Beginner Tri Tips: Cycling

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In the sport of triathlon you spend a lot of time on the bike compared to the swim and run, so it’s imperative that you’re able to enjoy that time.

Cycling is also one of the more gear-intensive disciplines in the sport of triathlon, but it doesn’t have to be very expensive or intimidating to get into.

Since buying a bicycle can be a bit of an investment, most people “test the waters” by doing their first triathlon on a borrowed bike. If you go this way, borrow a bike from someone who’s approximately the same height and frame as you. Your first race experience will be much better and will encourage you to stay in the sport if you’re able to ride comfortably.

As you grow in experience and commitment to the sport, you will want your own bike with your preferred saddle, pedals, wheels, and more.

Essential Gear

Tri bike or road bike? If you could only have one, which one is best depends on how you cycle. If you are frequently training indoors, ride solo outdoors and only race non-drafting triathlons, you can opt for a tri bike. Otherwise, a road bike is more versatile, allowing you to join group rides and fondos, and take advantage of better handling on drop bars and hoods to cycle more technical courses.

Get a good bike fit. This is something I learned later in my career because I figured being a professional triathlete and putting in lots of miles, your butt was supposed to hurt.

But then I spent some time with one of my sponsors and they explained to me there’s many different types of saddles and many types of sit positions, and there’s a saddle out there that’s for you. Just because your friend has a saddle they think is the greatest saddle in the world does not necessarily mean that saddle is great for you.

Spend your time with a good bike fitter: someone who can really look at and adjust your position on the bike, and then recommend the correct saddle for you so you can log those much-needed miles pain-free.

Never ride without a helmet!

As you go along, you’ll collect cycling kit such as bib shorts and jerseys but soon find you have a favorite set to ride in. The best ones have high quality padding in the seat area so you can spend all day in the saddle comfortably.

Build Your Skills and Strength

Many people will have some experience riding a bicycle as a child, although it’s not very uncommon for a grown adult to be learning to ride a bike for the first time. If this is you, bike shops and tri clubs regularly hold workshops to help people learn to ride a bike as well as equip them with the proper etiquette and skills to ride safely on open roads.

Indoor training builds fitness. I do a fair bit of indoor bike work. There’s a lot of benefits around structured training on an indoor trainer. The indoor trainer is a tool, but I wouldn’t encourage an athlete to do all their work on an indoor trainer unless they had to. Of course in the winters, you have to, a lot.

If you are riding indoors, be specific in the workloads — a lot of the things that need tidying up like pedaling issues, strength issues, position issues.

Get out on the road. I think there’s nothing like getting out on the roads. You learn skills, it’s a completely different feel how you move your bike around, you understand more how your body reacts with wind resistance, and you build your bike handling skills.

(Personal preference, I’d rather go ride in the rain or the kind of heat we had in Phuket than in the cold.)

Cycling is a very enjoyable activity, so I have no worries that when you get started on this journey you’ll find it as addictive as I have whether done by itself or as part of a triathlon.

Chris “Macca” McCormack is a four-time triathlon world champion with the biggest winning percentage in the history of the sport. He is a co-founder and partner in Super League Triathlon, CEO of the Bahrain Victorious 13 team, board member of the Pho3nix Foundation, and CEO of MANA Sports & Entertainment Group.


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From kids triathlons and workshops to teen sports camps and assistance for aspiring Olympians, Pho3nix projects create a pathway from participation to professionalism. Pho3nix Club memberships and donations support every step on that pathway.