Recently I was at the start of a cycling time-trial when I watched a rider I know cycle past on his warm-up wearing his new aero helmet back to front, with the pointy end sticking forwards like a big beak.
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Being someone with a highly developed sense of humour (aka a tosser) I made no attempt to shout and warn him of his mistake, and even went so far as to prevent two club-mates from doing so. We were then treated to the scene of him arriving at the start line, the marshals spilling the beans about his hapless helmetage, and the rider then hurriedly reversing it while looking frantically around to see if anyone had noticed – though he may have had a clue given that we (I) were shouting, ‘Who’s a pretty boy then?’
I admit this is poor behaviour on my part. And it isn’t the only time it’s happened, the most recent example being that I let my friend Joe Reynolds – a man whose baldy head bears an uncanny resemblance to one of my buttocks – complete an entire swimming session with his trunks on inside out. My excuse for this was that we hadn’t noticed (we had), because these days we all view his body with the same unease as a saddle sore I am about to prod with Savlon.
What makes this kind of behaviour so poor is that triathlon is a sport particularly noted for being welcoming to novices, and triathletes are usually only too willing to impart all sorts of advice to the unknowing. In fact, once you ask a group of triathletes for tips, just try shutting them up; we’re so competitive that even this becomes a ‘who knows the most and is thus the best’ contest.
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This desire to be helpful could be because we triathletes are often somewhat image-conscious as a breed, and looking like we know what we’re doing is more important than actually knowing. The last thing any of us wants is to look like we’ve just beamed down from Planet Tw@t, and we all recognise that what any inexperienced athlete wants more than anything else is to look like they fit in, even as they’re stumbling over a finish line smelling like a charity shop in a heatwave.
So in a bid to assuage my guilt at being unhelpful for laughs until the next time I do it, here are my top tips to newbies to prevent you from looking like a weapons-grade idiot:
Avoid the visor
Helmets often come with little plastic sun visors on the front, which must be removed immediately. No self-respecting triathlete would be seen dead with one of these on because its lack of aerodynamism may add precious milliseconds to our times. You may want to wear a cap under your helmet if you want to look a bit ‘roadie’; this will do exactly the same job as the visor for twice the price, which is what cycling is all about.
Triathlons take place exclusively in daylight, in the summer. Wearing a jacket or gilet the same colour and luminescence as a hangover wee is as unnecessary as it is unstylish. They’re also invariably baggy and make flapping noises when you cycle. Stick to alarmingly tight Lycra.
Pinning your number on to the back of your skinsuit is usually a sign of newbie tendencies on its own, but doing so before you’ve put the skinsuit on causes the number to rip-off the safety pins on one side as it stretches and, hey presto, you have a big flapping piece of paper on your back that says ‘NOVICE’.
Inner tubes come with little washers to hold the valve against your rim. When changing tyres discard this immediately. Nobody, but nobody, ever uses them. There is no reason, they just don’t.
Mobile phones are for screening calls from relatives, shouting on trains and predictively texting things like ‘Game of Throbs’ instead of ‘Game of Thrones’, which I may have recently done. They’re not for recording your race times on Strava (that’s what timing chips are for), taking selfies (that’s what race photos are for) or listening to some histrionic caterwauler from The X-Factor on headphones (that’s what the finish line DJ is for).
As one of Britain’s foremost athletic-mediocrity pedlars, I hope this lot is useful. The golden rule to looking like an experienced triathlete is not an athletic physique, or an aero helmet, or calf guards, or even the ubiquitous M-Dot tattoo on your leg; it’s merely to conform to all those small, unfathomable, unwritten laws of our sport that people will instantly notice if you transgress. And if I see you doing so, I’ll let you know straight away. Of course.