My (Long!) Journey to Finding the Right Bike

I used to think finding the right run shoes was hard. Neutral, stability, make, model... so many choices! Then I got into triathlon and that’s when things got really complicated. Geometry, frame material and of course parts. SRAM or Shimano. 1x or 2x. Speedplay, Look or Shimano. And don’t even get me started on saddles!

So what did I do? I threw a dart and bought some random dude’s Scott Plasma 2 off Craigslist that looked about my size. Memo to newbies: Don’t do this!

I raced on the Plasma 2 for about two years before calling it a day. There was nothing wrong with the bike itself but I just couldn’t make it fit. It’s all about position, right? When I made one adjustment it only led to more problems. The saddle couldn’t move forward enough. The higher the seat went the farther I was from the arm pads. We simply were not compatible.

I had multiple fittings, I put in plenty of hours in the saddle, I even tried to buy speed: Zipp 404s. I remember racing my first half ironman, which was IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman last year. I had the fastest run split in my age group while also one of the slowest bike splits. How could that be? It was beyond frustrating!

I seriously contemplating quitting the sport to go back to pure running, but then I had a lengthy conversation with Slowtwitch publisher Dan Empfield. Perhaps Dan heard the desperation in my voice, or who knows? He was convinced he could “fix” me. First step: Finding and building me the right bike.

In the meantime, I sold my Plasma 2 and upgraded to a Specialized Shiv. Massive improvement. I rode 17 minutes faster at IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman this year versus last year (of course I had another year of training under my belt) and traded in my unstructured stationary workouts for TrainerRoad (which I also wrote about). The new bike helped a ton! My position improved and I was way more comfortable. I didn’t feel like I needed to get off the bike only 10 minutes after starting the ride. I also stopped looking at cycling as a necessarily evil to get from the swim to the run. It was the first bike I rode that could comfortably accommodate my 39-inch legs.

Now for the fun stuff. Once Dan finished building my bike I flew to Valyermo, CA, for a proper fitting and tons of training (you can read about 5 Days with Dan Empfield). Let’s just say I no longer had that “I’m trying to operate a piece of equipment” feeling. It felt a lot more fluid. Similar to how I feel when I run.

All of this was done a little over a week before the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. We cut it close. I didn’t get in a long ride and I didn’t even get to fly home with my bike! It was shipped straight to Chattanooga. (Shout out to Quintana Roo for building it back and getting it race ready.)

As Dan says, “You need to learn your bike and understand all its parts.” Lucky for me I had 56 miles to get fully acquainted with her. Now bear with me as I try to describe what it was like riding my superbike through Chattanooga. I’m used to referring to parts of my bike as the "thingy in the front" or "that part in the back". And now I’m learning how to use terms like 1x (pronounced one-by) and cog.

Speaking of which, let’s start with the 1x. I’ll never ride anything else. It made my life infinitely easier. I’m one of those people that never shifted to the small ring. I had one bad incident – shifted, dropped my chain – and NEVER shifted to the small ring again. I was scarred for life. Now there’s no need to worry about that.

In summary, the list below is what stood out the most. And I apologize now to Slowtwitchers who love debating things like rear brake routing. That’s a foreign language to me. I refuse to embarrass myself by even trying to talk about such things!

Hydration System – Scott (built in): There’s nothing worse than seeing your hydration go airborn in a race. I hit a bump within a few miles of the bike course. I noticed bottles all over the road. Dear Scott: Good job! Mine stayed perfectly intact. I never had any issues with the hydration system until I filled it to the brim during one of the last bottle exchanges. I had Gatorade splashing all over the place. I should also note that I didn’t leave the sponge/splashguard in the bottle. I have since tested it out with the sponge. The sponge functions!

Gears – SRAM: Shifting was seamless. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced on any bike. It was as if I was using electronic gearing. On my past bikes, often times they would make weird noises when I shifted into certain gears. I’d find myself shifting back and forth until the weird clicking noise went away. I didn’t experience this once on my Plasma Premium.

Seat – ISM Adamo PR 2.0: I stuck with the same saddle I used on previous bikes. I did Saddle Pressure Mapping last summer at Sportfit Lab. Ladies – if you are struggling with your saddle (chafing, saddles sores, etc), pressure mapping was definitely worth the money I spent.

Aerobars – Profile Design T3+ Carbon: What an improvement from the previous bars (Vision TT) I had on my Plasma 2! I believe Dan added these. They didn’t come with the bike. I prefer them. Very comfortable and they are easy to adjust.

Wheels – HED; Tires – Continental Grand Prix 4000: I flew. It was the first time I raced with a disc. No flats. No issues.

Seatpost – Plasma with Ritchey clamp: This was one of my biggest concerns. I’m 5’10” with a 795mm saddle height. I actually had to purchase a seat post extension for my Plasma 2. This new one is very adjustable, in height, fore/aft and tilt.

Worlds in Chattanooga was my first time riding my new bike for more than 20 miles, and it just so happened to be at a big race. If it can survive that course, it can survive anything. Did I blast out a crazy fast time and blow by women? No. Did I have the most comfortable ride of my life on the most challenging course of my life? Yes. Was it super easy to pack in the my Scicon bike case and fly home with? Extremely.

My superbike and I have about a month to get to know each other a little bit better before I race at Ironman 70.3 North Carolina on October 21st. Stay tuned.

[Postscript from the editor: The above was written the week after Worlds in Chattanooga. At that point Sika's PR for the 70.3 distance was 5:12, set at Eagleman 70.3 earlier this year. At 70.3 North Carolina over this past weekend she closed out her racing season with a time of 4:49. "Most of my PR came from the bike," she said, and of her run split, which was second-fastest among the (amateur) women, "My legs felt different after I got off the bike. Fresher, maybe?" So, progress.

In August I wrote about the process of choosing a bike for an athlete of middlin' technical understanding. Her piece above is the denouement of the process from her perspective. For those who wonder, Sika mentions a lot of brands in her piece above. She is not sponsored by them. Slowtwitch is not receiving consideration from any of them. Sika was given no guidance; what she wrote above is just what she found notable about the process.]