Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Triathlon 101: The Bike

Once I get out of the swim, the race really begins for me.  I'm much more comfortable on land than in water so when I get onto the bike, it's go time.   Today I'm going to walk you through what you need for the bike leg of the race as well as take you through a couple of important rules to remember while on the bike.

The biggest question that everyone asks is what kind of bike should you ride?  My answer to that would be you can ride any bike you want as long as it's comfortable enough for you to ride for, 10, 20, 30 km.  I've seen a guy do Ironman on a fixie with a banana seat and streamers.  I kid you not.  It is possible but I can't imagine it being comfortable.  Most people have an old 10 speed or mountain bike that they can use or perhaps borrow for their first triathlon.  If you are going to use a mountain bike, I would recommend you take the knobby tires off and replace them with a pair of road slicks.  This will provide you with a smoother ride and less rolling resistance, which means you'll go faster with less effort.  They can range in price from roughly $20 per tire and up depending on the brand and quality of the tire.
The next thing you absolutely MUST have is a helmet.  You will not be allowed out onto the bike course without a helmet.   It doesn't have to be anything fancy, although if it's a hot summer day, you'll probably want one that has some vents in it so your head doesn't get too hot.  It should be ANSI/SNELL approved as well (basically should pass all appropriate safety standards). You'll want to make sure the helmet doesn't slide around on your head and that it fits snugly under your chin when it's done up.  Not so much that it impedes any movement.  You should be able to slip your fingers under the strap comfortably.  Make sure the straps are lying flat as well.  It's easy for them to twist when you're putting it on.  The helmet shouldn't move too much when it's on and done up.


The footwear you wear will be decided by what kind of pedals you have on your bike.  If you're a relatively inexperienced cyclist, I'd recommend using normal pedals.  If you're using normal pedals, then you can wear your running shoes on the bike (one less thing to worry about doing in your bike to run transition!)  If you're fairly comfortable on the bike, you might want to think about putting cages or toe clips on your pedals.  Having cages on the bike will allow you to pull up on the pedals so you can take advantage of being able to complete full pedal stroke vs. just pushing down on the pedals.  This is very helpful if the course has some hills on it.  The bonus here is that you can still wear your running shoes with this type of system.  If you are an experienced cyclist, then chances are you're riding with clipless pedals and shoes that have cleats to fit into said pedals.  That will mean you will have to change your shoes after the bike portion is done.  If you're interested in finding out more about pedal choices, this article is a good place to start.

As I mentioned in my initial post, fitted clothing is generally a better option for the bike.  But again it's all about what you're comfortable in.  I race in a spandex short that is specifically designed for triathlon.  It has a smaller and thinner pad than a traditional cycling short so you don't feel like you're wearing a diaper.   They take a bit of getting used to when you first start riding in them (i.e you'll suffer through a few rides with a sore crotch until you get used to having something wedged between your legs for hours at a time) BUT they are super comfortable once you get used to them.  I wear mine for pretty much everything from cycling, to running, to yoga.  You don't have to go out and buy all sorts of fancy kit right off the bat.  If you have running gear that you want to wear, then wear that.  Trust me, if you get bitten by the bug, it's a slippery slope of money spending.  

Some other things you might want to have for the ride:

Sunglasses:  I can't ride without them.  My eyes water profusely if I don't have them on. 

Water Bottle:  You should have fluids on the bike, especially if it's hot out.

Rules of the Road:

There are several important rules you must follow when you're heading into the bike leg of a triathlon as breaking either of them could result in either a 4 minute penalty or a disqualification.

Rule #1:  Your helmet MUST be on and done up BEFORE you un-rack your bike.  So as soon as I get my wetsuit off, I put my helmet on and do it up, then I go about doing everything else.  Sure I might look a little silly wearing my helmet while I dry my feet off but I don't care.  I figure I'll do the most important thing first that way it's done.  As soon as I'm done the ride and I've racked my bike, then I take my helmet off.  If you are in possession of your bike and it's not on the rack, you must have a helmet on.  Period.

Rule #2:  No riding your bike in transition.  Once you have unracked your bike, you must run (or walk) with it to the bike mount line which is usually just outside transition.  You will have to do the same thing once you finish the ride.  There will be a bike dismount line (usually the same as the mount line) and you'll get off your bike here, watching for other competitors as it can get pretty hairy sometimes.  Then you'll run or walk it back to your spot on the rack. 

Rule #3:  No drafting.  You must keep at least 5 meters between the front of your wheel and the back of the wheel of the person in front of you.  If you are within this zone, you could get a 4 minute penalty.   Of course if you are going to pass the person, you are allowed in the space, however, you must pass them within 15 seconds.

Rule #4:  No Blocking.  This means that you should always stay to the right of the road.  Don't ride in the middle, or towards the centre line unless you are passing someone.  If you are coming up behind someone to pass them, let them know by saying "on your left" as you come up to them.  Since they are supposed to be on the right hand side of the road, you will be passing them on their left so make them aware of your presence. 

Rule #5:  Do NOT cross the centre (yellow) line on the road.  This will result in an automatic disqualification.  If you're trying to pass someone, wait until you have a clearer opportunity to do so!

Rule #6:  Keep your torso covered.   Women, that means you can't wear a sports bra on the bike or run.  Men, that means you can't go shirtless.  There are plenty of options for tops for both men and women, even for days that it's scorching hot.  

Those are the basics for the bike leg of the race.  I could easily devote an entire post to the pros and cons of different types of bikes but I'll save that for another day. 

Tomorrow I'll talk about my absolute favourite part of a triathlon:  the run!

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