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Race Day Guide For Your Best Triathlon Bike Set-Up

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A good bike set-up will help you get to the finish line on race day while looking smart at the same time. Normally I’m banging on about bike fit and bike tech, but today we’re going down a different path. Looking at how people choose to set up their fluids, nutrition and spares on their bikes during a recent walk through a transition area got me thinking – these are high-end race machines, not camels. Which begs the question, why do people persist in jamming about nine kilograms of gear on their beautiful seven- kilogram carbon masterpiece and when did electrical tape become the solution to attaching things to your bike?

What to attach to your bike

In this article, I’ve listed all the stuff you might want to attach to your machine on race day and I’ve tried to give you the advantages and disadvantages for each option. Most of this advice is slanted towards long course. For the short course folks, a water bottle will suffice. You can include a small flat tyre changing kit if you want but, let’s face it, if you flat in a sprint, your chance of a PB is over. However, you might as well change the tyre and finish the day as a training run.

Before you start putting stuff all over your bike, sit down, pour yourself a neat scotch and consider what the aid stations will provide that you don’t need to cater for. For many long-course races, the aid stations (situated every 20-to-30 kilometres) will have water, coke, some kind of sports drink, gels, cookies, bananas, snakes and possibly even quarter pounders (OK, no quarter pounders). So, if you have the chance to practise with the sponsor’s product and it goes down OK, then you can leave a lot of the catering to your friendly aid station. I understand that the truly serious Kona aspirant will not want to leave anything to chance and will likely pack their entire bike ride’s worth of nutrition, but for the middle of packer (or in my case the last of packer) you can rely on the stuff at the aid stations to get you through and just pack a minimal amount of your own stuff. Let’s face it, behind all the marketing, most of the gels and sports drinks are basically water, sugar and salt, so as long as you put some of that in the tank, you’ll be fine.

In an ideal world, we’d all pack a spare bike in our spares kit in case something mechanical goes wrong. In practice, about all we can cater for are a single flat tyre, a multi-tool (bars and seat posts can slip) and maybe a quick link if you are really paranoid (and I’m constantly really paranoid). But that’s about it. Even for a long-course race you have to draw the line somewhere on just how much spare crap you are going to take. Lastly, before you attach anything to your bike, fit the race number first. The reason for this is that there is usually only one place it can go, so it’s a case of fit the race number (usually stuck around the seat tube/post) and then go fit everything else around that. For the short folks – sorry, you just don’t have as much space to store stuff – either grow taller or deal with it.

So, now your race number is attached and you’re all excited, let’s review the options for where to put the rest of your stuff.

Fluids

You have three choices here: on the aero bars, bottle cages on the frame or hung off the back of the seat. I’ve listed a few considerations for each.

  • Try and keep your bottle requirements to two or less; nobody needs three but I’ve seen as many as five attached to one bike. Get a grip and make use of the aid stations – two or less.
  • Bottles attached to the aero bars will leak product all over the front of your bike, bar tape and Garmin; there is no solution to this. You can either use the vertical bottles (Profile Design/TorHans) and get poked in the eye with the straw or you can mount a conventional cage with zip ties (or use the outrageously priced XLab) and struggle with getting the bottle in and out every time you want a drink.
  • Bottles attached to the framework pretty well but the newer tri bike designs are generally going with only a single bidon point.
  • Bottles attached to the rear of your seat will eject from time to time. NASA could not solve this problem so try whatever combination of bottles and cages you like and then get used to spitting the odd bottle.

Food (gels and bars)

The bento box has been keeping triathletes fat since 1984, but it’s still one of the most practical and simple ways to pack that picnic lunch and your power bars.

  • Don’t forget your back pockets for food storage. If you want a bit of extra storage and also avoid the ‘hottie stripe’ sunburn across your back, then consider a cycling jersey instead of a tri top. You can put it on after the swim with food and spares already loaded into the pockets.
  • Cut the bars up into bite-size pieces. I find that I use more energy chewing those bars than I actually get from them…
  • Don’t stick your gels to your top tube, this went out with Frogskins and pink blazers. Granted, Frogskins have made a comeback, but leave the blazer and top tube taped gels back in the ’80s where they belong.
  • You can fit about five gels into a small gel flask, which is a great way to avoid having to tape them to your top tube. Just remember, if it’s a cold day, always store the gel flask upside down in your pocket or bento box otherwise you’ll be waiting several hours for the gel to drip out of the flask when you want to eat some. Also, remember to close the gel flask after each use.

Spares

You have a few options for where to store your spares. Some of the manufacturers (Specialized and Trek) are now making purpose-built spares containers that integrate with the bike frame. For everyone else, there is the good ol’ saddlebag, the stash bottle or electrical tape. If you’re on clinchers then you can fit the entire change kit and multi-tool in either a stash bottle or saddlebag.

  • Always use CO2 for inflation, always. Pumps have been banned by the UN under the ‘Not Cool’ convention that came into effect last decade.
  • If you’re on tubbies, make sure you get all the air out of your spare before you roll it up; it will compress much smaller this way.
  • Double-sided velcro is an acceptable alternative to electrical tape to store your tubbie under your saddle.
  • Your kit should include one tubbie or two inner tubes, one CO2 system and two cylinders, one tyre lever and one multi-tool. All this can be organised into a single bundle and hopefully, you never need any of it.

Other stuff

Other stuff includes stuff that those of us who like to think outside the box, or fall into the doomsday preppers category, like to pack. It’s not necessary but, much like my teddy bear, makes me feel secure.

  • The mother of all multi-tools. I pack the Multi9000 with chain breaker, torque wrench and cutting/facing options included. I could build an entire fleet of tri bikes with this sucker if I needed to. I’ve never used this tool in anger, but still.
  • Twenty dollars. It’s small, light and accepted everywhere. I might have deployed my $20 at Bakers Delight during a particularly arduous IM bike leg for a passionfruit and custard pull apart, or I might not have done this.
  • A bit of spare chamois lube under the tip of the saddle. For those unexpected chaffing incidents that just ‘pop up’ midway through the bike leg.
  • And lastly…get one of those really cool Garmin mounts that put the thing out in front of you. Yes, they now make them just for tri bars.

In summary – keep it neat, keep it minimal and use the aid stations.

Karl is a keen age group triathlete who races more than he trains. Good life balance! Karl works in the media industry in Australia and is passionate about the sport of triathlon.

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How to Stay safe, Warm and Motivated During the Winter Months

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It’s always important to think about your safety on the road and now that daylight savings has come to an end, it’s important to ‘light up’ your bike.

With winter fast approaching, your early morning and/or evening rides will be done in the dark or with very little daylight, so you need to get some lights on your bike. My motto is that you can’t overdo it, and so as a minimum, you should always have a front light and back light. I also clip a red flashing light to the back of my helmet to help vehicles see me.

Find yourself some bike lights

There is a vast array of lights to choose from so head down to your local bike shop and see what you can find. If you are riding in complete darkness, you will need a front light that transmits a strong beam of light well ahead of your bike. You don’t want to put yourself in danger by not being able to see very far in front of you, especially if you are riding at high speed. Your reaction time will be somewhat reduced by the darkness, so ensure you have a light that allows you to see well up the road. Some lights will have rechargeable batteries that require recharging after each ride. Other lights will be fitted with either AA or AAA batteries, depending on the size of your lights. As a helpful tip, it’s cheaper to buy batteries in bulk and this way, you will always have some on hand if a battery runs dry.

I like to get extra flashing lights and secure these to the front forks and rear chain to help vehicles from side streets see me. There are tiny frog lights that come with a rubber band and simply stretch around any part of your bike. I always leave two of these clipped to my bike, so if I get caught out at dusk, I have some lighting to help vehicles see me on the road.

Choose your clothing wisely

Not only do you want to train in warm, lightweight, sweat wicking lycra, but by choosing a brighter or lighter colour for your winter training, you will increase your chances of being easily seen on the road. Try not to train in dark plain colours as you will more easily blend into the black tarmac and be difficult to see. A lot of cycling clothing, such as wind vests, rain jackets and arm warmers, are made with reflective fabric or reflective taping, which are great for night-time rides.

Your local bike shop will have a good selection of clothing to help you dress properly for winter training. Remember that for cycling, it is better to wear layers of clothing. After your warm up, you can remove some external clothing to do your training session, without overheating. Most cycling jerseys have back pockets to carry excess clothing and food. If the weather changes or you are cooling down, it’s easy to rug up again and not get cold.

How to get motivated

The triathlon season is coming to a close and it’s time to think about your winter training. This is a good time to plan some new goals. Write down your goals and keep them somewhere visible so you can read them. Remember to set realistic goals – there is no point hoping to become an elite level world champion if you work a 40-hour week, have a mortgage, three kids and you can only train eight hours per week. Perhaps a more realistic goal is to progress from finishing in the top 30 to finishing in the top 20. Maybe you would like to improve your bike time from last season.

By setting goals, you will have given yourself a purpose for training. For many people, getting fit or losing weight is their primary goal. Sometimes it helps to add to this goal by setting yourself targets in each discipline of the triathlon over the winter. For example – measure out a five-kilometre run course and time yourself. See if you can improve on this time each month. As your time improves, you will realise you’re getting fitter and stronger.

Finding inspiration

People find inspiration in many forms. Some watch Tour de France videos and get so inspired they could run out and ride in rain, hail or snow, as they try to emulate their hero. Other athletes imagine the person they want to beat next season, and this inspires them to train hard in all weather conditions. The trick is to find something, a poster of your favourite athlete, uplifting music or something else, that motivates you to train during winter.

Whatever inspires you to train over winter, you will benefit from enjoyment and better health and fitness through exercise.

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How to Choose the Right Bike Based on Your Physicality and Avoid Injury

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Learn how to choose the right bike based on your physicality and avoid injury with these top tips.

The first step in preventing cycling injuries is to set your bike up correctly so as to minimise overloading any one part of your body. While awareness of proper setup has improved along with the explosion in popularity of cycling in recent years, poorly set up bikes are still a major cause of problems in both cyclists and triathletes. That these problems tend to occur in the lower back and legs means they can also severely impact training for the run and swim legs of a triathlon.

On top of fitting you for the correct size frame and components, a good cycling store should be able to provide you with a basic bike setup when purchasing a bike. Many physiotherapists also now specialise in this area. Correct setup of your bike produces a few key advantages:

  • The position and angle of your joints and muscles directly relate to the amount of power you can produce and the energy efficiency of your pedalling.
  • Efficient muscle and joint effort to produce a given amount of power output reduce overload on tissues.
  • Correct setup improves aerodynamics and minimises wind resistance, which accounts for the vast majority of energy loss in cycling.

If you haven’t had your bike set up correctly before, here are a few basic tips to start off:

  • Foot/cleat position: To position the foot correctly, simply place the ball of your foot directly over the pedal axle, or slightly behind the pedal axle for smaller feet.
  • Saddle position: Saddle position is divided into two key aspects: height, and front-back position. The tilt of the saddle should be kept within a few degrees of neutral.

A correct saddle position will maximise the use of the gluteals and calves and limit overload of the hamstrings. Depending on the type of riding (sprint or endurance), this will typically involve a very slight knee bend at the bottom of your pedal stroke, as well as some ‘pull-back’ on the bottom part of the down stroke. To attain this position, set your saddle height so that you can sit on the bike with the heel of your shoe resting on the pedal, your knee locked straight, and the crank arm perpendicular to the ground.

To determine the front-back position of your saddle, sit on the bike with pedals in the three and nine o’clock positions. Drawing a vertical line directly up through the pedal axle, the bump at the top of your shin (tibial tuberosity) should sit between zero and one centimetre behind this line.

Stem and handlebars: You should allow for a little variation with your stem and handlebar position. Set the stem height somewhere between two-to-five centimetres below the height of your saddle as a starting point. Generally, a higher handlebar and a longer stem will be more comfortable and reduce the chance of back pain but will be worse aerodynamically. Handlebars should be about the width of shoulders to maximise aerodynamics and the stabilising effect of your arms pulling on the bars.

Reach: The reach of your bike should be set so that your arms rest at 90 degrees to your torso. This minimises the effort required by the arms to support the weight of the body and improves the stabilising force of your arms and shoulders, improving the power of your pedal stroke.

While these guidelines should give you a good start in setting up your bike, there are some other things to think about that could steer you away from a ‘normal’ setup. All bodies are different, so for a more professional bike fit, consider some of the following when performing a setup:

  • Are you generally quite flexible? How stiff are your spine and neural structures? Although a forward position can be more aerodynamic, you may be better to start with a relatively upright position until you improve the flexibility of your spine.
  • Do you typically get tight in the hamstrings or calves when riding? If so, you may struggle with an elevated seat position.
  • Do you find that your neck, shoulders and back are sore from riding? If sore, you may have too much reach, or your seat may be too high.
  • How often and how far do you ride?

For a more in-depth bike fitting, it can be worth getting a video analysis to see if your setup allows you to maintain an ideal position and joint motion. Setup is critical to both injury management and performance, so I would always recommend doing a professional assessment if you’ve had an injury, if new to cycling, or if you’re looking for a slight competitive edge. Finally, remember that above all else your bike setup should be comfortable. Your body is an incredibly complex machine, and no amount of analysis should overtake the fact that your body doesn’t feel right in a particular position. Good luck and happy cycling.

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How to Master the Flying Mount for Faster Transitions

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Learning simple skills like how to properly mount and dismount your bike can save you precious seconds during the transition stage of your next triathlon.

For the advanced, the flying mount and flying dismount is a skill that can take years to master. This skill is perhaps best left to those who are experienced triathletes, but like with anything, practice really does make perfect, and it’s a skill you can develop if you’re committed.

The best way to practise this skill is on a soft surface. Any flat ground such as a grassed park should be your go-to area to start off. A soft surface is more forgiving should things go wrong. A soft surface will also give you more confidence when trying this skill out for the first time.

Preparation

Before attempting your first flying mount, you need to set your bike up as you would before a race. Clip in your bike shoes and position them at the three- and nine-o’clock positions. The next step is to use rubber bands to hold your bike shoes in this position as you run out of transition with your bike. I usually attach one rubber band from my shoe to my rear skewer and then the other from my opposite shoe to my front derailleur. These rubber bands will hold your shoes in place and then snap once you’re mounted and pedalling.

Step-by-step

Start by jogging with your bike, holding the saddle as if you were exiting T1 in a race.

Once you’re ready to mount, position both hands on the bars and one foot on the front shoe, then throw your rear leg over the saddle and land with your bottom on your seat.

This is hard to do the first time around, so start at a slow speed and walk through the steps. As your confidence grows, you’ll be able to increase your speed.

The more you practise this, the faster you will get and the more confident you will become. The big takeaway point is to always keep looking forward. It is easy to look down for too long and run into people in front you – particularly those less advanced competitors who have to stop to mount their bikes.

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Common Cycling Mistakes to Avoid on Race Day

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Smooth bike transitions are easier said than done. You’ve just had a great swim and a slick transition. You’ve reached the mount line, where you are finally able to mount your prized time trial bike only to have people sail past you in the first 500 metres. You are frantically trying to get your feet in your cycling shoes when another competitor whizzes straight past. If you’re not prepared pre-race, by this stage you may have unknowingly already committed a handful of costly errors. It all starts with preparation and knowing your ride.

Gear check

When you rack your bike, make sure that the bike is in a gear that is easy enough for you to get up to speed – quickly and with minimal effort. I even make sure that my cranks are perfectly positioned just as I like them. This requires that you be familiar with your bike’s gearing and your ability. In other words, practise some starts in a variety of gears and figure out what works best for you. The gear you select may even vary from course to course. Some bike legs are totally flat whereas others, such as the Portarlington course in the Victorian Gatorade Series, has a steep climb immediately after the mount line.

Shoe check

If you have opted to leave your shoes clipped into your pedals in transition and run barefoot prior to mounting, make sure that you have proper triathlon shoes. These generally only have a fastening system designed to be used on the fly. You will also need to ensure you have left your shoes wide open so as to slip your feet in as easily as possible.

Keep calm and composed

Yes, it is a race, but you don’t need to rush the process. Just as when you are in transition and putting your helmet on, if you rush, you are more likely to fumble. Your first priority is to get your bike moving at a steady speed so that you have good balance. Only then should you try to slip a shoe on. You have probably heard the saying we all get dressed one leg at a time’. That implies in T1, because you can only put one shoe on at a time! Most people will lose a lot of their initial speed when pulling on the first shoe, so keep pedalling. Get your speed back up again before attempting to pull on your second shoe. This whole process takes quite a bit of coordination. If you don’t practise it outside of a race environment, it’s probably not in your best interests to try it for the first time in race conditions. Depending on the course, you may even want to rethink leaving your shoes clipped in and opt to run with your cycling shoes on. I opted to do this at the Portarlington Gatorade Series race and it paid off big time! I may have been slightly slower running through transition, but I crossed the mount line, clipped in and got going up the hill. Many athletes, including experienced ones, crashed trying to get their shoes on. Those who didn’t crash couldn’t pull up on their pedals while climbing the hill as they didn’t have their shoes on yet. I was long gone.

Now you are shoed and cycling well, you’re finally catching some of those competitors who passed you at the start line and you’re approaching the first turnaround. As you exit the corner, you are putting in so much effort but again, your competition pulls away from you…

Conquering corners

Always change to an easier gear when approaching the corner. Don’t wait until you are in the corner to start thinking about changing – it’s too late. If you are in any doubt about how many gears to change, you are better off erring on the side of caution. Choose an easier gear that you think you need. The easier the gear, the less exertion it takes to get back up to speed.

Again, practice makes perfect. Triathletes should spend time in training practising all bike-handling skills, not just repeat time trial efforts. Athletes should be comfortable entering a corner, turning and exiting when surrounded by other people. Gear selection should be second nature and not something that requires any thinking during a race. There is only one way to achieve this level of familiarity with your bike and that is time in the saddle and trial and error. Include some bunch rides in your training as well as practising flying starts, cornering and accelerating out of corners.

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How to get more speed on your bike

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Learn how to be smart when you ride with these tips for improving your bike leg without breaking the bank.

From experience, I’ve learnt that a few seconds saved here and there can really add up to a big overall time saving and is often a simple matter of preparation and making smart choices. Here are his top tips:

Ride smart

Equipment plays a huge role in helping to lower your bike split on race day. However, the rider themselves is the biggest variable in the equation when it comes to how you choose to utilise your tools of the trade. Being that the vast majority of triathlon bike legs are an individual time trial, you need to consider that any huge spikes in power output are something that you want to avoid at all costs. These can easily happen when you are powering out of a corner or simply just trying to overtake someone in front of you. It has been proven countless times that the best and fastest way to ride is to be very consistent with your power output. Any big surges in power will take away from your ability to ride the best bike split you can as well as fatigue your legs for the upcoming run leg.

Clean drivetrain

A simple and yet very effective method of saving time during the cycle leg is to always race with a clean and properly lubricated drive train. I am often surprised to see many people at races with a dirty chain and cluster. It is also a proven fact that a clean and well-lubricated drive train can save you in the region of seven to nine watts in power output. With the release of ceramic speed bottom bracket bearings as well as ultra-fast chains, these are yet another step forward in drivetrain efficiency and time-saving gains. Many professional cycling teams invest significantly into their drive train components as they know there are marginal but proven performance gains to be made
in this area.

Leg Shaving

Specialized recently tested the ‘shaved and dangerous’ theory of whether shaving your legs really does give you ‘free time’ savings. Their testing in the wind tunnel showed some astonishing results. The team at Specialized discovered that just by shaving your legs versus not shaving your legs added up to a huge 82-second gain over 40 kilometres. If you still have doubts about shaving before you race, the big-time saving benefits should be enough to convince you.

Clean up your bike

Triathlon is unique in that you carry all of your mechanical spares and nutrition with you during the cycle leg. You need to be wary that with this comes the responsibility of safely storing these items while still keeping your bike as aero as possible. Ask yourself: why would you slow down your expensive bike with a bunch of $2 energy gels? By tucking away your spare tube and nutrition out of the wind you will make your bike as clean as possible to the wind and help it to slice through the air with precision just as it was designed to do. Again, the wind tunnel testing Specialized conducted proved that these changes could potentially add up to a 77-second time gain over a 40-kilometre time trial.

Tyres and pressure

Research studies have shown that a good-quality set of tyres inflated to the correct pressure can save a rider upwards of 20 watts of power output compared to tyres of less quality. Other studies have shown that a good-quality set of race-specific tyres can give you more of a time advantage than a set of carbon race wheels can. Because your tyres are the only part of your bike that will touch the road surface, it is important to consider your tyre options. Choose a tyre that is made just for racing (for example, the Specialized Turbo). You might have noticed that road bike tyres are now offering wider options of 24 to 26mm widths. It was first thought that narrow 19mm tyres would offer less contact area with the road thus being faster by producing a lower rolling resistance. However, more recent aerodynamic testing has shown that a wider tyre choice offers better airflow over the tyre and wheel, giving a small aerodynamic advantage versus a narrower tyre.

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How to Overcome Race Day Dilemmas

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There’s a lot that can go wrong in off-road triathlon and often, just getting yourself and your equipment to the start line is a challenge in and of itself. We like to say it’s not about the fastest in the swim, bike or run when it comes to off-road triathlon, but rather the athlete best prepared and able to deal with what’s thrown at them both leading into the event and during it. But then, it’s about the challenge; and what we love most is that someone always has a story to tell, and someone is always worse off than you. Here a few tips to get past curveballs.

What to do if you can’t ride a tricky section…

There’s no shame in walking. In fact, in most triathlons there’s often a point that no one can ride. We suggest carrying your bike cyclo-cross style over the shoulder or running while pushing your bike. Sometimes these options can be faster than trying to ride the section and getting stuck. Practise mounting and dismounting your bike at speed to save time and keep in a good rhythm.

What happens if you have a mechanical?

There are lots that can happen out there in triathlons, so it’s very important to be prepared. The most important thing to do is to ensure your bike has been well serviced. You should always carry a spare tube and pump and consider carrying a chain link and toolkit. You can keep these in a saddlebag beneath your seat. And ensure you know how to use the tools. So long as you can repair the problem, carry on as your race is not over.

What to do if you have a crash…

Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Have a quick check over your bike and continue as best you can. If it’s too bad to carry on, report it to the next competitor who will pass this on to the medical team. There are many points on an off-road triathlon course where medics will be situated and they will rescue you very quickly.

When it’s not your day, the question ‘should I quit?’ always comes into your head. Here are a few suggestions on how to get to the finish line.

  • Give yourself a new goal
  • Stay motivated by thinking about the stories you can tell when you reach the finish line
  • Talk to others and encourage fellow competitors. Despite your bad luck, you can still enjoy the experience
  • Pretend you are somewhere else. Imagine you are at your local trails on a training day
  • Accept the misfortune
  • Think about family, friends the sacrifice you have made and the support they have given you. Cross the finish line for them and they will be happy as long as you’re safe and well.

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