.  But, the first question I started asking is “should I get a triathlon bike”?
I read some articles that would indicate I should consider a triathlon bike.  Generally, you should only consider a triathlon bike if you already have a road bike for certain training and riding situations in which you would not want a triathlon bike.  A lot of group rides prohibit triathlon bikes, which are not made for quick maneuvering or a lot of hills.  Triathlon bikes are best when you want to maintain speed over long distances on flat or not more than rolling hills surfaces.  Their design can be considered a little less stable when needing to deal with situations where you have to maneuver through a lot of bike or car traffic.  The geometry of the bike is designed to help “save your legs” somewhat during cycling to make the transition into the run easier.
So with this in mind, I visited some local bicycle shops to further investigate triathlon bikes.  My first stop was to a triathlon shop that I’m thrilled just opened in Stamford, CT – Pacific Swim Bike Run.  I follow them on Facebook as they frequently hold some great events.  While they carried Kestrels, they didn’t have any triathlon bikes in that or any other brand in my size to give a trial ride.  I stopped in at another store while in Waitsfield, VT – FIT WERX.  Very nice folks who take cycling seriously and it appears that people travel for miles to shop in their store and/or use their bike fitting services.  Again, there was nothing really in my size to try.  On the way home from VT and almost home, we stopped in Cycle Center, a bicycle store in North Stamford a few miles from our house.  Again no triathlon bikes in my size.
I started looking online at manufacturers’ sites, hoping to find a manufacturer’s event or sponsorship at a local expo.  While there appeared to be many events across the country, I was surprised and disappointed that there was nothing upcoming in the metro NY area (a huge oversight I think for the manufacturers).  I finally discovered a woman’s bicycle shop in Fairfield, CT.  The shop, Trek Women Bike Store, is really just a section of the larger Trek Bicycle of Fairfield store, but they did have a woman’s Trek triathlon bike in my size.  They were very busy that day so I had to wait awhile for them to get the bike ready but once they had time for me, the person helping me was very knowledgeable and actually a former triathlete pro-in-training who spent a couple years in Colorado at the training headquarters.  The weather was misting so I just took it for a quick ride in the parking lot to see how it handled.  I returned to the store thinking I would have to come back for a longer ride on it, and upon coming into the store, one of the sales attendants said, “yeah they are really nice bikes but you really only want to take them out on race day.”  Huh?  While I understood they are not good for all situations, I didn’t envision having a bike that I only took out on race day.
My next stop a few days later on a late evening just before closing was to Danny’s Cycles in Stamford, CT.  Danny’s offers lifetime annual service for free if you buy a bicycle there, a plus.  I instantly liked the sales rep, Cristina, who was a triathlete herself.  We talked more about a triathlon bike and she further discouraged me from it, confirming that most people who have one bring them out for race day.  As I thought about the fact that I ride on bike paths a lot, I often have to maneuver around people and on occasion stop quickly.  I also concluded through these discussions that I could just put aero bars on a road bike, particularly if I knew that going into the purchase and bought a bike sized with that in mind.  When I googled “getting optimal speed on a bike” one of the best things you can do is reduce wind resistance which is what the aero bars help accomplish, as well as ease the pressure on your back during long distances.
So, one month into my shopping, I concluded I would focus on a road bike.  I was also reminded throughout this process how important a Women’s Specific Design (WSD) is for me.  While many women can ride a man’s bicycle, I have long legs and a short torso which is one of the key features a WSD addresses.  Furthermore, bicycle designers who have been taking the woman’s market seriously, have made design changes to the handlebars and braking and shifting positionings, accounting for women’s smaller frames and hands.  As I researched WSDs, it appeared that Trek and Specialized are the two brands taking WSD seriously.  Both brands tout women designers on staff, have events tailored to women, and have an online presence that clearly demonstrates they take the market seriously.  Next up – my reviews of Specialized and Trek test rides.

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