Triathlon biking tips: 23 steps to becoming an accomplished cyclist
Portuguese coach Sergio Santas, who trained 2008 silver medallist Vanessa Fernandes, talks cadence, cranks and carbon. Follow his bike leg steps to increase your two-wheel competitiveness this season…
1 WHAT ARE YOU RACING FOR?
Before you choose your bike, work out what your goal is. Are you looking to race long distance or Olympic? Do you need aerobars or not? Or will you race Xterra, so you’ll need a mountain bike or cyclocross bike?
2 FIT THEN FAST
Whatever level you are, it’s mandatory to have a professional bike-fitting assessment. It’ll ensure you maximise every pedal stroke, be more comfortable and less prone to injury. It’s better to spend £1,000 on a bike and £200 on a bike fitting than £1,200 on a bike.
3 ALL-YEAR-ROUND TRIATHLETE
That goes for other bike gear, too. Don’t spend all of your budget on a shiny piece of carbon. Instead, make sure you have everything you need – clothing, turbo trainer – to ride in any condition, whether it’s cold, windy, wet or indoors.
- Chrissie Wellington on… Budget triathlon gear
- Triathlon cost-cutting: how to train and race on a budget
4 TOOL UP
As you build experience, you should think about cycling with a HR monitor and power meter.
5 KNOW YOURSELF
There’s a tendency for age-groupers to copy pro triathletes from what they see in magazines, websites and the TV. That’s fine but remember they’re pro. A triathlete training, say, 3-4hrs a week might not need things like power meters and compression socks.
6 PEDAL REVOLUTION
When you start off in tri, focus on your cadence (revolutions per minute, rpm). This is more important than any other skill. Aim for 90-100rpm. Your gear selection should work back from that range. If you can’t spin at 90rpm, drop down a gear until you can. You should aim for that figure when climbing, too.
7 PERSONAL CRANK
Crank length is important and ties in with your bike fit. In general, there are three sizes available – 170mm, 172.5mm and 175mm – but there are smaller and larger options. These may be useful if you struggle to maintain an aero position, feeling cramped or find your knee is thrown out at the top of the pedal stroke.
8 THE CORRECT TEETH
Ensure you have the correct crankset for your ability and experience. That might mean you need bigger sprockets out back. So instead of 19, 20, 21-teeth cassettes, you should have 28, 32… Again, key is maintaining that cadence range.
9 BETTER BY BIKE
Traffic, environmental impact, cost – there are numerous reasons why you shouldn’t commute by car. But, as triathletes, it means easy bike time. If commute distance allows, make this a staple of your tri training.
10 HEAD OFF ROAD
I advise younger triathletes to use a mountain bike instead of a road bike and I’d recommend the same for new age-groupers, especially for winter training. Not only will they avoid traffic, but they can also better hone technical skills like handling, braking, ascending and descending. Work on these skills before worrying too much about intensity of riding.
11 MINIMAL PEDALLING
I’d advise riding a minimum of twice a week, which might mean once in the week and a longer ride at the weekend. That midweek ride might benefit from a turbo trainer. They’re not a big investment and will keep you cycling when it’s wet, cold and dark outside.
12 SPIN, SPIN…
It’s great if you could also do spinning class once or twice a week, especially in winter. They’re great for building fitness, though don’t forget ‘real riding’. That’s where the technical stuff comes in.
13 UP THE INTENSITY
Age-groupers with two or three seasons behind them, and who race regularly, should focus on training by intensity – after mastering bike skills and cadence. They’ll probably be at a stage where they’ll benefit from the input of an accredited coach, and a training plan.
14 HIT THE LABS
Before you start training by numbers, undergo physiological testing to set different training zones. These will guide your session intensity, and will help you improve different parameters of fitness, which might be stamina, speed or power.
15 PHONE A FRIEND
Group rides at the weekend are essential if you’re looking to stick to a training plan. Longer rides with friends are always more fun than going solo, and provide a competitive edge, meaning you’ll train harder.
16 THREE NOT ONE
Pure time-triallists can afford an extreme bike set-up because they don’t have to walk after. You need to run. Ensure your aero position doesn’t inhibit your run.
- Riding aero: how to improve your aerodynamics on the bike leg
- How to get more comfortable in the aero position on the bike
17 FOCUS ON TWO WHEELS
Many Iron athletes will spend a minimum of 5-6:30hrs on the 180km bike leg; more than 50% of total race time spent on the bike. That should be reflected in the proportion of training dedicated to the bike.
18 JUST RIDE
If it’s your first year of triathlon, don’t get bogged down with aerodynamics or the flashiest gear – it’s all about riding.
19 SHOP WISELY
While the Shimano Dura-Ace groupset is very good, save your money and buy their Ultegra version. In my opinion it shifts just as reliably and is only a few hundred grammes heavier. Spend the saved cash on a set of deep-rim race wheels – you’ll shave more time there.
20 WATCH THE WEATHER
Normally, especially for tubulars, your tyre pressure might reach 120-140psi. That’s fine but, when it’s wet, drop that to around 90psi. It’ll increase grip and reduce your chances of crashing.
21 FEED REGULARLY
There’s no set menu for the bike – some prefer all gels, some might want a ham sandwich if the ride is long – but key is that you fuel regularly, especially at Ironman. Not only will it fuel your bike but your run, too.
22 SEE A NUTRITIONIST
As you become more serious about your triathlon, it’s worth seeing a nutritionist. They’ll calculate exactly how many calories you need for your training and race goals, as well as the macronutrient split.
23 BOTTLE IT
Practise drinking from your water bottle in training, as well as the simple action of grabbing from the cage and returning, to ingrain good technique.