Overview Of The Triathlon Bike Leg

Of the three legs of a triathlon, the cycling leg is the longest in terms of both time and distance.

As the middle leg of any triathlon, cycling is probably the most important because it can either make or break a race.

Improving your cycling technique will not only ensure a safe and competitive race but will guarantee that you’ll have fun, which, of course, is the most important thing of all.

Your focus during the cycling leg is to achieve maximum speed while conserving your energy for the final leg of the triathlon.

But putting speed aside, your priority should be maintaining safety and control while riding.

Countless accidents have occurred because of careless riders.

99% of all triathlon race accidents occur on the Bike Leg. 

Don’t be one of them.

Know Your Bike

The most important thing you should do is know your bike.

Consult an expert such as a bike mechanic to determine if you have the right kind of bike for a triathlon.  Learn about the different parts of your bike as well as how to adjust or change them if needed.

Don’t worry—the things you need to know are not that complicated.  Basic bike knowledge will see you through.

Most of the time, you have to be your own mechanic.

Flat tires or broken bike chains are the most common bike mishaps.  Being ready means practicing these basic repairs before the race day so that you will know what to do in case they happen to you.

Why Fear The Bike?

Although for most beginner triathletes triathlon cycling is usually not as intimidating as open-water swimming, there are many reasons why beginners are nervous about the triathlon bike.

Some find the speed too intimidating, while others are nervous to ride their bike on the road in traffic.  Another common complaint is that bike training is just too uncomfortable and monotonous.

The simple truth is this: the triathlon cycle comprises the majority of time in a triathlon.  No matter how you train, you’ll spend most of your triathlon on your tri bike.

Without the proper bike training and distance under your belt, you’ll start the triathlon run on sore, “dead” legs and sometimes come close to cramping.

I’ve seen expert distance runners being outpaced by triathletes with heavy set bodies simply because the cyclist’s legs haven’t been ruined by the shock of a long bike ride.

Thankfully, your cycling training program need not be boring, scary or unpleasant.

What Bike to Use For Your Triathlon

While there are specific bikes for every triathlon, this does not mean that you have to get one. If you can borrow then that’s a good, otherwise make do with what you have and just enjoy the competition.

The following is an overview of bike types:

Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes have very sturdy frames and strong shock absorbers and they are specifically meant for off-road riding.

While there are triathlons that have mountain bike divisions, this type of bike can be used for on-road riding as well.

Road Bikes

Road bikes are said to be the lightest and fastest type of bike, but it may come as an uncomfortable ride, especially for first timers.  But because of their light make, road bikes can be a big help for uphill cycling.

Triathlon (TT) Bikes

As the name implies, triathlon bikes are specifically made for these events.

As opposed to the road bike, the triathlon bike has a different geometric frame that is designed to minimize effort and stress on the lower extremities.

Aero bars and a 76 to 78 degree seat tube angle allows for an aero dynamic position, which maximizes speed on flat terrain.

Get A Proper Bike Fit

How to Achieve the Perfect Bike Fit

Accurate Saddle Fit

The simplest, yet most important aspect of a bike is its saddle height.

A saddle, that’s either too high or too low decreases power, causes discomfort and may result in possible injury.

It’s also important for you to know that it’s not only the saddle height that matters. Positioning and tilt of the saddle are also important.

  • Tilt.

On a road bike, the saddle is usually set at dead level.  On any bike where the rider will adopt even a semi-aero position, the saddle is slightly tilted downward. Just a degree or two can make a huge difference in crotch comfort.

Too much tilt and your arms and shoulders will be forced to support and prevent your body from sliding on the saddle, which, in turn, results in fatigue, tightness, and pain.

  • Fore/aft positioning.

Focus is in effective seat angle, referring to where the rider actually sits relative to the bottom bracket.

The Importance of Foot Angle

Another source of bike fit error is foot angle in relation to horizontal (resulting from a techniques called “ankling” where the rider pedals with his toes down for at least part of the crank revolution).

Getting the Front End Right

Last but not the least is the front end.  Keep in mind that your aerobars should conform to you, not the other way around. When you position yourself onto your aerobars, they should “fall to hand”, which means you should not have to twist, stretch or reach to grab them.

They shouldn’t cause any tension or force on your arms and shoulders.

How To Make The Saddle More Comfortable

Choose a saddle that fits you well.

As much as possible, ask others about the saddles they are using.  Ask them if they have any suggestions regarding a saddle that can make you feel comfortable.

It Takes Time to Break In

Once you have that new saddle installed, keep in mind that there will always be a break in period for the saddle to fit you perfectly.

This is the same principle you use when you buy a pair of shoes; the longer you use them, the more they fit your feet.

You may want to soften the saddle material by applying medicated Vaseline known as Aquaphor on the edges, which also helps prevent chafing.

This method may wear down the saddle faster but, if you ask me, being comfortable is more important than prolonging the life of your saddle.

Take the Pressure Off

Despite the new and more comfortable saddle, there is still a need for you to ease the pressure during a bike ride.

Long rides tend to shift your position in the saddle.  Moreover, longer rides while sitting on your saddle can create pressure between the saddle and your pelvic area, which then results in numbness and soreness.

This emphasizes the need for pressure relief, which you can only achieve if you have been working out to strengthen your core.

You need strong core muscles to keep your body in the optimal position, which will lead to less pressure.  No more skipping those core exercises!

Stand Up

There is one simple way to relieve pressure and that’s to stand up while riding your bike on a flat course.  This is very important because every time you pop up, you’re getting rid of the pressure between your pelvic area and the saddle.

Feel the ride and enjoy the scenery. Relieving pressure is very easy and simple, and in a few steps you will feel comfortable in your saddle again.

Bike Safety Tips

These guidelines, derived from years of learning from my own mistakes, will make your bike training—and racing—much more successful and injury-free!

Make use of your gears wisely

Don’t force a gear that is too hard and wears down your legs (bear in mind, you’ve still got a run to do).  Keep your cadence (number of times you turn the pedals) up around 90 RPM.

When approaching hills, so you don’t grind up a hill, anticipate what gear you have got to be in for any inclination, and shift early.

Train on new equipment

When you join a race with new bike equipment, be sure that you have tested and mastered it first.  This applies to aerobars, clipless pedals, saddles, wheels—anything on your bicycle that could have a bad effect on your riding.

I repeat this advice time and again—NEVER race on new equipment!

Work on U-turns

Why?

Many races with out-and-back bicycle courses have a U-turn turnaround where you need to navigate around an orange cone.  This is difficult for a number of reasons—you’ll come to almost a complete stop (while wearing clipped pedals!) and likely there will be several other cyclists around you.

Even seasoned triathletes have found themselves kissing the road because of these turnarounds.

To prepare for the race, look for a place where you can practice sharp corners and U-turns.  As in a race, always take them slowly.

Stay hydrated on the bike

Many newbies wait until the run to start drinking fluids.

That’s a big mistake. The bike leg is the best opportunity to get liquids on board.  Don’t forget to drink on the bike, so you’re already on a full tank of gas as you start the run.  Again, practice drinking on your bike so you can do so safely.

Put on a helmet

This should have been tip number 1!

Helmets are required during races, but don’t forget to wear one throughout your training.  There are circumstances when even veteran cyclists can crash through no fault of their own.

Never assume that you will be safe without a helmet.

Seriously, wear your helmet.

Hill climbing

Be sure to pace yourself when climbing steep hills. Brace your hands on the top of your brake hoods for leverage, and gently rock back and forth as you peddle up and down.

If you find yourself coming to a stop before hitting the peak, just click out of your pedals (if using clipless pedals) and catch yourself.

Downhill riding

Going down a downhill curving road at a high speed can be exciting, but until you have mastered it you have to go slowly and ride at a comfortable speed as you go downhill.

Furthermore, pay special attention to potholes, obstacles, and traffic, along with other hazards.  Work on your technique and control—the time for speed will come later.

Cornering

Turning at high speeds requires the same method as riding downhill—reduce your speed until you have mastered it.  Be sure to lean slightly into the corner and position the pedal on the corner side up to avoid it hitting the pavement as you turn.

Focus on making a clean turn, something which may be useful when those roadies tell you to “hold your line”. You can minimize your chances of causing a nasty pileup on race day if you practice clean turns during training.

How to Change A Bike Tire

A cyclist’s worst nightmare!  You’ve got to learn how to change a bike tire.  Here’s what to do.

Removing Your Wheel

Take out or loosen the brakes.

If the wheel that needs replacement is the one located at the back, transfer to the smallest gear at the back.  This simplifies the process of putting the wheel back.

Separate the wheel and the bike frame.

Visually inspect the tire for sharp objects like broken glass, nails, thorns, tacks, and the lacks.  If needed, take out these objects.  Be careful not to cut yourself!

Separate Tube from Tire

Use the tire levers in order to take out the whole tube.

Take out the tube from inside the tire.

Inspect the inside of the tire using your fingers. Be careful!  There may be glass in there.  Run your fingers around the inside to check for punctures made by foreign objects.  If you find anything, remove it.

Replace the Tube

You will need to cover holes that are more than 1mm, using the ‘glue-less patch’ to close it.

This will prevent the new tube from protruding through the hole once the tube is inflated. Nonetheless, when you get home replace the tire immediately.

To help the tube stay in shape, inflate it with a little amount of air before you try to attach it to the frame.

Replace the brand new tube inside the tire.

Reattach the Tire

Be extremely careful not to put pressure on the new tube when replacing the tire back on the rim.  Don’t let the rim and the side of the tire pinch the new tube.

Ensure that the tire is sitting on the rim before you push the valve stem through the tire.

Once in place, take out the valve stem.

Visually inspect the position of the tire on the rim.  Ensure that the whole tire is completely seated on the rim.

Put a little amount of air inside the tire.  Check if the tire is seated well on the rim on all sides then inflate the tire completely.

Reattach the Wheel

Re-attach the wheel onto the bike frame.

Ensure that everything is aligned, centered and straight as much as possible.

Put the brake back on.

Pack up your old tube and take it away with you.

5 Top Tips To Improve Your Triathlon Bike

Do ride with traffic

Cycling on the road can be an exhilarating experience, but it’s vital that you stick to the rules of the road in order to stay safe and injury-free, especially if you’re restricted in your training course by high traffic roads.

The proper and legal way to ride on roadways is with traffic, and not against it, contrary to the daredevil bicycle messengers you probably see in busy downtown streets.

Weaving in between parked cars is another typical mistake since it makes it hard for motorists to see you until it’s too late. Ride in a straight line, avoid erratic or unexpected turns, and ride defensively.

Don’t ride on busy streets or paths. It amazes me whenever I see serious cyclists riding on busy roadways, with hundreds of cars passing by them within inches of their limbs.

Do take part in group and organized rides

Bike clubs and stores in almost every well-populated area of the country sponsor weekly rides, and longer organized rides happen almost every weekend.

Organized rides are a great means of practice, providing you with an opportunity to mix with a group of people who are near your current riding ability. Many large groups consist of a wide range of riding talent, from the slowpoke talkers to the stone-faced quad machines.

Don’t ride an uncomfortable bike

I’ve mentioned how essential it is to get a properly fitted bicycle, but I can’t stress this point enough. No one likes to be uncomfortable in an activity that may last an hour or much longer, and riding a bicycle that does not fit, or is uncomfortable, is just a real drag.

Do be ready for anything

Unlike swimming in a pool at the YMCA, or running within a few miles of your doorstep, biking can take you some formidable distances. You might find yourself 10 or even more miles away from your home, on some lonely road without a soul in sight. So it’s essential to be ready for any mishap that might occur, mechanical or otherwise.

First of all, don’t ride without using a bicycle helmet. Have a friend or someone at your local bike shop teach you the way to fix a flat tire. Carry at least two tubes and also a pump (or CO air cartridges) with you at all times. Carry a multipurpose cycling tool that will fit in a behind-the-saddle frame bag for basic repairs even if you’re not mechanically inclined.

Carry a credit card, driver’s license and some cash with you always.  You can also bring a cellular phone plus some extra snacks and water for longer rides.

Don’t be intimidated

For beginners, biking might be intimidating for a couple of reasons. The expensive tri-bicycles you’re certain to find in the transition area of any competitive triathlon (particularly hotly contested, large events like Ironman qualifying races) are enough to make anybody rolling in with a mountain bike or old clunker feel ashamed.  Don’t be intimidated—everyone has to start somewhere!

Your cycling is no different from all other parts of your triathlon preparation:  you need to train smarter. Learn the secrets of efficient triathlon training and successful race days with my Free Triathlon Success Kit.  Download it today.

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