Common triathlon cycling mistakes
A triathlete on bike during the 2018 Isuzu Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Credit: Donald Miralle / Stringer / Getty Images Europe
Training > Bike

Triathlon cycling technique: 10 common mistakes on the bike leg

Cycling coach Nik Cook explains 10 common mistakes triathletes make on the bike leg and how to put them right

1)    Poor Pacing

By far the most common triathlon biking mistake, made by seasoned pros and novices alike, is overcooking the bike and trashing your run as a result. It’s all too easy to do, with the excitement of race day and freshly tapered legs, but, especially for long course, will spell disaster. Test for your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) or Functional Threshold Heart Rate (FTHR) regularly (every 8-12 weeks), set accurate zones based on these metrics, train to them and then also race to them with 100% discipline. Especially if you’re using a power meter, there’s really no excuse for getting your pacing wrong but it’s amazing how many people seem to think they’ll get a miraculous race day boost, ignore the numbers they’re seeing and just squeeze that bit harder. It will always come back to bite you and always result in your underperforming.

>>> How to pace yourself on the bike leg of a triathlon

2)    Bad Fuelling

Above: A volunteer gives a triathlete a banana at an aid station during the bike leg of Ironman Copenhagen. Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images for Ironman

Fuelling is intrinsically linked to pacing. Almost all cases of athletes suffering from GI distress or struggling with nutrition on the bike are simply down to the fact that they’re pushing too hard. Above a certain intensity, blood flow to your stomach will be diverted to your working muscles and it’ll effectively shut down. You can put fuel into your mouth but it’ll just sit in your stomach, doing nothing, apart rom making you feel bloated and sick.

The bike leg is your main opportunity in a triathlon for getting a decent amount of fuel into your tank so don’t blow it. Use training to learn at what intensity you can tolerate food, in what amount and frequency and what type. Once you find the formula that works for you, stick to it. Incidentally, if you tend to suffer from cramp, you’re probably pushing too hard too. Most recent studies have shown that cramp has very little to do with hydration or electrolyte deficiencies but is mainly down to muscle fatigue.

How does endurance sport affect your digestive system?

Cheap cycling nutrition ideas for triathletes

Triathlon nutrition – our ultimate guide to fuelling

What to eat during the week before your triathlon

3)    Unsustainable Bike Position

We’ve all seen it, the rider with the full on aggressive aero set-up but sat bolt upright on the bullhorns as if out for a Sunday club run. Yes it’s great to have a super aero position but it has to be sustainable and you have to be able to run off it too. Getting a physio led bike fit, preferably using motion capture, is probably one of the best performance investments you can make.

>>> Found – your perfect aero position on the bike

>>> How to test your aerobar set-up

Another really common positioning mistake is just to slap clip-on aero bars on a road bike. The geometry of a road bike means that, in most cases, you’ll need to change saddle height, fore and aft and probably fit a shorter stem to properly accommodate the tri-bars. Fail to do this and you’ll find yourself in a way too stretched position with a horrendously closed hip angle. You’ll be giving away heaps of power and it won’t be conducive to a good run off the bike. 

Continue reading our guide to 10 common bike mistakes (2/3, faults 3-5)


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