How do you get a triathlete to instantly double the value of their car? Easy – put their racing bike in the boot. This probably holds true for me, but is more an indicator of the increasing decrepitude of my ageing car than of ownership of a top-end triathlon bike.
A few years ago, I persuaded a friend to enter her first triathlon, the King of the Hill race in Kinsale. She wheeled her ancient hybrid bike into transition, took one look at the array of shining expensive kit there, blanched and announced that she would be spectating for the day.
So, if you're thinking of buying a bike to do a triathlon, what do you want out of it? To just finish, with no time goal? To figure out whether you like the sport?
I made the same mistake as everyone else when I entered my first triathlon in 2005 – I invested in a cheap hybrid bike.
I soon discovered in training that it's very difficult to keep up with people riding proper road-racing bikes on a hybrid, and my competitive spirit drove me to beg a loan of an ancient (but high-end in its day) early 90s Paganini racing bike for the race.
Once I'd completed that first race – and tore up the tarmac on my lovely light loaner bike – I was hooked, and went out soon after and invested in a road bike.
So how much do you spend and do you really need a road bike?
Most people do one or two triathlons, and if they enjoy it, usually upgrade to a road bike if they have been riding a hybrid.
Buying the cheapest entry-level road bike can be a false economy and I see people upgrading quite quickly over the next year or two in the sport as the cheapest bikes have very basic components and have creaky, clunky gear systems.
It's worth investigating good second-hand racing bikes on the web, as you may spend the same amount of money to get a bike with much better components.
There is no need to invest in a specific triathlon time-trial bike (versus a road-racing bike) when you start out in the sport, and, if anything, I think it's worth spending a year or two building up your "engine" before shelling out money for a time-trial bike.
At Ironman Sweden a few weeks ago, I suffered a little from the same bike-comparison envy as my friend, comparing my fairly basic time-trial bike to some of the incredibly high-end bikes there.
But during the second half of a well-paced 180k bike leg, as I overtook one triathlete after another on souped-up bikes with fancy disc wheels, I was reminded of something I already knew: you can buy speed – but only a little. The rest you have to earn the hard way.
I have been wielding an alan key, disassembling and wrestling my road bike, a Specialized Ruby, into a travel bag for its first trip to California. I'm heading back until Christmas for work, and now that my Ironman training is done, it's time for some casual autumn cycling.
I had been cycling my Quintana Roo time-trial bike over the summer, and while doing all my riding on it was phenomenal conditioning for Ironman, time-trial bikes, with their stiff frames and awkward body positioning, designed for going fast in a single gear on the flat, are unsuited to lots of climbing.
The technical climbs and descents over the mountains (hair-raising enough at the best of times) were made even more squirrelly on the stiff TT frame, which, unlike a road bike, has gears and brakes in separate positions (so when descending you have to commit to a single gear, hang on to the brakes and hope for the best).
I had the luxury of dithering over which bike to bring back to California, and decided that the road bike was perfectly suited for the no-training-goal autumn cycles taking in coffee shops by the coast.