Monday, December 3, 2012

Holiday Gift "Guidelines" for Cyclists/Triathletes


On the surface, that special cyclist or triathlete in your life might seem close to impossible to shop for. There are a variety of reasons for this.
  1. Cycling and triathlon tend to be all-consuming hobbies that are constantly front-of-mind. These athletes spend most of their free time thinking about training schedules, routes, weather patterns, aerodynamics, optimizing power, sore quads or pulled muscles. In short, cyclists and triathletes are pretty boring.
  2. All of that time spent mulling over the past workout ("What went well? What didn't?") or planning the next one leads to a lot of optimization. And most of these optimizations tend to result in fairly immediate needs. Example: "I felt really slow on that last ride. I think the rolling resistance of my tires is TOO HIGH. I need new tires!!!"
  3. The realization that something out there can be improved upon translates to a blitzkrieg of online research and decision-making. Cyclists will devour countless online reviews, weighing the pros and cons of the various product offerings out there before making a completely independent and incredibly thoughtful decision. Example: "Hmm, lots of people are raving about Conti 4000S tires, making them the obvious choice... but Michelin ProRace 4's come in purple!!!"
  4. Once the decision has been made, it's only a matter of hours before the actual purchase is completed. Thus, most cyclists and triathletes tend to have already bought themselves whatever it is that they think they really want/need -- making them incredibly difficult to buy gifts for.
But do not dispair! Just because cyclists might have (more than) what they already know they need doesn't mean there aren't a few things out there that they'd really appreciate! The trick isn't in getting your favorite athlete something new, or getting them something they don't already have. Trying to understand the athlete's research/buying/decision-making process just isn't worth your time.

The Principles

No, gift-giver, your task can be made easier by understanding three very simple things:
  1. Cycling/triathlon gear doesn't live forever.
  2. Once a cyclist/triathlete has invested in a piece of gear, they hate investing in it again.
  3. No cyclist ever wants to buy/wear/use anything that's at the bottom of a product line. 

An Example

Pete Pedaler went back-and-forth between a few different sets of bib shorts a few months ago. Set A was too small, set B was too big, but he eventually found Set C was just right. And so he bought himself a pair. After six months and 4,000 miles, those shorts are still going strong. But after eight months and another 2,000 they'll start to wear, and Pete will continue to ride in them, and ride in them, and ride in them, until they're two years old and completely threadbare.

See, Pete already has a pair of swanky, lazer-cut, double-seamed, super carbon-threaded ultra bib shorts. Sure, they're "a little worn," but damn, they were expensive! How could he justify buying another pair?!

That, gift-giver, is where you come in! Pete'll never buy those shorts (and they can - and probably should - be the exact same shorts) for himself a second time. But if you gift them to him, that'll just make his day.

The same holds true for just about any other bit of gear, though you'll have to do some research to understand the shelf-life of each item. All of the gear a triathlete burns through eventually needs to be replaced - and by helping stockpile replacement gear, you're helping the athlete do what he/she loves to do.

Gear and clothing

Shorts are probably the most personal (and potentially pricey) gift-able component, but there difference between an old pair of shorts and a new one can be pretty extreme! Gloves are nice, too - gloves are always getting lost, or crashed, or ratty. Nice running or cycling socks make great stocking stuffers. For triathletes, consider giving a fresh pair of goggles as a gift! (Just be sure to get the same make/model as the set they're currently using!)

Bike parts and maintenance

There's nothing wrong with a small cache of ten-speed bike chains (every 3-4 months), extra cassettes (every 8-12 months), or even tubes and tires (depends on terrain). These are all things a cyclist needs on a regular (and sometimes very immediate) basis. These gifts are a bit on the boring side, but can't hurt as supplementary items.

Another cool idea: a head to your local bike shop and pre-purchase a full-on bike tune-up as a gift for Mr./Ms. Cyclist.

Nutrition, etc.

Cyclists eat a lot of food. Clif bars, energy chews, small pouches of refined sugar, hydration products and protein shakes. And that stuff goes fast. Find out what your athlete's nutrition of choice is and set him/her up with an extra month's supply. It'll be much appreciated! Other, pseudo-related things include: chamois butter, sunscreen, etc.

Experiences

There are a variety of other, awesome gifts that can be given to your special athlete that are more "experience" than "material." The most obvious example of this: a massage or two! Alternatively, you could find out what races he or she is targeting next year and cover an entry fee or two. Or, if you're feeling inspired, you could make arrangements (dinner, hotel, etc.) for the night(s) before/after - to take some of the stress out of what will certainly be an intense weekend.

Things to Consider

It isn't often easy to meld sentimentality and practicality, and most of the suggestions described here lean very heavily toward the latter. Fortunately, most cyclists tend to be rather practical* people and buying them a practical gift carries it's own inherent sentimental weight: you're showing your athlete that you understand him/her, support their obsession and want them to be happy/comfortable while they're doing it.

You might not be able to tell the difference between a $40 pair of shorts and a $150 pair, but your athlete can. Never buy from the bottom of a product line. Always go for things that sound awesome**. Look for words like: carbon, lazer-cut, ergonomic, etc. As most of this gear tends to be rather pricey, feel free to collaborate on gifts with mutual friends; a cyclist would rather have one kick-ass item than five mediocre disposables!

Cyclists and triathletes tend to be very particular about the size and fit of their kit. Pay attention to size. Ask flattering questions like, "Do you feel like that jersey is to loose on you?" to determine if the athlete's happy with the size of their current gear and use that information to shop around.

Finally, don't get too attached to the gift you give, especially where gear (clothing, etc.) is concerned. If they decide to exchange your gift (for another size, brand, etc.), don't take it personally!

Final thought

This blog post might make cyclists and triathletes sound rather materialistic, but in all honesty, all they really want is to know they have the support of their friends and family. Whether that comes in the form of a nice piece of kit, or surprising them with donuts in the middle of a long training ride, or even just cheering them on before, during the process of training for or competing in a race -- that's all we really want.

As for all of the above: I'm a lucky man to be married to Kristine! She's all the Christmas present I'll ever need. The rest of you'll have to find your own! (I love you, sweetheart!)

Happy Holidays

I'd just like to take two quick seconds to wish all of you who might be reading this a happy holidays and a happy and healthy new year. The next few weeks are going to be a bit busy, so I might not have time to update again. Spend some time with your family - and a little bit of time on your bike! - and I'll get to work on 2013 planning!

* - Term used loosely. Bib shorts are a practical gift. Assos bib shorts are an extravagant gift that only a cyclist would call practical. (Side note: incredibly nice versions of what are typically considered practical gifts are almost always appreciated, even if they make the athlete a feel a bit spoiled/guilty wearing them.)

** - Be careful on CompetitiveCyclist.com. They make even the crappiest stuff sound like the world's greatest.