Updated: Nov 22, 2022
It's that time of year when lots of people are looking at buying a new bike. But before you start browsing the deals, and especially if you're fairly new to the bike (or bike buying) world, there's some key questions I would think about first.
Before you even start looking, set a budget and how much you're happy to go over it. Dont forget you're not just looking at the price of the bike but anything else needed in set up (bottle cages, Garmin mounts, lock, any upgrades such as wheels and saddle, insurance...)
Then decide what you actually want to prioritise, is the priority lightness, aero profile, comfortable handling, using it for riding beyond racing etc?
Thinking beyond racing
Is the new bike also going to be your training bike and will you want to ride it through the winter? (and if not, will you make sure you get enough time on it before your race to get used to the position, check it all works ok, particularly important if you have a longish, early season race)
Do you want it for commuting etc as well? (and if so, would you be better saving some of your budget for a separate commuting bike which you’re less precious about locking somewhere safe, washing the salt off etc)
Do you want to be able to fit panniers or mudguards? (if so check it's got the eyelets to fit them to)
Are you likely to want to do any off road racing or riding, and do you want to be able to run wider or off road tyres (if so check for clearance).
Do you need to be able to swap wheels etc between this and other bikes?
Do you want it to go on a turbo?
And so the list goes on.... Try and think beyond your next big race. Yes it would be great if it whisked you straight to the podium there, but you also want it to be the bike that you’re happily riding for the next few years at least, so make sure it will cover future goals and riding as well. On the other hand, don’t end up compromising on your goals to get a jack of all trades bike, if you know your priority is smashing it in time trials then get a TT bike and pick up a second hand bike, or borrow, if you’ve got the occasional off-road ride coming up.
The most important thing is the fit, the perfect bike is useless if it doesn't fit you. This is really important to bear in mind when buying off the internet (without the ability to try it), or buying in the sales or off a friend. Bikes can be adapted to some extent but it’s far better to start with something the right size. A ‘great deal' gets very expensive if you have to spend a load of money trying to get it to fit you, or end up with a compromise that the manufacturer would never have intended (e.g. I have very short arms and usually end up having to fit a shorter stem which affects the steering. When I finally swallowed my pride and went down a size, my handling got soooo much better, plus I’d saved some weight).
Please, please check that you can happily reach the brakes down on the drops. I've coached soooo many people who refuse to go down on the drops to go downhill because they feel like they can't reach the brakes. Whilst this is partly confidence, it is an issue if you have smaller hands and shorter arms (thanks bike manufacturers for deciding that women are fine on men's bikes). This massively affects both your aero profile and your bike handling, in my mind, you should never buy a bike where you don’t feel you can reach the brakes!
And think whether you want to include a bike fit in your budget. A lot of people are happy tweaking their position themselves, but if you want to maximise your aero profile, or have had a lot of injury issues in the past, then it’s definitely worth considering saving some of your budget for this (and not just the fit but anything you’ll need to buy to change your fit).
Who doesn’t want to go faster for no extra effort? Except it doesn’t always work like that. However aero the bike is, the biggest thing that affects your aero profile, by far is your body. So when getting excited about any aero kit/ bikes, also bear in mind its usually the non sexy (and cheaper) things that make the biggest difference.
The most important of which is your body position, and holding an aero position for however many hours vs what you look like when you do your aero pose in the mirror (e.g. there’s no point paying for a TT bike that’s so uncomfortable or hard to handle that you rarely train on it and then struggle to hold your position for most of the race, or there's no point in having a long tail aero helmet if you spend most of your time with your head down and your 'shark's fin' in the air). And how many people have you seen on a beast of a TT bike but with a misfitting flapping tri suit, things spilling out of their pockets or race number flapping, all of which could have a far bigger impact on their aero profile.
Aero bars or a TT bike will massively improve your aero profile, plus in a long race, give you another position to go to which puts less strain on your hands and potentially arms. Clip on aero bars are good for giving flexibility (and for triathletes thinking about qualifying for international Sprint races, remember a lot of these are draft legal and so don't allow aero bars) and are cheaper, but are a compromise in terms your position. This isn't just an issue on the bike leg, but (for triathletes) can compromise your hip angle which impacts the run so you'll need to adjust your set up further (some bikes have an adjustable seat post for road riding vs triathlon). Think about factoring in the cost of a bike fit when thinking about bars, and speak to the bike fitter before buying the bars. For more see *
A TT bike with integral rather than clip on bars are better for fit but more expensive, means your bike is less versatile and remember your gears are at the ends of the bars, great for staying aero, not so great when you're trying to change gears in traffic on the way to your training ride.
There's also no point in having aero bars if you dont use them, which means you need to train with them and be able to handle the bike. There’s no point in having the bars if you break position to drink and eat or come back off them every time it gets a bit technical. Similarly there’s no point in being great at staying down on the aero bars if you still end up having to slow down too much round the corners or down the hills. If you’re new to bars, start somewhere easy without much wind, a good road surface and not many corners or descents, then build up from there. And learn your limits, you're not going to go faster if you crash.
After your body and position, wheels and helmet are both great for saving some watts, so factor these into your eventual spend, but they don't necessarily have to affect your choice of bike.
Specs and Components
I’m not going to go into this in so much detail, but a few pointers:
Start by thinking about the frame – this is the one bit that is central to your bike, the rest can mostly be upgraded at some point. So check you’ve got the right size, and think about what it’s made of, are you prioritising weight, durability etc. When comparing bike weight check you're comparing apples with apples (i.e. same size frame, and what it includes in terms of the build).
In terms of the components, check a guide such a this to get an idea of what sort of quality you’re getting. And whilst everyone always says ‘you can upgrade your components’, factor in whether you have the skills (and tools) to do that yourself, would you ever get round to it etc. (But certainly if it’s just the cassette on your dream bike that isn’t right for your goal race, but everything else is good, then get the bike, and get someone else to change the cassette if needed).
I wouldn't buy/ not buy a new bike for the wheels, the ones that come with the bike are never amazing, you're better off upgrading these as needed. And there's little technical ability (just a big wallet) needed there. But if buying a second hand bike check whether its 10 or 11 speed etc as that will affect the wheels you can use on it. If sticking with the wheels, do you want tubeless ready?
Anything else crucial that you'd add in, or that you disagree with? Let me know below!
And most importantly, good luck, enjoy it and happy riding!
* As Phil Burt, lead physiotherapist of the Great Britain Cycling Team and author of Bike Fit: Optimise Your Bike Position for High Performance and Injury Avoidance, explains: “A road bike and a TT position won’t be compatible unless you make a few more adjustments than simply clipping on a set of aerobars. "Your normal riding position has to be rotated forwards for an effective aero tuck but without stretching you out too much and compressing your hip angle. The seat angle and top tube length on most road bikes make this hard to do. You’ll probably need to move your saddle forwards, maybe fit a seatpost that steepens the seat angle and obviously adjust your saddle height to accommodate these changes. At the front end, you’ll also probably need to consider a shorter stem to reduce reach. Once you have the position right, it’s then essential that you train in it and don’t wait until race day.”