Shifting Gears on a Bike

Thanks to all of those mouth-watering magazine ads and tips from well-meaning friends, there’s a lot of pressure on the novice triathlete to “keep up with the Joneses” when it comes to the latest and greatest triathlon gear.

According to a study conducted by USA Triathlon, triathletes have an average annual income of more than $126,000, but even if you are lucky enough to be “average,” how do you know when to scrimp and when to splurge to help you get faster and have more fun when you head out to swim, bike and run? Here’s my take.

Splurge

Coaching: 

No investment in the sport gives you more bang for the buck than professional coaching tailored to your specific needs and hectic schedule. Sure, the Internet and your more experienced tri friends can be helpful, but only an objective coach has the experience and perspective to help you balance overall health, fitness and well-being as you grow as an endurance sport athlete.

Bike fit: 

For around $100, you’ll likely come away with a far better position on your bike that achieves an optimal blend of comfort, aerodynamics and power. Not only will your bike leg improve dramatically, but your run will thank you too!

Running shoes with gait analysis: 

The run is the only weight-bearing discipline in triathlon, so you better put some time and money into proper fit and support for all of those miles of pounding the pavement. Seek out an expert at a specialty running store to help you select the shoe that best matches your foot, stride, training mileage and race-day goals.

Swim instruction: 

As the saying goes, “You can’t win the tri in the swim, but you sure can lose it.” While “losing” is relative, your goal should be to reach T1 smoothly and having expended minimal physical and mental energy. A few lessons with a skilled swim coach can go a long way toward achieving both.

Heart rate monitor, cadence meter, power meter: 

Becoming a savvy endurance sport athlete requires a blend of art and science. But, you really can’t progress to the “art” phase without first learning how your active body functions. With the help of these objective tools, you’ll be able to gather and act on your data. Check with your local bike or tri shop for advice on which will work best for you.

Cycling clothing: 

Triathlon apparel is mostly a “compromise” solution designed to work for all three disciplines on race day. For more comfort and happier miles when training on the bike, invest in a well-rounded cycling wardrobe. Your wardrobe should include:

  • Shorts with a full chamois
  • Jersey with sleeves and large pockets
  • Arm and leg warmers
  • A compactable vest and jacket.

Scrimp

Bike: 

The bike is often the first place newish triathletes turn when they open their wallets. But frequently that comes at the expense of more vital areas, like coaching.  A road bike or entry-level tri bike can work great for a couple of seasons. And then once you’ve decided to commit to the sport, you can invest invest in your bike. You’ll want a bike that features better fit and aerodynamics, lighter weight, crisper shifting, and smoother wheels.

Race wheels: 

With a hefty price tag, race wheels are a “luxury” that can wait. If you must, rental race wheels can be a good temporary solution. But be sure you are familiar with how to change a flat on them. You don’t want to be caught dealing with an unfamiliar wheel  in the middle of your big race.

Heart rate monitor, cadence meter, power meter: 

Yes, I know these are also listed under “Splurge”. However, if you already have solid experience with endurance sports, and are able to make a well-educated guess at your intensity level, then you may be able to scrimp on these tools while still coming close to nailing the right effort levels in both training and racing.

Race fees: .Some races offer the chance to volunteer in exchange for a break on registration fees. It can’t hurt to ask, right?

Scott Fliegelman is the former owner and head coach of FastForward Sports. He now coaches a select group of athletes, writes for numerous endurance sport magazines, and helps people pursue their two-wheeled dreams while working at Boulder Cycle Sport.