Triathlon requires thought and planning, especially if you’re with a group. The simplest thing, like weather, can throw a whole day’s worth of training out the window and quick alternatives to “get your miles in” is required so you don’t lose that all important training day. When we start in the triathlon journey we are overwhelmed with the amount of gear we are told we need. It is not like running, where you just need shoes and a place to run.
But how much of this is in our heads, and how much is really required?
I mean seriously, does 3 grams of weight on your pedals really make that much of a difference? I can see the argument when you are talking about a carbon bike vs. an aluminum bike. The weight difference and comfort are a lot different, but spending time and money to save a few grams of weight, especially at the age group, or back of the pack, level seems a bit foolish. The underlying theme among triathletes is to buy the best you can, no matter the cost. Buy the best and go the longest in training, no matter what studies show regarding long training miles vs. short training miles. We can get into that discussion as well, but let’s stick with equipment for the time being.
The first ride I ever took was with Jennifer and one of her nurses at the time. We rode at the Suncoast Trail north of Tampa. I had no bike so borrowed one. It was an old LaMonde, probably a bit small for me, with clip ons. I took off like a bat out of hell, averaging 12 mph!
For about 2 miles …
After that my overall speed was closer to 7 mph …
But the bug had gotten me … I liked riding, even though my ass was sore (no padded shorts at this point) and my quads were screaming, I could see myself doing this sport. Thoughts of triathlon’s were not in my head yet, and the idea of swimming was so fear inducing I would panic just imagining it. But riding a bike?? Hell, I could do that.
So I got a bike, a Scott Speedster. It was blue, and with the bike fitting that came with it was a nice comfortable ride. Since I got it on sale as lat years model it was around $700. This bike got me though my first season of riding and triathlon’s, and to be honest I kind of miss that beast. My first real ride was Miles for Moffitt, a cancer awareness ride where I bit the bullet and signed up the the 25 mile leg, a distance I had never ridden before. It was cold that morning. I did have cycling shorts by this time but they were made for mountain biking; shorts look but with an inner lining with padding. I still was not ready, probably still not but I don’t care anymore, to ride with only tights showing. Anyway, I felt good about the ride but it was my first real awakening to a distance ride. 25 miles seems like a joke now, but I actually did not make it. The SAG wagon picked me up at mile 20. I had a flat they helped me fix, and I decided that I was not getting back on that bike for the rest of the ride. It was very deflating. My average speed was 7.5 mph. “There’s just no way I can do this,” I kept thinking to myself. It didn’t help that others at work (I worked at Moffitt at this point) just shook their head’s at me when they heard. One actually said “I didn’t think you could do that anyway” … such a show of support. I had later found out that when the race directors were checking the course they were told that there was one rider still out there, “a big guy on a blue bike”. I was passed by people on recumbents that were 20 years older than I was. It was an auspicious start to my journey.
The first instinct is to blame the equipment, and I have to admit I did do that. “It’s the bike!” I thought. “If I only had a CARBON TRIATHLON bike I would be SO much faster!!”
So after racing with Mario (the Scott Speedster) I went to a Scott Plasma 20 TT bike. Man it looked fast … black and green … an Adamo seat … Aero Bars …. I would FLY now right??
Eh … not so much …
The more I rode the more it became clear to me that the bike helps, but the engine is what matters, and no amount of money spent on gadgets and light weight accessories was going to make me any faster unless I put the time in required to get faster. We at the IMYO podcast received a question via email about this early last week, centering around what was “needed” as far as equipment. This got me thinking about all of this, what is needed vs. what is required.
At the minimum the gear needed is pretty easy; the swim requires a suit and goggles, the bike requires a bike and a helmet, and the run requires shoes and shorts. Pretty easy right? You’ll be uncomfortable as hell but you can compete with just those things. Now, what should you have? Well then we start talking about a wetsuit, bike shoes, gloves, a watch of some kind, hydration, repair kit, hats, sunglasses, nutrition if the race is a 70.3 or more. As an age grouper the difference between one pedal or the other, as far as weight goes, isn’t going to make much of a difference, nor is one helmet to the next (unless we are talking about comfort and not speed). This is especially true for we BOPers. The one option I would recommend looking into is a lower gear ratio cassette if you’re spending a lot of time in hills. You’re going to get better the more you ride but I think it’s nice to have that bail out gear available, if nothing more than to allow for an easy spin to save the legs.
So after all of that, the important thing to keep in mind that it is more about what is best for you vs. what a magazine (or blog) points you to. What do I ride now? well, my Speesdster is gone … sold to a friend’s husband who was just starting into Triathlon (so the nice thing about that is Mario races on). I have my Scott Plasma still (code name Gunner, named after my position when I played football), and I have a Litespeed road bike (code name Buzz, ‘cuz I thought it was funny). I now also own a mountain bike who I names Buster (because I was sure I was gong to bust my ass when I rode it). My coach, though, gave me a nice bit of advice when it came to bikes (because I was spending an inordinate amount of time analyzing the merits of using what bike in what race). She said it is nice to have the TT bike available, but 80% of training and racing will be on a road bike. And she was right, I spend way more time on Buzz than on Gunner, so if I was asked on what to go with, look for a late year model road bike (carbon if you can afford it, but aluminum is fine too). You can find good ones for $700-800.
I hope this rambling post helped. 🙂