The Bike Shop…

I don’t know about anyone else, but buying a new bike for triathlon’s and cycling events is a little intimidating. There is so much to know about bikes and they’re expensive so you really want to make an informed decision. Gadget Gnome to the rescue!

Gadget Gnome likes to work odd jobs by night (he’s a computer programmer by day). One of these jobs was at a bike shop. Gadget Gnome also cycles a lot and volunteers for one of the local bicycling clubs.

Gadget Gnome sent me a list of information about bikes to help me understand and evaluate them at the shops, to ask smart questions, and not be taken in by clever sales people.

The one thing I would add to this information is to ride the bike. Frames have different lengths and different stiffness. You need something you are comfortable on for whatever type of riding you do.


Buying a bike is like buying a car. Knowing what you want to do with it and how much you want to pay is a good starting point. You can pay a full range of prices for each type of bike.

Some people say, spend more money on the bike parts that touch your body, this will make biking more comfortable. This means seat, shoes and handle bar.

Basically, when you buy a bike, it will not fill all of your requirements.  Buy a bike that fill most requirements and upgrade anything that could hurt you when you buy.. Ride the bike, If the other items continue to not perform as needed, then upgrade that part.

Parts of a bike that you may need to upgrade when you buy are: seat, may be stem and maybe handle bar.



The fit that I help people with could be called a comfort fit. This just makes that bike so that it does not hurt the rider.

There are performance fits. They will measure certain bones in your body and set the bike up for that. They will measure your feet to set the pedals. You need to have the specific seat and shoes you are going to wear to do this.

A performance fit may cost hundreds of dollars. They may change parts of the bike, this will cost you additional money. They may change the crank length, the handle bar width and drop.

In all cases, a fit is just the starting point. You will adjust yourself from that.



A TT Bike (time trial bike) is a form of bike racing. When you ride, you are the only one on the track. This makes it just like a Tri bike because you cannot draft. Bike racing has a lot more rules than Tri’s.  Tri rules just want the power to be human without technical help, TT hast rules like how close the seat can be to the handle bar.

The frame on a TT/TRI bike are the same. They are different than a road bike. Basically the part of the bike that goes from your feet to the seat is closer to vertical on a TT/TRI.

A TT/TRI bike does not shift and brake with your hands in the same place. You shift with hands on the aero bar, you brake with your hands on the handle bar. To me this makes the bike not useful for riding on city roads, your hands are not on the brakes so an emergency stop does not happen. You cannot ride with groups because your hands are not on the brakes.

A road bike with aero bars is not quite the same as a TT/TRI. Basically the seat is farther back than the TT/TRI and the shift is with the brake, not on the aero bar. The road bike with aero bars is not quite as comfortable as a TT/TRI.



At this level of bike, there will probably not be triples. They are primarily for lower cost bikes.

Compact is a short term for double compact.

A double is geared very high. This is setup for top end to ride 30+ mph or higher. It is not geared for hills. A compact is geared for a lower top end, 30 mph or lower. It also has lower end gears for hills. These speeds are approximate. For a flat section of the tour de France, the average speed is 25 to 30 mph.

It was common request to convert a double to a compact. For this level of bike, it will cost hundreds of dollars.

When looking at a bike, you can sometimes tell the difference between a double and a compact. Looking at the difference in size between the two gears on the front. A compact has gears closer to the same size, a double has a larger difference between the two gears.

There is not a specific size associated with double or compact. They each are simply a range.



The cassette is the gears on the rear wheel. They are replaceable/changeable. In this case the smaller the gears are the faster gears. There are big cassettes and small cassettes. The cassette has less effect than the front rings.

The number of rings on a cassette defines “speed”. It is common to have a 9 speed or 10 speed on road bikes. The shifter on the handle bar must match the cassette.



The wheels on a bike have the most effect from weight. An ounce saved on the wheels has much more effect than an ounce on the frame, they basically move more than any other part of the bike.

At this level of bike, you may run into Tubular wheels/tires. You do not want these. If you get a flat, it will cost $75 to repair. Basically, the tube is sewn into the tire, and then glued to the rim. You can save money by sewing the tube in the tire for repair. They are smaller and lighter than clinchers. They are blown up to 160 psi.  They will not get pinch flats. They can handle corners at 50 mph better than a clincher.

Clincher is what you want. It is the normal wheel and tire.

Tire sizes effect several areas. A tire size of 20 or 23 is probably a good choice for you. Larger tires are less prone to getting flats. Smaller tires run faster. Tour de France riders probably use an 18 or 20.



Bikes in shops do not come with pedals.

The active part of speed play is on the shoe. Just walking around, you can cause problems with the functionality of the pedal. This means that you cannot walk in mud or gravely areas. It is hard to walk with these, like going into a store. You can get plastic covers for the part on the shoe.

Pedals have attributes more than just holding the shoe on the bike. They can be adjusted for how much pressure and how far they need to be moved to the side before they disconnect. For you, you can use the easier settings. Some times this adjustment is which parts you use, other pedals are adjusted with a screw setting.

There is also a concept of play, There are other terms for this. Not everyone has their feet straight in from of them, they need a slight angle for normal setting. Different pedals use different ways to deal with this.



You will primarily see Shimano parts. You may run into Sram and Campagnola.

Campagnola is high-end parts. It was popular before Shimano. They have repair parts for almost all models, unlike the others that you just replace the entire part. To work Campagnola, you have to have special parts, like the brake cable is different than others.

Sram has a full range of costs. They work slightly different from others in that they only have one lever to shift, you push it part way to go up and fully to go down a gear.

Dura Ace is Shimano’s top of the line. To me it is in the financial diminishing returns. Costs more but only a small amount of improvement, it is lighter. Priced right, I would buy it.

Ultegra is Shimano’s second from top. Most of my friends in the bike club use this.

105 is Shimano’s third from the top.  This is sometimes called the lowest level that is fully functional.

Tiagra is Shimano’s fourth from the top. This has recently started being very good, possibly starting to be fully functional. You will not find this on better bikes.

Sora is Shimano’s fifth from the top.

There are builds that use several different component levels. This is done to make a price point. Usually the shifter is the lower level, the other components are higher.

The parts on the handle bar are probably the most expensive part, then the crank and front gears, then the rear derailleur, then the front derailleur.

A bike is built from: a frame, a build kit, and then the other misc parts. The build kit includes all the shifting components, chain, and sometimes the wheels.



Most manufactures make bikes specifically for women.

Some women do not want a pink bike with flowers on it. They buy a regular bike.

High-end bikes do not have women’s bikes.

Bikes need to fit your body, the women’s bike is simply a bike that would be modified for a women’s size body. This gets into statistically relevant differences between men and women. This, of course, does not apply to a specific person. Women tend to have longer leg and shorter torsos, have narrower shoulders, smaller hands, and wider hips.



There are parts on a bike that may be changed, so that a bike fits you.

Some Brakes can have a wedge put in them that makes them fit smaller hands. This requires a better setup to work. These wedges are primarily for higher end brake handles. They can be added later for those brakes that are capable.

Brakes can be put on different parts of the round part of the handle bar that will allow your hand to squeeze the brake handle.

The stem, the small part that goes from the handle bar to the top of the fork, is very often changed. Sometimes this is done at time of purchase, and the old part will be credited at some value for the new one. Sometimes there is a pile of pulled off stems that may have one that will work for you. Stems have both a length and an angle.

Handlebars have a width and a drop. You want them about the width of you shoulder. For shorter people, you do not want it to drop down very far.

Then crank (what the pedals attach to) have different length. This is rare to change. A small size bike will come with short arms; a large size bike will come with long arms.




Carbon fiber is very strong for even pressure. It is very poor for point source pressure. What this means, is that if a bike slides down the road on its side, it just scratches it. If a bike hits a telephone pole from the side, it can be compromised. This is very hard to evaluate.

When a bike goes down, it usually scratches in several places. The rear derailleur, the shifters on the handle bar, the handle bar in general, and the seat.

Check the rear derailleur be looking from the back of the bike and verify that the derailleur is absolutely vertical. This is sometimes hard to do because the spokes are at an angle. Scratches on the shifters and handle bar are not an issue.  Ride the bike to make sure the shifters are not compromised.

Check the crank/bottom bracket. Hold onto the crank (the arms that the pedal is attached to). Pull and push, fairly hard, at an angle from the side. There should be no play at all, there should be no clicking. Note that the bike may flex, this is OK.

Check the chain. A simple tool, about 10-15 dollars will do this for you. If it OK, this usually mean a low mileage bike, or a well maintained bike.

Check all the gears. Make sure that the dips are symmetrical. You must feel with your finger.

Ride the bike, make sure it shifts (thru all gears). Make sure the brakes are smooth.

Spin the wheels. Make sure they do not jiggle. If they jiggle, this can mean a bent rim.


3 thoughts on “The Bike Shop…

  1. Jean February 11, 2015 / 3:14 pm

    So what is the max. price tag you are willing to pay for bike?

    I wasn’t aware of the tri-bike differences for the brakes. Doesn’t sound practical long term (to me). Nor gearing not set for hill climbing? Ok, maybe this is a tri-leveller on the components.

    You didn’t mention anything about the saddle type and position. Important.

    I can see why some triathletes then hate/dislike cycling if their bike is set up in the way/must meet certain tri requirements. It doesn’t make it a great, long endurance ride.

    Shimano parts should hold you well.

    • Nicole Lowe February 12, 2015 / 12:04 pm

      Jean you are correct the saddle is very important. I can’t spend over $2300 for the bike.

  2. Jean February 12, 2015 / 3:02 pm

    Don’t allow yourself to get torqued over the bike price. It’s the person on the bike and how the person performs.

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