Papa’s Bike Buying Guide

Here’s a comprehensive bike buying guide that was put together by Kevin Haas (Cal Tri President ’08-’10) or better known as just “Papa”. It is a bit lengthy, but is also very thorough and important to know if you want to become an informed consumer (or bike snob, or both).
The team is sponsored by Sports Basement – while you are not necessarily limited to buying your bike there, we encourage it because they give us the best deals on three great brands: Cannondale, Felt, and Look.

 

Basics

Men’s versus Women’s bikes: Some bikes come in men’s and women’s versions, with the geometry different based on body types. Regardless, it all comes down to personal preference in the end. For women, it’s perfectly fine to get a men’s bike – you’ll just have to make some adjustments to get it to fit properly. In some instances, the only difference between the men’s and women’s version is the paint scheme.

Size: Sports Basement will help you out with this. In case you are between sizes, the smaller of the two sizes may be better for setting up a bike with aerobars because the reach (how far away the bars are from the seat) will be shorter and the drop (how much lower the bars are than the seat) will be greater. For more, here’s a link to bike sizing: http://bicycling.about.com/od/howtoride/a/bike_sizing.htm

Competitive versus Endurance: This is basically a difference in geometry and stiffness versus comfort. Different brands use different terms for the two lines. The endurance bikes are meant to be softer over the bumps, less twitchy while riding with a more upright position. Competitive bikes have a harsher ride but will feel more responsive and you can get your body lower and your back flatter. The best way to tell which one you want is go test ride them at Sports Basement. Sometimes your body geometry makes one a better fit than the other.Bike Specifics

Road Bike versus Triathlon/Time Trial bike: Most triathlons that we compete in don’t allow drafting (see here for description of drafting), meaning its you against the wind. Time Trial, or TT bikes, are more aerodynamic and therefore faster than road bikes for a triathlon. TT bikes have aerodynamic frames, come with built-in aerobars, and most importantly, put your body in an compact position with your back low against the wind. The steeper position also recruits leg muscles differently leaving you fresher for the run.

So why doesn’t everyone get a TT bike? Put simply, a road bike is your first bike; a TT bike is your second bike. For runners, it’s like the difference between training shoes and racing flats. And swimmers, think of the difference between your practice suit and racing suit.

It’s not that TT bikes are that much harder to ride; they are just less versatile than road bikes. A few months of experience doing long rides, steep descents, and climbs in a group with a conventional road bike and you will be ready to ride a TT bike. However you will still want the road bike around for the easy rides, hilly rides, and occasional road race.

If you already have a decent road bike, get a TT bike. If you’re completely new, get a decent road bike and save some money to get a TT bike next year or two, as TT bikes are also more expensive.

Compact versus Double: When buying a bike, you will be faced with the decision of buying a compact or double. This refers to the difference in the drive train gearing and how many teeth the crank have. The larger the crank size, the more power you’ll get, but you need to be strong enough to take full advantage of having a double.

Berkeley is hilly and all newbies will prefer the easier compact gearing. Again, if possible, 1st bike is compact. 2nd bike is double.

Also, don’t get a triple if possible. Cal Tri is too bomb for granny gears.

Components:

Think of components on a bike as the engine to a car – better components means a more efficient, faster bike but also is more expensive. Common brands are Shimano and SRAM. Ideally you’ll want to aim for at least Shimano 105 or SRAM Rival. Again, Sports Basement can answer a lot of questions here.

Carbon vs. Aluminum:

Bike frames are generally made out of 1 of 2 materials – carbon and aluminum. Carbon comes on higher end bikes, and if made correctly is much lighter. However, both are more than capable of being made into fast bikes. For more, see here.

THE BIG QUESTION – Which bike? How much do I need to spend?

The answer depends on what kind of athlete you are or aspire to be – here’s a breakdown for several different types of athletes on the team.

1. Complete newbie

You’re new to competitive sports and/or are just giving triathlon a try.

Objective: Get a bike that will be reliable and serve you well. Don’t waste a ton of money because there are plenty of other costs left to come. If you get really into the sport, you can always upgrade later.

Want: Good components and affordable/durable aluminum frame. Ideally, look for a bike that has at least Shimano 105 components.

  • Men’s competitive: Cannondale CAAD8 5 105 or Felt Z85
  • Men’s endurance: Cannondale Synapse 5 105 or Look 566 105 mix
  • Women: Felt ZW75

Price/Deal: We get 20% off the listed SB price, which is already about 10% off MSRP (about $1,000-$1,100)

Availability: Order at the Sports Basement shopping day; delivery within a few weeks. Available Fall ONLY.

2. First good road bike

Experienced high school swimmer or runner and wants to be active in triathlon.

Objective:  Bike that can give good performance and allow you to develop years in the sport. Can put clip-on aerobars on and will last til you reach Nationals level.

Want: Get more comfortable and better performing carbon fiber bike with reliable components, while still being affordable. Shimano 105 components or better. Ideally look for Ultegra components.

There are LOT options here from Cannondale, Look and Felt. The people at SB will help you there to sort through the following options:
  • Cannondale: Supersix 5 105 or Supersix 4 Rival
  • Look: 566 Ultegra
  • Felt: Z4, F4 or AR4

Price/Deal: We get 20% off the listed SB price, which is already about 10% off MSRP (about $1,500-$2,000)

Availability: Order at the Sports Basement shopping day; delivery within a few weeks. Available Fall ONLY.

3. Top quality road bike

People who want a bike that is just as ready for cycling races and triathlon, or who just have lots of dough to blow.

Objective: Want a top quality bike that is just as home in a triathlon and a road race

Want: Lighter weight. Stiffer higher performance frame and components

There are LOT options here from Cannondale, Look and Felt. The people at SB will help you there to sort through the following options:
  • Cannondale: Supersix EVO Red
  • Look: 586 SL
  • Felt: F3, Z3 or AR3

Price/Deal: We get 20% off the listed SB price, which is already about 10% off MSRP (about $1,500-$2,000). Technically this applies to any bike, but at this point you should really be buying a TT bike unless you’ve turned over to the Dark Side of Cycling Only. Prices max out at $8,000 with our discount.

Availability: Order at the Sports Basement shopping day; delivery within a few weeks. Available Fall ONLY.

4. Decent TT bike

Already have a road bike and want something to take you to the next level in triathlon.

Objective: Affordable bike that gets you all of the TT benefits.

Want: Solid components, weight isn’t quite as important with a TT since you’ll mostly be using on flatter rides and races.

There are LOT options here from Cannondale, Look and Felt. The people at SB will help you there to sort through the following options:
  • Cannondale: Slice 5 105 (this was our team’s TT bike when we were sponsored by Cannondale several years ago)
  • Look: 576 RSP 105 (the photo on the website is wrong; it comes with aerobars like all TT bikes)
  • Felt: B16 (carbon) or S32 (aluminum)
Price/Deal: Same deal as above, 20% off the listed SB price = about 30% off retail. The S32 would be around $1,100; the others $1,500-1,800.
Availability: Order at the Sports Basement shopping day; delivery within a few weeks. Available Fall ONLY.

5. Killer TT bike

Looking to destroy and help us win Conferences and Nationals.

Objective: Get the top 10 Men and Women on pro bikes for Nationals

Want: Top-of-the-line components, frame, everything.

There are LOT options here from Cannondale, Look and Felt. The people at SB will help you there. Some guidance if you want to look online before Sunday:
  • Cannondale: Slice 3 Ultegra
  • Felt: DA4 or B12

Price/Deal: Same deal as above, 20% off the listed SB price = about 30% off retail. That puts these in the $2,100-2,600 range.

Availability: Go in and get fitted at Sports Basement. Order by November 11; delivery within a few weeks. Available Fall ONLY.

 

Other Things You Will Need

  • Helmet: $30-$150 (sponsorship deal with Uvex; other options at SB)
  • Pedals: $30-$150 (Look, Shimano, Speedplay)
  • Cycling/Triathlon Shoes: $100 (probably Shimano)
  • Comfortable Clothing: $20-$100 (Look out for the Cycling Kit Order!)
  • Water bottle cages: $5 (Nothing fancy, just standard metal ones)
  • Sunglasses: Anything goes here (some Pros have been known to use Walgreen aviators…)! Just make sure your eyes are protected.
You can get all this stuff from Sports Basement! If you have questions about any of these accessories, just ask a Board Member, someone who looks really pro, or someone at SB for help!

 

Buying Used Bikes (i.e. Craigslist)

Ask an experienced cyclist and/or Board Member for help with this! Great deals and some elite gems CAN be found with the right searching.

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Hopefully that helps. Time to start going into Sports Basement, asking questions and more importantly asking mom and dad for an early Christmas present.

Remember – this bike will help you keep healthy and active while in college and will actually improve your self-esteem and success in school. Or so you should tell yourself (and your parents).