Journey For The Bike Part 3
After 3 Olympic distance triathlons, 3 70.3’s, and 2 Ironman finishes.. I finally decided to go all-in on triathlons, and that meant getting a Tri Bike. In the hopes of being able to help others trying to decide on the route they want to go in regards to their bike, we decided to record my journey with the hopes of offering insight and guidance to others as they proceed on their own journey. Hopefully the path I took, and the reasons/rationale are something that are helpful to others going through the same decisions. This will cover what rationale, factors, and other considerations I took when I purchased each of my 3 bicycles. It is my hope that you will find this both educational, entertaining, and helpful.
In Part 2, I detailed my reasoning for going with the Shiv; and truthfully I thought that would be where my Journey for the Bike would end; both literally and in this blog.. but I was quite wrong.. Choosing the type of bike, and what bike was just the beginning!
When you get a triathlon bike, it’s more than just a bike.. It’s an investment, and like any other investment there are things that you should do to maximize that investment. There are things that you can/should upgrade, and deciding when/how to upgrade is something personal to each buyer. If you know what you want to upgrade before you begin; then you can save some money by trading in some of the new bike parts that you want to upgrade. The resale value of those parts will be at its highest when its brand new; and the bike shop won’t charge you for additional labor since they need to assemble the bike anyway. It’s more money up front, but you will save a lot of money in the long run on labor.
To begin, I identified the most important things that I wanted; a proper triathlon fit, carbon wheels, power meter, and electric shifting. From there, it was all about doing some research and making smart decisions. My emphasis would measure cost versus performance; and determining what was worth the investment. Every single part that you upgrade will have a wide price range. The top of the line part will usually cost at least double the compared to the cheapest model. It’s important to decide if you need the best or if you just need something that will work. In many cases, the reasons that something is the best; may not apply to you; and it is ok to get something lower end.
To help any one looking to upgrade, I’ll go through the comparisons that I made in my journey; and hopefully it can help you decide something similar. What best for me, is probably not best for you; so take what I did with a grain of salt.
Bike fit is number one priority. If you only have a budget for one thing on this list; I will easily tell you to put it into the bike fit. Everything else you can get around OK with alternatives (use your regular wheels, use virtual power, stick with mechanical shifting); but there is no substitute what-so-ever for a proper bike fit.
I went to a triathlon focused bike fitter; Eric C in Hilltop Madison. He was phenomenal. Before we began the formal fitting, Eric and I had a 30 minute conversation talking about my background, my goals, what I was looking for, and any concerns I had. At first I thought it was silly to be wasting this much time talking to him; but then it all made sense as we went through the fitting.
Eric did a complete physical assessment set on me; He calculated my foot arch, my knee pronation, flexibility, and spent a lot of time watching me pedal. After every adjustment he would ask me how I felt; and then recalibrate the fit to make it more optimal. but comfortable as well. As I detailed in Part 2, the shiv had a lot of easy ways to customize; and Eric was easily changing the stem and seatpost all over to get me in a great spot.
In the end, Eric thought; and I agreed that I wasn’t very comfortable in a super aggressive aero position right now. There would be no point to go in a very aero-position, if I had to get up every few minutes or so to re-adjust myself. It would actually be faster, to not have a super aero-position; but be comfortable in that position for 95% of the race. We decided to start with a fit; while not super aerodynamic; would be comfortable; and allow me to get to the run part of the race in great shape. As I get more comfortable in the aero position; then we can re-adjust my fit going forward. Since I’m new to triathlon bikes; this wasn’t surprising; and I’m sure that I will get more comfortable as I get used to it.
Even without being super aggressive with my fit, my position on the Shiv is still a lot more aero than I was on my previous bike. Hopefully in the future, I can add another comparison image showing how my fit progressed from Day 1 to a few months later.
The bike came with nice aluminum wheels; but aluminum just does not compare to carbon. Carbon wheels, besides being lighter are also more aerodynamic (have I mentioned aero enough?). Take a peak at the image below, notice how thick the dish is? The dish is designed to resist the wind more. Since the wheels have a deeper dish, it means less spokes are hitting the wind, and that creates less drag. The deeper the dish, the more aerodynamic it is. A disc wheel would be fastest in a wind-tunnel, but also the most difficult to control; especially on a windy course. Flo calculates that having 90 CC wheels compared to stock aluminum wheels, will on average save nearly 5 minutes for an Ironman distance event. As someone that made the cut-off by 5 minutes once; I know how vital 5 minutes can be.
I first came across Flo wheels at a few of my races, and they caught my eye. As I saw them more and more, I made it a point to ask each athlete what they thought of the wheels. Each athlete was overwhelmingly positive and loved them; and pointed out that they were significantly less expensive than other carbon wheels; $1100 for a set! When you consider, that I spent $200 to rent race wheels for a weekend; and that I’ve done that twice already; that sounded like a great bargain.
Comparing Flo Wheels to other wheels; the cost jumped out a lot to me. The leader in the wheel business is Zipp. The problem for me was that Zipp’s cost $1300 for a rear 808, and $950 for a front 404 wheels. This was a huge price difference, and I did my best to figure out if there was a big difference. I read a lot of reviews, asked around on facebook, and the consensus I found was that the difference was not worth it for me. A lot of user’s commented that they had both, and couldn’t tell the difference; with some even preferring Zipp wheels. Others said that Zipp wheels were better, but not double the price better… Paying $1100 versus $2250 is a lot of savings, and I could not justify paying a lot more money; so I went with Flo.
Even though Flo wheels are a good value, it is still $1100; which isn’t anything to sneeze at. I feel that carbon wheels are an investment that will follow me to every bike I ever get. Most riders generally buy 1 set of carbon wheels and will take those wheels with them forever. If they ever sell their bike, they will usually keep the wheels. Wheels are interchangeable; and if I wanted to do a road race or something; I can easily swap them onto the Propel. With that said, I didn’t really need the wheels until the Spring, but of course Flo had a Black Friday sale; and to save some money I jumped on it.
Choosing what Flo wheel was very straight forward. Flo’s offers 30, 60, 90, and disc wheels models. I decided to go with a 60 CC in the front, and 90 CC in the rear. A disc would of been the fastest, but considering my A Race this year is full of hills; a disk wouldn’t work for my race; so I went with their deepest non-disc wheel, a 90cc for the rear instead. Instead of a matching 90 CC in the front; I went with the 60 CC wheel for the front to maintain better control and be less vulnerable to crosswinds. Many riders opt for a deeper rear wheel than front wheel for this reason.
Wheels are set, so now rolling (at 2000 watts) along ..
Training with power has never been more popular. It’s difficult to train effectively without having a consistent way to measure your progress. Conventionally, people use speed, heart rate, and cadence to judge progress. The problem with this, is that it’s very subjective.
A strong head-wind or tail-wind can affect your speed dramatically. If you are on the trainer, and you applied a different amount of resistance each time you ride (easy to do because many trainers don’t have an easy way to set resistance); then you aren’t comparing the same variables consistently.
What the power meter does, is find a consistent way to track your performance. The amount of watts that you are producing, is the amount of watts that you are producing. Even when the resistance, elevation, wind etc affect your speed; it will not affect your power output. If I go for a ride, and I see the wattage getting better; then I know I am getting better.
It’s also a great way to pace during a race… I can ride to generate power; and not focus on a speed. If I can say stay at for example 75 watts per hour as my pace; then I will ride using that as my gauge..Reading the power meter, will allow me to adjust my effort to make sure I am getting the right wattage that I need the same way as if I am going too fast in a running race. In a running race, if I see I am going to fast; then I can just slow down to get back to my pace; same idea with the power meter. If I am producing too many weights, then I will just slow down.
I’m really trying to get better on the bike, and I felt that investing in a power meter would be the best way to help me improve. Plus it would also work with TrainerRoad; my training platform of choice.
After I decided I wanted a power meter, I relied on DC Rainmakers guide; which was awesome. I learned a lot about power meters, and the different options. You can get a power meter for your wheel (but then I need to constantly swap it from my trainer wheel to my outside wheel), pedals (but not the style of pedals that I use), or crank (Which pretty much became my only option). I found the Power2Max NG Eco. It was the least expensive option, but also had some great reviews. The NG Eco lacks some of the features as the more expensive options, but it is reliable and even has bluetooth; so it fit my needs perfectly fine. Just to be safe, I sent Power2Max an email to make sure that this option would work for me; and they instructed me that I would also need the crank arms since the crank wouldn’t fit the stock crank arms; which bumped up the cost $150 to $640; but still was a good buy and the cheapest option. The NG Ego also has software upgrades (balance, smoothing, etc) that I can buy down the line if I feel I needed them for another $150. For my purposes, I just wanted power output; so this was great.. I went with red to match the bike, and that was it.
I got the power; so let’s shift gears!
The Shiv came with a solid mechanical Shimano Ultegra groupset. This was probably the hardest choice I had to make, because truthfully I could of waited and upgraded this later. My current bike, has electric shifting (Ultegra Di2); and I love it. Electric shifting is faster, seamless, and you can shift at any time. Mechanical shifting relies on the cables; so takes longer to shift and not as smooth and if you are riding a hill then you can’t shift easily as the cables are under too much tension. Electric shifting also regulates the derailer so the chain is always in the right spot; where as in mechanical the chain can rub until it adjusts itself to a better position.
The biggest advantage with electric shifting, is that I can put the buttons to shift in multiple spots on the bike. This meant that I could put them on my aerobars, and in the drops; mechanical only puts the shifters on the aerobars. This would be super useful when I would be climbing in Lake Placid and needed to shift from a non-aero position while climbing. In the end, the local bike shop gave me a good deal to trade in my existing groupset at retail value; and put it towards electric shifting. I knew I was going to change it eventually, so if I saved money by doing it now; then I was all for it. Plus the bike shop was willing to give me a good deal considering I was buying a lot of other items through them.
There are a few options with electric shifting; Ultegra has their base DI2, their high end Dura Ace Di2, and SRAM has SRAM Etap Red. The Dura Ace Di2 groupset is very expensive ($1800), and although it is lighter than their standard Di2 ($1300) groupset; I couldn’t justify the additional cost. Dura Ace was lighter than their base Di2; but that was the only benefit for me. If I was a professional biker, then the weight savings would be worth it; but for my purposes the weight difference between everything was negligible. SRAM Red is SRAM’s top of the line electric shifting product, and was priced at $1650. Reviews for Di2 and Sram were very even; and the differences were your personal preference. I was familiar with the Di2, but I liked that in SRAM I could remove a battery from my big ring to the back ring if it ever died during a ride, and liked the simpler buttons on the SRAM as well.
In the end, the clinching factor for me was that SRAM Etap Red was SRAM’s top of the line product, and had the detachable battery. Plus, CJ also got SRAM and gave it a glowing recommendation. SRAM it was!
It is worth mentioning that my bike rack did not work with the Shiv. The two ends were just too long. If you have a standard bike rack that holds the bike by the frame; then you need to double check if it will fit your bike. You will want a rack that supports the bike from the wheel’s, so you won’t damage the frame. In my case, I went with a Saris SuperClamp 2 Rack. I took the Shiv home in my trunk on the first day, but got the rack a few weeks later.
After all those upgrades; I was finally done! From the original Shiv, I only ended up keeping the frame, seat, seat post, fork, aero-bars, and brakes. I didn’t mean for the bike to become a near completely custom adventure; but that is where my journey took me. While I don’t know everything about bikes and bike parts now; I feel like I know at least a little bit more after going through the process.
I will say that I strongly endorse going supporting your local bike shop, (in my case Hilltop Bicycles in New Jersey); as it will always give you a lot of value. Through every step of the way, Hilltop went out of their way to talk things out with me and make sure that I was very comfortable with the entire process. Could I have saved some money from buying online, probably… Would the bike of come out this awesome? Definitely, not. It’s an investment, and buying from a local shop will always pay dividends down the road.
There are a few thing’s I’ll upgrade down the line; like getting new blips for ETAP and a new Rudy Project helmet, maybe new bike shoes, and of course a High Five decal, but nothing too major. I’m very pleased with the final product, and excited to earn it. The last thing every bike needs; is an appropriate name.. And seeing that the Shiv was purchased on the same day as the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.. I thought Kona was the perfect name. Who knows, maybe it can even get me there one day?
The final thing I will say, that even with the bike of your dreams; the most important thing will and always will be the engine. I upgraded a lot of components to maximize my investment; but the number one thing is to continue to invest in my training. If you are on a journey for your own bike; be sure that you put in the work to make it a worthy investment. You can buy a lot of things to make the bike faster or more aero; but you can’t buy a faster engine. That takes time and effort… and that will always trump any physical upgrade.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you got something out of this! If you want to read more about Kona; then check it out on Hilltop’s website; where it was named Bike of the Month!.