I am constantly amazed at how much I see people spend money on top of the line bikes, race wheelsets, aero helmets, wetsuits, and whatever else might give them an extra half second here and there.
Guess what? I've been blessed to ride and race on many of the greatest bikes in the world, (road, tri and mountain), and I've never once ridden one that has allowed me to train less, or be less effective in my training. Never even raced a bike where at the end of the race I said, "Boy, if it wasn't for this bike I never would have been even close to this performance!"
It's amazing how many athletes want to shave a gram or two off their bike, maybe even more than that, without ever even considering changing their way of training!
Ask the average cyclist or triathlete if they'd like to buy the latest Zipp wheelset, or carbon cranks for cheap, and they'll holler about it. Ask them to consider buying a power meter, and the typical response is, "Nah, I don't need that." God forbid if they didn't spend as much on their bike or equipment, but it actually helped them in their training to maximize the engine they have.
Matt Fitzgerald recently interviewed 2000 Olympic Triathlon Gold Medalist, Simon Whitfield, where Whitfield said, "It’s the classic line: 'I know what I’m doing.' When I hear an athlete say that, particularly a pro, it’s like the kiss of death. I think there’s a touch of arrogance in there. And I think there is a touch of laziness. It’s easy to fall into that trap. With it comes a lack of accountability, and that’s very attractive to people, whether they want to admit it or not."*
Simon hits the nail on the head. So many athletes don't think they need help with their training, or don't want to try something new. They think the best way to have performance gains is to go hard, and have fast equipment.
Maybe it's the fact that quality training, speed and fitness are not tangible, or material. Since few people experience it at it's peak, it's even more elusive. And of course, without a commitment to consistent quality training, even when you do have it, it can disappear quickly. Meanwhile, you don't get on your bike for months, and you still own those fast wheels, frame, aero helmet, whatever, hanging in your garage.
If you're really serious about your goals and performance, invest in the things which will affect performance most, YOUR TRAINING! If you're on a budget, look for a quality coach, and training tools such as a power meter, GPS or foot-pod for running, WKO+ or other software, and buy a bike a few notches below the highest end. (If you can afford to do all of these anyways, then you're just wasting valuable time!)
In the end it is the engine, and not the chasis, suspension or aero-design which will make the biggest difference in performance. If your engine is slower than the competition's, you've got no chance. So invest in your engine, and the return on investment will amaze you!
*Matt Fitzgerald interview with Simon Whitfield, Tuesday, May 20th, 2008