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Triathlon Bike Training When You Can’t Ride Outside

Triathlon Bike Training When You Can’t Ride Outside

How does training for the bike leg of triathlon occur when you can’t ride outside? There are more opportunities than you might imagine.

It’s Getting Cold Outside

I woke this morning to an outside temperature of 11°F (-12°C) and new snow. On top of this, the fitness centers are closed because of COVID-19 restrictions.

I don’t have, nor do I intend to purchase, a fat tire bike for riding in the snow.

Fat tire bikes with studded tires are preferred for a winter triathlon.

So, how can I maintain fitness for the bike leg of triathlons in which I hope to compete next spring?

There are plenty of options. While these may not be as good as going to a warm climate where I can ride outside, they still take away any excuses.

In this post, I will highlight the training I intend to use over the next several months to prepare for my next races.

Bike Trainer

The most common way of developing bike fitness without riding outside is to use a trainer. In most cases, you connect your road bike or triathlon bike to one of many styles of trainer.

One benefit of using a trainer is that you develop and maintain a familiarity with the bike you will use for your next triathlon.

Trek SpeedConcept triathlon bike connected to a Saris CycleOps Fluid2 trainer for bike training when I can't ride on roads or trails.
Trek SpeedConcept on a Saris CycleOps Fluid2 trainer.

When the fitness centers re-open, I will also use their stationary bikes both for individual sessions and classes. I prefer the latter.

My trainer session, usually one hour, is divided into a few periods. Each segment is designed to work on a different goal. Breaking up the session also helps to prevent boredom. (Trainer sessions are also a great time to catchup on one of my favorite podcasts.)

A common one hour trainer session involves:

  • Warm up – 10 minutes at a moderate pace, 80-90 rpm cadence.
  • Single leg drill – 5 repetitions of 1 minute per leg at 80-90 rpm cadence – 10 minutes total. (NOTE: This may not be advisable for some trainers, but is for the Saris CycleOps Fluid2.)
  • Intervals – 5 repetitions of 4 minutes in the highest gear in which I can maintain 60 rpm cadence followed by 2 minutes easy at 80-90 rpm cadence – 30 minutes total.
  • Cool down – 10 minutes at moderate pace, 80-90 rpm cadence.

You can find many workouts to match your current fitness level and specific goals on-line or in books like “The Big Book of Bicycling” by Emily Furia and the Editors of Bicycling.


  • Safer than riding in traffic or in the aero position on winding trails shared with pedestrians, especially in the winter but really any time of the year.
  • Efficient – A rule of thumb is that one hour on a trainer represents two hours riding on the road because you aren’t (or shouldn’t be) coasting on the trainer.
  • Some training, such as single leg drills, are best done on a trainer.
  • Accessible within your house or apartment.


  • Static trainers don’t help to develop stability and coordination or bike handling skills.
  • Can be terribly boring. Some call these sessions the ‘purgatory’ of bike training.

Strength and Endurance Exercises

Strength training throughout the year should be a regular part of a triathlete’s training. I recommend Mark Allen’s program, especially if your fitness center is open.

However, if it isn’t or you want to give extra attention to strength training for the bike leg, look at the TrainingPeaks routine.

Except for the row, the exercises that involve weights can be done with homemade alternatives such as a weighted backpack (kettlebell) and plastic jugs filled with water (8 pounds per gallon/1 kilogram per liter) or other materials (beans, sand, coins) depending on the desired weight.


  • Allows you to focus on strengthening the weakest areas for the greatest improvement.
  • Can be done from the convenience of home or at a fitness center.


  • The only disadvantage of which I am aware is that doing exercises without the benefit of a coach or training partner can lead to less than optimal results because of poor form.

Cross-Country Skiing

cross-country skiing is effective cross training for cycling
Cross-country skiing is a great way to cross train for cycling while enjoying fresh air and sun. It also helps prepare for a winter triathlon involving running, biking, and skiing.

In the northern USA state where I live, Nordic skiing, or cross-country skiing, and ice skating are popular winter sports. I enjoy both skiing and skating, though have not skied for over 20 years.

Nearly every county park in our area has groomed cross-country ski trails. Larger parks also rent ski equipment (skis, boots, and poles) and offer group and personalized instruction.

Cross-country skiing produces endurance and strength for both the large muscles and the smaller muscles that support the larger muscles. Brett Sutton, coach of world champion triathletes, calls cross-country skiing “the hardest overall body workout out there”.

Downhill skiing is also good for building lower body and core muscle strength and for improving balance and coordination. However, downhill skiing does not yield the endurance benefits of cross-country skiing. Also, it much less accessible and more expensive than cross-country skiing.

“Nordic skiing, or cross-country skiing, is also great cross training for cycling. While downhill skiing brings more strength gains than endurance, Nordic skiing brings more endurance gains along with the added development of supporting muscles.”


Classical vs. Skate Skiing

Today, there are two types of cross-country skiing – classical and skate-skiing.

Classical cross-country skiing involves a kick and glide motion. Skis remain parallel to each other, unless ‘snow plowing’. The classical cross-country ski courses are characterized by the parallel ruts in which the skis glide.

Cross-country skiing can also be done on fresh snow, that is, without a groomed trail. Most snow covered walking or bike paths are a candidate for classical skiing.

In contrast, the side-to-side motion in skate-skiing is like that of ice skating. Therefore, it uses muscles even more similar to those for pedaling.

One disadvantage of skate-skiing is that it requires a groomed trail. This makes it less flexible in where it can be done. Skate-skiing is also more difficult because it requires greater balance and coordination. However, it is faster than classical skiing.


  • Provides both endurance and strength benefits.
  • Accessible – classical cross-country skiing can be done at your nearest park, golf course, or snow-covered lake. (Be sure the golf course is open for skiing and the ice on the lake is thick enough.)
  • Relatively inexpensive, especially compared to downhill skiing.
  • Gets you outside, into the fresh air and, hopefully, the sun. Think Vitamin D.


  • While cross-country skiing uses many of the same muscle groups as cycling, you may put more strain on certain muscles and tendons than when biking. To avoid injury, start slow and increase distance gradually.
  • A beginning skier is likely to fall. Expect it and try to relax as you fall to avoid significant injury.


From the reading I did in preparing this post, I have taken the first steps in scheduling cross-country ski lessons at a nearby county park. I am hoping to learn to skate-ski.

Ice Skating

Most cities in the northern climates, large or small, have an outdoor ice skating rink. Elsewhere, given the popularity of ice hockey, many of the more populated areas in the USA and Canada have indoor ice arenas.

Ice skating, like skate-skiing, is great for working smaller muscles that are often overlooked but valuable for biking performance. It is also great for improving balance, flexibility, and coordination.

Ice skating is an effective way to strengthen small muscles often overlooked in strength training yet important for cycling performance.


  • Great for strengthening leg and abdominal muscles. Skating is also reported to increase the flexibility of more joints than cycling and running by strengthening ligaments and connective tissue around these.
  • Low impact, unless you jump or spin (or fall often).
  • Relatively inexpensive, often free (after purchasing or renting skates) if you live in a climate where outside temperatures are consistently below freezing. Even small towns typically have an outdoor ice skating rink open to the public.
  • Gets you outside, into the fresh air.


  • Ice skating requires good ankle strength (which you probably have as a runner). However, you may put more strain on some muscles and tendons of the feet and ankles than when biking. As with any new sport, start slowly and increase gradually.
  • Expect to fall, especially as you begin. At least that’s my experience. However, since I am usually bundled up for the cold, I have seldom been injured and then only with a bump or bruise to my ego.

No Excuses!

None of us has an excuse related to weather for not continuing to train for the bike leg of a triathlon throughout the winter. Even if I stay in the north part of the USA, there are plenty of opportunities inside and outside my house.

Some may actually be better than riding outside.

How Do You Train for Triathlon Biking When You Can’t Ride Outside?

How do you continue training for the bike when you cannot ride outside? Share your comments below.

Book Review – Train to Tri: Your First Triathlon

Looking to complete your first triathlon? Want to inspire and motivate your children, grandchildren, parents, friends, or co-workers?

If so, Train To Tri: Your First Triathlon by Linda Cleveland and Kris Swarthout is for you.  This 246-page guide provides the essential information needed to prepare for your first triathlon.Cover of "Train to Tri - Your First Triathlon"

Authors: Linda Cleveland and Kris Swarthout, both USA Triathlon Level 2 coaches with lots of experience competing in triathlon and coaching triathletes.

Publisher: Human Kinetics

Who is this book for?

Train To Tri is written primarily for those considering or already committed to completing their first sprint or standard (formerly called Olympic) distance triathlon.

Even though it is aimed at first-timers, it is not just for those doing their first triathlon.  While I have completed over 40 sprint triathlons, I found several useful training tipsI have already put some of them to use.


What does the book cover?

The book opens with a 24-question Triathlon Readiness Assessment.  Results of the self-assessment help the future triathlete identify with one of three categories – bronze, silver, or gold – and select the training plan included later in the book.  This initial section also provides guidelines for choosing the specific race for your first triathlon.

I like the basic strategy of the first triathlon training plan laid out by the authors – to focus most of the training effort on your weakest leg.

You should focus the most time and effort on [your third strongest sport] to develop strength and endurance as well as improve technique. (page 9)


Once you decide to do a triathlon, you will quickly learn about the incredible amount of clothing and equipment (called ‘gear’ in the triathlon world) surrounding the sport.  Since not all the gear is necessary for your first triathlon, the authors distinguish between the ‘necessary’ and the ‘nice to have’ or ‘you can wait and decide after your first race’ gear.


Your Triathlon Support Group

Training with a group can provide the extra motivation needed to push through a training program and reap the rewards of completing your first triathlon.  A group can also help you to improve your technique more quickly.

In this chapter, the authors suggest ways to create a support network for your training in swimming, biking, and running that includes various clubs and your family, friends, and co-workers.

You may have various support group options.  For example, if you live in a retirement community, such as The Villages, Florida, you have a built-in support group in The Villages Triathlon Club.  Members train and race together with encouragement galore.

If you are working in an area without a triathlon training club in the area, you can create your own support group through a local fitness center, community pool, bike shop, and running store.  This provides flexibility to follow your specific training plan while enlisting the support of instructors and others with experience from which you can benefit.


The chapter on swimming covers the basic elements of an efficient stroke with illustrations for a proper freestyle technique.  I appreciated the suggestion for traveling and swimming, especially the advice for making use of the typical small hotel pool.

Interestingly, many triathletes find swimming to be their weakest sport.  If you are in that group, get comfortable being in the water and with swimming with other people as you will experience on race day.  Whether swimming in a pool or in open water, you will inevitably come close to, if not in contact with, other swimmers.  Staying calm is the key to finishing the swim.

If the race you choose includes an open water swim, you will want to practice swimming in open water to become familiar with ‘sighting’.   For safety reasons, I recommend adding the ISHOF Safe Swimmer (see also below) to your list of gear.



Most of us know how to ride a bicycle.  However, many have never ridden in a large group at speeds associated with a triathlon.

Therefore, the focus of this chapter is safety.  According to the authors, safety in biking begins with a review of the various components of the bicycle to make sure that they are each in good working order.   They also describe the most important cycling skills and suggestions on how to hone these, both individually and in group rides.

When riding on the road in traffic, you need to follow the rules of the road as if you were driving a car. (page 78)


We all know how to run. Right?  Well, not necessarily in a way that is the most efficient or that minimizes the possibility for injuries.  About half of this chapter is dedicated to proper cadence (steps per minute) and body form.  The rest of the chapter introduces training with a heart rate monitor and training involving the three-run types included in the weekly training plans.

If you take one thing from this chapter, remember to progress slowly (the ‘10% per week’ rule) to minimize the likelihood of injury.  Unfortunately, we need to be reminded of this every so often.


Strength and Flexibility

Building strength and increasing flexibility are two keys to increasing your performance in triathlon.   For many of us who spend a lot of time sitting during their workday, lack of flexibility can be the major root cause of injury.   The authors show that a relatively small amount of time spent in strength training and stretching can lead to better performance and fewer injuries.  Plus, these are another way to ‘mix it up’ and keep the training interesting and fresh.


Nutrition and Rest

If we all know how to run, most of us are even better at fueling (aka eating).  The challenge is to eat properly.  It becomes even more complicated when we are exercising, burning more calories, trying to build muscle, and recovering from the stress of training.

Triathlon training can be a great way to shed pounds and improve your health.   Eating the right foods in the right amount and at the right time is the focus of this chapter.  The authors are clear: “Although your daily caloric burn will certainly increase based on your training volume, you don’t have a license to hit the buffet for every meal”.

The chapter begins by showing us how to calculate two important numbers related to exercise – resting metabolic rate (RMR) and caloric burn rate.  The authors discuss how to eat (or ‘fuel’ as they define it) throughout the day. This includes eating before, during, and after workouts.  Sample menus for triathlon training days help to illustrate the principles of proper fueling.

The chapter concludes with a discussion about the importance of rest within a process known as periodization.  The authors even provide a simple test to help us determine when our body is telling us to take a day of rest.

If you do not get adequate rest, the muscles will fatigue and eventually fail, resulting in injury. (page 139)

Training plans

It’s now time to put the information from the previous chapters together and begin to train for your first triathlon.   Sample 8-week training plans are provided for bronze-, silver-, and gold-level athletes for both sprint and standard distance triathlons.    I appreciate that the authors show readers how to tailor the plans to meet their particular strengths and weaknesses and their individual schedules.


Preparing to race

I love this section.  Here, the authors take the new triathlete down the ‘home stretch’ to completing their first race.

Filled with practical advice, the authors walk us through the two weeks leading up to the race.  With greater detail for race day, you can feel the thrill that begins upon waking and includes crossing the finish line and heading to the refreshment area for a cold drink and banana.


Why get this book?

Train To Tri is pragmatic and focused.  It includes essential information for each of the sports of triathlon.  The authors season the information with the nuances of practicing them within a triathlon.

You can trust the USAT-certified coaches with this ‘no-nonsense’ guide.


You may also be interested in these posts


Disclaimer: Please note that SeniorTriathletes.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.  This is an affiliate advertising program that provide a way for sites to earn advertising fees.  They do this by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.  As an affiliate, I will receive a small commission for any purchases of this product that you make through Amazon.


This post was originally published on January 21, 2018.  It was updated on September 20, 2019.

Five Factors For Selecting a Bike For Triathlon

Five Factors For Selecting a Bike For Triathlon
A triathlon specific bike, or tri-bike, puts the rider in an aerodynamic position

Selecting a bike for triathlon, especially for the beginner triathlete, can feel overwhelming. However, considering a few factors will make the process simpler and less stressful.

In this post, I will summarize the factors I used to choose the bikes for my first sprint triathlons.

Factors in Choosing a Bike

If you have visited a bike shop recently, you will find a mind-boggling number of bike styles. The many options target a range of budgets for different riders, terrains, and activities.

Selecting the bike you will you use for your triathlons is an individual decision. The following five factors can be useful for making this selection.

  • Cost
  • Comfort
  • Construction
  • Course
  • Commitment

Why Ride in the Aero Position?

Compared to other activities involving bike riding, the conventional (swim/bike/run) triathlon involves the triathlete completing the bike leg, getting off the bike, taking off their helmet, putting on running shoes, and setting off for a run of at least several miles (kilometers).

The amount of work done by the running muscles, primarily the quadriceps and hamstrings, during the bike leg and the time that it takes for the running muscles to adjust to running is key to the run speed and one’s overall performance (time) in the race.

For this reason, the triathlon specific bike, or tri-bike, is designed to be ridden in an aerodynamic (also known as “aero”) position as pictured below. 

The aero position is one which the rider is in a forward position with forearms resting on pads mounted to the handlebars. Riding in the aero position minimizes the work required of the main running muscles during the bike leg.

Ironman-Wisconsin-bike for selecting a triathlon bike post
The design of the triathlon-specific bike places the rider in a forward, aerodynamic (“aero”) position to reduce the work required of the muscles most required in the run leg.

Despite this, one will see many types of bikes in a triathlon, especially for shorter races. After all, most of us take part in triathlon to remain active and fit, not necessarily to set race records.

So, with that background, let’s review the factors in selecting the bike.


The good news is that you probably have access to a bike for your next triathlon. If you do not already have a bike, you may borrow one from a friend or family member.  

For my first triathlon, I used an existing hybrid bike. Truth-be-told, I had never seen a tri-bike before this race. I had also never ridden a road bike.

Giant hybrid bicycle
A hybrid bike is a suitable alternative to a triathlon-specific or road bike for triathlon, especially for shorter distances. However, expect to be passed by many racers.

If you decide you want to compete seriously to win a race or place within your age group, then you will want a triathlon bike or at least a well-outfitted road bike with aerobars.

In this case, the bike will easily become the most expensive piece of race gear. Price tags for new triathlon specific bikes generally start at four figures. In fact, it is easy to find bikes with five-figure prices.


In my experience, riding a triathlon bike is not nearly as comfortable as riding a hybrid bike. I can say the same for the road bike compared to the hybrid.

I have changed the seat on my triathlon bike from the one with which it was first fitted. This has made the ride more comfortable (less numbness in the seated area).  However, it is still not as comfortable as the seat on my hybrid bike. I often joke that riding the hybrid is like biking while sitting on the couch.

Getting comfortable riding in the aero position can be a challenge. For a triathlon bike, riding in the aero position is, for practical purposes, required since the shift levers are at the far ends of the aero bars. For this reason, I rarely ride my triathlon bike on winding trails and never on trails with pedestrian traffic.

On the other hand, the triathlon bike is much faster than a hybrid bike and saves the legs for running.


As summarized in the table below, factors such as distance of the bike leg or ride, rider weight, and riding frequency can influence the optimum material for construction of the bike frame.

Aluminum or aluminium1 Light and stiff—ideal for shorter distances and hill climbingLighter weight riders and anyone with aches and pains, such as a sore back, will feel roughness in the road.
SteelStrong and elastic (flexible) – good shock absorbency, ideal for long rides.Relatively heavy, though in the context of the weight of the rider plus bike, this is a minor weakness.
Carbon fiberBest shock absorbency – good for long distance rides and riders with sore backs.Flexibility can result in loss of power being transferred to the bike, a more important factor for hilly rides.
Expensive to repair.
TitaniumGood shock absorbency for rough roads and stiffness for efficient transfer of power to the bike.Expensive.

1 This is the spelling most non-American English speakers will recognize.

The construction of the wheels and drivetrain and brake components can also affect the performance of the bike through their weight and reliability.


The previous section highlighted how the smoothness (or roughness) of the race course affects the optimum material. For a typical spring/summer/fall triathlon with the bike course on roads, the next variable in selecting a road or tri bike for triathlon is the size of hills included in the course.

The ideal bike for hilly courses is low weight and has gearing ratios consistent with the grade of hills. Without the correct gear ratios, one can quickly ‘run out of gas’ when climbing steep hills. (In my experience, this also occurs even sooner at a higher elevation.)

For races with off-road courses, a mountain bike or fat tire bike (‘fat bike’, for short) are best. If the bike course is on sand or snow, the ‘fat bike’ is the best option.

You can see fat bikes in action at the 2016 USAT National Winter Triathlon Championship. While fat bikes were best for this course, some racers still used road bikes.

Fat bikes have grown in popularity for their comfort and all-terrain, all-weather use. At an open house of my favorite Minnesota bike shop, I was told that nearly everyone working in the store now rides a fat bike year round.


Buying a triathlon bike represents a commitment to the sport.

After my first triathlon, I decided to get a different, faster bike. During a training ride before shopping for the bike, I spoke with a person from my local bike shop. His advice – which I am convinced is correct – is that if you are looking for a general purpose bike (triathlon plus rides with the family), get a road bike. If however, you want to get the best performance in the bike leg of a triathlon, get a triathlon bike.

Make Sure Your Bike Fits

Selecting a bike for triathlon that fits properly is critical. Having an expensive triathlon bike without the seat, aerobar rests, or other main components adjusted for your specific body proportions will be frustrating.   Riding a bike that does not properly fit the rider can even be painful.

As I have gained experience and flexibility, I have also had the bike fit checked and adjusted.

What Questions Do You Have About Selecting A Bike For Triathlon?

If you are considering a new bike, what questions do you have?

If you are an experienced triathlete, what bike do you use for triathlons? What do you recommend for those starting the sport?

Leave your comments below.

Originally published on March 19, 2016 and updated on March 17, 2021.


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