Friday, March 19, 2010

On New Bikes and Bike Fit: Resistance is Futile

Ever since my return to triathlon, I've been resubmerged in that thing I refer to as "bike culture." And I don't mean Harley Davidson. Unlike "runners," triathletes are gadget lovers, and I've often noted in my observations that they characteristically have gobs of disposable income. It's a bike seller's dream, especially with continuous advancements in materials and aerodynamic technology.

In 2003, buying an [expensive] tri bike had not been part of my plan, until my road bike (with me on it) met the front of a Ford truck. Shortly thereafter, my racing career would spiral into oblivion, but my oh-so-brief comeback that year would be on the Cannodale Ironman 5000, one of the official branded bikes of Ironman. It was aluminum with an aerodynamic frame, Shimano Dura-Ace components, and a proprietary Cannondale crank that required a special tool to tighten. Cost-wise, it didn't compare to titanium or carbon fiber, but for aluminum, it was state-of-the-art. Cannondale tri bikes were common.

Fast forward to 2008 when the triathlon spark reignited itself. It never occurred to me that my bike, not my body, would be the outdated commodity. Five years is a lot of time in the bike frame world. Thank heavens race wheel technology had not also taken leaps and bounds and my Zipp 404s would still do. By 2008, I rarely saw a single Cannondale from that bygone "era." To be fair, I'll note that Chrissie Wellington won the 2009 Ironman Hawaii title on a Cannondale Slice, but it is well out of my price range.

What's a monetarily-challenged triathlete to do in this situation? I went to my tried-and-true bike shop, Bike Authority in Broadview Heights, Ohio. Owner Sherman McKee gave me the scoop on bikes and prices, and much to my surprise, carbon fiber bikes did NOT have to cost $10,000, or even $5000. I may be able to get out the door for $2500. Sherman did assure me that the geometries HAVE changed, and, if I were interested in a new bike, it would be worth going through the fitting process once again. Bike Authority carries four different brands of tri (or TT, i.e., Time Trial) bikes -- Felt, Cervelo, Cannodale and Trek. I was told these four frames cover most of the geometry bases. Depending on a person's body geometry, there are likely two bike brands to choose between.

With a generous monetary gift from my mother, I decided to start the purchase process from scratch. This is where Bike Authority excels at customer service. Included as part of your bike purchase, you get an exclusive one-on-one fitting with one of their experts. My first appointment was with bike-fitting guru Mike Vanucci -- a two-hour question-and-answer session that included body measurements and a quick-and-dirty set-up on two of their in-stock bikes. I can't say enough about the folks at Bike Authority for being patient with me asking the same questions over and over again. One interesting question is about the bike brands I've recently seen at races -- Orbea, Guru, Ceepo, Kuota, etc. -- what's the deal? Both Mike and Sherman will tell you they base their lines on research and experience -- i.e., scientific data counts more than hype. Does anyone remember Softride? I rest my case. Vanucci will quote you stats and research data, and he's even met the engineers who design the bikes. Bike Authority's staff is not just winging it -- they believe in their products.

You probably want to know my decision: I chose the Cervelo P3 (Ultegra version). Yes, it's more expensive than the best-selling P2, but after about an hour of phone calls to my husband, conversation with Mike and Sherman, and walking around in circles, my bottom line was based on the following:
  • Cervelo bikes felt "right" almost instantly, and Mike backed that up by saying my aero position was almost perfect.
  • The P3 frame is obviously more aerodynamic than the P2 -- even to a non-engineer (which I am not). This fact may not matter to someone in a short race or someone who just wants to do an Ironman, but in longer races and at my level, the difference between 20 and 21 mph could mean the difference between an age group slot for Kona.
  • The P3 frame has more wind tunnel data to back it up and it doesn't look like the frame style will be outdated anytime soon.
  • The compact crank (50/34) looks like a better choice for riding hills (most of my rides and my upcoming race)
The bike is on layaway (another customer incentive!) -- I'll pick it up in a few weeks and then I'll talk more about the next part of my fitting process: getting my new bike set up to get the most power out of my position. It should be interesting.

A couple photos of the process -- these guys KNOW what they're doing:
  1. It all starts with an extensive questionnaire about your riding style, needs, and body flexibility -- this is not a a yes-no process and it gives the fitter a good idea of where to start.

  2. Measuring height and inseam - yep, there's an app for that, but it's analog, not digital:

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on the purchase and getting back into it. I love hearing your already thinking of a Kona slot. I love it!!! Go big or go home. haha.

    Have fun when you go for that first ride.