Cycling for Triathletes

Cycling is quite a different discipline for the multisport triathlete, and how you approach this in your training and preparation will affect your overall performance on race day. Find out more in this article.
Created: February 2011
Revised: September 2012
Latest Feedback: September 2012

Tri-Specific Skills and Training

Cycling is the discipline where the most time will be spent in your race, and it is undoubtedly the most technical component of your race day and preparations. It's also probably the part of the race where weather conditions will play the biggest part in your overall performance. So being good on the bike in a triathlon is not just about being a good cyclist or having the best equipment.

There are specific considerations related to the cycle leg that are unique to triathlon. This certainly includes equipment choice, but skill, strength, transitions, race tactics, and a sound nutrition strategy are probably more important factors.

Brick Training

In particular, triathletes train to condition their bodies to cycling after swimming, and for running after cycling. Both different, and demanding tasks. Called "Brick" sessions, triathletes will often practise "running off the bike". At first, the unconditioned athlete will find it difficult to run due to the build-up of lactic acid in the legs, however with regular brick sessions, a triathlete will become conditioned to run efficiently on tired legs.

Cycling after a swim session is also a Brick Session technique. Triathletes consciously use different swim techniques as part of their race strategy to ensure the legs are prepared from the swim exit to run up the beach into transition and commence pedalling at high intensities (or distance, depending on the race).

Transitions

And then there is the 4th discipline - the transition. During a race, the triathlete has to change from swimming to cycling, and then from cycling to running. This involves removing clothing and redressing, and also learning how to get on/off the bike in the quickest amount of time, as well as observing race rules of not mounting the bike within the transition area before crossing the official "mount line", and also dismounting before the "dismount line", all without crashing into other riders or tripping up oneself !

Mount/Dismount

Many spills and thrills in triathlon occur at the mount lines and many valuable minutes either gained or lost in the transition stage so it is one more bike skill that the triathlete must practise to perfection if they wish to be competitive.

We have recently come across the Tri-Clips, a fantastic invention from the USA. We love them so much, we've become the Australian importer and offer the lowest price. If you're a Member you'll also get another 5% discount off.

Bike and Equipment

If you're just starting out in triathlons, you may be wondering what sort of bike you should be riding. Firstly, let's get one thing clear - there are no rules determining the type of bike you must ride if you enter a triathlon. Check out transition at any event and you'll see mountain bikes, hybrids, road bikes and of course, TT (time trial/triathlon) bikes. So, if you already have a bike of some description you can plan on using that in your first race. Of course, commonsense prevails here so drop it in at your local bike store for a service and check that it is road worthy and if it needs significant repairs costing almost as much as a new bike, then maybe you might consider an upgrade. Otherwise, start your training on your existing bike and work on building your bike fitness. No matter how good the bike, your race day performance all comes down to the fitness of the rider, your strength, stamina, bike handling skills, race tactics and race day nutrition. All things that you can develop and improve without a new bike. For more information on bikes, see our article Tri Bikes

Using triathlon specific gear will undoubtedly make an impact on performance on race day. From the more aerodynamic design of the tri-bike frame, and rider positioning you'll achieve on the aero-bars, to the use of an aero-helmet, and the use of quick release tri-bike shoes, there are loads of tri-specific bike components you can spend your money on. Yes it could all make an improvement. But let's face it, most of us are everyday triathletes, not pros, so there comes a price point at which you may need to make a compromise on how far you'll go being tri-specific with your equipment.

One thing that will make a fairly a good return on your investment, is improving your transition time. You can do this by investing in triathlon bike shoes and mastering your mount/dismount by keeping the shoes on the bike. Triathlon bike shoes are designed to reduce the time to take on/off with just 1 velcro closure strap. Cycling shoes however have 3 straps, usually with buckles so will take longer to put on. In combination with the Tri-Clips, you can master the mount/dismount and this will easily make a good few minutes saving than the person who spends longer in transition and on the mount line.

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