(Previously in this series: swimming gear)
Cycling is the most gear-heavy discipline in triathlon with a dizzying array of choices. Where do you start?
Most people “test the waters” by doing their first triathlon on a borrowed bicycle. 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.
There’s More Than One Kind of Bicycle
There are four main types of bicycle used in triathlons: road, triathlon, mountain, and hybrid. While the mountain and hybrid types with knobby thick tires and suspension systems are commonly used in trail/off-road triathlons, most triathlons are held on paved roads suited for road or triathlon bikes with relatively lightweight frames and skinny tires.
Tri bike (the one with the front-pointing aerobars and skinny base bar) or road bike (with the drop bars that look like ram horns)?
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.
It’s the same thought process with wheels. Many starter bicycles come with wheels with shallow aluminum rims (commonly called training rims). These are quite versatile – Chrissie Wellington won Kona using these kinds of rims! However, that probably has more to do with Chrissie being an aerobic freak of nature; most of us can derive advantage from rims made of lighter materials like carbon and a deeper more aerodynamic profile. To start with though, aero rims are not absolutely necessary.
Pedals, Saddles, Tyres and Other Accessories
To start with, your bike can have flat pedals which you can use when wearing running shoes. If you’re growing to love cycling and have improved your bike handling skills, you can start looking into whether cycling shoes, cleats, and clip-on pedals are right for you. Cycling shoes have stiff soles which help with power transfer, while being clipped in with cleats means you’re able to both push down and pull up which make for a more efficient pedal stroke.
Which saddle you choose to go with depends on your anatomy, and is a decision you should make when you are properly fitted for your bike. But no matter what saddle you choose, it is not supposed to hurt! Read our article about how to choose a bike saddle.
Other basic accessories include a speedometer (or any way to track your speed and distance), flat tyre kit, and drink bidon. The most important of these is the flat tyre kit, as well as knowing how to change a tyre – your friendly neighborhood cycling shop mechanic can show you how, or ask a triathlon mentor. This is a necessary skill because most of your training rides will be self-supporting and you may not always have a companion to help change a tyre for you.
Most beginner bikes will have clincher-type tyres on their wheels. This means you have the exterior tyre covering an inner tube. Changing a flat clincher tyre usually means changing out the inner tube, so your kit should have a spare tube or two, tyre levers, and a hand pump or a CO2 canister and inflator.
Next in this series: running gear!