An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Monday, May 21, 2012


I've noticed something about the difference between cyclists and triathletes: Expectations.

The shop I work at as a mechanic serves mostly triathletes. I was a triathlete before I considered myself a cyclist, competing in my first race in 1984. I've also been around racing cyclists for many years, traveling all over Washington and into Oregon and Idaho as part of a roving caravan of gear-heads that hit the race scene every weekend from March to September (along with various weekday races along the way).

I really noticed it this past weekend with the bikes that came in the door for servicing, every one of them tri bikes -- triathletes expect their bikes to work mindlessly.

In spite of the rules of triathlon that state the athlete is to be self-sufficient, cyclists, at least racing cyclists, tend to be a more cerebral lot in the way they interact with their bikes. Finessing a shift is almost second nature to a cyclist. Reaching down to open up the brake calipers when a spoke breaks to prevent it from rubbing on every wheel revolution? No problem. Stop to give the barrel-adjuster on the derailleur a tweak to stop that chain rattle? Yup, a simple on-the-road feat accomplished in a few seconds.

Triathletes, on the other hand, are a spoon-fed breed prone to whining about the least of inconveniences. The bike must work with the minimum of effort and mind-space dedication, making no noise and shifting performed by intention alone. Have to use a little extra pressure on the shifter to get the chain onto the next cog? Take it to the shop -- it's not working right. 

The smallest of things will cause the supposedly hardy and solo athlete to seek outside aid at the shop. Maybe it's the cost of the machine (though I've seen road bikes that cost every bit as much as the highest-priced tri bikes). Maybe it's the oxygen deprivation of too much chlorine. Maybe it's that biking is less a passion and more just one of three disciplines to get through.

I don't get it.

A co-worker brought a bike to me to work on -- it needed some work to overcome 20 years of sitting in a garage. When I saw the bike, I was taken back some 29 years to the first bike I ever bought from a shop... It's a 1983 Trek 560, in purple and yellow, with Suntour Cyclone components. The exact same bike I bought, right down to the color scheme (UW Husky's colors). Working on that bike was a refreshing break -- no indexing, loads of brake clearance... Simple.

And he won't expect it to work flawlessly.


John White said...

I've heard this about triathletes a lot online before; it's nice to have confirmation from a mechanic!

I've also heard that tri bikes tend to be very poorly maintained in general, not lubed, etc. Any thoughts?

Learning the basics of maintenance has helped me a lot with shifting and the other problems you mention. No need to ask the shop for a 5-second adjustment if we learn ourselves.

brider (aka David) said...

You may be very right -- cyclists tend to build maintenance time into their schedules, whereas triathletes wouldn't dream of spending that kind of down-time (gotta run, or swim, or...). I guess part of what I'm seeing is that cyclists tend to have a lot more care/interest in the bike as a machine itself, and not just a means to an aerobic workout. And so there's much more care taken and thought put into how the bike works, and how we interact with the bike.