General Discussion Triathlon Talk » Building an Efficient, Cost-Effective Beginner's Triathlon Bike Rss Feed  
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2016-10-21 4:17 PM

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Subject: Building an Efficient, Cost-Effective Beginner's Triathlon Bike
My name is Aaron, and I am a collegiate triathlete living in the DC area. I am historically a distance runner, focusing specifically on marathon distance, but I have since been converted to the triathlon lifestyle. Triathlon has become my obsession and passion, and I spend the majority of my free time researching different aspects of the sport, as well as checking classifieds and eBay for gear deals.

As I become more serious about my triathlon competitiveness, I have realized that it is unrealistic for me to continue to compete against the $3,000-$10,000 Time Trial bikes and their well trained, damnably aerodynamic riders of my Collegiate Triathlon Conference on my rickety old 1997 Univega Sportour Touring Road Bike-which I bought for $60 on Craigslist, and is not only too rusted out to ride smoothly, but is also almost certainly designed for a rider at least three inches shorter than myself.

So I have come to realize that it is time for a change, and as we are now in the race hiatus for the winter, I figured it was high time for an upgrade.
However, I am still a broke college student. As much as I’d love to sink next semester’s tuition in to buying the most unstoppable, badass aero-tri-bike on the market, I ultimately will have a hard time justifying such a purchase to the many parties to which I am financially indebted, especially after an Olympic Distance Conference Race in which I failed to score even a single point for my University's team.

Instead, I have decided to give myself a challenge: To create the triathlon bike of my dreams, and to attempt do so without having to auction off any of any of my body parts, become indebted to the mob, or pledge the future servitude of my first-born son.

That said, I am conducting this experiment as much for the value of the process as that of the finished product. As my athletic background is in distance running, I know essentially nothing of bikes, aerodynamics, or the true reason why it is somehow acceptable for me to wear a skintight spandex tri-suit in public. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am absolutely incompetent when it comes to anything within the realm of technology and mechanics, and high school physics went about as well as a killer clown at a child’s birthday party (although it is important to mention that exams in that class scared me more than any clown ever could). This project is a journey for me to begin to understand the mechanics and science behind creating a true speed monster, and to learn the advantages given by different modifications and gear choices that will ultimately result in a better final product.
While I could likely find a good bike shop to build this bike for me, and maybe even for a decent price, I don't want to cut corners, missing out on an opportunity to learn. Through this project, I hope to become a more competent and committed team member, as well as a more effective and competitive triathlete.

Will I be able to create the racing bike of my dreams? Will I end up with a poorly constructed piece of trash that only solidifies my place at the end of the pack? Will I ultimately end up conceding defeat in a state of frustration, despair,and financial ruin? Only time will truly tell how all of this will end up, but as for now- like a male black widow spider at the beginning of the mating ritual, I am far too fixated on my end goal and my dreams of victory to let the potential risks or disasters in store deter me from my mission.

I am trying to approach this process as scientifically as possible, and therefore will be breaking down each piece's cost as it comes in, trying to balance it against the potential cost of just purchasing a tri-bike ready to go (costs for tools, bike repair stand, or books purchased will not be factored in).
Therefore, I will be keeping a log of my entire journey in to the world of speed mechanics, while tracing my steps as clearly as possible, so that future doe-eyed beginning triathlon geeks might be able to learn from my successes and mistakes.

I have decided to post this log in the forums of, so that it might be open to advice, constructive criticism, or motivation from fellow triathletes. Any help is always welcomed and encouraged.
If you feel like you might be able to add to my research, or if you see me headed towards a common pitfall of those who attempt a similar feat, please comment on the thread!

Step 1: Finding a Frame or Frameset

After many hours of scouring classifieds, researching different frame models and companies, and employing my well-honed online bidding skills, I have finally found the frame to start off my crusade of madness. The frame-set I ultimately won in an eBay auction belongs to a 2009 model Guru Crono, made of carbon fiber, and with a frame width of 55cm (what I believe to be correct for my height). While I understand the risks of buying carbon from eBay, I have seen the Guru Crono in action and felt I couldn't pass up this kind of opportunity.

It has a frame, fork, seatpost, headset, and shell for the bottom bracket (the seller also threw in a speedfil hydration system).
Since I bought from eBay, I made sure to double check the reliability of the seller by looking at his previous feedback from transactions and by contacting him directly. The frame has a few scratches and nicks, but I’ve been assured that all damages are very minor and would only affect the cosmetic appeal of the bike, and even then, very little.
As part of my buying agreement, I have 14 days after delivery (should be here late this coming week) to return the frameset to the owner, either due to a discrepancy in the information that was listed online, or due to damages which had not previously been mentioned.

Guru Cycling was a Canadian manufacturer making high quality road, cyclocross, and triathlon bikes, but in December of 2016, ended up declaring bankruptcy. From what I can tell, however, it seems their products were always solid. Guru was a leader in the market for customizable frames, and were masters of the welded bike frame. Ultimately, it seems, consumer interest in the welded bike faded with the rise of the carbon fiber triathlon/time trial bike market.
As I have determined from my research, the Guru Crono was revolutionary in that it was is the first customizable seamless carbon fiber frame-set, and allowing me the opportunity to play around with different modifications and groupsets. It seems to be the perfect used frame-set for my project, but I will need to get a second opinion on the quality of the frame by someone who knows far more than myself when it finally gets here. I will be taking it in to a local bike shop to get the frame-set properly assessed before I begin the building and outfitting process.

The following are the item specifics from the eBay listing:
Configuration:Frame, Fork & Extras
Frame Size:55cm
Brand: Guru
Wheel Size:700C
Model: Crono
Color: Blue
Gender:Unisex Adult
Frame Material:Carbon Fiber

A google shopping search for a used Guru Crono Frameset had it valued at $1000 plus tax.
By the time bidding closed, I had won the auction with a final bid of $182.50, not including shipping fees.

FRAMESET: $182.50
Shipping: $55
TOTAL AMOUNT SPENT-10/21/16: $237.50

Step 2: Learning What the Hell Goes into Building a Triathlon Bike

As I now sit waiting for the Guru frame-set to arrive, I have begun collecting resources that will hopefully be able to explain exactly what I’ve gotten myself into, and show me how to start developing my knowledge of bike components and modifications. Again, I am a total beginner when it comes to bike maintenance, and so I need to start from the absolute basics for figuring out how to build this thing.

The following is my source list. If I’m successful in my venture, I’m sure I’ll come up with a more arrogant or clever name for it, like “my bibliography for success”, or “The National Library of Speed Sciences”... For now, it’s just an unorganized list of bike stuff. (Note: If anyone has any recommendations for additions, please comment on this thread!)

1.Basic Overview of the Actual Parts of a Bicycle

2. Step-By-Step Breakdown of How to Build a Triathlon/Time Trial Bike

3. Specific Information on Guru Bikes and the Guru Crono

4. Books Purchased (not factored into final expenses):
-Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes: Aerodynamics, Bike-Fit, Speed Tuning and Maintenance, by Lennard Zinn
-Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed, by Jim Gourley

Now that I have compiled what I believe to be a comprehensive resource list for learning how to approach this ridiculous undertaking, I need to compile an initial gear list.

I intend to put my future purchases in to two categories: What do I really WANT? and What do I really WANT?

Big ticket stuff seems to be first to come to mind: carbon wheelset, aero-bars, pedals, etc. But I specifically would like any wisdom from you guys on the smaller, yet still crucially important parts that will go in to building this bike to be good and fast.

I look forward to hearing responses, and learning from what people have to share!!!

All the best,

2016-10-22 12:20 AM
in reply to: 0

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Ventura, California
Subject: RE: Building an Efficient, Cost-Effective Beginner's Triathlon Bike

Hello Aaron,

At the risk of sounding like I do not know what I am talking about, I will chime in anyways. I am fairly new to Triathlon, old guy at 46 and new to building bikes, and also on a very restrictive budget. I have accomplished 3 triathlons with my 4th coming up in a matter of days. I also do lots of riding on hilly and mountain climbs and descents so for me in general I have zero interest in a 'Tri' bike. And while I can understand the college competitive spirit, the obvious desire to learn and get into the details as your post clearly demonstrates I always ask why someone new to triathlon feels they must have a 'Tri' bike?

A tri bike by its very nature is a compromise and only good for one thing and that is triathlon, and even at that its still more geared toward long distances such as half and full distance. (70.3-140.6) That reason being is one for the aero which will gain you precious little time in shorter events, and in optimizing body comfort to preserve the legs for the impending (half) marathon run. They are also not very good at sprinting, corning, high speed stability, twitchy, etc. (From my understanding which I am sure will be told as complete BS, which is fine I don't mind getting beat up, its how I learn sometimes)

In essence the Tri bike is a one trick pony, where as a good fitting road bike is very much versatile and can be configured for a range of disciplines. And they are fast as well. You mentioned having a 97' Univega you purchased for $60. I purchased my road bike, and 88' Peugeot for $150. I have been slowly upgrading it over the last year and with each upgrade I get faster and faster. Its also not just the bike that makes you fast, its the training, the group rides, fitness level, etc.

Now with all that said, don't let me dampen your dreams of the ultimate home built Tri bike, hell you already committed to the complete frame set so your kind of committed at this point. It sounds to me like your more in it almost as a research project for learning/personal curiosity then an actual disciplined triathlon participant, just my opinion and observation. I do think upgrading your Univega with more modern components and a proper bike fit would have been more cost effective. By the time you get into wheel sets, drivetrain, tri specific bars and cockpit, brakes, tires, etc. Its going to get costly pretty quick.

Just remember, as a Triathlete, its three sports. So make sure you put as much research and training effort into swimming as you are into the bike, sounds to me like you got the running part down just fine. 

I will include the latest picture of me (orange helmet) and my Peugeot in my last race training session. In the photo I was pushing a continuous 22-25mph effort with a average of 19.8mph over the course of 16 miles. I am 46, 20% body fat on a 27yr old steel framed road bike, and I pass guys like you all day long, BOOM! LOL!!! (I am just playing, I get my butt handed to me all the time.)

Honestly I think your project is going to be lots of fun and a great learning experience, I know all my upgrades have been a huge learning experience and next year I plan to build my future bike from the (Ritchy Steel) frame up too.  Look forward to watching your project so post up pictures and progress as you go.



Edited by rjcalhoun 2016-10-22 12:28 AM


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2016-10-22 9:13 PM
in reply to: 0

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, North Carolina
Subject: RE: Building an Efficient, Cost-Effective Beginner's Triathlon Bike
You need to decide if you are going to go 10 speed or 11 speed.

Biggest difference is going to be in wheel sets. Most used wheelsets are going to be 10 speed and they are not compatible with 11 speed. However, all 11 speed wheel sets are backward compatible with 10 speed.

All Mavic 10 speed wheelsets(with mavic hubs) are 11 speed compatible.

I would buy a matched TT groupset. You could probably piece something together for a bit cheaper but all matching in kinda nice.

I just got a complete Shimano 105 5800(latest) Group (BB, Crank, Shifters, Brakes, RD, FD, Chain, Cassette) for 340 shipped. I could have pieced it together for slightly cheaper but it wasn't worth the hassle.

There are a few places where spending slightly more money might be better in the long run.


You don't really need full dura ace for the mechanicals they won't make enough of a difference to justify the cost.
Get to know your different shimano/campy(which ever you choose) groups and years.

I'd also say full aero wheel set can wait. They make a pretty significant difference but they can cost almost as much as the rest of your triathlon gear combined. Get a set of decent wheels and ride the out of them. Because, putting in the time on the bike is the only thing thats really going to make a difference.

EDIT: You also need to know what style bottom bracket your bike uses. Pretty important in choosing a crank.

Edited by Nick B 2016-10-22 9:16 PM
2016-10-23 7:56 AM
in reply to: Nick B

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Subject: RE: Building an Efficient, Cost-Effective Beginner's Triathlon Bike
Originally posted by Nick B
You need to decide if you are going to go 10 speed or 11 speed.

This is an essential question and opens the conversation to an important issue. Saving money vs. current technology. Right now Shimano, SRAM and Campy are all selling 11 speed. This means picking up 10 speed components (shifters, cassettes) can be purchased at a discount but your selection may be a bit limited.

Another decision point is to decide how much carbon you want to use. An integrated carbon aerobar cockpit will set you back quite a few bucks where an aluminum base bar and clip-on aerobars can be obtained at a far more reasonable price. You can get some carbon parts for a minimum markup (such as seatposts) and I would say that forks may only be available as carbon parts so you don't need to have a complete carbon diet but pick and chose wisely.

One thing you will want to spend some money on is wheels. Wheels are the most prominent component on any bike, if you cheap out here you will likely regret your choice. You have a couple of options: 1) Used wheels off ebay. Here you take your chance as you know but you may be able to get a decent set of wheels at a 25% discount but be aware that a set of current 700C Zipp wheels at a deep discount probably isn't going to happen. 2) Discount new brands such as Flo. Lots of happy Flo customers here. 3) Chinese wheels. Not a lot of negative opinion about these on this site, just that quality control is not what it is for premium brands. This is your biggest purchase, take your time with this one.

Last bit of advice: Know details. You need to know your bottom bracket threading (probably English), your seatpost diameter, your fork steering tube diameter (probably 1 1/8) and your handlebar diameter, how much rise you need on your stem, what kind of saddle you want.

Last winter I put a set of drop bars on my tribike so I have a bunch of cockpit parts that I will prolly never use and would be willing to sell at a good price.

2016-10-23 9:29 AM
in reply to: ayrabinowitz_7

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, New Hampshire
Subject: RE: Building an Efficient, Cost-Effective Beginner's Triathlon Bike
So clearing a few up... A tri bike is definitely NOT only for long distance racing. You gain SIGNIFICANTLY in a sprint tri as well. For long distance it's more about conserving energy (i.e better aerodynamics allows you to go the same speed but with less watt) whereas short distance it's more about going faster (i.e. aerodynamics to use same watt but going faster). A well-fitting tri bike does handle well and it definitely NOT twitchy.

The things you need to build your bike would be front/rear derailleur, bar-end shifters, brake levers, brakes, crank set and bottom bracket for the bike and crank (I think the Guru uses a BSA BB), cassette, chain, wheels, 2 derailleur cables, 2 brake cables, 2 derailleur housings, 2 brake cable housings.

Since you're on a budget, I would recommend getting a Shimano 105 10 speed front derailleur, Ultegra 10 speed rear derailleur, Ultegra 50/34 crank set (most cyclists should use a compact, no need to go to a standard as that will more than likely only put you on the bottom part of the cassette and lower cadence...), Ultegra bottom bracket, 105 10 speed cassette. Shimano only makes Dura-Ace bar end shifters, but they're quite inexpensive. 105 brakes work just fine, so that's a good place to save a few $. Since you are woking on your position, I would recommend getting aerobars that allows you great adjustments. Zipp Vuka Aluminum base bars and clip-ons will allow you to use risers (spacers under the clip-ons to get you further up). They might eat up a bit of your budget, but well worth it. Keep in mind that the biggest savings with a tri bike comes from the position of the rider, so this investment is well worth it.

As for wheels... I would recommend buying some older generation Zipp or HED wheels with aluminum brake surface. The benefit you have with these is that they're going to be 10 speed only and most people are looking to get 11 speed, which helps with the cost in your case.

I would also recommend that you enlist one of your tri buddies to help you with the build. You will need the necessary tools and knowledge and I bet you will have at least one person in the team that has the tools and knowledge.
2016-10-23 9:55 AM
in reply to: rjcalhoun

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Extreme Veteran
Cypress, TX
Subject: RE: Building an Efficient, Cost-Effective Beginner's Triathlon Bike

Originally posted by rjcalhoun

A tri bike by its very nature is a compromise and only good for one thing and that is triathlon, and even at that its still more geared toward long distances such as half and full distance. (70.3-140.6) That reason being is one for the aero which will gain you precious little time in shorter events, and in optimizing body comfort to preserve the legs for the impending (half) marathon run. They are also not very good at sprinting, corning, high speed stability, twitchy, etc. (From my understanding which I am sure will be told as complete BS, which is fine I don't mind getting beat up, its how I learn sometimes)

A triathlon bike is just a progression of a time trial bike.  Time trials are inherently short in distance.  So they aren't necessarily conceived primarily for long course.

The aero benefit is the same regardless of distance if you think about it in percentage of time saved.  You can also think of it in other terms... watts saved and not time saved.  The ability to hold X speed can be dramatically different between a TT/Tri bike and a road bike.

Here is some data from Specialized from a few years ago.  There's probably more of a difference between the newer super tri bikes and road bikes but let's pretend that there isn't.  You can see there's a 3.5 km/h difference at the same watts from a standard roadie setup to a standard TT setup.  You can also see there's a 57 watt difference in holding the same 40 km/h speed between the two setups.  That's a lot.

Wind tunnel data

SetupWind Tunnel 0 CdA (m^2)Speed (km/h) at 278WPower req'd at 40km/h (W)*
Tarmac SL2 | road helmet | drop bars0.301940.00278.3
Tarmac SL2 | road helmet | clip-on aero bars0.266241.65248.9
Tarmac SL2 | TT2 helmet | clip-on aero bars0.254742.25239.5
Transition | road helmet | aero bars0.242742.90229.6
Transition | TT2 helmet | aero bars0.232343.50221.0

Also, the idea that TT/Tri bikes save your legs for running is a myth.  It does no such thing, and if there's any benefit it's immaterial.  The sole reason to use a TT/Tri bike is for aerodynamics.

2016-10-24 2:25 PM
in reply to: ayrabinowitz_7

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Placitas, New Mexico
Subject: RE: Building an Efficient, Cost-Effective Beginner's Triathlon Bike

Good luck Aaron. 

I've bought several used bikes online but never built one. 

I had a triathlon friend with a Guru bike and the frame cracked.  I believe it was the Crono...That may have contributed to them going out of business and also why you could get it so cheaply.  I'd advise you to have a trusted bike mechanic inspect the frame as they know what to look for.  It'll cost you a few dollars, but may save a lot of pain and suffering on your part (you don't want the bike coming apart on you...)

Given your stated background, you might offer to work a few hours a week at the local bike shop (LBS).  This gives you great access to information, experience, tools, and possibly parts.  Even if you're starting out selling inner tubes or stocking shelves, you'll be able to pick the brains of the mechanics.  Getting torque right on fasteners used with carbon components can be tricky.  Too loose and it backs out.  Too tight and you crack/break/strip out and there isn't a lot you can repair once this damage is done.  You can easily spend $300 or more acquiring various tools to disassemble/reassemble bikes

You LBS may offer you a number of "first chances" at take-off parts (wheelsets, cranks, etc.) from customers upgrading their rides. 

You might sacrifice your current ride both for components and for gaining experience.  You may be able to transfer brake calipers from it to the Guru.  You might also move the wheel set over until you can buy new wheels.  Does the Univega have downtube shifters?  If so, transfer the front/rear derailleurs with new bar-end shifters.  Crank?  You might transfer the bottom bracket and headset until you can replace them with what you want. 

Beyond the bike, get a coach who can help you build riding skills and endurance.  I've ridden past a number of athletes slogging along on very expensive bikes because they didn't do the training!  It takes a long time to build time-trial discipline (i.e. not sitting up and maintaining the aero posture so the tail of your aero helmet is behind your head not above it). 

2016-10-27 9:33 AM
in reply to: ayrabinowitz_7

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Subject: RE: Building an Efficient, Cost-Effective Beginner's Triathlon Bike
My husband and I just built a triathlon bike for me. We found a used Chinese carbon frame on craigslist for $250, bought a Cobb max saddle and aero bars on eBay (bars came with dura-ace shifters and brakes, paid $125). We found a great deal on Giant SLR 0 wheels on a Facebook bike swap page, paid $675 for the pair. We bought new 105 for the components, ordered off of Amazon. All in all, we are probably in around $1400 for everything so far. When deciding whether to go this route vs buying a new bike, we did consider a QRoo Kilo new at our LBS that would have been $1500 with 105. But with what we did, we have an upgraded wheelset (and I probably would have swapped out the saddle). My husband wanted the experience of building the bike, too


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2016-12-04 7:49 PM
in reply to: KatoRx


Subject: RE: Building an Efficient, Cost-Effective Beginner's Triathlon Bike
Looks nice. Your husband did a good job!
2016-12-05 1:34 PM
in reply to: 0

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Tacoma, Washington
Subject: RE: Building an Efficient, Cost-Effective Beginner's Triathlon Bike

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but isn't collegiate triathlon a mix of non-draft and draft-legal racing?

And I like your writing style.

Edited by briderdt 2016-12-05 1:35 PM
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2006-06-27 10:00 PM AdventureBear
date : November 6, 2011
author : alicefoeller
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A Walmart bike, a borrowed road bike or a new carbon fiber bike? You don't need to break the bank for your first triathlon bike.
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