I did 95% of my bike training for my first race on a stationary bike in front of the tv. I thought that I could build up the endurance on the stationary bike and be just fine when I acquired a bike bike, and I was half right. I did build up the endurance, but I neglected to build basic bike handling skills, and that’s what really killed me on race day.
If I had it to do all over again, I would have borrowed or rented a bike to train and compete. Instead, I purchased my bike seven days before the race. It was really not the best idea. I went into my local bike shop intending to purchase a road bike, and since I knew it was going to be expensive, I had given myself what I considered to be a generous budget of $500. The bike store guy didn’t laugh at me, but he did inform me that their lowest priced entry level road bike was $799. Plus tax.
I told him that maybe I didn’t necessarily need a road bike. Maybe one of those shiny bikes with the straight flat bar that cost $500 would be just as good. Happy to oblige, he took my license and sent me outside to try out the Specialized brand “Vita” model in the adjacent parking lot. Now, I hadn’t been on a bike bike in over a year, and even that was just on my beach cruiser. A bike with gears? No idea what to do with that. The bike guy had also raised up the seat to what looked to me like a dangerous height. He told me that it was actually a good height for me- that proper fit would have me almost on tip toe at the bottom of my stroke.
Ummm yes. Sounds great. But how do I get on the very tall bike?
In the parking lot I approached a wall and tried to mount the bike like a horse. The bike immediately fell over, almost taking me down with it. Thankfully the only witness was a woman in her car at the bank drive up teller, and she was too busy arguing with someone on the phone to notice. Phew.
I tried again, this time successfully pushing off and rolling. And I was soooo uncomfortable! The seat felt hard, the pedals too far away, and I was moving way faster than I did on my beach cruiser. In reality, I was crawling, riding in slooooow, wobbly circles around the parking lot. Eventually I pushed a button on the gear shift, just to see what it did. The gear changed, and I glided farther. I pushed more buttons, smiling at the changes. I was getting the hang of this bike thing.
Then I pushed the button again. And suddenly I had no traction. I was pedaling but going nowhere. Looking down I saw the chain dangling- the chain had jumped the chain ring.
My brain panicked. Do I go back into the bike shop and tell the guy I broke this $500 bike? It’s not really broken, right? This happens. I got off and poked at the chain, remembering an article I read about lifting the bike up and spinning the pedal while you guide the chain back on. I did that. It worked. And with a You Break It You Buy It mentality, I thought well, it’s good enough, and I went back in and purchased the bike.
Beginner triathlete articles will tell you that your bike doesn’t matter for your first race. This is absolutely true. You can do the race on a $50 Craigslist special, a $10,000 aero fit Tri bike, or a beach cruiser complete with bell and basket (though 12 miles on a beach cruiser sounds MISERABLE to me!). I’ve been riding my flatbar in races and while I do stand out as a bit of a newbie, I can still hang. As long as your bike is safe, there’s really no restriction. I made my decision out of anxiety and necessity, and I wish I hadn’t made it. I love my “Lady” (yes, that’s her name) but I wasn’t ready to be a bike owner. I should have borrowed a bike and then made my investment later.
If you’re still dead set on purchasing a bike and you think you may be in for more than one race, consider buying with the long game in mind. Looking back, I really wish I had bought a road bike. Yes, it was $300 more than my budget. But now that I have a few races under my belt, I can already tell that my crossbar is holding me back from reaching my goals. Now I’m considering upgrading to a $1,000 bike. So instead of being out the original $800, I’ll be out a total of $1,500 (if my husband doesn’t divorce me first). Take your time in purchasing a bike, try a few out, and then buy the one you really want. You don’t want to regret your first love.
Have a question about finding your first ride? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask! If I don’t know the answer, I will find out. I’m happy to look like an idiot so that you don’t have to.