The Frugal TriathleteBy Coach Matt Russ
In these economic times triathletes are looking for ways to limit expenditures like everyone else. I am often asked where the “best” or most effective place to invest in triathlon equipment lies. Although the answer to this question is individualized, there are definitely better places to spend your money when compared to others. First and foremost realize that an unlimited budget does not necessarily give an athlete an inherent advantage over another on a tight one.
Athletes probably most often misspend their dollars on equipment. Manufacturers exhaust thousands of marketing dollars attempting to convince consumers that they need a certain aerobar, drink system, or dimpled carbon fiber “x” in order to be faster. In actuality an expensive aeorabar that may slightly reduce drag will offer very little, if any, advantage to the average triathlete. Most of the resistance on the bike comes from the rider; not the bike. A bike fitting that lowers torso angle even slightly will often reduce drag more effectively than most equipment changes. If you do need to upgrade or replace equipment money is best spent on replacing components that move, such as wheels, crank/cassettes, or shoes and pedals. A weight reduction of 200 grams through purchasing a new crankset, will be more effective than a lighter seat for instance.
Purchasing the latest training technology and equipment will not make an athlete faster either. You can purchase a heart rate monitor, power meter, or GPS and it will not make a bit of difference in your performance unless you know how to apply the technology correctly. From a coaching perspective I am a firm believer in receiving as much data as possible from my athletes. I believe that these devices can offer a higher level of communication and feedback between coach and athlete but are not a panacea. At the end of the day a device can only offer better training accuracy, race pacing, and analysis of training response. The more complex a device is, the more time and effort it will take to learn its’ proper application. If you still do not know how to operate your toaster, a power meter is probably not for you. Determine if you have the time and patience to learn a devices use and function before you begin shopping otherwise you may be wasting your money.
Consumers have a lot more options at their fingertips these days for purchasing used equipment, such as Ebay or Craigslist, and can save hundreds. However, when purchasing used equipment let the buyer beware. I do not recommend making large purchases such as bikes or wetsuits sight unseen. Remember that most new bikes come with free adjustments and a warranty which in and of itself can overrule any money you may save buying used. I have had athletes come in for fittings on bicycles that were the wrong size or had damaged, cracked, and unsafe frames. Remember that you will have very little recourse once an “as is” used purchase is made and that it will be an arduous process at best. Do not purchase any piece of equipment used that you would potentially need to return.
Dear Coach- “I recently looked at two different bicycles from the same manufacturer; one at the top of their line and one at the bottom. Both bicycles have same frame set and the main differences between them is in components, weight, and of course price. What sort of advantage can I expect from the more expensive bike in performance and durability?”
First of all durability is generally not an issue. Even with base level components most bicycles are very reliable and durable these days. There is a difference in performance however it will depend on how fast you are on the bike. The two main considerations are weight and aerodynamics. If you are averaging 17-18 mph a bike with the same frame set will offer very little advantage in aerodynamics over the more expensive model. As you become faster aerodynamics becomes a greater consideration, but you are still likely only shaving seconds in an Olympic distance race. Weight will affect your speed, mainly on the climbs, but a difference of a few pounds will not make a radical difference in speed. In my experience most athletes can find that two pounds in left over holiday weight and perhaps save themselves a lot of money on a bicycle.
Matt Russ has coached and trained athletes up to the professional level, domestically and internationally, for over 15 years. He currently holds an Expert license from USA Triathlon, an Elite license from USACycling, USA Track and Field, and is Serotta FIST certified. Matt is Head Coach and owner of The Sport Factory, and works with athletes of all levels full time. He is a free lance author and his articles are regularly featured in a variety of magazines and websites. Visit www.thesportfactory.com for more information or email him at email@example.com