The bike leg is where the true balance of triathlon becomes evident. The
bike leg is the most important part of your race, it takes up the most time,
it’s smack in the middle and it can make or break your run.
Your bike training will make up the bulk of your training volume, you
should incorporate at least one longer ride per week, covering (for sprint
distance races) at least the distance you need to cover in the race.
Cycling is a great part of your training because it is directly beneficial to
your muscular endurance and overall fitness gains without the impact on
your body that running can have. Bike training can be used for recovery
work as well as for workouts where you are pushing your thresholds.
During your training take time to practice eating and drinking while on
your bike. Get used to reaching for your water bottle and the gels in your
pockets. It is much easier to digest while riding than while running so it
makes sense to get as much as your fuel in while you are on the bike.
Get to know your bike! By doing the basic bike maintenance yourself you
will learn the different parts of your bike, where the cables go and what
everything does. You can clean your bike, de-grease, oil and lube without
any technical skills! Learn how to fix a flat – a flat tire is no fun and there
are few things more annoying than feeling completely helpless as you
wait for someone to pick you up (assuming you have a cell phone, and
cell coverage!). Changing a tire is easy and the more you do it the
quicker it gets! Some races have bike support cars that drive the course
and will help you out – IF they see you, but there is no guarantee that their
timing will coincide with your flat.
More than you can shake a carbon fiber stick at!
A bike! For your first tri all you need is a reliable bike that fits you. However
if you are looking at bikes here are some things to know.
- Most bikes are made of 1 of 4 different materials, steel, aluminum,
titanium and carbon. Each material has it’s pros and cons e.g. steel
is strong but heavy, carbon is light and stiff but expensive. The
material your bike is made of is of less importance than the way it
- At a triathlon you will typically see 3 types of bikes. Road bike,
triathlon (or time trial) bike and mountain bike. Any of these can be
used in a tri.
Road Bikes: (a great way to get started in cycling and tri)
- A road bike is designed to be ridden with hands on the hoods of the
handlebars, brakes and gearing within reach.
- The ‘drops’ – the lower part of the handlebars are only used when
you’re really hauling!
- Road bikes are probably the most common type of bike at
triathlons, they are a versatile bike that can be used for racing and
are great for group riding.
Triathlon Bikes: (a good fit for long distance triathletes)
- The geometry of a TT bike is designed for the rider to be leaning
down on the aero bars, with a seat tube angle of 76-78 degrees
which places the rider into a more forward position.
- The shifters on a TT bike are at the end of the aero bars, the brakes
are still on the handlebars.
- Being aero is most advantageous on long distance rides and flat
courses where you have the most to gain from being more
*Many triathletes attach clip on aero bars to their road bike, a
compromise that works well as long as the fit is adjusted.
Mountain Bikes: (designed for off road but totally ok if that’s the bike you
- A mountain bike is less efficient on the road because of it’s wide
nubby tires, suspension (front or dual) and it’s weight.
- They are not unusual at sprint tris!
- If you are a mountain biker looking to branch out - check out an
Having the right size frame is the most important part of your bike fit, with a
bike that is too small or too big you will be uncomfortable on your bike,
not be able to push as hard or go as far, in short if it doesn’t fit – don’t ride
Figure out your frame size, even if you don’t plan to buy a bike right away
it’s worth asking a cyclist friend to help you find your size (bike sizes are
measured in cm by the length of the top tube).
Once you have been riding a while it’s worth looking into getting a
professional bike fit, especially if you are having any discomfort while
riding (numb palms, repetitive soreness in any spot, knee pain).
Wheels & Tires:
There are 2 main kinds of tires, clinchers and tubulars. Clinchers are the
most common - a tire with a tube that fits inside it, the sides of the tire
“clinch” to the wheel.
Tubulars are a tube and tire combined that is glued to the wheel – these
can be hard to change!
Stick to clinchers unless you have a lot of time to practice working with
Either tire needs air! Pumping your tires and checking their pressure should
become a part of your pre-ride routine. Know your pressure, too little and
the wheel won’t roll easily – but too much and you will bounce!
The basic pressure guidelines are:
Clinchers 100-120 lbs./sq inch.
Tubulars 120-140 lbs. /sq inch.
Remember that air expands when it gets warm – be careful inflating your
tires in the cool early morning before a race as the heat of the day may
lead to over-inflation.
Spoked wheels are good all around wheels for training and racing, some
spokes are now flat, and there are a lot less of them than in bikes of the
past! You can spend a lot of money upgrading wheels, from carbon
‘deep dish’ rims to full disks. But before you pull out a second mortgage
on you home keep in mind that most gains found from race wheels are
found once the rider is averaging above 20 mph. If you’re looking to buy
speed, expensive wheels are not always the best bang for your buck.
Gotta have one! All USAT sanctioned races require helmets (buckled!)
that are ANSI approved.
Any (safe) helmet will do, try them on and find the helmet that fits your
head and your budget. You will see all kind of helmets at races – including
the point aero helmets that look like they could puncture your spinal cord!
Just an FYI – as funny as they look, aero helmets are often the biggest
bang for the triathlete’s buck when looking to “buy speed”. It has been
estimated that once an 18mph average has been reached an aero
helmet can give up to a mile an hour of free speed. Just food for thought,
there are more toys in tri than just about any other sport!
Pedals and Shoes:
Shoes are required on the bike. Your running shoes will do, or you can
move into an integrated system of clipless pedals and shoes. The benefits
of ‘clipping in’ are a greater transfer of power throughout the entire pedal
stroke – not just the push down but also the pull up, a more direct transfer
of power from the stiff sole of a cycling shoe (not the absorbent rubber of
a running shoe), and safety as you are less likely to slip on your pedal if
you are clipped to it.
Clipless pedals do take a little getting used to, take it slowly and they will
soon become second nature.
- Practice clipping in and out with one leg on the ground, then swap
- Go to a flat grassy area, cycle a short distance then clip out,
practice on both sides.
- On the grass, practice coming to a sudden stop, have a friend yell
“stop!” at random times.
- On your first road ride be very aware of possible reasons to stop and
clip out early. If you see a stop sign – clip out and coast toward it.
- If in doubt – Clip out!
Decent tri or bike shorts (more on these later)
Sunglasses – a bug in the eye could cause an accident.
Bike gloves – only if you have pain in your palms.
A moisture wicking shirt, bike jerseys are good because they have
A seat pack for your flat supplies and cell phone.
The bike and all it's gear makes up a very large part of triathlon, not only in training time but also budget! Make friends with your local bike shop, buy a few really good pieces, they'll last longer and be more comfortable.