You Don’t Have to Get a Fancy Expensive Tri Bike To Do a Triathlon (But they do look awesome!)

Not gonna lie. That new Cervelo P5 Lamborghini looks like it could PR me to the finish
line. For $20,000, I think it should actually do the race for me and meet me with a beer at the finish. (And give me a full refund if I don’t get a slot to Ironman Kona…and podium at Kona).

But I have to be realistic about what I spend on my athletics. There’s the family, food, the house, utilities, the car payments, saving for kids’ college tuition…and saving for retirement (this last one has been meaning A LOT more lately). I don’t regret where I have spent a dime. But honestly, if I had to spend buckets to do a triathlon, I simply could not.

Unfortunately, triathlon has been equated with high cost. From $100 cycling shorts to $500 wheels (each), the bragging rights of pushing the high costs have, unfortunately, scared off many people. (Honestly, who thinks it’s normal to spend $180 on 4 ounces of spandex that barely cover from your shoulder to your knees?)

I did my first triathlon on an old steel framed bike with a clunky helmet and sneakers and plain old pedals. I didn’t even have aerobars. I am frugal (translation: I use coupons at the store, I buy products only on special sale, I buy discount meat. I’m a working mom with a family-enough said?)

So yes, YOU TOO can do a triathlon without spending your family fortune.

  • How? Below is a list of stuff that, over the years, have proven worth spending a little money on (mostly ONLY on sale…), and which ones are not worth it. Also, a few tips on keeping the costs down so you can enjoy triathlon training when you do spend a bit (yeah, that steel frame bike wiped out my quads on the hills, but with that carbon fiber (year end sale) replacement bike….I caught up with the guys cycling group in no time flat).

DO/DON’T GET:  

  • Padded cycling shorts- DO
    • Do NOT spend tons of money on these, but DO get a comfortable pair.
      • I have found that anatomic pads ARE important.
        • In straight talk, after medium or long distance rides, without good padding in the shorts:
          • Ladies- wiping after peeing is going to hurt. A lot.
          • And guys? The man-parts can go numb…and hurt… all at the same time.
        • You need to work into time on the saddle. And the anatomic pads in shorts help keep the tissue from getting AS sore AS soon ( notice it doesn’t say keeps it away forever).
        • Go to a bike store and try on a zillion. Take them home, get in them, and sit on your bike on a wind trainer for 15 minutes BEFORE you take them on the road. Don’t get them sweaty or you can return them. If you’re sore…move on to the next pair. Everyone is different- find the one’s that work for you. This still doesn’t guarantee that at mile 40 or 50 there won’t be soreness, but if they hurt within 15 minutes, you can be SURE the end of a long ride will be brutal.
  • Chamois Cream- YES! ( or make it yourself)
    • Why? Cause a big part of saddle soreness is either a bad saddle, bad shorts, or friction. Chamois cream can help decrease pain from all 3 of these. There are lots on the market……see what works for you. (I make my own).
    • Some people like to slather on cheap old vaseline, but I don’t, because vaseline is very greasy and can leek into the short pad and make them kinda gross after a while.
    • Also, see my Quick Tip on Chapstick (and yes, I know it is petrolatum (Vaseline) based, but honestly, at mile 70 if I hurt, I’ll use Chapstick, anyway. I have not seen it stain my shorts).
  • Cycling jersey- DO…but…
    • OK- yes, for having pockets in the back to put stuff in, for sweat evaporation needs, for overall comfort. (And freaking cool colors)
    • There are several folks that sell their own branded jerseys to keep the cost down (see links below). Honestly, they are also really expensive.
    • There was a long time when I just didn’t wear them because of the cost. Even now, sometimes, I cycle in light t-shirts, and while they whip in the wind and the “Roadies” give me “the look”, unless I’m trying to take the podium at the next race, I just don’t care.
      • (I do miss having pockets when I wear them, though).
    • Just make sure that what you wear breathes and is ugly bright so the soccer moms speeding your way can actually see you (don’t judge that comment until you read THIS or THIS ). The biggest important thing is your own comfort and safety. 
  • Cycling shoes with clipless pedals- DO, but you can go with a less expensive option to start….
    • Shoes-
      • You can ride in stiff soles sneakers or touring shoes instead for some time, with toeclips. Touring shoes provide a stiff sole (compared to a regular old sneaker), protecting your feet from numbness and enhancing the power output from your leg to the pedal. I rode in them for several years.
      • But after some time you will want to move up to cleats and a clip-less systems. Not only do you get less painful foot numbing and burning, you get an even more enhanced pedal stroke efficiency (that sounded cool, huh?), which means each pedal stroke gets you farther a bit faster. Mostly, they changed my life from painful, burning foot numbness to pain free riding.
        • There are costs, though. Carbon fiber shoes (my favorite) cost more than blown plastic soles. The carbon fiber soles are a bit less flexible, so you lose less energy with each pedal stroke.
      • Pedals-
        • For information on regular pedals and toeclips, see above!
        • For clipless pedals, I’m using the SpeedPlay Zero  and now refuse anything else (I spent years in the Look system- not bad, but I like the freedom and click-ability of the SpeedPlay much better). The SpeedPlay Zero don’t hurt my knees- big plus. And you can find sales that drop the price. (YAY!)
        • For the shoes, you need to go into a store and try them on. They all fit differently.
  • Helmet- DO-
    • There isn’t a race out there that will let you race without one. Many races will even disqualify you if you unrack your bike before the helmet is clipped under your chin.
    • Plus, it just isn’t smart to not have your head protected when it hits the ground. You may be a safe cyclist, but cycling is all about defense from cars, dogs, potholes, tire blow outs, etc.
      • My last cycling accident, I felt my head hit the ground and bounce up. I was so thankful the helmet took that impact, not my brain.
    • It does NOT need to be a high end helmet. It does need to meet safety requirements and be certified.
      • Do NOT ever, ever, EVER buy a used helmet. You have no idea how it’s been treated, where it’s been stored, or if it was in an accident.
        • For example: I mentioned I felt my head hit the ground on my bike crash. To look at my helmet (my favorite, best looking, best fitting helmet), it looked fine. It was really, really tempting to keep it. But once the integrity has been breached, it needs to be replaced. I could have sold it online or at a garage sale. No one would have known it had been in a crash.
      • Make sure you buy a NEW one that is comfortable and in budget.
      • Get the store to help fit it to your head and show you how to tighten the straps the right way.
  • Bike- (well, ya gotta have one….but)- 
    • No- you do not have to buy a special triathlon bike. WHAT??????
      • If you’re doing Olympic or sprint races, your road bike is really fine to start out with. It may be fine for all your racing, depending on how far you decide to take the Tri thing. Take time to grow into the sport, and grow into the fancy bikes, if and when you think you need them.
      • I used a Specialized road bike, carbon framed, with attached (removable) aerobars for several years in duathlons and triathlons (the only reason I got rid of it was a crack in the frame from a crash). That old road bike got me to the National Championships as a team cyclist in the Coors Light Duathlon Series in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s also the same bike I used to cycle across 5 countries in Europe. So..
    • There are some bikes that are a hybrids of a road bike and triathlon bike (they give you some triathlon bike angles without the drastic changes) like mine- which I have even used in a full Ironman). 16683935_1617110961651206_562881569652138776_n-2 The benefit is they don’t all of a sudden push your body into super funky angles that take a lot of time and training to get used to, because they force you to use a different set of muscles than what you’ve been training with. And drastic changes can make you get hurt along the way.
    • For ANY bike you get, I recommend getting someone to be sure it’s the right size for you at the store to be sure it’s the right height and stretch for you so you aren’t miserable, or worse, injured.
  • Aerobars- (depends)
    • They are certainly not mandatory at all. But if you’re cycling beyond a sprint distance, then yes- I am a big believer. Why? It gives your deltoids a well deserved rest periodically. Gets you off the nerve in your palms that can lead to burning numbness. Relieves your back and shoulders. AND makes you faster (well, ok- really only if you are at certain speeds, but the overall comfort factor leads me to a faster bike ride).
      • There are less expensive, clip-on bars that are fine to start with.
      • NEVER use them on the road the first time.
        • Put them on the bike, get on the windtrainer at home, and figure out your balance laying down in them, grabbing the water bottle, then sitting up. Then go to a parking lot and practice.
        • Go on the road when you aren’t all wobbly and have gained a feel for the positions and wind effects.
      • Once you’ve outgrown the clip-ons (again- those took me to Nationals AND I used them on the Europe cycling trip), you can consider fancier, more expensive models.
    • I currently have a cool pair built into my bike cockpit. But that Aerobarsalso means there are some cycling events I’m banned from. Several of the local perimeter rides prohibit aerobars, but I can’t remove them from my frame. Since I spend upwards of 85% of my cycling time in the aerobars, anyway, I have no regrets.

 

  • Bottle cages- DO
    • Get one for the bike frame (or if you need lots of hydration, like me, get 2-3). They can be the basic run of the mill, inexpensive water bottle cages. You don’t need to worry about the fancy super-de-duper between-the-aerobars water bottle holders or the behind-the-seat holders until later.
    • I am still using plain water bottles (with wide mouth shooters) and not the reservoir models.
  • Water bottles: Get at least one of the taller water bottles to go in the cages. I like the one’s with the wide squirt opening, due to my asthma, but get what you like. Here in the desert, I end up with 2-3 bottles on almost all my rides, to make sure I am always well hydrated.
  • Sunscreen- Yes, please!
    • Get a BOAT LOAD in the highest SPF you can find that is SWEAT proof. Yeah, as a pharmacist, I know that there is really a maximum SPF that really even  makes a difference. I just grab the strongest I can (nothing less than and SPF30) and slather it on. And re-apply often.
  • Tire Patch Kit and bike frame tire pump- DO!
    • You need them, and need to learn how to use them. Don’t worry about the fancy CO2 cartridges until later. A basic repair kit and pump can get you a long way! Also, learn how to use them before your stuck out on the road and can’t figure out how to get your rear wheel out of the chain and derailleur.

I hope that narrows down some choices you might be struggling with. Lot’s of folks out there will tell you to buy everything, to try to look cool in the newest apparel trends, on the newest bikes. Races are a gawking event, looking at everyone’s apparel and equipment. Just remember, looking cool doesn’t make you fast.

See you at the finish line!

Miffie

 

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