Bike Buying for a New Triathlete

Bike buying is a tricky thing.

But oh so fun!

But oh so fun!

The only bike I’ve ever bought is a bright blue mountain bike from Walmart. And by “I”, I mean my parents. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) My Trek hybrid (which is amazing) was a birthday gift from Brendan. Am I lucky or what?

Needless to say, I’m certainly no authority on purchasing a road bike or on triathlons in general. Until a few weeks ago, I had never even ridden a road bike outside. Yikes. But, as you know, I signed up for a challenge and so far a challenge this experience has been.

This is only relevant because I have a bike helmet on. That's it.

This is only relevant because I have a bike helmet on. That’s it. Also, I wish it was tank top weather right NOW.

When I registered for 140.6 miles of fun, I knew I would need a road bike or tri bike to get through the training. Aerodynamics, people!

Are you looking for a new road bike, by chance? You’re in luck! I have some tips to share. Here are some factors to consider:

Buying on a Budget
Do you need a bike under $500? Under $1,000? Entry level? Super fancy? What level of bike? Road bike? Tri bike? How long do you hope to ride?  SO MANY DECISIONS. All of these are important things to consider and to discuss with the salesperson. I had an idea of what I wanted and saw on the bike shop’s website that it was being offered as a “closeout” deal, so I know what to expect in terms of pricing. (I didn’t end up getting that bike though – it’s all about the fit!) The best thing to do is visit a local bike shop – they can pretty much tell you anything you want to know (along with a million things that you probably don’t understand but makes them sound smart and trustworthy anyway)…and can help you make the best decision by fit. If you’re on a tight budget, some places will even offer a layaway plan!

Road Bike or Tri Bike?
The distinction that was most relevant to me: entry-level road bikes typically start out at a lower price point when compared to entry-level tri bikes. (Yep, I fall into the “buying on a budget” category for bikes. Actually…for everything in life.) The difference? A tri bike has aerobars that allow you to get in a lower, more aerodynamic position.  Your average road bike doesn’t come equipped with these. However, you can clip aerobars onto a road bike and viola. Tri ready. (Or so I hear!) The bike guy (yes that’s his official title) also told me something about how people don’t always want to ride with you in groups when you have a tri bike? I didn’t understand that comment, but I’m sharing it just in case you do. Now don’t say I never told you anything!

Starting Off


Most, if not all, triathletes “clip in”, meaning they have these special little velcro cycling shoes that literally attach to the pedals and help you pedal harder and faster. What they don’t tell you is that you have to buy the pedals that allow you to do this separately
from the bike; they don’t come with it (at least not with mine)! Keep this in mind…my set of pedals was around $90.

Bottom of a cycle shoe -  clips onto the pedals.

Bottom of a cycle shoe – clips onto the pedals.

Sidenote on the shoes: when riding outside, prepare in advance when you need to stop. Don’t forget you’re clipped in; you’ll quickly find yourself toppling over at the next stop light if you dont unclip a foot first! Or, in your driveway. My Dad warned me of this and I’m fairly certain I’ll hear his voice in my head at every stoplight now. Unclip by twisting your foot OUTWARD!


As I mentioned earlier, with the clip in pedals you need cycling shoes. Trying them on is the complete opposite of trying on running shoes. I felt the need to walk around the store in them, but obviously that’s totally unnecessary and you’ll get a weird stare from the bike guy. So, I stood there awkwardly, wiggled my toes (Bike Guy Mike said I’ll need extra room, toes shouldn’t be touching the top of the shoe) and delcared “feel fine to me!” I like them because they are gray and Velcro and easy to put on and clean. Minimal effort. Perfect. After riding in them a couple times I think I may need to go a size up; after a couple hours they start feeling a little tight! (Swollen feet, maybe?) Thankfully Mike encouraged me to try them out and bring them back to exchange if I need to. (Which reminds me…ask about your store’s policies in advance!)

Total opposite of my neon Brooks.

Total opposite of my neon Brooks.


Super important! One thing I learned from my coach is that a normal helmet is fine. An average triathlete doesn’t need one of those crazy pointy aerodynamic helmets. If you’re a pro who needs every half second she can get and is paid for cycling? Go for it. But for someone like me? Not so much. Not to mention, if you crash (please God no crashing), the back of the helmet can hit the ground and hurt your neck. No, thank you.

Water Bottle Cages

All you runners out there know alllll about hydration. Guess what – evidently you need to hydrate on the bike too. Who knew, since bikes don’t come with water bottle holders! (Bikes come with NOTHING. Sigh.) Sometimes the store will give you a free bottle though, which is pretty fab if you ask me! Anyway, remember to get at least one of the little “cages” and have them attach it to your bike before you leave. They’re about $10-$20 for a basic model. For longer distances you’ll definitely need at least two, but I plan to steal one off my other bike as my second. Gangsta.

Bike Fit

Get one. If you’re spending any time on the bike, you want it to be comfortable and safe. You can seriously injure your back or knees (among other things) if you’re in the incorrect position. Some shops will even offer this service for free with a bike purchase. DO IT!

So, my bike of choice?

The 2013 Specialized Dolce.

So, these are my main tips as a first-time road bike buyer. Any questions? Concerns? Ideas? Want to call me out on something totally incorrect I said? Well, go ahead!

I’m a writer currently living in New Jersey and blogging about running, fitness, wellness, and motivation. I want every reader to laugh and feel empowered, balanced, and motivated! Subscribe by email to get 1-2 newsletters a month with post updates, my favorite articles, running playlists and more!
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  1. March 14, 2013 / 10:24 am

    Oh my goodness, clipping in to a moving bike would scare me. A lot. I’m not so good with the balance thing.

    • March 15, 2013 / 3:46 pm

      It is TERRIFYING!

  2. Kenny Hartnett
    March 17, 2013 / 10:46 am

    Awesome Kara! This was very helpful!

    • March 18, 2013 / 10:12 pm

      So glad, thanks Kenny!!

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