The Bythlon team has been cycling and racing for many years. In this article series, we like to advise beginners on how we wish to have received it when we started with the sport.
Selecting a bike for athletic cycling is a big decision you need to make right at the beginning of your cycling journey. Many types of bikes are available: road bikes, triathlon bikes, mountain bikes, gravel bikes, endurance bikes, aero bikes, etc. Then there are different shifting systems to consider. Should you get disk breaks or rim breaks, what tire width? Is an aluminum frame better for you or a carbon frame? What about frame geometry? Do I need a particular wheelset?
It is easy to see the many stumbling blocks that are coming up in the selection process. However, since it would take an entire book or two to discuss all aspects, we will take an educated shortcut here and recommend you get a standard road bike with a carbon frame and so-called "relaxed" or "endurance" frame as your first bike geometry.
Select a solid mid-range level shifting system like the Shimano 105, SRAM Rival, Campagnolo Centaur, and tire width of 25mm to 28 mm. Stay with a standard aluminum wheelset and rim breaks.
Why? Such a classic bike is the best starting point. It is versatile, more affordable, easily maintained, and provides the best value to performance ratio. You can still upgrade components later or get a new bike after a few years when you have a much better idea about the best bike for you.
Let's go a quick run through the reasoning for this decision making:
First, a standard road bike is versatile. It can be used for everything from interval training, long rides, climbing and will cover you for your first races or if you decide to venture into triathlon.
Reading the press coverage now, you would get the impression that "gravel" riding is the thing or that you need an expensive "aero" bike. However, gravel most likely represents only a tiny percentage of roads available to you, and these are more challenging to ride than paved roads.
An Aero-bike comes with highly integrated and non-standard aerodynamically optimized components like handlebars, stems, seat posts etc. Unfortunately, that makes it much more expensive, more challenging to maintain, hard to take apart to travel, and you must rely on the manufacture's spare parts. Furthermore, the aerodynamic benefit is relative when considering that your body is responsible for more than 80% of the drag.
A standard bike allows you to change every component with a wide range of parts available. The seat post, stem, handlebar, shift and brake levers, front and rear derailleurs, derailleurs hanger, etc., can be easily exchanged. You will understand the importance once your bike is sitting in the garage, waiting six weeks or six months for the one spare part to arrive.
Disk-Breaks are becoming increasingly popular. They outperform rim breaks but are more difficult to be adjusted and maintained compared to Rim breaks. Nevertheless, both are suitable for beginners.
A "relaxed" or "endurance" geometry refers to a bike that allows for a more comfortable seating position compared to "aggressive" race frames that force you to bend much lower. Cycling in such a low position would make you most likely uncomfortable in a short time.
Endurance frames usually have a gear range suitable for climbing (for example, cassette sizes ranging from 11-34 and chainrings from 52/36). It may sound confusing, but a rear cassette with a max of 34 teethes allows for a lower gear than the max 28T you will find with a race bike.
You probably will never be running out of gear when going fast, but we guarantee you will have to get off your bike more than once when the hill is getting too steep.
Shifting groups improved a lot over time. Today, an entry-level shifting system like the Shimano 105 has similar features to the more expensive Ultegra or Dura Ace groups. It comes with a slightly higher weight but can save you easily 1,000 dollars or more.
The idea that the minimum width tires with the highest pressure, like 20 mm with 160 PSI, are the fastest is obsolete, same as the myth that you can pull up a pedal to create additional power. Today's research shows that a 28mm tire with 80 PSI has the same rolling efficiency and provides a much more comfortable ride.
Comfort is the deciding factor as well for Carbon Frames. The lower weight compared to aluminum frames is nice, but the comfort is a game-changer. Carbon frames are designed to be stiff where it matters for power transfer and elastic where they can work as a suspension system. If a Carbon frame is out of your price range, go for an aluminum frame and a carbon fork.
Where and when to buy a bike?
We recommend buying your first bike at a local bike store. Don't buy at the first store and first visit. Visit a few stores and tell them that you like to start cycling and what bike, in general, you want to buy and hear them out.
Is the brand important? You will find that every recognized bike brand will have such endurance road bike in its portfolio Giant, Merida, Specialized, Trek, Cannondale, Scott, Bianchi, Cervelo, Colnago, Orbea, BMC. We believe that the bike store is more important than the brand of bikes they carry.
There are two things you want to look for: Do they immediately try to upsell you a much more expensive bike, or do they work with your general specs to find a cost-efficient solution? Does the store provide a kind of community vibe? Are they welcoming a beginner?
A good bike store is much more than a point of sales. It should have an active community with group rides, should take the time to explain bikes and accessories to a beginner. You want to be happy to visit your bike store and not feel like an elite club looking down at you.
If you are flexible, the best time to buy a bike is autumn or winter when the brands change to new models, and the "old" models get discounted. But that should not let you hesitate and waste half a year that you could spend to experience the benefits of cycling.
One of our next article will be about selecting the right bike shoes and pedal system. Here you have as well several different options. Shimano, Time, Look, Keo, Powerplay, and of course, our Bythlon pedal system. Please sign up for our newsletter here.
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