The question could be raised as to whether this is the typical triathlete because the sport attracts that type of individual, or is it because the sport is so expensive and it prevents people from “tri-ing”? I would argue it is a combination of both! Being at the poorer end of the “triathlete demographics”, the more people like me that can afford to enter the sport the less lonely I will feel. Through life experiences, I’ve come up with the following guide: “Tri-ing on a College Budget”:
1. Join a club: Find a triathlon club in your area or at your college and join it, even if the club isn’t very close and you can only occasionally make the meetings. Triathlon clubs are a great source of information as well as a great place to find used equipment. Also, many clubs have club sponsors that offer discounts to members. The money spent joining a club will generally be well spent.
2. Buy a discounted bike: My first inclination is to say “buy a used bike”. However, having a bike with an improper fit will ruin your experience. If the used bike doesn’t fit you, the money you saved initially will be lost when you have to replace it. So either find a previous year model bike at a bike shop that fits, or pay a bike shop (knowledgeable in fitting triathletes) to determine what size bike you need and then find a used bike. Bottom line, the initial bike purchase is the largest purchase and consequently the area you can save the most money on. Just make sure the bike fits! If you follow the advice to join a club, there might be someone in the club who does fittings for triathletes, there also might be someone selling a bike that fits you…
3. Don’t fall for the hype: Triathletes typically have plenty of expendable cash; if you’re reading this you probably don’t. Hopefully there will come a time in your triathlon experience where you can splurge on some of the hyped up products, but now is not the time. Don’t buy Dura-Ace components when Shimano 105 will work. You’d just be spending big money for slight weight savings. Don’t spend $1,500 for a Zipp disc. If you really have to have a disc wheel, buy a wheel cover. Here is what I would buy as the money became available and in the order I would purchase them:
1. Aero bars
2. Clipless pedals
3. Aero wheels
Again, if you’ve joined a club someone in the club might give you a good deal on some of these items. There are also some excellent online sources for triathlon gear, places like Trisports.com where you can find some great prices.
4. Get out and race: There are three disciplines in triathlons, when they are all combined they become expensive to compete in, but individually they aren’t as bad. Plan out your season and mix in a few running races, swim meets, or bike races. Not only will it stretch your budget allowing you to compete more often, but you’ll also be exposed to experts in those individual disciplines.
I have quite a few more ideas I could write about and I’m sure most of you have some you could add to the mix. I spent three years as a college student traveling to hundreds of races. Most of the time I would sleep with my bicycle in a station wagon parked in a Walmart parking lot. I skimped on a lot of luxuries so I could race often. I got passed by quite a few athletes on multi thousand dollar bikes, but I passed a lot more of them. Bottom line is I was able to do it and so can you. Don’t let the expense dictate the demographics!