You Need a Road Bike, STAT
You need a road bike. You, yes, you. No, you don't need a fancy race machine or carbon beauty—in fact, if you really want to get the most out of this off-season project, you can get away with a beater bike and probably get faster as a result.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is "you seem to ride your road bike more than most triathletes... why is that?"
For starters, I love group rides that truly cater to a roadie set-up and as Stover tells me, as long as you're working on your aerobic engine while on two wheels and in the saddle, you're getting the job done (well, with a few caveats... which I'll get into at the end of the post).
My very first bike I bought was a road bike, which I sold less than a year later to get a "real" TT bike. If I had to do it all over again, I would have invested initially in a solid TT bike for racing and then used any remaining budget to get a used or entry-level road bike. While I'm advocating that more triathletes should be on road bikes in training, in no way would I recommend non-draft-legal triathletes go road bike only, particularly on race day!
So here are my top reasons why you should get out of your aerobars and start shopping around for a road bike or hop on the one getting rusty in your basement:
Make new friends
I have found riding partners, friends and mentors with my weekly group rides. Plus, it never hurts to have people to chat with to help the four-hour ride pass by much faster. Ask around your local shops or search for local facebook groups to see if there is an existing group or shop ride you can hop on and try out. This is critical though - if you're a first timer, this is when you definitely want to show up with a road bike!
Learn Better Bike Handling Skills
Triathletes are notoriously bad bike handlers. Join a group ride and be sure to keep your eyes open to learn from the others around you (and to keep from causing any accidents!) Very quickly you can learn how to take a corner, crest a climb or sit on the wheel ahead of you by observing those around you and trying. Give it enough rides and soon you'll be riding hands-free and descending like a mad-woman with the best of them. Don't be afraid to ask questions or take advice from others in the group and you'll soon be riding in a whole new league.
So now that you're on your road bike and starting to get the hang of hanging off the back and soaking up handling like a champ, you can start to sit a little closer to the draft of the person ahead of you and start taking pulls as the group rotates through the pace line. If you're uncertain, never be afraid to ask a fellow rider in advance or during the ride for tips. Unless they are a total grinch (possible), they should give you some pointers or at least keep the group aware that you're on a bit of a learning curve. We've all been new to this at some point or another!
I spoke to this some of my recent podcast with the YogiTriathlete team but riding with riders faster than you is a great short-cut to getting faster. While it will certainly throw any specific intervals and workouts out the window immediately, if you have a competitive group to ride with, you'll find yourself moving from sitting at the back of the peloton hanging on for dear life to actually taking pulls and not getting dropped on any climbs or KOM/QOM segments.
Feel and Look Pro
I have learned so much by just observing fellow cyclists, particularly when it comes to layering and smart clothing choices. Most of this is practical (bibs are a god-send, base layers can save a chilly ride, when to wear arms and knees versus jacket and legs, that wearing a tri kit in training is just silly) but some of it is also fashion-based. While the former is critical, it's also fun learning how to look the part. If you need help in that department, I recommend Cuore of Switzerland and Ridge Supply as starters/inspiration.
Okay, this one is a bit of a toss-up for me. Usually, I'm more comfortable on a road bike but on those 6-7 hour rides, sometimes I just want to cradle my elbows in those arm pads and give my forearms a rest. But for the most part, you're going to be more comfortable climbing, descending and riding in a pack on a road bike than you would on your TT bike.
Now that you have a road bike, you can jump into Gran Fondos and road races and crits galore! It's a great way to get in solid training/racing, meet new people and find new routes all while on two wheels and getting in your daily workout! I jumped into a few road races as a Cat 4 this spring and loved it—always a good learning experience and way to keep training fresh.
Reasons related to geometry
I will not pretend to know about it but Rappstar had a good post a few years back related to the benefits of riding a road bike versus a TT bike all the time as it relates to body position and geometry. Give it a google and check it out.
Learn how not to piss off your riding partners
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, HALF WHEELING SHOULD BE CONSIDERED A SIN. It really can ruin a ride if not called out and shut down quickly.
So where are some great places to look?
When I bought my road bike, I knew I didn't want to throw down a ton of money on it but wanted something that would make climbing and descending in North Carolina a little more bearable. I ended up finding a used bike at one of the local shops in town—I lucked out in that it was a great bike, barely ridden and returned due to a bad fit and so they gave me a great discount on it. There are plenty of options for finding the best bike for you, your goals and your budget including...
Your local shop!
Especially around the end of the year, they might even have deals or discounted bikes. I know my local shop Motion Makers has times of year where they drastically drop prices in order to move product and make room for new inventory. Talk to them about financing options if it's going to be a struggle. But really this isn't a necessary evil because you can always...
To get the most bang for your bike, used is another great route. Whether you find it on Craigslist, from a friend, the DarkMarket or Slowtwitch Classifieds or on one of the many Buy/Sell/Trade facebook groups that now exist, oftentimes someone else's decision to upgrade can be your big win. One of the biggest facebook groups out there is Online Swap Meet but also search for the local chapters if you want to avoid shipping costs (e.g. Asheville Bike Market here in town for me).
Considering Used but want Extra Peace of Mind?
Some of my favorite sites to browse include: The Racery, My Bike Shop and the Pro's Closet. All of these sell items that are inspected, cleaned, tuned up and some will even include additional warranty details. They then are professionally packed and you don't find yourself feeling like you just PayPal'd a Nigerian Internet Prince. I have yet to buy from The Racery (stock more Small MTBs please and thank you!) or the Pro's Closet but have bought and sold items through MyBikeShop previously and have had nothing but stellar customer service experiences.
But what about the saying "train like you race"?
The one caveat I mentioned above is that some times it does make more sense for you to be on a TT bike versus a road bike. Obviously, on race day. But you'll also want to work your muscles, particularly in your hip flexors, hamstring, quads, neck and upper back, to make sure those don't fatigue on race day when you'll be in aero position for an extended period of time.
To make sure I keep those areas worked, I will typically include at least one ride per week on my TT bike, usually interval sessions or I will keep my TT on the trainer to ensure that we're keeping things balanced, happy and strong.
Stay tuned for my next post: how not to be a TOTAL Fred on your next weekly group ride.
So get out there and get your ride on!