Trying to decide between bikes? Think about the shop.

I spend way too much time looking at the forums on slowtwitch.com. A day or two ago somebody had a pretty common question. Based on a recent Retul fit, he wanted to know which of three bikes he should buy. They were all good bikes and he would probably fit any of them equally well.

Today there are lot of time trial bikes out there for triathletes and a lot of choices at every price point. All of the major companies (i.e. Trek, Specialized, Giant) have a good range of time trial bikes and so do many smaller companies. Chances are that you should have at least a few well-engineered and well-designed choices in your price range that should fit you equally well.  You can talk about the characteristics of one model versus another, which is stiffer, which has less exposed cable housing, , etc., but the fact of the matter is they are probably all good bikes that will fit you properly and that you will enjoy riding. How then, do you choose among them?

There is an old saying about bike shopping – “Don’t shop for a bike. Shop for a shop.” Rather than mentally locking into a particular brand or split hairs worrying about which one is stiffer or more aerodynamic, consider where you will buy it from. Given two or three different shops, consider the one that gives you the best service and has experience fitting and working with triathletes. Some of the reasons are obvious; some maybe not so much –

  • Does the bike shop have experience working with triathletes? Not every bike shop caters to triathletes or understands them. When my wife (Dr. G) and I were shopping for time trial bike there was a particular bike she really wanted, but it only came with a 53/39. Given the kind of racing we do in California, where we have races like the Wildflower, she needed a 50/34. The shop that sold this brand could not get around the idea that in time trialing you want to go fast and push big gears. The problem was that, even though we were looking for a time trial bike, its intended use was for triathlon. She later decided on a Cervelo P3, which we ended up buying. The shop, Davis Wheelworks, spent many hours fitting her, finding a saddle she like, and setting up the gearing and components to suit her needs (she ended up with 50/34 chainring, 11/28 cassette, and 165mm crankarms) .
  • Your bike will need tune-ups, repairs, and adjustments. You may ride it a bit and realize the fit needs adjustment or the saddle just isn’t working. Also, many of today’s newer time trial bikes, especially the “super bikes”, have complicated internal cabling, integrated brakes, and integrated stems and forks. Many of these items consist of proprietary parts. The best person to work on a Trek Speed Concept is a Trek dealer, especially one with a lot of experience with the bike and its mechanical quirks.
  • Does the shop buy back components? Companies are getting better about speccing their bikes with components that will work better for the majority of intended customers. Nonetheless, you may need to swap the stock saddle for one better suited to your rear or change some of the gearing. A good bike shop should be able to accommodate all of these needs and more.
  • Is it local? Being able to stop by on the way home from work or during lunch is a huge plus.
  • It sounds simple, but the shop should be good about returning your calls and following up on your orders and inquiries.

Building a relationship with a good local shop is worth a lot. It will go the extra mile to find you a back-ordered item, squeeze in a last minute repair when you have a race the next day, or come up with outside the box solutions to make your bike work for you. Do not try to cut deals and do not threaten to go on the Internet. Give them your repeat business. Bring them beer (or hard liquor). Show them you appreciate how well they accommodate your incessant triathlete OCD questions about all of the minutia of your bike.

Bottom Line – If your are in the market for a time trial bike and you have trouble deciding between Bike A and Bike B, don’t get caught up splitting hairs between the two. Regardless of which one you choose, chances are that you will end up with a bike that is great to ride. Consider the shop you will buy it from. If you also buy your bike from a good shop you will not only have a bike that is great to ride; you will also have a bike that is great to own.

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