Jené Shaw— The simple act of pedaling a bike is easy enough to pick up even after years away (“just like riding a bike,” right?). The difficulty comes in turning your leisurely riding into a race effort. In order to improve, you need to shift your mind-set from laid-back, easy riding to training with intention. Follow these guidelines to get ready for the bike leg of your first race.
Ride More Frequently
Time in the saddle is the first step to building your fitness. If you’re only riding one day a week for an hour right now, make that twice a week for the next couple of weeks and work up to three times per week. From there you can make your individual rides longer and/or add some higher-effort intervals.
Vary Your Level of Intensity
Coach Scott Fliegelman, owner of FastForward Sports in Boulder, Colo., says the switch from just riding to “training” is as simple as varying your intensity. Ride faster and harder for short periods of time, and you’ll begin to elicit adaptations that will ultimately make you stronger. “One of the easiest ways to do this unscientifically is to head for the hills on your next ride,” Fliegelman says. “The varied terrain will likely produce the desired effort changes without the need for fancy tools, which may be added down the road if desired.” Add in some short, fast intervals (such as 5×2 minutes hard with 2 minutes recovery) and follow your rides with a quick run directly off the bike, so that you have a top gear come race day.
Develop Your Technique
In addition to building fitness, developing technique is really important for racing triathlon, says Ivan O’Gorman, the lead instructor for Retül bike fitting and a multiple Kona finisher. “Good handling is essential—cornering, descending and passing with confidence will all add up to valuable time savings,” O’Gorman says. The best way to improve your technique is to ride with more experienced riders so you can watch how they shift, descend and navigate corners. If possible, find a triathlon club with a group catered to beginners (check Usatriathlon.org for listings), or a patient friend who is willing to show you the ropes.
First Race Bike: Buy or Borrow?
Signed up for a race but not quite sure about the bike investment yet? “If buying a new bike a few months before the race will help get you out there riding more frequently, then definitely buy one,” Fliegelman says. “Otherwise, borrowing or renting one will work just fine for your first race.”
Once you’re itching to sign up for another race, consider making your first bike purchase. A road bike is a safe and smart place to start. Compared to a triathlon bike, they’re easier to maneuver and descend on, which also allows you to ride with groups more easily. Plus, a few years down the line if you decide you want a triathlon bike, you’ll always have your road bike to mix in for workouts.
Avoid These Newbie Mistakes
“Mashing” or riding with a low cadence— Cadence is the number of revolutions per minute (RPM) you make, and when you’re in a gear that’s too big, you’re wasting precious energy. Do a quick cadence check when you’re on a flat road by counting how many times your right knee comes up in 30 seconds. Multiply that by two. Aim for 85–95 RPM, regardless of terrain. (A simple cycling computer can help.)
Wearing any of the things on this list— Underwear under cycling shorts, a visor on your helmet, knee-high compression during a casual group ride, shorts with a worn-out backside, a jersey that exposes your midriff, or sunglasses not intended for athletic use.
Riding without a flat kit— Or not knowing how to fix one! Take a flat-changing clinic at a local shop or fire up YouTube to practice. Although it may take a few times to master, you’ll be thankful when you never have to phone a friend or pay for an expensive cab ride home.
Looking for a triathlon to sign up for this year? Check out our partner, the TriRock Series. Their seven events feature a fun atmosphere for triathletes of all levels.