A new year and a new season means new a new bike! You’ve been drooling over those professional bike pictures for month. Now the time has come to purchase your first frame, or upgrade! I have had a couple clients recently ask where I begin when buying a bike. These days there are so many options muddled up by online retailers, directly buying from manufacturers, or the tried and true local bike shop. On top of that there are frame sizes, components, wheels, cockpits, full integration, superbikes! Ah! I am going to break this whole bike buying process down into easy steps. At the end I will post a checklist you can print out to fill in prior to shopping. Let’s dive in!
First thing is first, check with your significant other that a new bike is approved ;). Seriously, we need to first establish a budget for this purchase. How much can you afford to buy with the CASH you have available at that moment. You don’t need to actually pay cash for the bike purchase, because we all like those credit card points, but bikes are expensive and American’s already have enough credit card debt. Also, a good rule of thumb is to only buy what you can replace without too much difficulty. For example, I could buy a $2k frame and if I happen to crash or need to repair it I could afford a new one within a very reasonable period of time. This can become a grey area and I am not a financial advisor, just giving a general rule of thumb. Alright, so what is the entry point for this sport? If you need to buy a complete bike to begin with you are looking at around $1500-2500 USD. That range is for used as well as new. My research shows that new bikes are starting out around $1800 and going up to $2800 for entry level, with the average cost of a complete new bike around $2400. Every company has a different idea of what entry level is though. Cervelo and Trek had the highest starting points and Cannondale and Giant having the less expensive starting points.
What comes with these different price ranges? A lot of the difference in prices has to do with stock wheels and components. The frame materials and layups will stay the same through the different levels. The highest model might have some more integration at the headset and slightly different carbon layup for reduced weight. Some of these things are important but for the most part, aerodynamics is king. Integration of the headset and cockpit is nice but isn’t a killer in buying decisions.
What do you need with that bike purchase?
There are a couple of routes you can take. You can always buy a new frame, and then go searching for used wheels and components on online marketplaces. You can also purchase a complete bike but the lower end models usually come with “training” wheels. Most of the companies today require you to go up to the third tier for aerodynamic wheels, which is important for triathlon. My recommendation for this is to buy the lower bike model and go searching the online marketplaces for used wheels (Slowtwitch Classifieds, Facebook Marketplace, Ebay). If you go this route just make sure you check compatibility of hub with your desired gearing? For example, 11 speed wheelset for 11 speed shifters. Additionally, if you purchased used wheels make sure you take them to your local bike shop before your first ride. There are times where the hub needs to be tightened or spokes are loose or worst case there is a crack in the wheel.
The final part of buying a bike is the groupset. There are currently three major players in the market; Shimano, Campagnolo, and SRAM. All three companies offer electronic and mechanical groupsets. Mechanical groupsets are cable tension based groupsets. These groupsets tend to be more durable, less expensive, but require more maintenance. The maintenance aspect requires some basic bike knowledge or a trip to the Local Bike Shop (LBS). Electronic groupsets are more precise, lighter weight, require less maintenance (except for the occasional charge), not as durable, and more expensive then the mechanical counterpart. I use the word durable in the above descriptions but what does that mean? The best example is if you get in a minor crash, it is easier to repair the mechanical groupset to fully a fully functional part. If something goes wrong with the electronic groupset it is a lot more challenging/impossible to repair during a ride or even after a ride.
What is the difference between all of the groupsets? Which one is right for you? If you have the money to purchase an electronic groupset, get it. They are the way of the future, more precise shifting, and lighter weight. These groupsets are easy to maintain and never require adjustments (unless you crash). Campagnolo is always going to be the most expensive groupset. You pay for that Italian quality control when purchasing their groupset. Shimano is the most common groupset manufacturer which means reduced replacement parts and wider variety of products to choose from. SRAM is a great company and one I have been using for the past 4 years. Campagnlo’s and Shimano’s electronic groupsets are still wired so that means you need to feed small wires through your frame. This isn’t too challenging but just something to be aware. SRAM’s ETAP product is completely wireless. All components connect through Bluetooth signals which makes setup extremely easy! The only downside is that ETAP is quite pricey (at the time of writing this).
There is a quick budgeting tool in the file below. Use this to determine what you can afford BEFORE going out and spending your money. This part was the basics behind purchasing a bike and the required components. The next section will be how important bike fit is to your performance and frame selection.