Triathlon biking is not your typical ride. From endurance rides to all out sprints, this race segment is not one to be underestimated. Those new to the sport will want to pay particular attention to understanding equipment, proper equipment fit, and technique.

Cycling 101: A Beginners Guide

If you’re new to triathlon, this is the place to find guidance on the cycling portion of our sport!


You need to be comfortably fitted on your bicycle. Road bikes, triathlon bikes and mountain bikes are all options.


When riding on the roads or pathways, know the rules of the road and always wear a helmet.



Getting to know “your” bicycle is critical - so ride the bike on which you’ll be racing as often as possible.


A spin class will work well if you are in the process of obtaining a bike - no excuses.

Gear: Top Questions


Make it a habit.


Every time you throw your leg over the top tube of that bike you must have a CPSC certified helmet on and buckled. No exceptions.

USAT officials have disqualified athletes the day before and the day after races when they’ve witnessed athletes riding their bike sans helmet.

You can participate in a triathlon on almost any type of bike as long as it has brakes and is in good, safe working order. Many on-road triathlons even have mountain bike divisions so that those who only own mountain bikes can compete on a more level playing field.

If you’re doing a little triathlon for fun and are pretty sure that you’ll fall into the one-n-done category then buy a bike that’s right for the rest of your life and not one that’s perfect for triathlon. This might be a beach cruiser, hybrid, mountain bike, road bike - something that will get you through your one and only tri but will be perfect for the rest of your needs.

If you’re just wading into triathlon and want logical progress into the sport then you should get a road bike. This is a machine that will allow you to train and race in all sorts of situations and can be altered (clip on aerobars for example) as you roll out your challenges through the years.

If you are “all in” and want a dedicated triathlon bike then your first step needs to be a “pre-fit” from a reputable bike fitter who understands the triathlon position and can provide you with stack and reach measurements and makes, models and sizes of bikes that are right for you. The proper triathlon position is rather specific and doesn’t allow for a lot of moving, stretching during the race.

It’s important that the bike you buy really, truly fits your body.

The fit of your bike is crucial – an improperly fit bike leads to injuries. Seek out a fit professional to ensure a proper fit.

Some of us are super coordinated and confident, and some of us are a wee bit klutzy and hesitant.

Unlike other athletic shoes, cycling shoes have stiff soles. Stiff soles serve the dual purpose of protecting the bottom of the cyclist’s foot from the pressure of the pedal and distributing force to the pedal. A softer shoe will result in lost energy
and a sore foot!

Cycling or triathlon shoes with rigid soles and one or two velcro straps go hand in hand with and a “clipless” pedal system.

Your first time using clipless pedals should be with a professional. They can do a safe cleat installation, loosen tension on the pedal springs, teach you how to get in and out starting on a trainer, then guiding you in a safe, open space.

If you’re reluctant to go that direction right off the bat then know that it’s okay to train and race short triathlons with a running shoe on a platform pedal.

Do not go half way and use a toe-clip. Toe-clip pedals have more complications than a clipless system and should be avoided.

If you really want a modest step towards a performance pedal system then get a mountain bike shoe (easy to walk in) with three velcro straps and any mountain bike pedal (easy to access).

A small tool bag attached to your bike should include the following: tire levers, spare tube, a patch kit, money, and emergency information.

Buy either a pump or C02 system - and keep it with you.

Fitness and Wellness: Top Questions


Cycling is relatively safe for the body so training volume can increase week to week faster than running or swimming.

Frequency is still more valuable than duration and intensity but be sure to train all aspects of fitness: long easy rides to help aerobic fitness, hilly rides to improve muscle endurance, rides with short/sharp intervals and steady state, moderately intense rides that expand your top end.

Riding with a group is nice if the pace of the group matches the training stress you need for that ride. Riding alone has value since the majority of triathlon is an individual effort on the bike.


The majority of triathlon bike courses are rather straight and rather flat. Yet it still only takes one turn or a bit of topography to cause a problem.

Your goal should be to master all aspects of cycling:

  • BRAKING requires the use of the rear brake and the front brake at the same time and never skidding.
  • TURNING a bicycle at slow speed requires steering; at high speed, leaning and counter steering.
  • SHIFTING a bike properly means “soft-pedaling” briefly while the chain moves from cog to cog on the rear dérailleur and soft-pedaling slightly longer to get a quick, clean shift from chain ring to chain ring using the front derailleur.


Race day cadence might be best somewhere between 80-95rpm and different training demands can mean segments as low as 50rpm or as high as 120rpm.

Riding in a group demands that you ride predictably and communicate hazards in the road or changes in pace/direction.

Riding on the road means obeying the laws just like you're driving a car and working with drivers, not against them.

Riding on a trainer can be both good (uninterrupted, safety of home, undistracted focus on pace and pedaling, pre-dawn or eve, etc.) and bad (no skill work on braking, turning, balancing, etc).

Riding on the road is great and routes can be selected that offer bike paths, bike lanes, wide shoulders, low traffic times, etc. There are some great web sites that help with this so seek out bike routes in your area; ones that provide safety and accurate training ground.

Basic Logic: Getting hurt is the worst thing that can happen to you and your training.

  • Every workout must begin with a low-intensity warm-up.
  • During the workout, if something hurts, STOP.
  • Every workout must conclude with a cool-down segment.


Build fitness slowly and invest a few minutes at the beginning of every workout with a complete warm up and end of every workout with a cool down and stretch to reduce the risk of injury.

The body can, and will, adapt to athletic efforts if they begin at an appropriate level and progress upward slowly. Rushing into hard efforts, long efforts, hills, sprints or any highly stressful activity will increase the risk of injury greatly. Start slowly and build slowly; maximize your aerobic fitness and minimize the risk of injury. This gradual progression will allow for joints to adapt, connective tissue to thicken and muscles to strengthen.

Basic Logic: Being well hydrated will only help your training, your racing and your recovery, while being dehydrated will do nothing but hinder you.

Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink - keep it coming in at a steady rate. Find separate categories in your mind; one for water and one for sports drinks. These are two different, but important, things. In training, and on race day, you will need to consume both to satisfy your body’s needs for hydration.

Clean, cool water is the very best thing that a triathlete can drink. And you’ll need plenty before, during, and after workouts and races. A 150 pound adult can lose a half gallon of water a day just living, and a triathlete in training can lose up to two gallons.

Drink some water up to 20 minutes prior to swimming, and plenty after. Keep at least two water bottles on your bike, and drink 4-8oz every 15 minutes. During runs exceeding an hour, carry a bottle or know the water sources on your route.

Electrolyte replacement drinks such as Revenge, Gatorade, etc. help restore essential minerals like sodium, potassium and others. Some sports drinks contain too much sugar, and this can draw water away from the working muscles and back to the digestive system to help break down the sugar. The salt content in sports drinks is an essential part of hydration.

Basic Logic: Food is fuel for an athlete’s body. Make sure you give it something it can really use, something you know and like!

The first step in approaching a nutrition program for a triathlete in training is to look at how you might eat on race day (and every day of training):

  • Rise early and eat early so that your stomach will settle before your start.
  • Keep some calories coming in during the event to keep your energy up.
  • Eat well after the race to replenish all lost nutrients, restore muscle glycogen and to help restore broken down muscle tissue.


A good physical effort starts with a good meal the night before. Dinners should have a nice mix of the macro nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, fat. Avoid foods that can affect your sleep and irritate your GI.

When you wake up in the morning, you should always eat. Think of a night of sleep as a mini fast; you need to be topped off before the morning’s effort.

It is recommended to take in calories as you train over periods of one hour or more. At 2 hours or more, you’ll jeopardize your goal unless you take in calories.

Basic Logic: Frequent, high quality workouts can be obtained as long as recovery is maximized. Recovery can and should include hydration, nutrition, stretching, massage (even self massage), REM sleep, icing and an oxygen-rich environment.

Training for a long distance endurance event requires an athlete to perform long, intense efforts and it requires them to perform them day after day. Recovery starts before the workout ends. Never let yourself run out of energy during a workout. Learn to take in some easily digestible carbohydrates early and often during long workouts (more than 60-75 minutes).

Eating after a workout is possibly the most critical nutritional consideration for an athlete. For the best recovery, it’s important that you eat a high glycemic food “in the window”, which is within 30 minutes of completing a workout. After the window - say, 30 to 60 minutes after the workout - it’s nice to eat a lower glycemic food along with a complete protein.

Stretching and massage can speed recovery. If massage therapy is not available after every workout (and let’s be honest, that’s a dream), then you can help speed recovery by simply massaging muscles with skin lotion or even in the shower with soap. You can rub the tissue back and forth and with long strokes toward the heart. There is really no “wrong” way to do it.

All elements of this regimen (plus rehydration) will get the body built back up and ready for the next effort.

Ready to Ride? Bike Workouts for Newbies


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