If you open any triathlon magazine, you’ll see pages of ads for aero gear promising dramatic speed gains on race day: bike frames, forks, race wheels, bottles, holders for said bottles, and much, much more. However, the most important component of aerodynamics isn’t the bike and all the stuff you hang on it—it’s you.
Triathlons are all about speed, endurance, and efficiency. Time management is super important and most triathletes do whatever it takes to save even a few seconds off their time. Apart from good time management such as super swift transitions, triathletes need to make the most out of their tri gear. When you buy a tri bike from a shop, you should get a basic fit to make sure you’ve got the right size frame, that you’re comfortable, and it’s safe to ride. Once you’ve started to get familiar with your bike, it’s time to look into your position in a little more detail. And this is where a professional bike fit can come in handy.
Unlike with most road bikes, tri bikes only require a few minor adjustments to dial down your exact position on the bike. So you won’t have to worry about changing components on the bike as long as you’re on the right size frame. With a time trial bike, it’s often a compromise between comfort, power production, and aerodynamics. So, if you’ve invested in a new triathlon bike, you want to make the most of those aerodynamic features and working on your position is vital. Several small tweaks can end up making a significant difference. There are many tools and software that can be used by bike fitters, but they still require an expert eye that can interpret them, but also listen to your individual needs.
Sizing a tri bike is not as complicated as suggested by some. However, sizing takes a slightly different trained eye than road bike sizing. Fitting a triathlon bike comes down to the contact points between the cyclist and the bicycle. These FIVE contact points:-
- Forearm pads
- Aero bar extensions
- Base bar
The location of your feet, pelvis, forearms, and hands dramatically impact comfort and efficiency on the bicycle. Several pieces of equipment on a bicycle are adjusted to find your ideal position on your bike:
Setting up an aerodynamic position is a little bit like balancing a set of scales. The further forwards you go, the less power you’ll be able to output, but the more time and more effort you’ll save because your position is more aerodynamic. It’s different for every person and there’s a point on the bike beyond which you are losing more than you are gaining. This is why it’s important to have your bike fit done by an experienced bike shop.
Like on most bikes – even more so in the sport of triathlon, comfort starts with the saddle. The proper pairing of you and your saddle will allow the right amount of skeletal support, and soft tissue clearance, while also allowing the appropriate amount of pelvic rotation. With these established, you are able to relax your core and skeletally support yourself on the pads and extensions, and achieve an aerodynamic position that is sustainable for longer.
Being comfortable on your bike does not mean upright, or non-aggressive, so it’s important that you get that notion out of your head right away. The more comfortable you are in your aero position, the longer you can stay there. Ideally, you can maintain that position for the duration of your chosen event, regardless of whether it is a sprint or a full distance Ironman. Sitting upright with your hands on the base bar to shake off stiff or cramping triceps or lower back for a couple of minutes can cost you more time than all of the super expensive time-saving aero goodies that you have assembled on your bike.
An often overlooked but very crucial aspect of a tri bike fit is allowing your hips to open out and getting your knee over the top of the foot so you’re pushing down rather than forwards – a motion similar to running. It’s also to make sure that those joints and muscles don’t overwork themselves on the bike and are still functioning by the time the running leg starts.
COMMON BIKE FIT MISTAKES
- Riding with knees flared out. Keep them close to the top tube. If you can’t, something is wrong with your setup—probably cleat position and/or a footbed tilt.
- Loose clothing of any kind is harming your timing. Anything else that flaps forms a rough surface and scoops open in the wind—this is bad. This is why time trial cyclists wear skinsuits and shoe covers. Triathletes can’t be as smooth, but it pays to eliminate anything that obviously drags. Aero helmets also help out a lot here.
- A common problem we see often with bad cleat alignment is when the toe-in/toe-out is not setup correctly causing additional stress to the knees.
Regardless of your fitness levels or triathlon goals, you can benefit from evaluating their position and set up on their bikes. Hopefully, some of the previous tips have given you some guidance and insight as to where you can improve on your position on the bike.
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WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CYCLING
I’m an avid mountain biker and I like riding fast and flowy singletrack. As I keep riding, I continuously work on honing my riding skills. I like to ride whenever possible, especially with friends. I also like to influence folk into getting to ride more often.
Working on bicycles has also been a keen interest of mine for quite some time.
DISCIPLINE: Mountain biking and Road biking
CURRENT BIKE: Merida One Twenty 9.600 & Specialized Allez Elite DSW
DREAM BIKE: Santa Cruz 5010