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Coach Steve being aero!

BIKE CHOICES: It never used to be like this. Back when I started cycling there were only steel bike frames. The choices were country of origin, what grade of Campy (Campagnolo) groupo to build it with, and color. Then came Shimano components; seven, eight, nine, and now ten speed cogs; titanium, aluminum, and composite frames. Then came the sweetest inventions of all: aerobars and disc wheels!

With so many choices and slick marketing compromising your objectivity, it's tough to choose. And honestly, the quality of bikes available is better than ever with few, if any, bad choices.

The important criteria in choosing a bike are: how will the bike be used, and how do I get the best possible fit?

Pricing will vary a lot, but you can't go wrong with an aluminum, titanium, composite, or even a 'retro' steel frame. There are no bad choices in components either. I can say for sure that doubling the price won't double your speed, but with a discerning eye you may choose the slicker looking bike, and sometimes the slick looking bike just might be faster!

Aerodynamics are more important than weight; what the wind sees has much more to do with speed than shaving ounces off, even pounds, but I admit a light bike is cool. Only if you're doing a lot of climbing does weight matter.

Different materials give different ride qualities. Metal frames are analogous to the springs of your car's suspension; they give a lively quality, but not always springy when or where you want it. Composite bikes are analogous to your car's shock absorbers; they dampen vibration better than metal frames but don't have the same lively feel. I've had good luck with aero-tubed aluminum frames and composite forks (virtually all forks are composite now), but like I said, it's all good.

Do you need a road bike or dedicated tri-bike? A typical road bike has a seat tube angle of about 73 degrees and drop style handlebars with shifting at the brake lever. A tri-bike has a seat tube angle of 75 to 78 degrees and usually bull horn TT (time trial) style bars with shifting at the end of the aerobar.

The design of a road bike is more comfortable for most riders as you aren't committed to an aero position and you can sit up relatively straight for climbs. The shallow seat tube angle lets you sit further back relative to the bike's bottom bracket which works well for climbs. The drop style handlebars offer more hand positions.

A dedicated tri-bike is essentially a TT (time trial) bike similar to what a bike racer would use. The only difference being possibly a steeper seat tube angle. A seat tube angle of 75 to 78 degrees makes it easier to hold the low aero position. Some also believe the more forward position helps you use your running muscles effectively. With this style of bike you should be on the aerobars most of the time, so this is where your shift levers are.

Most riders get a road bike first, and if they buy a tri-bike it becomes their second bike.

To get optimal fit for a tri-bike the frame should be slightly shorter in height to accommodate bullhorn style bars. The bars should be set at a height mid-way between the drop hand position, and the top of bars hand position on the road bike's drop style bars. Riders 5'5" or shorter usually need 650c wheels to keep the front end of the bike low enough for bullhorn bars.

Athletes with both road and TT bikes often ask me which bike they should use for a race on a hilly course. For me bike choice should be based purely on speed, so I've never used my road bike in a timed race. Yes, the road bike is slightly more comfortable on climbs, but much slower on the flats and downhills. Many athletes become overly concerned with climbs when they should be focused on attacking the whole course with equal energy.

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