What a Triathlon Beginner needs to get Started: The Bike

The Bike

Getting into a triathlon can be one of the most daunting, but rewarding training adventures you can ever experience. If you consider taking up this sport, you probably have many questions and maybe feel confused by the terminology.

The cycle is the longest portion of the triathlon and this will be where most of your time is spent during the day.

Tools and Equipment

Triathlon doesn’t have to be an expensive or equipment-heavy sport, but the bike portion is the most fraught with expenses of the three disciplines. 

Required

Yes, this is basic, but it needs to be said. The first thing you need, of course, is a bike. The bike ideally should be the correct frame size to fit you, and it would be nice if the tyres were meant for road riding, but when it comes down to it, if it has two wheels and moves forward when you pedal it, you can ride it in a triathlon. Most triathlon has some rules on making sure your bike is safe.

Your First Bike

Don’t go and blow your entire budget on your first bike. You need to attain a certain amount of fitness before you decide on a “final” bike. 

If you have an old bike in your garage or shed that goes forward when you crank the pedals, use that. If not, borrow a bike or buy something used, again try online first, it could save you pounds.

Most regular bike shops also sell used bikes, always worth a visit to support local retailers.

Buying a Bike

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Buying a bike is likely the biggest investment you’ll make as part of your triathlon journey. A bike is an investment piece and you need to consider your budget, purpose, and the spec of the bike.

You can purchase bikes online directly from retailers such as Liv, Ribble, Giant, Specialized, Trek, and many more, from companies such as Wiggle, Evans, or Halfords, or secondhand through local marketplace sites, Facebook Groups, or eBay, you’ll be amazed at what’s out there. 

Ultimately you don’t need a super fancy bike to take part in a triathlon. Most people begin with a road bike or even a hybrid. 

Get a bike you’re happy with that is within your budget. If you’re targeting a certain race check their guidelines.

Bike Maintenance

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You don’t want your bike to fail you when you are several miles from home so better to pay a few pounds to have a mechanic at your local bike shop check it over, it’s a positive and sound investment.

It helps to have a clean and freshly lubed chain, tight brakes, correctly inflated tyres, and responsive gears or shifters, which are small things you can learn to do yourself or pay your local bike shop to do for you.

Having properly inflated tyres when you ride is very important. If your tyre’s pressures are too low, it means you have to pedal harder using loads of unnecessary energy to go the same speed which makes you more likely to get a puncture.

If you stick with this sport, you will almost certainly become one of those people who pump up their tyres to 100-120 psi every time before heading out for a training session.

Helmet and Hydration

 

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A helmet is a must and is required to participate in a triathlon. Do your research and talk to fellow triathletes and ask for their opinion and recommendations, it’s a vital piece of essential kit and could prevent serious injury or worse. Since you have to wear it for the race, you may as well get used to wearing it on training rides, again, it could be a lifesaver in the event of an accident. 

You need to get used to hydrating, and with that in mind, you will need to carry water on your bike, even for a sprint distance race it’s a good idea to drink some water during the bike segment part of the race.

It’s also worth thinking about a water carrier or two on your bike. Even for a sprint distance race, it’s a good idea to drink some water during the bike segment of the triathlon. 

The bike is the only one of the three sports where you have easy access to a drink, but only if you are carrying a bottle. Also worth remembering is that during the bike segment, your stomach is usually most able to handle hydration and nutrition.

You can buy water bottle cages quite cheaply, and it attaches to almost any bike frame with two screws. If you don’t have a water bottle cage, you can carry a water bottle in the back pocket of your cycling jersey, if you wear one.

 A typical cycling helmet has straps that go under the base of the skull in the back and a clip under the chin. Some helmets have visors to shield your eyes from the sun. Good quality sunglasses are also an essential piece of equipment, they will help protect your eyes from insects and road debris, and yes they make you look cool.

Highly Recommended

If you have a bike, helmet and water, you are capable of training and racing. There are a few more items you should consider adding to your bike if your budget allows it.

Tool Bag and Tools

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A tool bag filled with standard items, such as a repair outfit, spare tube, a mini bike pump, tyre levers and a small set of allen keys and maybe a spanner (check what size fits the bike) are items experienced cyclists never leave home without.

Even if you are still learning to repair or change a tyre, it can be useful to carry a tool bag. A tool bag is also a great place for stashing an emergency £5 or £10 note and a mobile phone, but not when you’re competing.

Bike Computer

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A second item that is highly recommended is a bike computer, otherwise known as a speedometer/odometer. If you already have a GPS watch for running, you can skip this section unless you want the additional functionality of tracking your pedal cadence.

Although you can certainly ride without a bike computer or training watch, it’s difficult to track your training, improve your performance, and estimate your finish time for a race without one.

There are many kinds. The cheapest uses wires (which you tape or cable-tie to your bike frame) to connect a sensor on the frame to a digital display that mounts on your handlebars. 

The sensor picks up signals from a magnet you attach to a spoke. The most versatile is a GPS device you can switch from your bike to your wrist for tracking runs as well. This again depends on your budget.

Nice To Have

If you are sure you are into this sport and you aren’t going to do one race and quit, you may want to go ahead and invest in more professional equipment like shorts, cycling gloves, clipless pedals and accompanying shoes, a jersey, and a food storage box. We say again, go online, you’ll be amazed at what you can find without spending a fortune – and hey, it’s great recycling, no pun intended.

Shorts

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If you only want to invest in one pair of shorts, it’s a tough decision between bike shorts and tri shorts. 

Bike shorts are more padded, and therefore more comfortable for a beginner who is just learning to meld his or her nether regions to his or her bike seat. 

Bike shorts, however, really can’t be worn on the swim because the bulky pad sucks up the water and holds it; and they are a struggle to pull on over wet legs if you intend to put them on over a swimsuit.

Tri Shorts are the perfect solution because the padding is thinner and dries quickly, so they can be worn for the swim, biking and running. But the thinner padding can be a problem if you are just getting used to your bike seat.

Gloves

Gloves are nice to have, but most people don’t race in them because of the time it takes in transition to get them on and off. 

On a long training ride though, it’s nice to have the padding on your palms, and extra nice to have the soft terry cloth strip on the reverse side for wiping your nose, we know that doesn’t sound very nice, but it will happen.  

The leather palms are also useful for running over the outside of the tire in case you ride through some glass. If you brush it off quickly before it gets embedded in the tyre, sometimes you can prevent a puncture. 

Most people have a pair of fingerless gloves for general riding. Some cyclists also pick up a full-fingered pair for riding in colder weather.

Cycling gloves will also protect your hands in case of a spill. Most bike crashes are minor and generally involve just one person: the cyclist. A pair of well-padded gloves will save cuts and scratches to your hands in the event of a fall.

Clipless Pedals

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One thing that tends to complicate matters is making the move from running shoes on flat pedals to cycling shoes with cleats embedded in the soles that click into special pedals on the bike.

This is a big step. It takes skill to use them, you will have to practice. 

It will improve your speed, but it’s also a little expensive to make the switch. The pedals aren’t cheap, they might require installation if you don’t have the right tools, and the shoes are definitely not cheap. Go online !!!

The cleat should be screwed into your shoe in whatever position places the ball of your foot exactly in line with the spindle (metal cylinder) of the pedal. 

If your cleats are not in the correct place, or a screw comes loose and the cleat twists to one side, this can have serious implications for your knees and hips as you ride. As your cleats wear out from walking on them, they will become more difficult to clip in and out of the pedals.

Bike Jerseys

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One great thing about bike jerseys is that they have big back pockets. Those back pockets can hold a lot of stuff, including power bars (and the wrappers after you’ve eaten them!), a mobile phone, and even a small bike pump. Because the pockets are on your back, they aren’t scrunched up in the crease of your leg and are inaccessible and uncomfortable while riding. 

Jerseys are not, however, a necessity. If you see one on clearance or participate in some cool race or cycling event that has a jersey you would like to have as a reminder of the event, go for it. If you are looking for places to scrimp, you do not need a cycling jersey.

Getting Going on Your Bike

Starting cycling can be a little nervy, some people take to it instantly while others need a bit longer to get going. Confidence and ability do come with time. If you’re nervous, begin on quiet roads or cycle paths before heading off into traffic. 

Learning road skills and other important skills like changing a tyre and puncture repair is essential for your safety and enjoyment, otherwise, it could be a long walk home. 

Things to Focus On During Training 

Testing your kit:  Chaffing can be common on the bike and therefore you want to either find a tri-suit that doesn’t cause discomfort or find a way to alleviate this eg chamois cream.

Running off the bike: One area of training that will hugely benefit your triathlon challenge is getting familiar with running after a cycling session or running off the bike, also known as a brick session. In very simple terms this is doing some cycling and then going for a run in very short succession without a period of recovery in between.

These sessions are the bread and butter of triathlon training. You’ll likely find your legs initially feel a little sluggish and you’ll be slower than your usual run times but after about a mile your legs will wake up a little and things should feel a bit easier.

Fueling: Eating on the bike is a bit of art you need to become confident at cycling with one hand and it’s good to practice this in your training rides so you know what you like, what works for your stomach and you’re confident getting any packaging open.

Focus on a variety of speeds in your training: Think about incorporating longer endurance cycle sessions, and faster, harder sessions. If you’re lucky enough to have a turbo and Zwift setup there are some great training sessions on there.

Practice transitions: Think helmet on before you touch your bike and bike rack before you take your helmet off. Also, take your cycling glasses off if you wore them.

On The Day

You’ll need to rack your bike (unless there is the option of dropping it off the night before) and ensure it has any necessary numbers or stickers correctly attached.

When entering transition with your bike you’ll need to pop your helmet on, they’ll also likely check your brakes and that your bike is roadworthy. Then find your space and try to look for something discernible that will help you spot your bike when you’re rushing in and out of transition. 

Rack your saddle over the bar and pop your stuff on the floor around your bike set out in the order you want to pick them up. Make sure your hat, glasses, race number (on a race belt), fuel and cycling shoes are easy to get to.

Check your tyres are adequately pumped up and make sure your water bottle is in your bottle cage ready.

To get back into transition at the end you’ll need your race number so keep this on you at all times.

Conclusion

Triathlon is a real adventure sport and a fantastic way to push your limits. Go for it!

 

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