Top Tips for Conquering Your Triathlon Cycling Fears
For many new triathletes, one of the biggest challenges is the swim. Often, an aspiring triathlete either doesn’t swim well, is afraid of open water swimming, or really has never swum before. Therefore, everyone (Trigirl included!) has articles and advice about how to improve your swimming for triathlon.
But what about cycling? Yes, most people who sign up for a triathlon remember cycling as a child or they ride at the gym or commute on their bikes to work, but triathlon is a whole new ride. What do you need for triathlon cycling and how do you conquer your triathlon cycling fears?
Common Triathlon Cycling Fears
Fearing the bike portion of triathlon is not uncommon. It’s the longest part of any race, so even the best cyclist might look at the bike leg as a daunting task. But as a novice cyclist, you probably have even more worries. Do you need a road or triathlon bike (and how do you balance on those skinny tyres?!) Do you have to use clipless pedals (also known as cleats or clip-ins)? How do you ride in a group for training? If you’ve asked these questions, read on!
A lot of people who are considering triathlon ask if they need to buy a new bike. A road bike or triathlon bike (also known as a TT or time-trial bike) will be faster than a hybrid-style or mountain bike. They are lighter and more aerodynamic, for one thing. But a good one is also expensive. British Triathlon rules allow for most roadworthy, well-maintained bikes (they must have a brake on each wheel and both wheels must be free wheels, so no ‘fixies’). This means that it is perfect fine for you to ride the hybrid bike that you’ve ridden for years in a triathlon race.
If you are trying your first triathlon, there is no pressure to go out and buy a fancy bike, unless of course, you want a great excuse to go out and buy a fancy bike! Of course, you may be a bit slower, but you have a chance to try racing a triathlon and know that you really love it before making a big investment. And once you do buy a road bike, you’ll be strong from pedalling along on a heavier bike and riding the lighter bike will feel like a breeze!
And as far as balancing on those tyres? It’s really not that different! Practice, first on flatter straighter surfaces, then work on trickier elements such as cornering and downhills. You’ll get used to the skinnies in no time.
The good news: you don’t have to use them if you don’t want to. The other good news? They are actually easy to use and make your cycling much easier! A great article on clipless pedals and how to use them can be found here, but a few points to note:
- Clipless pedals are more efficient because they allow you to use a bigger variety of muscles within your pedal stroke. In other words, cycling becomes easier and your muscles aren’t subject to as much fatigue.
- Clipless pedals are safer than ‘cages’ (and again, more efficient!)
- Ask at your bike shop about loosening your pedals. There is a spring-tension system that when loosened, make clipping out much, much easier.
- Clip out one foot at a time!
- Practice first holding onto something (or on a trainer or spin bike) so that you get used to the motion of clipping out.
In a triathlon race, group riding is not permitted. However, chances are good that you’ll want to train with friends or ride in a club ride prior to race day. Riding in a close group (or ‘pack’ or ‘pelaton’ as it’s known in cycling circles) is a skill that takes some getting used to, but there are basic rules to make things safer and easier. First of all, try to choose a group that plans to ride at a pace that is comfortable for you. Then relax and don’t panic!
Before going on a group ride, practice ‘holding your line’. This basically means that you can ride in a straight line (or follow the curve of the road when applicable). Don’t brake too hard or suddenly – again this has to do with being relaxed and staying observant. Learn the lingo: riders in the group will shout out warnings to keep the group safe. A few to be aware of are ‘car back’ to let riders know that a car is approaching from behind, ‘walker (or car) up’ when something is approaching from the front, ‘line out’ to indicate that riders need to form a single line if they’ve been riding two abreast.
Most importantly, find out from the group your riding with what their policies are for a group ride (or chat with your friends before you go out on a ride together). What happens if someone gets dropped from the group? What type of formations do they ride in? For some easy to understand tips, check out these guidelines. It’s not nearly as daunting as it may seem, and riding with a group is an excellent way to get faster and have more fun!
Cycling can be the most fun part of your triathlon training (there are cake stops!) So forget your fears and get on your bike!
See you out on the roads!