On Buying a Bike: Which One is Right for You?

By Dr. Steve Jonas | July 27, 2017, 11:42 a.m. (ET)

Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series, (No. 45, 2017/07)

For those who might not know, Jayme McGuire, who happens to be a dear friend of mine, is the editor of our quarterly magazine, USA Triathlon.  In the Spring, 2017 issue, in her regular feature “From the Editor” (p. 12), she wrote, in part:

“While many of the athletes we feature [in the magazine] strive to be ambassadors for the sport and encourage others to get involve, there are some triathletes who perhaps unknowingly are pushing others away from the sport.

“Case in point: I recently asked a friend from my running group whether she was till planning to do her first triathlon. Her response took me by surprise. Long-time triathletes had told her the bike she looking to buy wasn’t good. That she wasn’t going to be fast enough to join a local swim group. That she couldn’t do a long-distance race; she should start off with a sprint. The negativity turned her off to the sport (hopefully only temporarily).”

Indeed, let’s hope that she did get turned off only temporarily. (And perhaps Jayme will have a follow-up, hopefully a positive one, to add to this column). But wow, what a lot of negatives. Forget about trying to expand participation in the sport, at whatever level, which we all should be doing. First, there is a level of nastiness which I just don’t understand. Perhaps the speaker(s) has some issues of their own in terms of their own participation and what they see as their own success or lack of thereof. 

But then getting to the substance. On choice of bike. For any of us, at any level, that has to do not with some absolute standard but rather with A) what we are out to achieve in the sport at any given time, and B) just how much money we want to spend on the machine. If the bike she was looking at was, in her opinion and the opinion of the bike salesman (at a good bike store, to be sure) good enough to get her around the course safely and comfortably, then it was good enough to her. And that is the advice that I give to any bike-buyer at any level of speed and distance in our sport. One does not want a clunker but at the same time, in terms of one’s cycling ability, in our sport it is very easy to overspend.

As for swim speed, why does she need to join a local swim group, at least some of whom would be concerned primarily with speed rather than distance (which should be the primary concern of any first-time triathlete)? If they are, that particular “local” group is not the right one for her. She would need to train up to go the distance in the first race she is aiming at. That is the criterion she would want to focus on in choosing a swim group, or (speaking as one who is now in his 35th season in multisport racing, with 250-plus races under his belt and who has always trained on his own, even when I was doing ultra-distance races) maybe she will be able to train on her own just fine. At least they advised her to start with a sprint, which I happen to think is the best advice for any beginner these days. Yes, I do know that some folks begin their triathlon career with an ultra-distance race, and in fact in my own very first ultra-distance event (after two years at shorter distances), there was a first-time triathlete. But for most of us, if you want to stay in the sport, short, slow and easy at the beginning is the way to go.

So what is the primary lesson here, of many that one can draw from this particular episode? For me, from the start, it has always been that the first objectives should be to have fun, and finish each race you do happily and healthily. Some of us will stay with those goals for the whole of our multisport careers, as I have done. If it turns out that you have the ability to go fast, you will find out soon enough. Then there will be plenty of time to choose that next bike, get into a swim club that will help you pick it up, maybe get a coach. But if you don’t get to that first start line, at your own pace, you will never to get to any others.


This series of thoughts and recommendations about multisport racing by Dr. Steve Jonas is, over time, drawn in part from his book, "101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes" (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), from which text is used with permission. The book can be purchased here and is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

Steve’s most recent multisport book is "Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It" (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

His first book on multisport racing, "Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®" 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Dr. Jonas recently was featured in World Class Magazine. Click here to read the article.