The million dollar (bicycle) question

So is it bad when your million dollar bicycle spends more time on the trainer or in the shop than it does on the road?  Seriously?

I have ridden my mountain bike and commuter bike more this season than I have my tri-bike.  This is ridiculous.  I just can’t find the time to ride.  And when I have time, my only option so far has been to take the million dollar bicycle out in a driving rain…  umm.  No.  So I have had one training ride and one race on the bike this spring.  That’s sad.

One thing I’m learning about this bike (Specialized Transition) and “triathlon” bikes in general is that, like a finely tuned Ferrari, they are more of a system than a bike.  I’m not talking about a good road bike with aero bars on it.  I mean a triathlon or time trial bike.  Everything is built into the system.  If one tiny little thing fails, it cascades.  These bikes are made to do one thing.  Go fast in a straight line.  They aren’t the best at cornering or climbing, but if you drop into a tight aero position and pedal like hell, they are a dream.  Bikes like the Transition, Slice, et al., IMHO, tend to “wind tunnel” out basic functionality for pure speed.  While yes, the bike is a 15lb. marvel of engineering, it is truly a race bike.

My dad used to say, “there is the horse you ride… and then the horse you race”.  I see that wisdom now.  My commuter bike (Kona Jake) is far more comfortable and easy to put miles in on and my mountain bike is much more nimble, especially at low speeds.  I guess they all have their place.  The Transition wants to go straight, as fast as I can go.

As an example of the “system”, let’s talk brakes.  Specialized contracted with a company to make the brakes for the Transition.  For those unfamiliar with the Transition, the front brakes are in a pretty standard position, but the rear brakes are tucked under the bottom of the bike just behind the bottom bracket.  I have run into a multitude of problems with this set up.  First, I’m not impressed with the brakes themselves.  Their design tends to make them gum up and get stiff easily.  They constantly need to be cleaned and lubed (like after every ride) because the rear brake location is prone to picking up every bit of road grime out there.  Also, the rear brake proximity to the chainring means that if you have the unfortunate circumstance of dropping a chain off the inside, it will immediately get jammed between the brake and the inner ring, thus taking an act of congress to remove.  This happened to me one time and it was enough to chew up the frame down by the bottom bracket.  The “system is fantastic, and as aero as they come, but if it fails, it’s a huge pain to deal with.  And since it is a proprietary brake set, you can’t just replace them with better ones.

Another example is the front forks.  They are within 3/16” of flanges on the frame that help cut down drag and improve airflow over the frame.  Specialized KNEW this would be a problem with turning because they put little rubber bumpers on the sides of the forks to protect the flanges (carbon fiber… of course) in the event of too sharp a turn (or bumping trying to cram your bike into your car…).  The problem is these little bumpers work… as long as you can keep them ON the forks, but they are stuck on with the million dollar equivalent of rubber cement and tend to fall off, especially in heat.  Surely to god they could have come up with some more permanent solution?  Both of my bumpers are gone and subsequently after too sharp a turn to avoid a crash just before transition at a race, one of my flanges is now dinged up and the carbon fiber is damaged.  It is MINOR and can probably be fixed with a drop of clear nail polish, but once the system broke down (the bumpers fell off), everything failed pretty quickly.

These are not complaints.  Just observations.  I am dealing with the thoroughbred nature of the machine.  I guess I’m just posting this to add another point to consider if you are buying a triathlon bike.  How much do you want to maintain it?  I had a ’57 Chevy hotrod and I used to say that for every hour I drove the thing, I put at least that into maintenance.  This WILL happen to you if you get a highly evolved tri-bike.  Are you ready for that?  Or do you just want a bike you can jump on and ride?

For now, the fun factor of getting on the Transition and immediately being fast makes it a keeper.  But I’m not as impressed as I once was.  I guess I’m just still learning.  And it really doesn’t matter if I can’t find time to ride the damn thing…!

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