Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why Yes, Women do Ride Tri Bikes!

     Shopping for my first triathlon-specific bike has been an interesting and very educational experience! For the past two weeks I have been researching, test riding, and researching some more. I finally made a decision, based on a lot of factors. First, I wanted a good quality, serious bike. If I'm going to spend money and upgrade, I'm going to get something worth my while. Second, I wanted a bike that fit perfectly and would leave me comfortable for over 100 miles. Third, I wanted to buy from a local shop that treated my like a legitimate triathlete and took my questions, concerns, and ideas seriously. Here's how the whole process went down!

     I have had a road bike with clip on aero bars for the past year and a half that has served me very well. However, it wasn't perfect. It was slightly too wide in the handlebars since it was a men's bike and being aluminum, heavy. Also, it had entry level components- Shimano Tiagra- which needed adjusting a little too often and weren't as smooth as some of the upper level ones. The main cost of your bike comes from first, the frameset, and then a close second from the components, so it's important to make sure you're getting the most for your money by getting the best of those two within your price range. You can find the Shimano hierarchy  and the SRAM hierarchy easily online to guide you if you can't keep them all straight.

     I began my search by looking up a list of bike manufacturers on Wikipedia and going through as many as I could, finding those that made tri bikes in my price range. During my preliminary search, I figured out pretty quickly that to get what I wanted I was going to have to be willing to spend between $2,500-$3,000. (This is why I still have a second job right now!) This helped narrow my search down. I then began a spreadsheet and listed those that met my search criteria-

1. Triathlon or Time Trial specific bike (They go by the same name but are very similar so often grouped together)- I didn't want the same setup from the factory I already had, which is essentially what bikes such as the Specialized Alias is. The whole purpose for getting a tri bike was so I could take advantage of their more aggressive geometry. Tri bikes have a steeper angle on the seat tube, making it easier to remain in an aero position. I toyed with the idea of just getting a really nice road bike with carbon aero bars, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I ride in the aero position about 95% of the time. I never really go on group rides since they usually don't fit with my schedule, and don't share the same interests as cycling-only riders have anyhow, and hey, if I'm doing an Ironman, I'm doing it big and getting a machine that's going to help me do it with confidence. 

2. I wanted at least Ultegra or SRAM Force level components. My Fuji had Tiagra and again, if I'm going to spend money and upgrade, I'm going to get what I want.  I could have settled for Rival or 105, but that was only one step up, and the cost savings was only a few hundred dollars in most cases. Plus, bikes with these lower level components usually suffered in other areas as well as far as frame design and features. 

3. I wanted 2 bottle cage brackets. This seems trivial since you can always add cages behind the seat, but I use the Speedfil Aero bottle that holds like 80 ozs. I drink a lot of water on long rides, and from the number of bottles I see scattered on race courses, I refuse to give up my easy and convenient high capacity bottle. It's refillable, aero, holds plenty, and will not come off. I can't afford to buy $16 Camelbak Podium bottles every time the bump out of a cage! I use one bracket for my big bottle, and then the seat tube bracket for a bottle cage that will hold a bottle with electrolytes in it. This is something I considered compromising on since many tri bikes come with only one, but tried not to.

4. I wanted a newer 11-speed bike. This wasn't utmost on my list, but seeing as how many bike companies are shifting (pun intended!) to this, these are the parts that will be the most easily available in the next few years, and having a few extra gears while I went from three to two chain rings on the front would be really nice!

     Things I was flexible on were color (so many bikes are so ugly this year! Whyyyyy with all the red and purple?!), the shop I bought from, and whether it was a men's or women's frame. The only issue I had with my men's bike was the wide bars when riding on the hoods or in the drops, and I wouldn't be doing that with a new bike. Plus, there are very few upper-level tri bikes out there made just for women. You can get entry-level ones, but what's the point in that for me now?

I had a little too much time on my hands!
     Above is the initial spreadsheet I went with when I began my shopping crusade.  I knew there would be plenty more areas of comparison, but this sheet covered the big ones, and I knew once I narrowed things down I could look at the details more closely. As you can see, I wrote down a few that were well out of my price range just for fun. My top choices were the Cannondale Slice 3, the Cervelo P2, and the Felt B12. The rest were just there to make sure I really explored my options. I actually thought I had my mind made up on the Cannondale before I started, and am so glad I decided to make myself go through the whole experience with an open mind, because I didn't end up with it.

    I took an afternoon I wasn't working and started making my way down the list of bike shops in order of geographic closeness. I have a few negative things to say, so I won't be naming names because I don't think that's called for. Really, the issues I experienced are ones common to many women in cycling, so I don't think they're prevalent at just one shop. The first shop I walked in to- girded with my printed out spreadsheet and pretty reasonable knowledge of what I was looking for- immediately tried to change my mind. The sales guy assumed right away that because I'm a girl, I wasn't in serious need of a tri bike, and should really consider a road bike to get a good feel first. I literally held up my hand to stop him and said that I already know that I want a tri bike, I am doing an Ironman and have already done a half, and would like to look at the options I have asked for, please. They carried the models I was looking for, but the guy had already blown a potential $3,000 sale by being presumptuous and not letting his customer fully detail their goals and desires. I came in with a spreadsheet, for crissakes! 

     The second shop I went to was a little better, but still kind of snooty. The guy let me see a Cannondale, but then fixated on trying to sell me a much more expensive bike because "it's worth the money." Yea man, I'm sure it is, but I have a set budget and again- a spreadsheet! I can't just throw down another $1,000 for a bike that in all honesty is just one step up. The sales guy was definitely another road bike exclusive guy who thought a tri bike was a waste of money, and this was evident when he swore to me I would regret selling my road bike becuase I'd only be riding my tri bike in races. Um, sure, maybe some people who can afford to store and maintain more than one bike might switch it up, but for real? I'm not throwing down 3k on a bike to let it sit inside. I intend on it to be my training and racing bike. If anything, I may get a different set of wheels, but that is a whole other story.

       I had a much better experience at the third shop, so I'll name them. The Austin Tri Cyclist store on Barton Springs was great. A friend of mine pointed out that maybe they were nicer because it was at least a triathlon specific store, but it was more than that. They didn't write me off because I'm a girl (which, admittedly, it a great positive for triathlon as a sport on the whole), and took my questions and thoughts seriously. I worked with Brandon, who immediately grabbed what I was looking for and took me upstairs to their fit station to let me hop on a bike. They didn't have the Cannondale I was looking for, but since the frame for the 105 is the same as the Ultegra model, I could at least get a good idea for fit and feel. He flipped on their video camera that showed me exactly how I looked on the bike, and it looked and felt great! He took his time and did a basic fit with me, adjusting the whole thing to bring it pretty close to what I'd have if I took it home. He then very honestly walked me through the rest of my spreadsheet and gave me his opinion on what bikes would be equitable to the Cannondale, which matched my initial thoughts of the Felt and the Cervelo. I actually got on a Cervelo as well while I was there, but it was a nicer model than I could afford, which was sad-making. I got his card and left, since I didn't have time that day to take a test ride.

     The last shop I went to, Jack and Adams, was also great. A staff member helped me on to a Felt B14- they had a B12 in stock but it hadn't been assembled yet- and again helped me with fit and feel. I really liked the frame of the Felt, and was surprised by how much fancier it all seemed than the Cannondale. It was more expensive, but since the year model is about to end, he said he could price match, which leveled the field. they offered the same perks as Austin Tri Cyclist- lifetime frame warranty from the factory, free full fitting, two free tune ups, discounts on merchandise bought when you buy the bike, but also have the added bonus of free quick adjustments should I ever need them. Bike adjustments are something I want to learn to do on my own, but with the cables being internal on these bikes, knowing I can come to them for some quick help is good. 

       Jack and Adams is really cool because they will let you check a bike out of their store and take it home for a couple of days for a test ride. I couldn't do that since I was leaving for Dallas that weekend, but decided that I would come back that Friday and test ride the B12 once it was built by going on one of their group ride routes posted on Map My Ride. 
And then there were 2.5!
      So I went home after my first day of shopping and decided I definitely had two front-runners. I made another spreadsheet with the Felt, the Cannondale, and the Women's model of the Cannondale, since it actually had slightly nicer parts on it. I broke them down by all the important features I could think of and added pictures. After talking with my boyfriend about the ugly bike epidemic, he said he could get me some race car vinyl that I could cut to cover up the red and make it look like I wanted, so I acquiesced to the situation. We sent my sheet to a couple of people he knew that were big on bikes and got their opinions, and they all said the same thing- they're really similar, but the Felt is just a bit more bike for your money. I decided to go that Friday and do a test ride. 
All set up and shiny while I took a break by the water. 

     I went to the store and brought my shoes, bottle cages (it's too hot to ride without water right now!), saddle pack, and helmet. They helped me on to the newly built B12 and man, it was way fancier than the B14. The frame was sleek, the gears were so smooth, and the wheels were sharp. I was pretty excited to give it a go. I took it for a 30 mile spin out to Decker Lake and back. The shifters on the aero bars took a little bit of getting used to, but really weren't a dramatic change. The one thing I did have to get used to was the brakes being in a different position. On a road bike, you pull brakes back, but on a tri bike, the levers really go straight up. I figured this out really quickly while I was stopping at every red light on my way out of town to the lake. The only two things I didn't like about the bike were the saddle and the pads on the aero bars. The good thing was, both of these things are easily fixable- and if I bought the bike, I could trade in the saddle and use that toward a nice one that I loved. The pads aren't expensive, but I could see if they'd trade me there as well. 

     I brought the bike back to the shop and experienced my first little bit of hustle from the sales guy. He said they only had a couple left and that since the model year changed in September, when they were gone they were gone. I thought this was odd since Felt's factory still had plenty in size 51 left, but didn't say anything. I did, however, decide that I was definitely selling my current bike and would go ahead and put it on Craigslist since who knew how long it would take to sell! 

    Well, turns out only two days! A family friend happened to see my post on Facebook and has wanted a bike to try to get in to duathlons and longer rides, so she stopped by our house while we were in Dallas, snagged the bike with the aero bars on it, and left me a check. That was exciting, but sped up my buying process quite a bit since tri season is in full swing, so I can't be without a bike! I called the shop on Tuesday morning and confirmed that the bike was there, and then Wednesday, I took my money and excitedly went to make the purchase. The first guy I worked with was back, and was happy to go grab it for me. However, he came back from the back of the store empty handed and started pawing through sales receipts. After determining that they definitely did not sell it, they figured out that someone had come in right before close the day before and taken it for a test ride. Boo!

       He was so courteous and apologetic- even though it wasn't their fault since technically I didn't have a hold on it. He then mentioned that they had another one coming from the factory on Friday (again, I call shenanigans on your hustle, other staff guy!). I decided that I might as well have the brand new one, and told him I was paying for it that day, so they better write my name all over the box. I then confirmed with him the details on trading in the saddle, and he said I could definitely demo a few and then buy the one I want after a couple weeks of making sure I get the right one. The best part was, they felt bad about the extra trips I'd be making, so they gave me a great (several $100 off!) deal on the bike. I came in under my budget and very happy.

       Sadly, my experience with the shop got mucked up a bit after this point. I called Friday, and found out FedEx didn't come, but was told when it's not Friday, it's Monday. Monday came, and I was told it was in Dallas, so it would be there Tuesday. Oook, kind of sad, but not the worst. Tuesday comes, and I get someone on the phone who finally says, "Uh, it takes 7-10 business days for shipments to come in and today it makes 7 days." I was very near crying or cussing, and thankfully chose neither. I explained to the guy (who had not been involved thus far, so it was really not his fault) that I would have appreciated that nugget of knowledge when this began, because then I wouldn't have spent the previous 4 days completely rearranging my schedule in hopes of taking a 40-minute drive in to Austin to pick up my bike. He assured me that he had my number and would have someone waiting at the loading dock to build it as soon as it came in. Finally, finally, on Wednesday, I get the call that the bike is in. Overall, the situation wasn't a big deal- shipping is a hassle and takes a while sometimes- but the lack of good communication was so frustrating. I work in customer service myself- if you are unsure of something, do not tell the customer information that may or may not be true because they are expecting it to be true. I've read tons of great things about this shop, so I really don't feel this will be a problem in the future. I just wish my first time working with them hadn't have gone like it did.
The saddle does come in pink, but I think I'd rather hide my butt sweat!

          I got to the shop and was kind of bummed because what should have been super exciting for me really just felt like the end of something very frustrating. (Little did I know, the day was not over yet!) The bike was already in the trainer when I got there- much appreciated- and they popped on my pedals and started me on my fitting. The tri geometry really works with my body well, and it wasn't long before I had a nice flat back and a good angle on my arms. I did indeed get to borrow a demo Cobb JOF 55 and they're letting me keep it for two weeks until I bring it back for my first adjustment. (So far, it's a winner!) After that, it was just signing the final paperwork and loading it in my car, then cussing and praying and glaring spitefully in to my rear view during rush hour traffic all the way home. Odds of a rear ending are high in Austin, and I did not want to go to prison for assault when someone smashed in my new baby.

Finally coming home!
      When I got the bike back to my house, I couldn't wait to ride anymore because it had been almost two weeks since the last time I'd been in the saddle! I got my bottle cages on, rigged my saddle pack (definitely going to need a new one!) and hit the road. What a great ride! There was a storm blowing in, so there was a heavy crosswind in both directions, but already my overall average speed was looking better. I was comfortable and really enjoying myself. I got about 17 miles in and was heading down a hill, my turn to go home just about a mile away, when a sound like a gunshot rings out and my bike wobbles. I slowed down and hopped off my bike, figuring I had a flat. I checked the back tire, nope, still good, and the chain was in
place. I have never had a flat on my front before, so I was pretty surprised when I grabbed the tire and sure enough, flat. I have no idea what I hit- probably one of the many large rocks being dropped by the trucks from the constructions sites- but not only had I popped the tube, there was a pinky-sized hole and a ding in the rim. I started to change my tube just so I could make it home, and figured out that the little safety pin I used to secure my saddle pack to my post had managed to find my spare tube and pin it to the bag, making it useless as well.

       I was so mad, I just started laughing. I called my boyfriend who came and got me, and I rode in the back of his truck, holding my new toy safely off his bed liner and away from further danger. I took a shower, laid down, and just kind of stared at the ceiling. He came in and gave me a hug, telling me, "it's just a flat tire." I, being unreasonably emotional due to frustration, was having none of it. Then, he told me about the time he scraped the money together in college to buy brand new tires for his old truck, and two days later his then-girlfriend drove them backwards over airport parking lot spikes and ruined two of them. He said baby, they're just tires. I pointed out that his real problem was the fact that he was with someone dumb enough to drive backwards over tire spikes, but it made me laugh anyhow. Guess I'll be going to the bike shop again today! Maybe I'll start checking out new helmets while I'm there......

We are having a drawing for 1 FREE entry to the Austin Esprit de She Bike Tour taking place September 13, 2014.

Here are the rules:

1. Go to my Reason 2 Race and "sponsor me" for at least $5. This money goes directly to helping homeless pets! None of it comes to me!
2. When you donate, you don't have to leave your full name, but at least in the comments put, for example, "Jenny P. entering for the drawing!"
3. Keep an eye on this blog and the Facebook page, the winner will be announced in two weeks!

BONUS Everyone who donates will receive a discount code! The code is good for either $5 off the Austin Tour OR $10 off the Dallas Duathlon. This blog and the Facebook will tell you when to email me for the code.

Please consider donating just a little to the shelter- every dollar makes a difference! The Austin tour is currently $55, so for as little as $5, you could save a lot of money while helping out a great cause! I did the event last year and had a great time with a fun group of women, and I am looking forward to it again- especially the yummy mimosa bar!

Good luck!

Don't forget about my Reason 2 Race! Help out pets in need!

This blog is following my training as I get ready for the Athleta eSprit de She event season. Three events happen in Texas, the Duathlon in Dallasthe Katy 5k & 10k, and the Cycle Tour in Austin. I'll be doing Austin and Dallas, come join the fun! Enter Comp Code EDS57 for the chance to win some cool prizes!

No comments:

Post a Comment