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Cal Triathlon Bike Buying Guide

When buying a bike there are several decisions that must be made. I am going to list the pros and cons of most of these major decisions so that you can make an educated choice when buying a bike.

Frame Size

The most important thing when buying a bike is getting the correct frame size. Frame size usually refers to the length of the seat tube and is measure in centimeters. It is important to note that many bike brands measure this slightly differently so it is important to look up whether a brand runs big or small (like shoes). The best way to get an estimate of your frame size is to go to a local bike shop or talk to an experienced member on the team (talk to multiple). If you are in between sizes I recommend sizing down. Sizing down will be a little less comfortable, but will be lighter and more aerodynamic.


We recommend referring to this infographic bike size chart:


This chart runs a little big in my opinion, but is a good estimate of what size frame you should be looking for.

Type of Bike – Road vs TT

Road Bike


  • Comfort and stability – safer to ride in groups, easier to climb and descend with.

  • Maintenance and Cost – cheaper to purchase and easier to maintain.


  • Less Aero

TT/Triathlon Bike


  • More Aero


  • Comfort and versatility – less comfortable and only designed for Time Trials

  • Cost and Maintenance – more expensive and harder to maintain or adjust

Frame Material

Aluminum – One of the most common and cost-effective frame materials. Make very stiff and light frames. Don’t have to worry as much about cracks as carbon.

Carbon Fiber – The lightest frames available are made of carbon. The weave of the composite allows for maximum stiffness while still offering a comfortable ride. Great frame material, but don’t trade your first born or downgrade to a worse group set to get a carbon frame.

Titanium – Light and virtually indestructible. Extremely expensive and pretty much not worth it except for novelty bikes.

Steel – Heavy. Has the most flex so will give you the most comfortable ride. However, you will also lose power in the flexing of the frame. Try to avoid heavy steel bikes if possible.

Group set

When buying a group set stick to Shimano or SRAM. Campagnolo (campy) group sets are extremely overpriced and extremely proprietary, incompatible, and hard to maintain.

Shimano Dura Ace/SRAM Red  –  highest tier, lightest, very expensive new, great if you can afford

Shimano Ultegra/SRAM Force – mid tier, exact same design as dura ace just slightly heavier materials. Best group set for college students. Worth the upgrade from 105 if you can afford it.

Shimano 105/SRAM Rival – low tier solid entry level group set. Extremely durable, and a not noticeable difference from Dura ace or ultegra except weight. Most people will opt for a 105 group set.

A couple general things to look for when buying a bike. Try to look for a Mid-Compact set of chain rings with 52/36. This will help you a lot with climbing and not hurt your top end speed. Also look for a 11-28 cassette. The 11 speed cog is critical so don’t get something like 12-27. Having your last cog be 28 instead 23 or 25 will help a lot with climbing.

Used vs New

When looking to get a bike you must decide on whether to buy used or new. New bikes are expensive and you have to pay tax which is non-trivial when buying a bike over 1k. However, new bikes often come with a warranty and a peace of mind that the bike is in perfect shape and never been crashed. Buying your first bike new isn’t a bad idea.

Buying a used bike is a great way to get an awesome deal and a bike that would normally be outside of your budget. One thing to remember is to try and avoid buying bikes that are too old. A 10 year old bike with Dura ace might look like a great deal, but it is likely extremely worn and Dura ace 10 years ago is probably no better than current 105. Look for bikes that are a couple of years old. The best place to look for used bikes is on craigslist. Knowing the value of a used bike is difficult so I suggest using This site will give you an estimate of what the bike is worth based on year, model, and condition and is a great resource when first buying a used bike. What to check for in a used bike is out of the scope of this guide because it is a pretty extensive list, but make sure to look it up and talk to an experienced member on the team before buying a used bike.


When buying a bike make sure to also buy a set of clipless pedals – Shimano (SPD-SL not SPD), Look, or Speedplay. They all work essentially the same and will drastically increase your efficiency. Also When buying cycling shoes I suggest buying Tri specific shoes because they make transition much easier in races.

Start Shopping!

Not sure where to start? See what recommends:

5 great entry level road bikes!

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