Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Triathlon 101: The Bike

I am excited to be coaching another Triathlon 101 training group at Fleet Feet Spokane.  Since we only have 8 weeks to assimilate a lot of information I'm going to post each class on my blog so we can refer to it if we need to.  The bike is my strongest leg and favorite to talk about so let's start there.

A Dozen Bike Tips for New Triathletes

  1. Maintain your bike.  Yup the one you have now.  As long as your bike has two brakes and is not a "fixie" it will get you through your first tri (those are USAT rules for bikes).  A bike that has filled tires and shifts easily because it is clean, lubed, and tuned will make riding easier and more pleasant.  Once a season have your bike tuned.  I recommend Velofix because I don't have time to be without my bike.
  2. Make sure your bike fits you.  You will probably hurt in some sensitive areas for the first few weeks but that goes away (I promise, don't give up).  Avoid the big squishy, wide, heavy "comfort" saddles and saddle covers.  Its better to allow time to help tone you muscles, and ligaments than to prolong your adaptation to riding.  Neck, shoulders, and back are other areas that a bike fit can help make more comfortable.  
  3. Maintain good form on the bike.  Even the best fit in the world won't help if your shoulders bunch up, back sags and hands are white knuckling the bars. Relax, engage your core, and drop your shoulders.
  4. Learn to shift.  Practice moving from the big chain ring in the front to the small one and back again (while under tension).  Learn when to shift the rear derailleur to maximize your power output to create the most efficient effort.  This is especially important on hills.  You will probably drop your chain a few times practicing this but better in training than during a race.  It may still happen in a race (says the girl who dropped her chain during her first Ironman. And century ride.  Always on an up hill).  Learn how to put it back on quickly and how to avoid dropping it at all.  If it falls off all the time have someone adjust your limiter screws and put a guard on.
  5. Learn how to brake properly.  This will give you confidence in technical situations and on descents.  Squeeze evenly with both hands and learn to "feather" gently rather than abruptly.
  6. Practice pedaling smoothly to use your power to your best benefit.  Push through the front half of the circle you are making with each foot, scrape your foot across the bottom of each stroke, and pull/lift it through the back half of the circle.  Do this even on each side with a cadence between 80-105.  90 is considered ideal in terms of reducing leg fatigue and setting you up well for the run.  Also: clip in.  you can do it.  You will fall. Everyone does. You will not be able to pedal effectively on flat pedals and your quads will hurt on the run.  
  7. Practice changing a flat.  On the back wheel too.  Be confident that you can do this, carry the right tools, and then stay out of the debris so you can avoid getting one.
  8. Look ahead of you and choose a line to follow.  Be careful not to stare at that rock, tree, post, curb, etc that is ahead of you as this makes you more likely to run right into what you are looking at..Be alert to moving obstacles such as pedestrians and vehicles and always make eye contact with vehicles turning right.  They often forget that you are there and turn without looking.  
  9. Love the hills.  Think of them as strength training you do on your bike.  Choose hilly routes often and figure out what works best for you to climb them.  Get familiar with when and how to shift and practice it.  Judicial use of a standing position can help stretch your legs but it also raises your effort level and takes you out of your endurance friendly heart rate zone.  Most people find that shifting to an easy gear, sitting tall for maximum aerobic capacity and spinning with smooth, even pedal strokes works the best.
  10. Ride with others and become familiar with the movements that other riders are likely to make. Learn the rules and etiquette for passing, following and signalling to other riders and motorists.  Be sure to practice reaching for your bottles and staying hydrated and alert.  Riding with experienced, stronger, faster cyclists will eventually make you faster so don't be discouraged if initially you get dropped (do know your route).  That said, don't make all your rides social rides, sometimes you've got specific work to do.
  11. Train in the shorts and other gear you plan to wear on race day.  Tri shorts with their thinner, quick drying chamois (pads) are much more comfy for triathlon that big, squishy, gel filled shorts.  Make sure they fit and that you don't react to any of the fibers or construction techniques.  Also use Chamois Butter, Body Glide, Ruby's Lube or similar to protect your sensitive parts.  For tops make sure you have adequate support (from a great fitting sports bra-we fit those at Fleet Feet) and sun protection.  Some people bike without socks.  If you want to try this make sure its far enough ahead of your race for blisters to heal.  Always wear an approved helmet.  Train with gloves as well.  Your palms will thank you if you fall.
  12. Lastly be confident and relax.  Learn the rules of the road and the rules of triathlon so that you can stay aware and  take responsibility for your safety.  You belong out there on your bike.  Have fun and enjoy being a cyclist.

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