Q: “I was thinking of purchasing a bike for my wife to use for her first triathlon. Can you give me any advice on a decent starter model and let me know how much I should expect to spend on it and where to purchase it?”
A: It seems you are already giving your wife one of the most important things she will need to achieve her goals—your support! That said, the best starter model for her is the bike she already has, or one she can borrow.
My first three triathlons were successfully undertaken on a mountain bike. I wouldn't recommend making an investment in a road bike until your wife is certain that triathlon will be an enduring passion rather than a fleeting interest.
Also, surprising her with a new bike may not be the best idea considering that the most important factor in choosing a bike is getting the correct size and fit.
After my initial foray into triathlons, I took a long break to raise my family. When I returned to the sport seven years later, it was with a new mindset; I was not only interested in having fun, but in challenging myself, testing my limits, and seeing how competitive I could be. To become a more serious triathlete, I knew I needed a more serious bike. While a mountain bike will get the job done and can actually be advantageous when climbing hills, it won’t be particularly fast when compared with the lighter, sleeker models on the road. But, I still wasn't ready to make a sizeable investment, so I borrowed a road bike. It was too big for me, but I used it for a full season until I was ready to purchase a bike of my own.
Once your wife knows she’s in it for the long haul, it’s time to visit a reputable bike shop for a fitting and to test ride a few bikes. Bikes are sized by the top tube length in centimeters and also come in women’s specific designs for more petite riders.
After getting properly sized for a bike, there are many options for finding one at a discount. I found a great deal on eBay and bought my first road bike, an older model Cannondale, for less than $500, including shipping. I loved that bike and rode it for several seasons before upgrading to a tri bike, also known as a time trial or TT bike, with aerobars, which is not recommended until after gaining some cycling experience.
At approximately $2000, this was still considered and entry level performance bike, according to masterbikefitters.com. A high performance bike can easily exceed $4000, but it’s important to remember that it’s ultimately not about the bike—it’s the engine that counts.
To purchase a road bike before your wife determines if triathlon will be a long-term pursuit would likely not be the best use of your resources as a more versatile bike, such as a hybrid or comfort bike, would be better suited for both road riding and trail riding, as well as leisure riding around the neighborhood.
Ultimately, as long as your wife has a bike that is safe, comfortable and reliable, she’ll be well-equipped to tackle her first triathlon.